ORRC Rideau Winter Rally – 21 January 2012

This would be the first rally of the ORRC schedule hosted by the Motorsport Club of Ottawa – my home club. Apart from knowing the territory pretty well, the biggest advantage for us is that it’s close to home – no need for a long trip with truck and trailer.

Leading up to the event, I had been busy repairing damage to the front end of the car that first appeared in the January Jaunt and prevented us from finishing. During that event we had stopped during the third Leg due a rattling sound coming from the right front. If we’d only removed the wheel to inspect the brakes, we could have repaired the damage and continued. The pins holding the brake pads in place had come loose and one had broken, but we could have effected a temporary repair with long zip ties that I have in the tool box. But we thought the damage was more serious – like a wheel bearing – so we simply loaded the car on the trailer and left. The damage had been caused by my sons who drove the car at high speeds with a severely deflated right front tire, causing it to pull significantly to the right.

After fixing the brake pad problem I found that the front end was still making unusual noises. On further inspection I decided to change the left side drive axle, thinking that the CV joint had been damaged. While that may be true and didn’t cost me anything due to its warranty, there were still noises. I determined that the right wheel bearing had some play in it, so I replaced that, only to find that there was free play between the new bearing and the stub axle on the hub. So I replaced the hub and installed yet another new bearing, since the first replacement had to be damaged in order to disassemble the hub. This resolved the noise problem, but then I discovered a small leak of transmission fluid coming from the place where the left drive axle enters the transaxle. I had to seat the axle 2-3 mm further into the transaxle to eliminate this leak and then refill the transaxle with oil. Finally the car was ready to rally again.

Saturday dawned partly cloudy and fairly cold – at around -11 C – but the forecast promised no significant snow fall and reasonable temperatures. I took the car for a short drive to check everything out and it was fine. But then I was going to take it to pick Gary up in town and it died in the driveway! I used the truck and hurried home to do some testing. I believe the problem was dirty contacts on the coil wire, because the coil tested OK and there was spark at the plugs after I reconnected the coil wire. So I cleaned the connectors and everything was fine. We drove out to Perth and bought gas, arriving at the restaurant around 3:30. We were the second last team to register, so we were assigned car number 9. After getting caught up with our friends from out of town, we departed for Section 1 a couple of minutes before 4:39, our nominal starting time.

It quickly became obvious that this was not going to be an easy rally. All of the side roads – both paved and gravel – were covered with a sheen of ice plus loose powder snow and sand. They were very slippery and all of the corners required great care not to understeer off the road. Section 1 was pretty straightforward for an odometer check, but with a twist. We were given an elapsed time to a distance beyond the odo check point and average speeds beyond that.  The elapsed time distance was more than 5 kilometres beyond the odo check, so there could have been a checkpoint just beyond it. So we had to be careful to stay on time once we reached that point, just in case. As expected, the first checkpoint was before the end of Section 1. As I approached it, I thought we were running a bit late. But if I’d looked at the clock and remembered that it was timed to the minute, I’d have slowed down. We checked in at 56 seconds after the minute. If we’d been four seconds slower, we’d have been right on time. Oh well, on to Section 2.

We were given a series of tulip diagrams but only a few had non-accumulative distance from the previous instruction. So we had to keep our eyes peeled for turns that matched the diagrams, as well as changing speeds often. All of the roads continued to be icy, so the driving was stressful whenever we were in a twisty section. I believe it was in this section that we ran into a problem. We were travelling at around 65 km/h when we came to a 90-degree left turn that was not marked and was not visible well in advance. I tried to brake to scrub of some speed and depressed the clutch to roll around the corner, but we were just going too fast. We slid sideways into a snow bank that was only about 10” high and went right onto it. All four tires were in deep snow and I couldn’t get any traction to move either forward or back. Another team stopped to help us and we tried pushing the car and then pulling it out with theirs (a 4WD Mitsubishi), but my toe rope came apart at one end.

Fortunately another car came along and stopped to help. This was a couple who had intended to compete but had arrived too late for registration, so they were just using the instructions for practise. They had a good tow strap and a 4WD Subaru, so were able to pull us out reasonably easily. As we left the site, the car seemed OK but it was pulling a bit to the right. At the next checkpoint I took the maximum Time Allowance of 19.5 minutes, which allowed us to come very close to zeroing that control. I also checked the tie rod ends to make sure nothing was bent and couldn’t see a problem. I should have looked more closely at the tires! When I checked them the next morning I found that the right front was almost totally deflated and we had finished the rally on it and driven at highway speeds back to the city. Just like my sons had done , causing the same symptom! Will I ever learn?

Section 3 required us to plot the shortest route between the beginning and end of Section, while passing through three points. The changes in average speed were given in descriptive terms that didn’t reveal any tips about the route, so Gary had to use the end of section map and carefully devise a route that would get us there. He did a great job and we were pretty successful at the next couple of controls.

Section 4 had an odd set of instructions, where the cumulative distances were given in miles without tenths, as though they’d been read from an old car’s odometer that began the section at 171,834 miles. The average speeds were also given in miles per hour. So Gary had to convert all the distances and speeds to metric and then we had to pay close attention to the various turns, since we didn’t have precise distances to follow. For example, one instruction told us to turn left at mileage 171,849, but all we really knew is that the turn would be somewhere after we reached the metric equivalent of 171,849 and before the metric equivalent of 171,850. I think we did pretty well in this section, although were a little early at one control. I was basically driving as fast as I could comfortably, given the conditions, and it caught up with us at that checkpoint.

Section 5 was the place where the driving really got interesting. We were on cottage roads in the Rideau Lakes which are hilly, narrow and twisty, as well as being icy. The speeds don’t sound all that challenging, in the low sixties and mid-fifties, but they were. None of the curves are marked and you never know what’s over the next crest, so I had to take it easy just to stay on the road and be comfortable. The instructions were simple enough, but the driving was exhausting! We were the last car to arrive at one of the checkpoints, so the workers followed us for quite a while, which was comforting. Then we caught up to and passed another competitor who had just been pulled out a snow bank by the same team who had tried to help us earlier, so I knew I was doing the right thing by being cautious. We ended up being late by about five minutes at the two checkpoints in this section, but at least we stayed on the road.

The final Section was very simple and relatively short, being designed simply to get us back to Perth over some more reasonable roads. We had no trouble with it, although the frequent speed changes and turns caused us to be a little late at the last checkpoint before the finish. We correctly calculated the finishing time for the end of rally and handed in our route card at the restaurant, sharing some harrowing tales of the nights driving with a few people before leaving.

Gary needed to get back to the city as early as possible to join his wife at a social event, so we didn’t wait for the results to be finalized. We knew that we would have a pretty respectable score, especially since we had not missed any turns or gotten off track at all. That’s the first event for which we can say that! As it turned out, we finished second in Expert class with a score of 9.4, which is very gratifying. There were four teams in Expert, so we did well to beat two of them, despite the flat tire! Now I have to check the car over carefully to make sure there is no damage. At least I have a couple of months before the next event, so the pressure is off. I had the video camera mounted in the car, but was so busy with the driving that I didn’t even think to turn it on. That’s a shame, because some of the footage would have been spectacular.


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