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Not one to make rational decisions, I made the workload for the team exponentially greater in the few weeks we had to prepare for Maine Forest Winter 2002. Having returned from Charlevoix, our first DNF from the year, we had been discussing moving into Open Class for 2003. We had a 2.5RS Impreza engine sitting in the garage and we had been tempted to swap it in earlier in the season, but had thought better of it.

Dave Getchell, a long time team member and co-driver for another team, would be joining me in the right seat for this race. Dave ended his first race in the woods after a spectacular roll at Ski Sawmill 2002. I told Dave I thought I could get him across the finish line. The thought of having another co-driver in the stable for the team was a very sensible one, as we have had five different co-drivers this year alone!
Dave Getchell and I were trying to get the transmission out of the car after Charlevoix. Although we DNF'd due to two flats and one spare, none of us thought we'd finish the event anyway. The reason was simple math-we had installed a transmission with a 3.9 ratio and our rear diff was a 4.11. We drove the car at Charlevoix, but it really didn't want to roll. The transmission didn't want to come off the back of the engine. After a day-and-a-half of prying, tugging and swearing, I looked at Dave and said, "Let's pull it all out." With that, the engine and tranny were on the floor in about an hour.

The tranny still didn't want to come off. We whacked and sweared some more and finally it came off. Reticent becuase of the heat cycling at Charlevoix no doubt. We had another tranny to go in(correct ratio), but we looked at each other and then at the 2.5 engine. We talked and thought(not for long) and decided that while we had everything out, we might as well put the 2.5 in and go Open for Maine Forest.

We were in for a bit of a challenge. Eric Wages, our tech/electrical guru was in for some long cold nights with wiring diagrams and a soldering iron. We had the ECU for the 2.5 and the ECU plugs. The engine wiring harness was intact, but the only wires we had in between were the stock harnesses for the 1.8L engine. Needless to say, it didn't match up.

We took the opportunity to construct another center console, remove interior trim, relocate the digital dash and install some updated bodywork as well. All this while Eric slaved over the wiring. This was obviously a project that Subaru engineers had not planned for folks to do in their home garages! There were sensors listed we didn't have, and sensors we had whose function we didn't completely understand. A standalone ECU(LinkPlus is in the works) would have been great, but time was against us, and Eric was too deep now to change gears.

The three days prior to the event, we had Steve Chatfield and his son, Steve Jr., come over and help with some electrical troubleshooting. Steve is an experienced automotive mechanic, and one of his specialties is electrical systems. We knew how to to hook things up, but thankfully Steve knew how it was all supposed to work.

The night before the race, the car was running. Not perfect, but it ran strong. We had to adjust the idle to around 2k because it was surging. A problem with intermittent starting was chased to a faulty connection in the coil pack. The plug was removed and the wires soldered directly to the terminals and siliconed for good measure. I took the car down the street to gas it up and drove it back. We packed the trailer and then went to pull the car in. It wouldn't start.

All ready to pull what little hair we have left out, we somberly winched the car into the trailer. Duncan Matlack, a newcomer to rally and helping us service for the event, was dumbfounded that we were even loading the car up. "What if it doesn't start tomorrow?," he asked. "It'll start," we said. Duncan was quiet, but we all knew what he was thinking-that we were crazy. And he's right, you know!

The day of the race, and I nervously got in the car while it was in the trailer. If it didn't start, we'd pushed it through tech and then frig with it. If it started, we'd all agreed that it would be left running all day. Turned the key and Tuliip fired to life like a Phoenix! I feathered the throttle to keep it going, and nervously backed it out of the trailer. I felt like someone lighting a rescue fire in a gale. We were praying that we could keep whatever spark fired her up lit for the day...

Tech went well. I was nervous as snow events are not my strong suit. I had driven Rallye de Quebec at the start of the year, and the recent completed day at Charlevoix, but still was not confident. We had some new Nokian Hakka CQ tires that had just arrived yesterday, and we had put about 5 miles on the car since the engine swap. A rally is not exactly where I wanted to shake down the car!

We drove to the start. The car rolled without any obvious resistance. The engine had gobs of torque-finally! Once on the acccess road to the first stage, we tested the grip a bit and found quite a lot of it. I knew only too well that going on snow and ice is a lot easier than stopping.

The day was beautiful. Sunny without a cloudless blue sky. The roads were entirely snow covered, with an inch or so of fresh snow on top. We started into the stage, and I was feeling the car out. The new power made it easier to drive, but I had to modulate the throttle quite a bit compared to my wide-open approach with the 1.8L engine! I was surprised to come over a crest and see the Escort Cosworth RS about half a mile ahead. Exciting stuff to be catching someone early in the first stage. I knew I couldn't chase too hard as I'd run the risk of crashing myself or sliding into him when pulled over to let me by.

We both came around a corner and we very surprised to be greeted by the front end of Don Kennedy's Impreza facing us on the hot stage. Back to the chase. Finally the RS found a place he could pull to the right and let me by. It's always a difficult transition to make going from the hunter to the hunted. Knowing that the stage was long(about 25 miles), I drove briskly, but not taking any big chances. Despite my caution, an uphill run close to the finish saw me get into the deeper snow, which caused me to crash into some logs in the ditch. The car stalled, and I once again prayed to the rally Gods that it would start. She did. We were able to extricate ourselves after about 5 minutes, but only after being passed by two other cars, including the honking RS!

A bit flustered, we made the short transit to SS2, which went without drama. The car felt fine, but we weren't sure if we had damaged anything in the excursion. Service saw our stellar crew ready for us in their usual professional manner. We pulled in, left the car running.and were treated to custom ordered sandwhiches. We even had some hot chocolate on hand-my favorite being the Justice League type with colored marshmallows!

SS3 saw us on quite a tear. The car felt good. All had checked out at service. We were now confident we could push a bit more. Once again, I got into an understeer situation which became oversteer(with the wheels pointed the wrong way), and I shot us into a ditch. I shifted to second and floored it, trying to drive out, but we were in it. I put the wipers on to clear the snow covered windsheild and the horizon was at 45 degrees! We put triangles out and the OK sign. We shoveld and tried our traction mats. We used the Leatherman to cut some saplings under the front of the car. No use. We waited for sweep. The Range Rover and Disco arrived on the scene(driving quite briskly, I might add), and they went to work with the kinetic rope to get us out. No luck. They yanked us forward, backward and finally sideways. We were good to go!

We were once again a short distance from the finish(why does that always happen!?), and continued on the transit to SS4. We took a right hand turn onto a little used road. Although the road was at the right distance as listed in the route book, it was clear it was a dead end. It was also clear we weren't the only ones to make the mistake. Hoping not to get stuck, we did an Austin Powers 80-point turn and headed back out. The sweep trucks were just about to come up the road, and were surprised to see us coming out!

Dave reigned me in a bit on SS4, not wanting to have to get his shovel out again. We planned to drive to make the bogey time or just under it. We needed a mental rest, so I drove quick, but not fast. We made it through the long stage and then SS5. We knew there'd be spectators and I really wanted to put in a good drive for Dave and the crew as well as the fans that had come to see us. I drove the stage aggressively, and we were pleased to post the eleventh quickest time.

We packed up the car and headed back to the Madison.. I was a bit unhappy that I hadn't put in a better drive, but after reflecting on it overnight, I felt very good that we'd been able to run at all, let alone post an eleventh fastest time on a stage in the snow.

Thanks to the Dave Getchell, crew turned co-driver for his level headed approach and excellent shovelling technique! Eric Wages, Margaret Michaels, Matt Robinson and Duncan Matlack, for being the support and life-blood of the team. A special end of year thanks to our sponsors;,, Warmest thanks to our families, who are understanding and supportive of this craziness! We love you all!

To our local fans-you guys rock! Thanks for sticking with us as we grow. Hopefully we'll be entertaining you more and more with each event and give Maine a team to champion! 2002 saw us on the podium in three of the seven events we entered. Team support and car preparation meant only one DNF as well. We'll build for 2003-see you there!

As for Duncan, I think his belief in the impossible has been rekindled. I'm sure he'll be putting out cookies and milk for Santa this year!

Cheers! John Cassidy

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