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I’ll premise this article to note that it is being penned quite some time after the fact, so I’ll apologize now for any glaring omissions.

The RIC rally is an epic, three day event, very similar in structure to events held in the World Rally Championship. I had heard of the rally, but had never attended. It seemed as if it would be a good yardstick for the team. Little did I know....

Prior to the event, we had to replace the transmission in the car. We took the opportunity to also put in a new 1.8L engine as well. The rear diff was also replaced. We didn’t know at the time that we had replaced the diff with a conflicting ratio to that in the gearbox!

I convinced the crew that we should tackle the event, and we headed North. We took one set of gravel tires, and after much arm twisting by Eric, I agreed to pack a set of Nokia snow tires.
We arrived in town and completed tech. The car was equipped with a transponder for the WRC timing gear that had been flown in from Argentina. We were feeling pretty swanky at that point.

Mechanical problems with the car were becoming apparent already. The car would drive fine until stopped and then seemed to seize up. By this time, we had deduced our bone-headed mistake with our gear ratios and tried to source another rear differential. Not a common thing in that neck of the woods. We were unsuccessful. I made an executive decision that we’d drive the car until it broke. We didn’t come all this way simply to go home.

The ceremonial start was impressive, with all competitors crossing the ramp and being interviewed. John Buffum was the class act as usual, conducting his interview completely in French! Despite the rain at the ceremonial start, many fans came out to see the cars and their favorite teams.

Co-driver Steve Carrick, slipping into the right seat again after our class winning performance at Targa Newfoundland, was off to a good start, loosing one of the route books. $50 later and he had another. We had not conducted recce, but the stages were similar to the previous years’ event and Steve(being the engineer he is) decided he could take old pace notes fro 2001 and interpolate them so we could run them in reverse. Many doubted it could be done.

The transit to the first stage was treacherous. It had rained and snowed, and the public road was glare ice. I wasn’t sure we’d make it to the start of SS1! We were running the narrow Hakka 10’s on some street rims which were a bit too wide. They were the only snows we had. Our spare was a gravel tire of not quite the same diameter.

Steve and I sped into SS1 while spectators were walking out on both sides of the road. Crazy to say the least! I concentrated on driving a clean line. Then, we hit the snow. The stages were up in the mountains, and there were 4-5 inches of fresh snow-fresh until our fellow competitors ahead of us mixed it up with mud into a slippery lube.

I carried too much speed into a downhill right turn and understeered off the road. We were high centered on the skidplate with wheels at opposing corners off the ground-not good. We lost an outrageous amount of time trying to get the car out, but finally got a tow and continued on. When we attempted to pull away from the finish control, I had to rev the car excessively simply to get it to move.

The second stage went without incident, except that Steve and I(and the FTC workers) saw smoke coming out from under the hood when we pulled in to hand in our time card. Getting the car rolling from there was no easy task. There was some serious mechanical binding occurring and we were sure from the smell that we were using up the clutch quickly.

Stage three was our un-doing. It was a blessing in disguise, as the car was basically done anyway. Here’s how it unfolded.

Steve and I went into the slippery, snowy stage.hell bent to finish and get back to service. On a crest about mid-way through the stage, we got a flat. We had quite a distance to go, so we stopped to change it. Turns out that both tires on the right side of the car were flat. We put the gravel spare on the right front and left the flat on the rear. When we attempted to roll again, the car stalled repeatedly, the engine being unable to overcome the torque of the binding in the drivetrain.

I finally revved it to redline, clutch smoke wafting into the cab, and we got going. Steve and I were silent. We knew we were done, but we wanted to finish the stage and not leave the car down in the woods for the crew to have to retrieve later. I told Steve on the intercom, “I don’t think we should stop the car again, because I don’t think we’ll get rolling again.” There was a pause, and he said, “do you want me to jump out at the control?” This is the kind of guy Steve is.

I informed Steve that would be the best course of action-he jump out prior to the control while I crawl as slowly as possible, facilitating his re-boarding of Steel Tulip. Like a lithe stuntman, he leapt from the car and jogged down the road. Me crawling along in the car. The worker at the finish control was speechless as her mouth was hanging wide open! Steve caught up with me, and I helped pull him back aboard.

We had 25km back to service and I told Steve we’d drive the car as far as we could on the flat. We had no option at that point. We made it to the public road and put the hazard lights on-creeping. The ride was quite smooth, but after about 12 miles, the rim was no longer round and Steve and I were getting pounded. I called the crew on the radio and told them we were pulling over. Steve got a ride back to service to apprise them of the situation and I was alone, on the mountain road with darkness quickly washing out all visible features. Funny what you think about at times like those...I mostly thought how I just drove a car nearly a hundred miles with a mismatched gearbox and rear differential!

The team was dismayed, but I think we all knew that we were in no way prepared for the three day challenge. We were naive and had not done our homework on the event. In addition to our DNF, there were several other teams that found that fateful rock on SS3 that day as well.

We opted to stay overnight and do some spectating at La Pax the next morning. As we walked into the stage with all the other revelers, I realized that I had never spectated a rally stage! We were all excited. The atmosphere was great-fires, food and beer. Even at 9 AM! Eric entered into international negotiations for a $3 US beer and was content. Large snowflakes fell as we waited for the cars to come. Dave earned one of his many nicknames that day-”The Dingo.”

He was dressed in a leather jacket with an Australian made beret and an umbrella tucked under his arm. It had a kangaroo logo on it and I jokingly said he looked like a fugitive from INTERPOL. I searched for an appropriate name fitting of such a down under fugitive, and finally came upon Dingo. It has been fodder for much silliness and joking since.

The pop-pop of the cars backfiring and the chirp of wastegates/blow-off valves caused everyone to cheer. We had set up on top of two large rocks on the inside of the exit of a right/left combo. The cars really flew and by the time the last car made it through, there was nearly five inches of new snow on the ground.

We’ll return to Charlevoix to once again challenge the event that handed us our derrieres to us!

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