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After struggling with Steel Tulip, our 1994 Subaru Impreza with 1999 Subaru 2.5RS engine and LINK PLUS ECU for two events, we were at our wits end! We finally contacted LINK in New Zealand and Brett Middletion at MRT Performance in Australia for help.

Paul at MRT was able to diagnose some significant tuning errors we had made in our LINK and we realized that we had been lucky not to have melted our engine down as we were running dangerously lean and using only a quarter of the resolution of the LINK’s fuel table! Truly a testament to the longevity of the Subaru powerplant!

Some back and forth via the internet in the middle of the night(on our end-it was mid day in Australia), and we had a map that made the car feel like we had a new engine installed! It put large smiles on all our faces! To have the car finally run correctly, and understand the LINK PLUS was doubly exciting.
STPR is one of those rallies that people always recommend you do. In my short four year career, I had never entered STPR, but wanted to this year as we had been trying to increase our seat time as well as our profile in the SCCA ProRally series. When I mentioned the event to the team, they were not exactly chaffing at the bit to go. Not one of them knew of the reputation of STPR and I had to educate them and infect them with my enthusiasm for the event.

I’m lucky in that it really doesn’t take much proddding to get the crew to go to a rally! Once they were on board, we looked the car over and made sure everything was in good operating condition. For the first time since we had built it, Steel Tulip didn’t require any significant work prior to an event. This is a goal that all teams strive for-a car that’s finally developed.

The trip to PA was uneventful, with the new powerplant in the Ford pickup rattling contently down the highway. We passed the Mitsubishi trucks housing the Mitsubishi factory effort based in VT. They apparently don’t like being passed on the highway as they soon upped their pace and passed us for good.

Once in PA, all the rally formalities were completed. We had been asked by a Subaru of America executive if we’d give a ride to a Subaru dealer on the press stage and we were happy to obliged. The SCCA had different ideas given the recent spectator tragedies in PA a couple of months earlier.

Wondering whether we should spend the cash to run the practice stage, we opted to do it. We were dressed and had a willing rally car after all! We launched off the start with the engine growling-I sensed a bit of wheelspin. Shifted to second-more wheelspin. Third-redline with no appreciable increase in forward progress. Oh-oh. Our clutch had given up the ghost. For the previous couple of weeks, we had been road testing our ECU changes on tarmac. Not exactly a forgiving venue to driveline components.

We called the crew on the cellphone and tasked them to find replacement parts. We had driven past a Subaru dealer when we had gone for dinner the night before, and part of the crew headed there while the other half headed out to get us with the tow rig. Dave and I found the silence of the woods quite serene, and we figured the $25 spent to run the practice stage was the best money we had spent in a long time. If we had lost the clutch on the first stage of the rally, we would have been done.

We paid for a local wrecker to tow us back to the main road, and there saw Leon Styles EVO, which had apparently ventilated its block. Not a good thing seeing as he’d made a cross country trip to be here. The crew arrived shortly, and we loaded the car without drama. We towed directly to Cole&Burd Subaru and the mechanics graciously let us use one of their lifts to work on the car.

We were in good company: Jonathan Bottoms was trying to repair some fried bearings in his Group N WRX, and the Subaru USA team and Johnny Milner and his Group N Subaru were out back in a separate building.

Sensing that we had no clue how to replace the clutch in a timely manner, one of the mechanics came over and took charge. Two others soon joined the melee and the transmission was out in fairly short order, revealing what looked to be a salad of black material that was once our clutch.

The clutch and pressure plate were replaced. Pizza was ordered for the mechanics who had stayed so late on a Friday night to help us crazy racers who had invaded their town. Seems that the challenge of rallying is contagious no matter where you are! The crew even helped us troubleshoot a faulty coolant temperature sensor which had been giving the LINK ECU fits. Despite all the issues, the car was done and the crew was in bed before midnight-all thanks to the great folks at Cole&Burd

The next day we lined the cars up for Parc Expose and we found ourselves on a side street a block or two from the main green in town. We affectionately came to call this area the, “rally ghetto.” Seemingly cursed to not see a dry event this season, the rain once again fell. We had heard that the roads were fast at STPR and we weren’t too excited about the prospect of fast roads that were slippery. We expected fellow competitors to experience the dreaded, “terminal understeer,” during the event, and we weren’t proved wrong.

The first stage with the famed water crossing was cancelled due to the depth of the water. We ran an alternate SS1 instead. It took some getting used to the fast, flowing stages-they required committment and precision. The roadsides were lined with very large, and solid appearing, stumps that were had been waiting all year to take someone’s suspension off their rally car. We were driving quicker than we had to date, given the recent ECU tweaks, but I decided to keep the pace down a bit in the corners to avoid understeering off the outside.

It wasn’t long before we saw both Subaru USA cars off, although with numerous others. All for different reasons. More of a reason to go a bit gently down these ultra-fast roads. We were entertained at many starts by the sound of Jonathan Bottoms’ anti-lag on his WRX.

Services were uneventful, as we had been able to remain out of trouble on the stages. The clutch seemed to be working very well and we were pleasantly surprised to see the mechanic from Cole&Burd and his son at all of our services. He was quite concerned and wanted to make sure everything was ok. We assured him that all was well and Margaret fed them as they watched the spectacle that is service.

The last stage of the night was run in very thick fog that resembled smoke. Dave was reading the stage notes and I was using, “the force,” to feel/see/sense where the side of the road was. We were totally surprised to come around a right hand corner and find a Dodge Neon on it’s roof in the road! The OK sign was out, so we continued on. It was a surreal sight, as if a giant child playing with his matchbox cars had left one on its roof!

We caught a Porshce on the stage and passed them. We weren’t sure if we were going quickly or if they were going a bit slower after seeing the Neon. At the end of the stage, Dave talked with them about the stage, and they said, “How did you guys see in that crap?!” We arrived at the final time control back in town well after midnight and were thoroughly exhausted.

We found that the crew had been sleeping in the truck waiting for us to arrive and really didn’t want to wake up for pizza and beer. We all managed to drag back to the hotel and collapse. The next day, we enjoyed the buffet and the awards ceremony. We were pleased to see Tim O’neil up front for an award and the team was pleasantly surprised to see that we had taken second place among the Seed 5 drivers.

STPR also was a landmark as it saw the inaugural Last Ditch Racing Triple Caution Thong awarded to Chris Sanborn from New Hamphsire. The thong was awarded to the team that gained the most positions from their start position over the course of the race.

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