We had a MOST eventful debut with Tulip 2, LDR's new GC8 Impreza WRX rally car. Wild as even two crazies like me and John could want!
We start 52nd of 60-some teams. The new car runs like the hammers of hell. John does his best Richard Burns imitation (i.e., driving fast and smooth), we are really on with our pace-note timing, and start moving up at every stage. It rains most of Friday afternoon and evening, with wicked slippy mud...quite entertaining. The nighttime tarmac stage at Concord Pond is like a freaking unlit skating rink with a BIG jump at the end in front of soaking-wet spectators. Air time, whoa!! Huge fat raindrops come whizzing at us like asteroids thru the glare of our rally lights. End of first night, we're 24th, less than 2 minutes out of the top 10.
Saturday morning's start order is reseeded by Day One results, so we line up ahead of cars run by guys we've idolized for years, much less ever imagined we'd be on par with. This presents a whole new, eye-opening view of the rally for us. Kind of amazing what a season's worth of seat time (not to mention an agile new car with 100 extra hp) can do!
The morning stages are super-fast and flowing with occasional narrow rough sections. The organizers have painted big rocks in the road bright orange, so it's easier to miss the worst offenders. Average stage speeds: over 60 mph on squiggly one-lane logging roads where most folks go maybe 30.
All goes sweetly until we swing wide on one corner, put 2 wheels off, smack some big rocks HARD, and go careening thru the puckerbrush. John never lifts and eventually steers Tulip back onto the road, but something is quite obviously busted all to bits. Turns out the right rear wheel has been torn clean off. (We later find that some spectators carried it out as a trophy).
We limp 4/10s mile to end of the stage, dragging a flat-arsed car on 3 wheels past hundreds of spectators cheering and honking horns and stuff. Umm, this is getting pretty crazed. I think I see the Speed Channel camera crew shooting us as we clatter past...maybe we'll finally get on the TV?
Change to spare tire (and keep center of busted wheel for the LDR shop's Wall Of Shame), then head for service 15 miles away. No brakes. Talk about a long and careful drive in the woods!
At service, the crew discovers substantial damage-- brake disc gone, caliper busted, lateral link visibly bent, trailing arm cracked. Oh yeah, both rear struts are torn out of their top mounts, too.
A spectator at the service area voices the unmentionable thought: "Whoa, lookit that mess. You guys are done...right?"
He obviously doesn't understand LDR's determination to keep going.
In an amazing MacGuyver display, our service crew splints the brake pads so we have brakes again (yess!). They crowbar the struts back into their mounts and splash in a bunch of 105 octane to feed our hungry J-spec turbo. Note: all this takes place within an 11-minute fuel stop (OK, so, we're a bit late rolling into the next time control, but at least we're still moving!)
For the next couple of stages we tiptoe along at maybe 7/10s pace, though John quickly forgets about the battered suspension and is flying almost as fast as before. I try reminding him at each crest, "Easy on the jumps...easy on the jumps." J just gives out this wicked little giggle over the intercom and keeps his foot to the floor.
A transit accident en route back to the mid-day break delays much of the field. This incident is quite unfortunate for one spectator (who rolls his new WRX, which promptly burns to the ground) but gains us precious extra time in service. Lord knows we need it.
Our wrench wizards Duncan and Matt swarm over poor T2, patching and mending and petting various mangled suspension bits. They weld the cracked trailing arm, lever the struts back into their top mounts (again), check out the smacked-up nose (definitely bent, nothing much broken), and send us back for the last two stages. By now we have sunk to 40th overall. We know we have to "go a little easy" 'cause if we get too airborne, those struts will fall out again. Yeh, right--maybe John'll only go 9.8 tenths...
In the last 2 stages, we shift back into Full Spank Mode, and gain back most of the time we'd lost. We end up in 29th overall in the Pro standings, 17th in Club. And yes, both struts came back out on the yumps and are flapping/rattling/clunking like mad. We don't care, the mounts were already busted anyway.
As we pull through the final time control, the very large grins on LDR crew faces say it all: Maine Forest 2003 has been an awesome experience, with as much adventure, adversity and triumph as anyone could ever ask for.