Targa Miata
September 15, 2008 - Want to cool off after a hard stage?
Use aerodynamic science to blow cold air down the arm of your driving suit! We're sure that all of the WRC drivers do this. Off camera.
This rally tip is courtesy of Janel, who is very serious about her job.
entry 21 - tags: leg 1
September 15, 2008 - We covered a lot of miles today.
Far too many. Some was on nice four-lane, some was on goat trails.
entry 22 - tags: leg 1
September 16, 2008 - A little bit of everything shows up for the Targa.
The Civic was shipped over from the Turks and Caicos islands, and was built for the event. That's some serious suspension travel.
entry 23 - tags: leg 1
September 16, 2008 - Notes, put down fairly quickly after a long day. There's a Mini curse.
Five arrived, two remain and one of those has had an off already. Eek. One of the retirements was mechanical and I'm hoping we'll see it tomorrow. Jim Kenzie, a previous overall winner, balled his car up on the Leading Tickles stage today. There haven't been all that many crashes, really. More cars have retired (or at least failed to finish a stage) due to mechanical reasons.
Stage 1, Appleton: It was starting to rain lightly, just enough to make me sweep the wipers once in a while. There was a dry spot where the car in front had been sitting when I rolled into the starting position. I had big wheelspin on launch, so I took it a bit easy through the stage. This cost us, as we took about a 4 second penalty. If the conditions had been downgraded to Condition 2, we would have come in a second early. Unfortunately we got the worst of them, so we'll have to take the penalty. Oh well.
Stage 2, Lewisporte: Condition 2. It was wet, so I tried to take it easy on the lauch...and stalled the car. Embarassing! I lost 7 seconds by the time it fired up, but we managed to make it all up through the tight course.
Stage 3, Point Leamington. A loooong 30+ km run out to the town, then back. Condition 2, heavy rain at times. We caught and passed the monster Corvette. There was one sketchy moment where I had to use all of the road, but no more. It was a long right, and I was too fast. I had to balance braking and cornering, and the rear tires were making that scraping noise as they hung on with fingernails. We lost 6 seconds overall on the stage, a few due to a short delay in getting past the Corvette. The driver of that car was very impressed with our speed in the rain. Turns out the Miata does pretty well in those conditions, and a highly powered vintage Corvette does not.
Stage 4, Leading Tickles. The same road, run in reverse. Faster (about 117 kmh average) and light rain. We caught and passed the Vette, and almost caught the Mini in front before we hit the SRZ. No problems in the fast sections at all, but a square left after the SRZ almost caught us out as I was thinking too slow. No harm done, but we got to slide towards the ditch for a bit. Hit 190 kmh on this stage. The car was great, sucking up any imperfections. Following the Vette really showed off our ability to eat up the road. I had the inside wheels in the air at one point and the car didn't care at all. It's a Miata. We zeroed the stage, coming in 14 seconds under our required time.
Stage 5, Bobby's Cove: Fast run out to oyster farm. We beat the Open Class time. Long, fast flowing road, very fun. Consistent speed, unlike the variations on LT. Stop for mussels, freshly harvested that morning. Yum.
Stage 6, Pleasantview: Back again. Faster. I think we passed a 30 km/h sign doing 150 km/h. Heh heh heh.
Stage 7, Glenwood. Amazingly rough. The car was pounded hard all the way through. There was a lot of chaos, one turn had most people overshooting with locked up brakes. We made it through, but it cost us about 22 seconds in penalties. I don't think it would be possible to zero it. Not a big fan of the pounding, personally.
Stage 8, Gander. Yeeee-hah. It's a 5-6 minute autocross through a subdivision. Smooth and easy to see corners, with the sidewalks packed with spectators. After a couple of corners, I realized that I was trying to drive it wrong, and it was an autocross. And I'm an autocrosser, and I'm driving a Miata. So the attack was on. Janel had to hold on to the door handle with one hand and brace her notes with the same one so she could read them because the transitions were so violent. I was laughing like an idiot. We took a bunch of penalties - it's impossible to zero the stage, but we took a big chunk out of the Corvette in front of us. I was hoping to catch him!

Thoughts: The car is acting like a Miata, and has all the right dance moves. It's stable enough that I can brake on fast corner entry without the rear getting squirrily, and it's absorbing everything really well. Fast, rough roads are awesome. The engine is pulling hard right to redline. On Leading Tickles, I was running between 4500 and 7000 rpm in 4th and the car was just perfect. It's small enough that I can choose my lines in corners to avoid pavement problems, which was really helpful on the Leading Tickles and Point Leamington stages. The brake balance is good. It's just as it should be. The only problem is bottoming out the chassis in some really really rough spots. Really, I should probably not be trying to go quite that quickly! Still, the impacts are being handled by the rear subframe brace and it's taking the abuse so nothing else has to. The reinforced frame rails have taken one little hit too - nothing important has been touches. So far, everyone's been quite impressed with our speed. I think we were the fastest novices yesterday, I'm not sure. It does look as if I built a pretty good car and made some good design choices, though. We're making small changes to it such as a bit of padding here and there, and rerouting the intercom cables - but nothing major. If we ever do this again, though, we're bringing a better video camera. We've lost several stages because it's had some sort of problem. It's a bit frustrating.

Rallies engender a certain camaderie between competitors. Because there's no way for one competitor to really cause a problem for another on the stage, everyone's friendly. Nobody wants to win because a competitor broke down, that's no fun. And we have the common enemy of the road. So everybody helps everyone else whenever possible. The pro teams have an army of helpers that swarm over the car when it comes in to service, but it doesn't seem to make things any more fun for the pro drivers. It would be nice not to have to work until 9 pm checking the car over, though.

Greenspond, one of the more memorable stages of the event, has been cancelled tomorrow. The rumour is that there's a funeral, and we do run right past the church. That's a shame for both us and the subject of the funeral, but that's life in small towns. The locals are doing us the favour of letting us close down their roads to race, so we can't complain in a situation like this.
entry 24 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - Janel displays the glamor of auto racing.
She is very proud of the fit of her race suit, she feels it flatters her figure nicely. Someday all the cool kids will wear baggy Nomex.
entry 25 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - This is the parking section for cars with pointy noses.
With a very non-pointy nose thrown in for comparison.
entry 26 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - I loved the juxtaposition of the fast car and the buoys for mussel farming.
It's a great contrast.
entry 27 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - That's the Corvette that we were chasing all day.
It emits a stupendous amount of noise and no shortage of toxic fumes and looks just amazing.
entry 28 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - Mmm, fresh mussels!
They were harvested that morning and were still steaming from being boiled when we ate them. They don't get much fresher than that.
entry 29 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - Waiting to start the rough Glenwood stage.
We went to a short "meet and greet" right after this, and it was the friendliest place we've seen so far. Janel was particularly impressed with the homemade cupcakes, not that there's been a shortage of excellent baking! If this race keeps up, we're going to have to get bigger driving suits.
entry 30 - tags: leg 2
September 16, 2008 - Janel and I go over the notes for the next stage before setting off to make sure we agree on the description of each corner.
It also helps if I can see some of the really frantic or unusual sections so I can build a mental picture of where it goes. Some stages have lots of instructions, some have little.
Janel's getting very good at delivering the notes. We have to have a lot of trust in each other, and there's no question that trying to drive many of these stages blind would lead to either slower times, a huge accident or both. The in-town stages are especially important, as there's a lot of navigation involved through the maze of streets. Out on the open road, I need to know when the road does something odd around the next blind bend. It's a big rush for both of us, and after the Gander stage we were both laughing like crazy.
entry 31 - tags: leg 2
September 18, 2008 - Leg 3.
Sorry, this is a day late. I couldn't find internet access in Clarenville, but here's what I wrote at the time.

The classic Mini owners are banding together. The dark blue one (Molly) got a new engine today that was the spare for the light blue one that crashed (Lucy). We did see the blue new MINI by the side of the road near the end of the day though, hopefully it'll be back.
The car needs more spring, I think. The shock's holding out well enough. Since it's not a pressurized design, the only concern is running out of fluid - at least, that's how I understand it. It's not leaking badly, so that's a good sign. The replacement shocks are due to arrive in Gander tomorrow, but we'll be far away from there when they do. Next-day shipping isn't always next-day.
Th Gander stage last night was downgraded to Condition 2 due to light, so that puts us only 7 seconds late. Also, it turns out we didn't come in late in the first stage yesterday. So that's all good.

The first stage: Main Point Davidsville. Very fast and smooth and flowing, right along the edge of the ocean. Gorgeous and super-fun. It's too bad it was only a bit over 5 km. Easy zero.
Slow transit, everyone got behind.
Stage 2, Fredrickton Carmanville. A bit in town at first, then fast and flowing through the woods. We caught and passed a Corvette (not the one from yesterday) quite enthusiastically, another zero. About 30 seconds early, really. Not that this matters, it just shows up on the books as 0 penalties. But man, that was really fun.
Stage 3, Musgrave Harbour. Terrible. Rough and bouncy with a speed bump in the middle. Very hard on the car, and on our penalties. 31 seconds late. Not fun at all. We finished on the Corvette's butt.
Stage 4, New-Wes-Valley. A great stage. All of the square corners were actually fairly fast and it would be possible to carry more speed. Still, it was a fun one. Part of the fun of a first-time Targa run is seeing all these stages for the first time. Would it be as thrilling if I could recognize things? We were 43 seconds late so there was obviously a lot more speed available. Still, what a blast. The Corvette was dispatched in short order.
Stage 5 Greenspond. Cancelled due to a funeral.
Looooong transit. 210 km. Yuk.
Stage 6, Northwest Brook. Similar to the Leading Tickles stage, but tighter in spots, this started in town (with the famous wooden bridge), got into the country where it was fast, tightened up, then opened, then finished in town. Yeehah. We were caught by an M3 just as we came up on a Porsche 911 and ended up running with three cars through the tight middle section. Fairly bumpy in spots and the car was throwing sparks by all accounts, but it was controlled. We came in 17 seconds early. The Porsche driver was quite impressed with both our car and my driving, he thought it went pretty well.

Stage 7, Gooseberry Cove. This was Stage 6 in reverse. We were late leaving due to an accident on stage 6. We got going a half hour late, and were driving into the sun. This was a real problem in spots as we couldn't see the corners. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that this stage gets downgraded retroactively. And it's here that I made my first navigational mistake. Janel called for a square left and I didn't see it. I blew past it - on the brakes - and had to make a 3-point turn to get around. We lost about 10 seconds, I'd guess. Luckily, there was no lasting problem and we didn't hit anything. We hammered on, trying to see where we were going through some tricky corners. Just as the Acadian behind us caught up, we caught the Porsche again so there was a little more three-car action. It's not usually this wheel-to-wheel in the Targa, apparently. We'd already dispatched the Corvette some time ago. The Acadian's target time was a full minute slower than ours (the advantage of a vintage car!) but he was driving the car hard. You could see it moving around quite a bit on the road. I was pushing hard as well and stuck with him for the rest of the stage, but we crossed the line about 11 seconds late. I wasn't too impressed with myself, and the main reason for the mistake was fatigue. It had been a long day. I wasn't the only one having problems. We saw a number of cars littering the stage, mostly due to small offs as far as I can tell.

Stage 8, Clarenville. Another smooth, in-town stage. Well, mostly smooth. We started off on main roads, then ducked down someone's one-lane alley, then back out into the big roads. We caught the Corvette very quickly and unfortunately he didn't see us coming this time. A 1970's Vette is no match for a Miata on this sort of course, and our closing speed was fairly substantial. We followed him around for a few corners until he saw my lights behind him, then waved us by on a narrow bit. The Targa rules say that you have to pull to the right to let a faster car pass as soon as they're behind you, and the Vette driver did. He just didn't see us for a while. I seriously considered stuffing him on one corner, but it would have been ugly. This cost us a fair bit of time and we ended up coming in 4 seconds late. We've filed an inquiry to see if we can get this taken off. I don't know if it'll happen or not. Jim Kenzie saw us catch the Corvette as I came around one corner in a nice little slide and called me a hoodlum. Hey, it worked! My parents also saw us tailgating the Vette. I'm not sure my mother is going to watch any more stages after that.
At lunch, we had slipped from 13th to 21st due to our slow times on 3 and 4. Fair enough, we're mostly looking to finish and hopefully bring home a Targa plate. That is not a problem so far, but there are still two long days left. Janel's doing her homework right now and I'm going to hit the sack. We have a 2 hour transit before the first stage tomorrow, and we're leaving the hotel at 6 am. That's in 8 hours. G'night.
entry 32 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - Miatas are not big cars, especially when filled with roll cage and other bits and pieces of rally equipment.
If we don't have a chance to put the helmets in the trunk, Janel uses them as a foot rest.
In this blurry picture, you can see the setup of the Coralba. We're on a transit, but the display's the same. The upper left shows our current speed. Lower left is the Pilot display, telling us if we're ahead or behind our target speed. Here it shows that if we crossed the finish line right now we'd be 35 seconds behind. The main display is an odometer that shows distance right to the meter.
entry 33 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - We had lunch at the Barbour historic site today.
It's absolutely gorgeous, and the weather was perfect. It was like walking around in a postcard. To add to the fun, a Grand Touring team got married. The best man and maid of honour were also running the race, as is the "Faster Pastor" who performed the ceremony.
entry 34 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - After lunch and a wedding, I added just a touch more ride height to the back of the car.
This is an attempt to keep it from bottoming out without affecting the high-speed stability.
entry 35 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - Approaching the Corvette at a rapid pace.
We requested that our penalty points be removed because he didn't see us and held us up, but it was denied. It's unlikely to make any difference in the end, and it did provide some entertaining in-car video footage.
entry 36 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - Today was not our most successful day in terms of penalty points.
We lost time on every single stage. That's to be expected, though. We're novices, and the times get faster every day. Still, we're on track for a Targa plate, which is a tough thing to do. Our goals going into the race were to 1) finish and 2) get a plate if we could. In order to get the plate, you need to finish within 135% of your base time on each stage. You can't take huge penalties, and you can't miss something due to a mechanical problem. It's a test of consistency.
On the road, we're snacking constantly. The meal stops are really erratic - today, lunch was at 4:30 and tomorrow it's at 11:30. Having a supply of healthy snacks in the car keeps our blood sugar up and our attention focused. It's kind of funny, really. The nets I put on the transmission tunnel for route books and rally tools have become a stash for graham crackers and little tubes of honey. The honey's kind of nice not only for the boost in energy but also because both Janel and I have raw throats. For her, it's from the exhaust fumes while waiting to start stages. I'm fighting a bit of a cold, I think.
So, leg 4.
Stage 1, Little Bay East. A nice luxurious 9 am start. But wait! It's a 2 hour drive to get there! And of course, we have to undergo our breathalyzer testing first. Ugh. Once the appointed hour rolled around, we took off on a twisty, moderately smooth run through the hills that was fairly challenging. The only notes were for particularly sharp or dangerous curves, including a little slalom through a small town. This included the only triple caution we've met so far, a great opportunity to land in the ocean. Janel abandoned her professional navigator mode to emphasize this as we approached. We failed to get wet. Overall, a pretty fun section of road although we did take about 36 seconds in penalties. We then had breakfast which included fried baloney.
Stage 2, Harbour Mille. It was a run back through the stage we'd just run. Going through the little town, the hammering on the rear was just too much for me to take. As soon as we got back to service, I quickly lifted the car and dialed in a bit more ride height. It's something I should have done a couple of days ago, but the car was working so well in the fast stuff that I didn't want to lose that. Really, the hits that are bottoming the car are huge ones. The car's taking the abuse though. The stage itself went well, with a couple of clear corners taken quite quickly. Probably almost as fast as a real rally driver would take all of them! We took 4 seconds longer to get back than we had to go the other direction, and the base time was shorter. So we took almost a full minute in penalties.
Stage 3, Mooring Cove. This one was a blast. It's short and smooth and winds over a number of blind crests. If you had more confidence, it would be a real roller coaster. We went a bit slower, took a 4 second penalty and had a lot of fun. That's a keeper.
Stage 4, Marystown South. This is another city stage through subdivisions, down both narrow little driveways and sections of four-lane road with no dividers. There are also several great spectator areas. We had a good time on it, but it was fairly bumpy in spots and Janel got tossed around a bit. 31 seconds late.
Stage 5, Garnish. This was another fast coastal run with a village in the middle. The open road was fun, although a bit spooky over some of the crests. The car was comfortable at the higher ride height and seemed to have a good combination of stability and travel. The tight bit through the village was really tight and really rough. It would have been more fun to take the direct route right through town, I think. The rest worked pretty well. About 34 seconds in penalties. A 6000 rpm+ misfire that showed up yesterday reappeared. It's not a big problem as I can simply hit the next gear and use the engine's torque. But it's a bit worrisome.
Lots of penalties today. Why? Well, the times are more aggressive. And we're still novices. The fact that our Miata is in the second-newest class means that we have to go much faster than the older cars in order to zero stages. Fair enough, we're theoretically more advanced than they are. Also, being relatively underpowered means that we can't regain speed as quickly as a big car if we slow too much for a corner or if there's a tight turn in a fast section. Surprisingly, our small size isn't as much of an advantage in the tight cities as I'd expected, mostly because again we rely on the ability to carry speed through a corner to make up for our lack of acceleration. But since every corner is a new one to us, we can't carry as much speed as we could. Of course, I'm not trying to make excuses. Like everyone here, I spend the transits trying to design the perfect Targa car!
Stage 6, Fortune 1. This is a short village course that's all full of right angles. This makes it a bit more predictable than the coastal ones that seem to be built on giant rocks, and thus easier to carry a bit of speed through. We didn't zero it, but we did manage a decent time that was only 12 seconds late. By comparison, one of the rally leaders (a hero driver in a new factory EVO rally car) took a 5 second penalty. Janel had spent some time looking at the map of the course and had spotted a turn that should probably have been in the notes, so she added it in. And thank goodness she did, it would have added some real confusion otherwise.
Lunchtime! Already - all we'd done was a 2 hour transit and 6 stages. We demolished our plates of food, then wandered outside.
Stage 7 was a repeat of Stage 6 - in the same direction. This was a first for us, and it was an opportunity to see how much time I'd pick up after seeing the course once. The answer? None at all. We turned exactly the same time. However, this time the roads were covered in gravel after the Open class rally cars had chewed them up and spit it all over. Gravel on pavement is like trying to drive on ball bearings, and it requires a good set up for the corner or you'll just understeer right off it. Or understeer to the edge of the gravel patch, then snap into oversteer as the front wheels grab. I nailed a few of the corners really nicely on this one.
Stage 8 was Stage 5, run backwards and renamed Frenchman's Cove. We were exhausted from the long day and late nights, so I was running a bit slower and more carefully to make sure we brought the car home. I did hit a couple of corners perfectly which is always a big thrill and surprisingly rare. We tiptoed through the village as it looked as if someone had brought industrial machinery in to tear up the roads - those Open Class cars really do some digging if given the chance. One short piece of road looked as if it was a dirt road through a field. 47 seconds in penalties.
Stage 9 was a recap of Stage 4, the bumpy Marystown run. Again, having seen the stage backwards was a bit of a help and I was able to just nail a wide hairpin turn in front of the big spectator area. Not spectacularly with a big slide, but quickly and smoothly. I was quite happy with that. Again, 38 seconds in penalties, but we made it to the end of the day tired and safe.
By the end, it wasn't quite the fun it has been for the last few days, mostly because Janel and I are sleep deprived. It's great on the stages as we've turned into a very good team. She's even looking up now and again to see what's going on, where a few days ago she only watched the odometer and the notes. But lots of time in the car (what, 13 hours today?) and little sleep means there's less goofing around than before. It's a real testament that we can still work together well like this.
The car's holding up well. It looks as if that misfire might be related to a leaky valve cover gasket, as the plug threads were a oily when I pulled them today and the car's used a bit of oil. We'll see what happens with them tomorrow. I was too tired to do a real nut-and-bolt on the car tonight but it's just taking this incredible abuse with aplomb. I know of at least three engine swaps on other teams, a fire and two holed radiators as well as broken axles and other sundry problems. So far, we've had nothing. Knock on wood.
entry 37 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Adding yet more ride height after the second stage.
I've lifted the car by 2 turns in the back and one in the front by this point, and it's going to stay where it is. This was done in a bit of a hurry - Janel didn't even bother to get out of the car.
entry 38 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Heading off on a stage.
I'm not actually sure which one - I think it was the really bumpy one from Leg 3. On short, fast stages, the time it takes us to get up to speed is fairly critical so I've been launching hard all week. To get an idea of what the notes are like, the first instruction is for "square right don't cut" amongst those houses, nearly a kilometer down the road. I always find out what the first instruction will be and how far it is so I can build a mental picture of the first corner. I'll do the same for any tricky parts, so Janel usually only has to give me a quick clue and I know what to expect. Or what the two dimensional drawing looked like, anyhow.
entry 39 - tags: leg 3
September 18, 2008 - Chatting with another driver between stages while Janel talks to my mom.
My parents have made friends with just about everyone on the event, I think, and have a much better idea of what's going on outside our car than we do. We've been seeing them briefly throughout the day, and they help keep us fed and deal with logistical problems during the day. If we break something and the car needs repair, they may not be quite as useful as the teams of mechanics that follow some of the others around, but it's a real family affair. My aunt and uncle are also working the event and are big cheerleaders for us whenever our paths happen to cross.
entry 40 - tags: leg 4