Targa Miata
September 15, 2008 - We were 28th overall in the prologue, and seeded very nicely.
It was gratifying to see that we were on the pace, as there was no indication at all yesterday of how we were doing.
Early morning start, long transit. Booooring.

Stage 1, Placentia. It's like a series of old abandoned roads through a subdivision that no longer exists. A little odd, but there's nothing to hit so it's a good place to start off. It worked out pretty well for us, with just one error when Janel got a bit mixed up between incremental and cumulative distances and we almost tried to make a hard right turn into a pull-out. No harm done and we finished the stage without further mishap. Checking the numbers, we found that we had managed to finish the stage in our required time - to the second! That means no penalty points, and the cool kids call it "zeroing" the stage. Whew.

The next stage was Argentia. It's a town stage with a lot of crazy corners and angles. Early on, we came around a corner and there was yellow tape blowing across the road. Another competititor must have taken a chunk out of it. I lifted, Janel heard me and just said "GO!". The route book is always right.
A bit further down the stage, we were in the middle of a long left corner with a dip halfway through that has claimed a lot of cars. I spotted a driver standing by the side of the road holding up a stage access card with the big red cross facing us. We were the first on the scene, so we pulled in. I told Janel to run down and set up the triangles while I grabbed the first aid kit and headed for the car. A classic Mini had gone into a slide and entered a deep ditch backwards, ending up on its side and almost out of sight of the road. The driver was out but the codriver had decided to stay in place because he was worried about his neck. I turned off the ignition and talked to him for a while as we flagged down the next car to go get an ambulance. Meanwhile, we tried to slow traffic and ended up pulling over most of them. The ambulance and fire trucks arrived and started to cut the Mini apart. We had to leave. We drove the rest of the stage relatively slowly, which was a shame. It would have been an awesome one. The good news is that, at last report, the navigator appears to be in good shape.
The organizers do leave lots of time at various service stops for everything to get back on track after a problem like this one. We started the next stage - one car short - right on time. In the meantime, Janel had an epiphany on how to read the route book that helped her out tremendously.

Stage 3 was the first of the fast stages - Osprey. In order to zero the stage, we had to average 123 km/h. That's 14.4 km in 7:01. Since I've spent so much time autocrossing, I figured I should be good at the city stages but not at the high speed ones through the woods. I've driven at high speeds, but always on a track that I know well. So, how would this translate to rallying?
Pretty well, as it turns out. Only the "out of character" corners are marked in the route book, and the longer pauses gave Janel time to make sure everything was being called properly and on time. For example, the first call is 4 km into the stage. Meanwhile, I straddled the yellow line down the middle of the road and tried to read everything as I came up to it at high speed. It was, as you might imagine, exhilarating. I had to use every tool available to me to figure out where the road was going to go and to dance the car around, and I had a little guardian angel to tell me about the hard bits in detail before they happened. We finished the stage about 14 seconds early. We don't get bonus points for finishing early, but it felt great. We did manage to bottom out the car twice on the course, once on a long hard sweeper with a hidden bump. The car felt great, though. Very controlled and able to do whatever I asked. Even that big hit didn't unsettle the car at all although it apparently looked from outside as if I slammed the frame on to the road. Really, all that suspension development time is paying off. The car's very supple over rough terrain. We hit a top speed of 177 km/h on the stage as well, deep in the woods somewhere.

The next stage, Adeytown/Deep Bight, was almost as fast. But tricker, as it turns out. There were some really rough sections that turned out to be very narrow. Yikes.
We have the trip computer set up with a "pilot" speed, telling us if we're running ahead or behind our target speed, and by how much. It's really handy, as I can glance over and get an idea of how much cushion I have - or how much deficit. Near the end of the stage, I knew I was running about 2 seconds late so I pushed hard on the last kilometer to try to claw some of it back. Success! Another zeroed stage with a top speed of over 160 km/h.

After lunch (at 4:30!), we had the Port Blandford stage. 121.1 average speed - and no pace notes at all. There are no junctions, no tricky corners, just the driver and the road. Basically, it's as if you just robbed the bank in a town you've never visited before. Janel busied herself with reading off the elapsed distance so I'd have an idea of how far there was to go. She's learned not to ever look out the windshield because it spooks her and she loses her place. She's running completely off the odometer, and it's working well. Other than in this stage, of course. It wasn't a straight line shot, either, but a tear through a town along the coast with crests and dips and all sorts of fun. About 2/3 of the way through, I was well up on my time so I eased off just a bit. Right about then, I came around a long right that went over a crest. Nothing major, but there was potential for the rear end to get away from a driver as it was unweighted. And sure enough, there was a set of skidmarks off into the trees. The OK sign was being waved, so I got back on the gas hard and zeroed the stage. It turns out there was a CRX upside down in the forest out of sight. Ouch.

Last stage, Eastport Penninsula. By this time, it's nearly 6 pm and we've been on the road since around 7 am. We're about ready to be done. But first, a challenge. The stage runs around a town, all right-angle corners and 500m straights. And a 98.8 km/h average speed. Umm, this is not going to be easy. We don't have the horsepower to evaporate a straight like some of the others do. So we'll have to make it up by being nimble.
It started off well, but I was having trouble keeping up. It wasn't just a flat and rectilinar subdivision, but a city that had grown around the contours of the land. Nothing was straight and I wasn't comfortable enough with the navigational calls to stay flat out over crests when I knew there was a right hander coming up in 300m. Still, it was working. Until we came to one intersection. I had to go straight through, but I somehow had the idea it was a hairpin right that was a couple of hundred meters later. I got on the brakes and asked Janel where to go. She told me "straight straight straight" and we got back on it. We hit 155 km/h running through this down shortly afterwards as I tried to make up time, but we were 2 seconds late coming through the flying finish. So there's our first penalty. We talked about it and we've figured out what happened, so it won't happen again. 2 seconds on a whole day - our first day? That's pretty good. And think about it. I got to drive through someone's small town at triple the speed limit while everyone stood at the side of the road and cheered. Does it get better?

So what's it like inside the car? We're having fun. Sure, the transits are long. BUt we're both really having a good time on the stages and we're loving the teamwork. A lot of people thought we were nuts doing this as a husband/wife team, but it's a great thing for us.

There was one problem, though. When I was checking over the car at night, I discovered that the left rear shock was leaking. That big impact on stage 3 had blown right through the bumpstop and damaged the seal on the shaft. Not good. Of course, I didn't bring any spare shocks. The car's handling just fine right now, but will it stay that way? Some quick moving on the part of Bill at Flyin' Miata and there's a replacement on the way to us. We'll have to do at least one and possibly two days on the current one. Wish me luck.

Today was a long day. We drove about 11.5 hours and covered a lot of ground. Tomorrow is a bit easier, but it's still time to get to bed. More pictures will come later.
tags: leg 1