Targa Miata
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 570 - 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 571 - tags: leg 4
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 573 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Even the big name drivers have to get dirty sometimes, of course.
Frank Sprongl goes bobbing for apples under the hood of his monster. This car sounds very angry.
entry 574 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - There's quite a variety of cars here.
I've probably posted that at least a half dozen times by now, but for a car guy this is great.
entry 575 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Meet Betty.
Betty is one of the surviving Minis, and I believe the only one to finish every stage. She's a real little beast and a big crowd favorite. This is on the Fortune stage.
entry 576 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Mmm, a great lunch at Fortune.
The meals are kind of fun, as they're always homemade instead of the result of some sort of commercial enterprise. The deserts especially.
entry 577 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - After lunch, attacking the stage at Fortune for the second time.
The gravel on this corner isn't all that bad compared to some, and I was able to set the car up for it before I got in so it didn't really affect me much.
entry 578 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - One of my favorite cars in the race is this Alfa.
They're running in the Grand Touring class, and have no metric odometer. This means they're translating all the route book instructions to miles from meters. On top of keeping an Alfa running! Applause please.
This is the fast way to take a tight corner. The crowd prefers the handbrake, but the clock does not.
entry 579 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - The spectator area on the Marystown stage.
It's a real thrill to drive under this, and I'm always much more careful of my line when there's this much attention!
entry 580 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - Bill Arnold is running a very fast BMW Bavaria in the event.
He's a past winner and really knows what he's doing. Here we're making a comparison between the size of our equipment. And check out the difference in wear - mine has three days of racing on it!
entry 583 - tags: leg 4
September 18, 2008 - We're running 17th overall right now.
I'm quite happy with that. If you want some other pictures, there are some showing up on Gordon Sleigh's page. Time for bed, it's the last day tomorrow.
entry 584 - tags: leg 4
September 19, 2008 - Janel's turned into a great navigator.
First off, she's very organized. That might sound simple enough, but there's a lot of paper and info to juggle over the course of the day. And it's almost as if she's omniscient - if I want to know how far it is to the nearest gas station, she can tell me. Or to the nearest turn, or rest stop, or lunch, or (of course) if there's a nasty turn over the next hill. It's kind of funny.
On the stage, she's confident and accurate. Even on the busy, tight little villages she's giving me what I need when I need it. If I need clarification, I get it. It took her a day or two to get up to speed in reading the instructions (and for me to get used to following them!) but she almost never makes a mistake now. It's wild. She's a major reason we're still on the road and have made it through every stage unscathed so far.
entry 585 - tags: leg 4
October 7, 2008 - Finishing the Little Bay East stage.
You can see the red boards for the flying finish just up ahead. You can also see the condition of the road!
Taken by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 621 - tags: leg 4
October 7, 2008 - I love the stance of the car in this photo.
You can see it moving around on the suspension, doing that friendly dance that Miatas do so well. We're on the Harbour Mille stage, heading back from our fried baloney breakfast.
Taken by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 622 - tags: leg 4
October 7, 2008 - Running through Marystown.
This was like being in the WRC with more spectators than anywhere else on the rally. Janel never saw them, she was too busy reading notes.
entry 623 - tags: leg 4
October 14, 2008 - Action shot!
Ralph handed me a print of this picture shortly after we crossed the ceremonial finish line, and I immediately identified it. It's in Fortune the second time around. There's a youTube video of this out there as well.
Does this look like fun or what?
Photo by Ralph Saulnier
entry 631 - tags: leg 4
October 14, 2008 - An interesting angle on the car.
Little Bay East, I believe.
Photo by Ralph Saulnier
entry 632 - tags: leg 4