|September 19, 2008 - If you finish at least 75% of the stages in the Targa, you get a finisher's medallion.|
Guess what these are?
More details tomorrow. I'm pooped.
entry 586 - tags: leg 5
|September 20, 2008 - Another early start and another relatively long transit.|
Not quite as long as we'd anticipated, so we got to the breathalyzer/control about an hour early. On the way, we saw a spectacular sunrise over a breathtaking desolate and cold landscape. I used to work in the Northwest Territories up in the Arctic, and the land near Marystown has that same harsh beauty. It's also almost completely untouched. We were well ahead of the train of Targa cars so we had it to ourselves. Lovely.
I was also under orders from Janel to find her a moose, and we got a good look at two big bulls on the way. We didn't get any pictures, but she was quite excited. Now all we need to find is an iceberg and a whale.
After another short transit, it was time to get down to work. Stage 1, Osprey Trail East, turned out to be a fairly smooth open road run. We had a target speed of 118.2 km/h and there was a 2 km SRZ in the middle, so we knew it had to be a quick one. And it was fantastic. The road kept a fairly consistent character and we were able to maintain a good speed. They'd warned us about three patches of gravel at the start and it was a good thing - normal traffic throws rocks on the road as a normal course, it turns out, and without those warnings we might have had some sketchy moments. As it was, the car was handling perfectly and I settled into a nice fast groove. I had enough left over to adjust my line to deal with bumps and small gravel bits, but we weren't dallying around. We managed to zero the stage with about 7 seconds to spare. What a great way to start the day. The car wasn't happy, though. My misfire was back and we were having trouble pulling to 5500 rpm at times. On the open road, I was able to deal with it fairly well and use the torque of the engine instead. We hit a maximum of around 179 through here.
I've been calling Janel my "guardian angel" when describing to people what it's like to drive this kind of stage. I'll be hoofing along down the road, concentrating hard on trying to read what's happening next, and this voice in my head warns me that there's gravel on the right just over the next crest. It's wonderful. She's concentrating just as hard as I am. The entire week, she never led me wrong and I had full confidence in her. It's been a real immersion course in rally driving this week and we've come through it as a good team. She trusts my driving and I trust her calls, so we're both calm as we work at our maximum concentration to get down the road as fast as possible.
Stage 2, Spaniard Bishops UIC. We pulled up at the start line to find a sign telling us to reset our odometer and proceed to instruction 6. The start had been moved. We found out later from a local that this was because the fire department was in charge of closing the roads. The new guy was supposed to do it and, well, didn't. So after a very fast scramble by the Targa volunteers, we were able to run the last 3 km of this nearly 7 km stage. Great work by the timing team and other workers. It turns out the part we were missing was a little bumpy through a moderately tight village, then a smooth roller coaster far above the ocean beside a cliff. The start was partway through this bit, and we had multiple high speed crests that wandered back and forth slightly. It was huge fun at first and Janel's instructions were key to maintaining speed. Right near the end, it tightened up a bit and we came through nice and quick. Due to way things had been changed, we hadn't the chance to set up our pilot so we had no idea if we were fast or slow. The engine sure wasn't happy with me though.
Time for lunch, nice and early at noon. We had another traditional "cold plate", with the most incredible array of home made desserts afterwards. I think the ladies of Brigus were in competition to see who could make the best dessert, and they just kept coming and coming. It was difficult not to gorge ourselves senseless. After eating, I stuck a new set of plugs in the car to try to deal with the misfire. My theory was that it was either plugs, wires or coils - and I had plugs. So that's what I tried.
Stage 3, Brigus. By the time I hit second gear, I knew it wasn't the plugs. Nuts. Well, on to the task at hand. Brigus is an amazingly tight and narrow run through a small town, with white picket fences blurring on both sides. It's basically an autocross and fairly smooth. So it should have been perfect for us. I hadn't walked the course at lunch - it was right beside where we ate - so I was driving it blind with Janel's instructions to keep me at it. I was able to drive far more aggressively than if I'd simply been trying to follow the arrows, and it's a real rush to be heading down a narrow one-lane road between houses, banging off gears, without being able to see what's over the next little crest or corner. Janel kept us on track, even correcting me to make sure I knew that the little right we'd just taken was not the square right I should be expecting in 50 meters. We made it through quickly and without incident, but were well off our base time - about 35 seconds late over 2.05 km. In fact, we were 4 seconds behind our Trophy time.
That didn't seem right. I could have gone faster with a bit of practice, but I certainly wasn't over Trophy. In line for the next stage, there were a lot of shocked drivers. I don't think anyone higher than class 5 had managed to hit Trophy. The older cars (lower classes) had a much slower time to hit so it was a bit easier for them. Even experienced drivers who usually zero Brigus were taking 17 second penalties. Something wasn't right, and I was a bit upset that my dreams of a Trophy plate were gone due to an overly-aggressive base time. Since Trophy time is a multiplier of the base time, a short duration stage has a much smaller difference between the two. That's why coming in a minute late on a 30 km stage is not a big deal, but 35 seconds on Brigus is. I was reassured by the fact that I was faster than anyone else I spoke to, even an experienced MINI driver. I can't believe some of the big cars actually managed to fit through some of those sections. The stage is different than it had been in the past, so the organizers had simply made their best guess for times.
On to Stage 4, Marysvale. This stage has another triple caution, a set of raised railway tracks that are approached downhill. It's a wicked compression/jump/compression set, and it claimed a Porsche very dramatically a few years back - you can find the video on YouTube. Otherwise, it's a nice medium speed blast through a village. We took it very carefully through the caution (much to the disappointment of the spectators who were gathered there) and were quite happy with a 5 second penalty at the end. We're seeing more crests in the stages today and Janel and I really have to work together to keep the car on the road.
Stage 5, Conception-Colliers. We were a bit worried about this one because there was a warning for bumpy pavement. Really? After some of the stages we've done, now we get a warning? Yikes. It was about 6 km long and the bumpy part was in the last kilometer, so I knew we had to run hard for the first bit. And we did. It was another quick series of bends along the edge of the water, with decent sightlines and the opportunity to carry some good speed. I had a lot of fun, moving the car around nicely and taking advantage of little dips in the road to get some banking on a few corners. Just like the first stage, I had the right level of commitment that allowed us to go very quickly but without any scares. The first instruction was a square left at a T, loose gravel, off camber. Janel didn't tell me about the guardrail or the exposure, but that doesn't make any difference as I'm trying to avoid going off the road in any case. It's a good thing she warned me, because we could see a fresh set of skidmarks going straight through the gravel-filled intersection right up to the guardrail. We kept scooting along, then turned into the "bumpy narrow road". How does a road like this get created? It was the width of our car, nothing more, and it wound around through the trees and up and down. It was like a mountain bike trail, but paved. Well, sort of paved. The bumps weren't craters with bad patching like we'd expected, but tall mounds like giant anthills. It was the weirdest thing. The worst ones were painted pink, and I dodged and weaved the Miata around to put them under the wheels so I didn't straddle them. Who would have expected that off-roading would have prepared me for the Targa? The car was working extremely well, with the hot tires providing me instant response to make course corrections in a very small area. We came out of it, and Janel immediately started calling "Go go go!" for the last 600 meters to the finish. She usually finishes her instructions with "go!" once we're on the last stretch, but she was more insistent than usual. So I kept my food buried - right over a sharp speed bump at full throttle, which didn't bother the car one bit - and we crossed the line just as the pilot readout flipped from -1 to 0. We'd zeroed it! She'd been watching the times and knew that if I pushed just a little harder we'd make it. Definitely not the nervous navigator I'd started off with at the beginning of the week. We were both laughing like loons when we came across the line.
It's been a long week, and yesterday was a hard day. But stage 6, Marine Drive, was the last one. The fatigue from yesterday was gone and neither of us wanted the race to end. We pulled up to the start line and found another sign announcing the start was 2.38 km down the road. As we entered the stage, I recognized it as a utterly breathtaking road high above the ocean that we'd taken on our way back from the odometer check, almost a full week ago. It was perfectly smooth, fast and flowing. The perfect final stage, and we were going to drive the best part of it as fast as we could.
It started off really well. I could recognize enough of the corners to fill in what wasn't in the pace notes, and Janel's calls were accurate and timely enough to make sure we didn't get into trouble. Then it happened. We were running hard and she called a left/right S over bridge. I was moving pretty fast and had to brake a bit harder than expected when the corners came into view - a great downhill sweeper on to the wide bridge, then a visible and open right out of it. The car was up on its toes as I braked for the downhill part as we entered the turn - and there were a set of skidmarks going right where the car would have gone if we'd been pushing too hard. At the end of the skidmarks was an upside down Nissan, the car that had started before us. Beside it was a Porsche in the ditch and I saw a red cross card. Again, we were the first on the scene of a crash. Since we were now experienced first responders, we knew just what to do. Janel sprinted up the road to try to slow down other cars so we didn't add a third to the collection. I saw that the driver of the flipped car was helping the navigator out through the windshield, so I flagged down the car behind us and sent him on to tell the organizers. There was a radio point just past the corner - obviously, the corner was a potential trouble spot - so the stage got shut down quite quickly. Everybody was just fine, the half roll was on to soft muddy dirt. What had happened was the 911 had fallen victim to the classic rear engine oversteer and simply gone backwards into the ditch. The Nissan, running a few cars later, had been going a bit too fast to deal with the surprise of having the Porsche in trouble and went wide into the ditch sideways, where it got tripped.
After everything was sorted out, we got back in the car and drove to the finish. We couldn't go full speed because the long pause in cars had spectators wandering about a bit and of course our time was null and void. When we crossed through the flying finish, it was a bit of an anticlimax. No adrenaline, no screaming engine as we finished a week-long race. Just a parade lap on a smooth, curvy road. A bit of a shame that, but we'd done it! We'd finished the targa without a scratch on the car.
We drove through St. John's with our helmets on at rush hour - that's going to get some attention, let me tell you - and over the ceremonial finish line down at the harbour. It was a fairly emotional time for everyone, lots of jubliation and relief.
My uncle Rob was extremely proud. He and Eric were the two who got this whole effort started, and he's planning to run next year. Of course, all the rest of the family was overjoyed for us as well. We had to put a bit of a damper on the festivites by submitting inquiries to have our time for the last stage deleted - you don't take time penalties for stopping to help a rolled car, of course - and to protest the Brigus base times along with everyone else. But that didn't really prevent us from walking around with big goofy grins as we tried to assimilate what we'd just done.
The best compliment I received was from the sound engineer for the TV crew. He'd obviously seen a very large part of the rally, and he said that Bill Arnold and I were the ones giving the school on lines through corners. Nobody else was as smooth or tidy through the bends. That's a huge compliment, to be compared to Bill. He's a multiple winner of the event and probably would have won this one as well if a strut hadn't collapsed on the penultimate stage. Rarified company indeed. Someone else noted that he could spot the real experienced drivers because when the tail stepped out, they just steered and the engine note didn't change - and that was the way I drove as well. Now that's the autocross experience there. A number of people offered to email me pictures of the car. One photographer handed me a print of our car in a full slide on a tight corner, dirt flying off the rear wheels with the fronts at the perfect angle for countersteer - and Janel not even looking up from her notes. I wanted to pin it to my chest and walk around and say "look!". The amazing thing was that I was able to say which of the thousands of corners it was. I guess I might have been paying fairly close attention.
More to come, it's time to relax for a bit. It's odd to put pants on this morning instead of a driving suit, for the first time in a week. We'll know the results shortly, as the results last night did not take the Brigus stage (or our 10:44 penalty on the last stage because we stopped) into account.
Janel's first words to me this morning were "Have they posted the results yet?" I think she's turned into a racer.
entry 587 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Janel, packed and ready for travel.|
She says this is actually comfortable, kind of like sitting in a recliner. In fact, the car was surprisingly comfortable even for 13 hour days. Those backsaver pads from Pegasus Racing were the key.
entry 589 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - You can't read it well, but the sign says "Children at play".|
Kinda sums it all up.
entry 590 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - The aftermath of the Nissan's off on the very last stage.|
What a shame. It's a popular place to watch the cars (wonder why?) and there's a sequence of photos posted online. Expect to see this crash in the TV show as well, the cameras were on the corner and we saw the footage at the gala banquet.
entry 591 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - The Nissan did make it across the finish line eventually, under its own power.|
It looks a little worse for wear, but it went the distance. There was a sign on the hood that said "For sale, slight body damage"
entry 592 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - The final car show on the St John's harbour.|
It was quite a sight, and a really emotional time. Lots of big smiles all around.
entry 593 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Another view of the final parking.|
Everyone headed for The Keg, right at the end of the parking lot, and then moved on to George St. All of the restaurants on Water St were jammed, although we did manage to find a pub that served the best fish and chips ever made.
Some of the cars didn't leave until very early in the morning!
entry 594 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - The breathalyzer test at the beginning of day 5 was perhaps not completely serious.|
Yes, a few of these photos are out of order.
entry 595 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Mmm.|
The dessert spread in Brigus. It was a non-stop buffet, with new dishes coming out constantly.
entry 596 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Rob and Brenda Tanner set up the starting gear for the Brigus stage.|
They're my aunt and uncle, and Rob plans to run the event next year. He was pretty jealous of the fact that I was the one driving! Every time we drove up to the start line, Brenda would start jumping up and down and cheering.
Our service crew was my parents, of course. The whole race turned into a family affair. I'm not sure if they knew just what they were getting into, but they were a big help, doing minor work on the car in the evenings (things like checking oil and filling Camelbaks), fetching food for us at night, checking out of hotels and loading the truck and generally making life easier. They surprised us at one point with some green tea to help soothe our sore throats, a gesture that was hugely appreciated. Thanks Mom and Dad!
entry 597 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Scooting around one of the wider corners in Brigus.|
entry 598 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Across the ceremonial finish after our anticlimatic final stage.|
Uncle Rob was doing the announcing and got a little choked up. As did I. It happened a lot near the finish.
entry 599 - tags: leg 5
|September 21, 2008 - Winners!|
Okay, so we didn't WIN anything except our class. But our goals were to finish and maybe, just maybe get a Targa plate. And we did. So that's a win.
entry 600 - tags: leg 5
|October 7, 2008 - The beautiful Spaniard Bishops UIC stage that roller-coastered above the ocean.|
This was an interesting stage to drive due to the number of blind crests. It took a lot of faith to go piling over them and trust that the road didn't turn significantly. I love this picture.
Photo by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 624 - tags: leg 5
|October 7, 2008 - Terrorizing Brigus.|
This is the stage I keep showing people to show what the Targa was like. It's only 2 minutes long and crazy fun. Where else do you get to use a house as an apex marker?
Then I'll show them the Leading Tickles stage in the rain to see the other extreme.
Photo by Gordon Sleigh.
entry 625 - tags: leg 5
|October 20, 2008 - Video time!|
I've been hard at work logging and digitizing all the video files throughout the race. It's actually been really interesting and a real trip down memory lane. They're starting to slowly appear on the video section of the site - keep your eyes open.
I also have a special treat. I've dissected a stage. And a fun one: Brigus.
You can view the route book (1.2 MB PDF) including the map, trophy time and base times. Janel's notes to herself are on the book, and I've annotated sections of it to explain how it works.
There's also a subtitled video to go with it, letting you get an idea of when Janel would call corners and the sort of terminology she'd use. Brigus was on the last day so we were a pretty good team by this point.
High quality DivX version (13.5 MB, requires the free DivX video player).
Google Video version.
By contrast, here's the Alfa team on YouTube. They're running at a different pace than we are and don't have the same sort of odometer, but they have to keep an eye on their average speed. It's a different set of skills.
entry 638 - tags: leg 5, brigus, skills, navigation