The Spa 6 Hours is an action-packed weekend of Classic…
A rally is often more than just the days of the event. Truth be told, rallying starts days before a car sets down the road, so that’s where I’ll start.
15 Days Before
When any motorsport event nears, one always finds themselves less prepared than they hoped. We certainly didn’t have time to just sit around, drink tea, and stare at the car. That’s because we already spent weeks sitting around, drinking tea, and starring at the car. Frantically, we worked through the daunting list of things that needed done. The engine is probably original, and we knew that cylinder 3 wasn’t pulling its fair share, and the Weber 32/36 hasn’t been touched since the 1980s. Since Lina had a successful 3-day weekend at Thunderhill raceway, we decided that car, mechanically speaking, would make it. Yet, rally demands more. For one, it must be road legal and two, there is rally oriented equipment, like intercoms and skid plates, that need to be added. Do you know what isn’t commercially available? Skid plates for 2002s. Instead, they were hand wrought from plastic sheets and scrap aluminum. Then there are the nets, horns, lights, washers, intercom, wipers, mudflaps, med kit, spill kit, door cards, foot plate, spare tire, jack, triangle, tow rope, seat positions, padding, wiring, etc. Each needed located and installed before the Mendocino Rally. Yea us.
The shifter linkage was also in a state of ruin. In gear, the shifter had more play than a worn out Honda’s neutral. We ordered parts to replace the bushings but recieved some incomplete and arbitrary bits instead. Thankfully Casey motorsports in Petaluma was able to put something together the Monday before the event to get the car through.
Myself, I was to co-drive for A.J. from Oregon in his Audi turbo. The plan was for A.J. to tow down solo using his minivan. I was not convinced of this plan, however, he was confident it wouldn’t end in a fireball.
3 Days Before
By this point, a few days have gone by and the progress was actually regress. Lina had lost her co-driver due to some animal babysitting related conflicts. Coupled with financial constraints for A.J. and myself, we discussed solutions to our problems. What worked for everyone was to have A.J. co-drive for Lina while I would crew. That means I would not get to compete this year, but since higher education is really just productive poverty, I didn’t have money to race anyway. You would think with three days left the car would be done, just sitting in the garage, raring to go. Oh no, not even close.
The rally itself nearly fell flat due to low entries but some last minute pleas brought forth a few more entries. For Saturday, 17 cars, and Sunday 18. Toyota and Weinerschitzel (chain hot dog company) were even backing Ryan Millen, in a rather unique two wheel drive entry, a Rav 4. The rally also reeled in some local participation. As I know it, Kris Psara, Dave Ault, Dylan McGinty, and Lina Lipilina, are all from the immediate area. Dave Ault’s car was actually in pieces less than a week ago, and we couldn’t even manage a mudflap….
1 Day Before
Because our combined productivity was as good as Congress passing a budget, there was much to do the day before recce. As an added bonus, I had 14 hours of classes to attend. Lina plugged away with loose ends, tire mounting, and packing up while I was trapped by adulthood. That said, it was a late night to get the skid plates on, the truck loaded, and the car more or less assembled. A.J. arrived from Oregon around 3 a.m., and we got to bed at the lovely hour of 4 a.m….
Day 0 – Recce
…..And we were up at 6 a.m..
The Mendocino Rally is our local rally. Ukiah is only 61 miles north, which is perfect for when the trailer registration is expired and the truck is small. Lina and A.J. drove the car there on street tires and the dogs and I followed in the truck. Recce for the teams is an all day process, involving a fair amount of driving, and if two passes are done, its tiring. For the crew (me), the day before the rally was exceptionally worse.
First, I promptly found the nut for the torsion rod to be completely loose so I made sure to safety wire the bejesus out of every castle nut on the car.
Second, we wouldn’t get our rooms until 3 p.m. and by this point it was already getting hot. I was left to work on the 2002, finishing all the details while they took the truck for recce (and ice cream, which they brought me none), so I was effectively stranded. Bonus, I had the dogs. Even with the easy up, the blacktop was like a convection oven sealing in my juices. Third, do not attempt to drill things when your tired, dehydrated, and probably heat exhausted. If you do, you might find that you drilled through the aluminum fuel line on the other side of the firewall.
I was not amused.
I had no spare ferrules and barely any slack to pull up the line. Not to mention being under tooled. Most of the teams were out on Recce and their crews were out on lunch so the lot was a ghost town. Thankfully the Millen crew were around and willing to help. It took about two and a half hours but I was able to reuse the ferrule. I’ll spare the details but imagine a great deal of panic, profanity, sweating, zip ties, and profanity ending with moderate victory. I’m certainly indebted to the wiener schnitzel team. Better still, it was fixed before Lina returned to kick my shit in.
But wait, there’s more! Fix one thing, find another. The comms didn’t work. Our setup was a Stilo helmet to a TerriblePhone to a Peltor helmet. All we could manage was varying levels of feedback and silence on every terraphone we tried. Basically, the Stilo plug and the Peltor plug look identical, but for reasons that make no damn sense, they have different wiring. A.J. rented a Peltor intercom from the O’Driscolls (an open class team from Colorado) in exchange for beer; beer being the accepted currency of rally after all. Two zip ties and a 9 volt from front desk lady and we were up and talking! At some point we called it good enough and retired to the Wing Stop adjacent to the hotel for some regrettably delicious wings. After going to the store for provisions, specifically popsicles, we hit the rally social hour. Jeff, our other crew member, arrived in the evening, just in time to help drink a beer before crashing for the night.
Day 1 – Walker Ridge Stages
Walker Ridge is a 16 mile stage, about an hour east of Ukiah, outside of Lucerne, near the original site of the rally “back in the day.” Being the procrastinators we are, we got up late and had last dibs for service. Which was fine since the entire service area was a shadeless inferno anyway. We got out the easy up and waited for our out time. About 45 minutes later they were off to SS1 and we settled into our lawn chairs.
SS1 and SS2 were the same direction on Walker Ridge. Kris Psara, a local competitor from Ukiah, took the early lead overall with 19:35 and 19:15, respectively. The O’Driscolls followed up with 19:40 and 19:22. What impressed me was how well Perusina was doing in his newly acquired open light car. With it being only his 5th event (I believe), he was nipping at the heals of the turbo’ed open cars, with times of 19:47 and 19:40. Not too shabby. Back in our neck of the scoring woods, the 2WD class was led by Ryan Millen in the Rav4. Being genetically engineered for racing and powered by hot dogs, they sat 4th overall the entire day. The Saarinen’s Mini had an axle failure on SS1 and didn’t make a return until SS4. We came in a 27:38 and 27:15. Considering that it was Lina’s first rally, and had never driven the car on dirt until that morning, nor was the car in the greatest of mechanical condition, the times were actually pretty good. I was happy it just didn’t overheat and just keep trucking over the hills.
The service was quite easy. We did the minimum, since the car asked little of us. The only pressing concern was the oil consumption but we had plenty. On the other hand, our neighbors were busy. The Saarinens was stuck on stage until being towed out later. Our other neighbors, The Bensons, had small problems at every service. I am of course defining small as breaking the rear sway bar mount, and smacking rocks. The Rally Kings STi wrecked hard on SS2 ending their weekend early.
Proving that we were the least prepared rally crew, we brought just enough water to run out, some apples and a banana. The best thing about a team sponsored by food is that they tend to have food. Free food. Free, as it happens, its my favorite flavor. The Millens weinerbago was equipped with a grill and the hot dogs flowed freely. It was an all-beef blessing since hot bananas taste, well poorly. Now I patiently await the rally group that tows in with a taco truck.
The second and third service went as smooth as the first. Only contention was we still had to add more oil. We also had to tape the headlight down. Very intense, I know. Being last on the final stage was putting the sun into the perfect blinding position so our time dropped to 29 minutes for SS4. Who cares, she finished! Several others hadn’t! That’s rally.
We packed up and headed back to Ukiah stopping for a post rally dinner in Lucerne. Dreams of the hotel swimming pool (as the hotel called it, the “cooling tub”) were lost to just plain dreaming. I was too damn tired. To make matters worse, the hotel fridge sucked and my popsicles turned into juice bags with sticks floating in them.
Day 2 – Cow Mountain Stages
Cow Mountain is actually an OHV park near Ukiah. The rally rents the park for the weekend giving access to about a 9 mile stage that runs through the heart of the park. It’s technical and flowing, a good stage for any car, an excellent stage for low powered cars. Personally, I like this stage more than Walker. But personally, I wasn’t behind the wheel so who cares what I think. What I do know is we didn’t drive an hour to service, instead it was held at the Ken Fowler dealership at the southern end of town.
We started the Sunday morning much like Saturday, late. So we got the last spot for service which was in a large, dry field full of grasshoppers and wasps. At least it was short drive. Not long before the out time, we noticed that the battery tie down vibrated apart in the 02. After some emergency forcing of a metric nut to an SAE J-hook, we got the car off on time. Being in town, we had access to stores, so we decided to fix it properly during the only service of the day. The rest of the day we literally sat there. Service can be a quiet place when nothing is going on. I took the time to enjoy air conditioned restrooms and stare at the almost-real-time scoreboard the Gibeault’s setup. An organizer and an older fellow with a New Zealand accent (with a few of the Millens crew) were looking at the times and telling a story of rallies since past. Turns out, it was Rod Millen. Turns out, I didn’t have a pen OR a camera. Go me.
For us, the best of today was that Lina got comparatively faster on Cow Mountain. The technicality of the course helped close the gap to only a minute off the next car. Better still, the car just kept going. The old BMWs are indeed built to race and the car took it all. Frankly, I was surprised since we violated the golden rule of rally and had essentially no spares. (Lina has made me add that she in fact did have used brake lines and some new struts as spares)
For the rest, the top 4 remained in the same positions as Saturday while a few others ended the day early. Heat exhaustion ended the weekend for one competitor, a cracked oil pan for our BMW brethren, another axle failed on the Mini, and a large ditch really liked one Subaru. McGinty finished his first event completely without intercoms, relying entirely on hand signals and knee pats from his navigator. Despite this, they managed to place 3rd in his class.
After the service, we packed up the site and returned to the host hotel for the final times and the awards. As expected, Psara took 1st overall and the Rav4 took 2WD. They celebrated their first win with a frozen hot dog shower. Lina drove through the final control with a great look on her face. The look of finishing your first rally. She parked the car and I changed back to the street tires. For being the slowest car, it was by far the favorite. But who couldn’t love a wonderfully prepared ’71 2002 in a rally?
Any rallyist knows, a rally ends in food, beer, and story telling. After we had enough, we caravaned back to Santa Rosa, had a late dinner, and crashed for our return to reality Monday. At some point we will do our post rally prep and clean up. I’ll probably need a deed for all the land that made its way into the car too.
Finally, I would like to give a special thanks to the organizers and the volunteers for putting on a great event. Without these people, there wouldn’t be rally!