Monday, August 25, 2008

Ojibwe '08

Ojibwe is good to us.

Two years ago Matthew Johnson and I took advantage of some late event mishaps from Tanner Foust to not only win Ojibwe in PGT, but stand on the podium as third overall with Travis Pastrana and Matt Iorio.

Last year Heath and his Mom won PGT here.

We were looking forward to some good luck for a change as 100AW hadn’t been kind to us and STPR sucked the life out of the engine after 3 stages. A new engine and a borrowed ECU from Travis Hanson gave us hope.

This year Heath drove a steady focused event overcoming no end of minor dramas to take his second PGT win here in as many years and land a respectable 6th overall.

The list of mini-crises looks like a Murphy’s Law who’s who.

There was:

  • a strut tower top hat that broke studs
  • power steering fluid that leaked and smelled up stuff
  • a watch that disappeared into the car somewhere for three stages
  • parts that just fell off the car
  • interior mirror
  • fuel filler door
  • right front fender liner
  • 1/2 of a rear bumper cover (later recovered and re-mounted)
  • jacks that didn't want to hold up the car
  • an intermittent Coralba
  • the “outhouse” intrusion
  • a flat discovered 3 minutes before entering ATC
  • an impact wrench that decided it wanted to run stage 15 until it ran out of juice
  • a big beautiful easy-up that blew away at the final service.
  • ...and this is only the stuff I heard about!

…and STILL the team held it together to win. Like the kid who came home with a black eye told his mom…..”you shoulda seen the other guy!” This was a rally of attrition.

Skipping the stuff mentioned above (which is really just in a day’s work on a rally team), our international rally Olympics (US vs. Poland) was a blast from the git go. Poland fielded a squad of 3 PGT cars any one of which stood a chance of winning Gold. Wild man Jaroslaw Sozanski, who is flamingly (albeit sometimes recklessly) fast was here to keep chalking up points. This has been a good year for Jaroslaw. He’s only dnf’d one event. Adam Markut in the older venerable DSM proved to be the real challenge for the weekend. He’s always fast, but we could usually count on him entering the Regionals and not bothering with the National points race….not so this weekend. He was in the big hunt. And Robert Borowicz is always fast and has beautiful, well-prepared equipment. This was going to be a challenge for the US.

A couple of early stage jitters Saturday afternoon and a set of uncut Hankooks put us at a small disadvantage for the first 4 stages. We sorta skated on top of the gravel and Heath was having to saw at the wheel to keep things going in a straight line. We remedied that at the first service by putting on some cut Hankook 202’s and promptly went out and set some 6th and 7th fastest times overall. We were definitely settling down.

Sunday morning dawned chilly and cloudy, but soon brightened up as things dried out and the dust started to hang.

In the motel parking lot Chris Lowe and John King, our venerable crew for this adventure was “going over” the car finding a little crack here and a little loose there. We had to locate another front strut top hat (thanks Rock Star!) and that issue was averted….then fuel and go over to the parc exposé at Northwest Tech. We had moved from 23rd on the road Saturday to 17th on Sunday, so that felt good. And our PGT competition was right in front of us. There was about a minute separating all three of us (Amy BeberVanzo had rolled Saturday, and Robert for some reason was not going fast and had fallen quite far behind). So Adam, Jaroslaw, Henry Krolikowski (running open and declared on the AMERICAN team) and us headed out to the woods.

On the first stage, Adam took us by 3 seconds and we took Sozanski by 2. This was gonna be a dog fight!!

About 2/3 of the way through the next stage, we rounded a corner to triangles out, a perfectly good live tree down across the road and a steaming WRX PGT car of Sozanski’s parked about 30 feet into the woods. This was going to take more than a Dent Wizard to fix! Scratch Sozanski. But Adam spanked us on this one by almost 30 seconds.

About ¾ of the way through the next stage there was Adam having slid off the road and it appeared centered with no traction. He apparently got out (an official “yank and spank” was allowed here), but had accumulated a ton of time getting out, so that left Borowicz and us to thrash it out. Robert was running his own race, as were we, apparently waiting for us to join the group of woodsmen who were communing with trees. But we were not going to give him that pleasure.

Despite having a PGT win solidly in hand, Heath didn’t change his modus operandi and kept driving exactly the way he’d been driving…even thrashing it on the short 3.7 mile stage with a dozen dry bottom water ditches. Markut, having been pulled out of his aforementioned situation, proceeded to drive like a madman and set some blistering stage times on the last three scored stages. I say scored stages, because shortly after we passed the Ken Block off on the last 22 mile monster stage, a damaged tree fell across the road blocking the stage and forcing organizers to cancel it and give everyone from us back the same time.

So that’s it. The race is not always to the swiftest, but it pays to be fast anyway. The old adage was never truer that to win you have to finish. Heath does amazingly well for a young man who only gets to run 3-4 times this year. Being off two months does not set you off on early stages with a lot of confidence. Then you look up when you start to get it together and you’re already 45 second down. But he was consistent and continued to get smoother and more confident as the rally progressed. You heard it here first. He’s the next MJ.

Oh. The outhouse incident? The short of it is we gave the spectators a really great show when I late called a L3 after a R5/CR at a spectator point. I understand we moved an abandoned DNR outhouse somewhat when we overshot the corner and that no one was in residence at that time. I’m told there is at least one set of sequential photos of it and I’m waiting to buy the negatives (wait…there aren’t any negatives any more….are there?). Look for somebody's video to show up on YouTube!

Bronze to Adam Markut (who exhibited incredible persistence). Silver to Robert Borowicz (who just drove an amazingly clean event). And Gold to Heath Nunnemacher (who deserved the win tiptoeing the line between too fast and too cautious). Raise the flag. Play the Star Spangled Banner!