Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Four for four with first-timers

For the second time this year, I teamed up with a first time rallyist. Eric Hansen and I enjoyed a great time at Maine earlier this season and now I had a great weekend with Bryan Short from Ft. Collins at Rally Colorado. For the uninitiated reader (and I doubt there are many of them here…not sure if there are even readers, uninitiated or not), beginning rallyists are not allowed to use Jemba Inertial course notes on their first events. It’s a safety thing with Rally America. But there’s a loophole that says if the co-driver has enough experience, then course notes are allowed no matter how inexperienced the driver. So I was allowed to use them with Eric at Maine and now with Bryan at Colorado. R-A is really interested in how this goes, because there’s this ongoing debate on whether the use of notes is safer or not. My vote says it depends on the co-driver, so the idea that an experienced co-driver is the determining factor works for me. I think they need to do a better job of defining “experienced.” For the time being I would develop a named pool of co-drivers that would be allowed to do this. Coefficients is not the equivalent of “experience” when it comes to interpreting and delivering notes and managing a driver. OK. Off the soap box.

Bryan bought Cowboy Kenny’s PGT car from Jeff Moyle last November after LSPR (because Jeff acquired the Colin McRae X-Games car to run open with this season with Scott Putnam). On a sad side note, we’ve just learned that Jeff was killed this past weekend in a parasailing accident in Houghton, so the fraternity loses a plebe. Jeff was a fun guy with a smile on his face and just enough ‘attitude’ to be a great member of this group. He’ll be missed. OK…back on topic. Geeez I’m A.D.D. this morning!

Bryan has been using the ’02 WRX for hillclimbs in the Colorado Cup series around the state this year and since Rally Colorado was part of the series, he decided to enter. Where to find a co-driver. Special Stage. Since Heath was busy turning in a Senior project at MTU and unavailable for Colorado, it was looking like I was going to go out there and be a finish control captain….sigh. But I contacted Bryan who had no idea who I was (expecting a woman to answer the phone!...yeah….really!), and told him I was available and a deal was struck.

I caught the shuttle from DIA to Ft. Collins and Bryan picked me up and took me to the house where the Subie was mounted on the trailer and ready to go. Over to the shop and pick up parts, tires, parts, gas cans, parts, and more parts. Where was the crew? What crew? He hadn’t really needed a crew at hillclimbs, so really didn’t think it was going to be a big deal here. Hmmmmmm. Tires were about 6 pretty worn out Michelins, although they might have worked, they wouldn’t have been much fun and a worn out set of Silverstones (slightly better edges, but not enough of them). So, no crew, and 10 worn out tires and we’re ready to go!

This is where I LOVE this game and the people in it. I’d emailed Scott Crouch at Flatirons Tuning to ask if his people would “watch over” us in service. He was now aware we had no crew. Flatirons had gone through the car when Bryan got it, so they knew the car already. Now the tire situation began to look large on the horizon. I finally got a chance to talk to Buffum and Smith to see if we could work a deal for their shakedown takeoffs and they said sure! When I looked at them, ours were better! Ooops!

A short conversation with Scott again and voila! We had a set of Michelins they’d used at Oregon and shakedown that were clearly 60% better than the ones we had. I told you I love this crowd!

There’s a reason very experienced co-drivers should go with beginners. It takes every bit of concentration to put together a successful weekend for a first-timer. When I co-drive for Dennis or Heath or someone who’s been at this for awhile, the boundaries between responsibilities is fairly clear. There are three areas of responsibility usually clearly defined, between the driver, the co-driver and the crew chief. There are some things that require input from two and even sometimes all of these, but mostly the three can work independently. In the case of the first timer, none of these boundaries are clear and it falls on the shoulders on the experienced crew member to see that to the best of his or her abilities all the bases are covered….ALL the bases! So besides the normal co-driver duties of fuel allotment, logistics, note editing, computer knowledge, and general operating of the event, one can now assume that they will be involved in tire selection, educating both the rookie driver on the “operations” of a rally (where to go when) and the crew chief on setting priorities, that’s assuming one HAS a crew chief, or even a crew! This is why I claim that coefficients is not an adequate measure of experience to allow this situation.

Enough of the background. Bryan and I agreed we had three goals for the weekend.

A. Have fun

B. Finish

C. Improve throughout the event.

We nailed ‘em! We had a blast. Bryan got about three or four rallies of experience in one. He had crises and lived through them (changed a flat on Stokes Gulch in front of 500 spectators and drove 6 miles on a skid plate hanging on by one bolt and making horrendous noises). And took the Regional PGT wins for both Colorado Cog-1 and 2. Not bad for a first outing!

His car is a real handful for a rookie. It’s got full diffs which means that all wheels are driving all the time (not the situation in the stock WRX). So to get the car to go around sharp corners, it’s an absolute requirement that it be tossed in as the front wheels have a tendency to understeer you. Bryan has a lot of motocross experience, so tends to “drive” through corners, and dealt with the understeer on the exits of turns all weekend. Toward the end he was really getting into the swing of diving deeper into corners and tossing the car a little more, but the old finish line in view took some of that “fire” out so he could accomplish goal B. Our flat on Stokes Gulch was caused by an overzealous understeer problem that took us off the road substantially. He did a masterful job of downshifting and pointing the car (thus preventing the roll) and getting us back on the road. Too bad the cost was the right rear tire, because he deserved to get away with that one.

And we ruled out stopping with the noisy skid pan because it didn’t seem like it would cause much problem even if it let loose (which it didn’t). But boy, was it noisy! At the end of the stage, Bryan pulled past the control zone sign like a pro, jumped out and removed the lone bolt holding the skid pan with NEEDLE NOSED PLIERS (the only tool he had in the car…..another lesson). We left it with Mitch Williams at the control and took off only losing a minute getting into the final stage. We drove it gingerly as we were now without any protection underneath. But a finish is a finish and that was goal B. Goal A was a slam dunk! We pretty much giggled and scratched the whole weekend with the exception of my first “road points” in my seven years of co-driving since coming out of retirement back in 2000. But I’ll leave that to the next post. It’s a story unto itself.

Thanks, Bryan! Had a blast!