Thursday, August 4, 2016

First Gravel Race of the Season

After doing some minor last-minute repairs on the wagon, we were all set for our first gravel rallycross of the season - the MLRC rallycross on June 26. On the one hand, we were excited to be racing, but on the other - scared to know how we would stack up against other drivers on gravel. We knew we were fast on snow and had grown fairly confident on it, but gravel was a completely different beast - speeds were faster, horsepower actually mattered, and at MLRC a gravel event meant the track was changed to run through a forest section that was riskier and that we haven't seen for a year.

My first run of the day was 2 minutes flat. After seeing the times of other competitors, I had to verify it to make sure I read it right and there weren't any glitches with the time display. Indeed, I ran a 2:00.80, putting me in a very comfortable lead above the competition.

I was quite proud of that time until I saw the times that the drivers of Ford Focuses (Foci?) - Steve Kay and Rod Forge were putting down - under 2 minutes! Even when the track got beat up and our times dropped significantly, they still kept it around the 2-minute mark. They didn't have much done to the cars either - just a gutted interior, and a welded diff. The only excuse we have is the weight difference - a stock Focus is about 200 kilos (440 lbs) lighter than our wagon, which is huge.

Our wagon was running great, and finally starting to feel dialed-in - the STi shocks performed beautifully on the gravel, and the lightweight flywheel made our downshifts much quicker. The only problem in our setup was that now that we were using left-foot braking more and more, we were starting to notice a serious downside to having a brake booster - constantly running out of vacuum and having a very inconsistent brake feel. Perhaps a booster delete is in our future.

The only mechanical issue we faced was overheating - perhaps minor, considering the car was in pieces spread across the workshop floor just a few weeks before, but still concerning. We had to run with the heater full-blast (on a very hot mid-summer day, with the windows closed), and have the passenger constantly monitor the temperature and tell the driver to back off if it got too hot. We were fine in faster 2nd gear sections, but the tight 1st gear corners where the engine was on the rev-limiter, and the car was rotating limiting airflow through the radiator were a problem. I was happy I got a good lead on the first run, as it meant I could back off in the next runs without sacrificing my lead. Luckily I managed to keep my lead through the day, taking my third class win of the season.

Danil didn't want to make a critical mistake trying to catch my time, so all he was battling for was a second place finish. The Stripping Technologies boys didn't have a great start to their day, so the only other driver Danil kept an eye on was Mat Janiak. It was a close battle, but Danil edged him out in the end. I remember telling Danil - wouldn't it be funny if there was another driver who we completely ignored all day, who turns out to be faster than you? There was! While Danil was busy chasing Mat, Cedric Calande snuck by in his red bugeye wagon and took second place in class!

It was Herman's first time running the full MLRC gravel course, so his day was spent familiarizing himself with the course and the surface. He stalled off the line on his first run, which didn't do much for his confidence. But by the last run, with Crazy Leo coaching him from the passenger's seat, he pulled off a very respectable 2:11.

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