Mt. Hood slimmed down this year and was a one day + recce event. Six runs of the 17 Road (three north, three south) and a central service? Sounds like a fun day!
Being a somewhat itinerant co-driver this year, I put out the feelers and got an offer from Dustin Embrey in the famous Purple Panda. Looks like I'm staying mostly rear-wheel drive this year, as the Purple Panda is one of the two local RWD Corollas. Dustin was running a backup stock engine set up, having blown up his race motor at a previous event. Our goal was to live up to the high speed factor that Dustin had.
Recce was uneventful, and I think we finished both passes 2nd overall! We headed back to the cheap hotel in The Dalles and I worked on co-driver homework while Dustin unloaded the car to do some last minute tuning with Vedran from Spitfire EFI, who also works with my brother and I. Rally family! Anyhow, as they were out tuning, the battery died and I had to drive the truck out to rescue them. No problem: throw the battery on the charger overnight and pick up an alternator in the morning. Finding an alternator turned out to be a bit of a struggle, but eventually we succeeded and swapped the alternator in the parts store parking lot. Ready to go!
We found, after the first stage, that the power was going to be an issue. The 17 Road is relatively straight (but still fun!) and extra power can be applied despite an overnight rain. We did not have that power available and were down 12 seconds on the first stage to the lighter and peppier CRX. Our goal quickly changed and we aimed for that CRX as straight as a rear wheel drive car could handle. Stage 2 got our stage time within 5 seconds, but still behind the charging Honda. Notes only need a couple minor changes over the first passes and my rhythm was decent. Dustin was pushing it harder as the day continued and we got used to the car and the teamwork. We returned to service and basically just ate lunch (a nice change from services recently) and Vedran did some more engine tuning to try to sneak some more power out of the stock powerplant.
The second loop of stages saw us improve that stage time to 1 second behind on stage 3 and then lose 10 more seconds on stage 4. Back to service, we hung out and meditated on how we could improve. Well, the only option was to keep doing what we were doing and hope for the best. Stage 5 saw us hit our fastest stage time: 6:00 flat for an average of just over 60mph on stage. As we came into the finish control we knew we had finally done it. The officials put the white board with scores up in front of us and we scanned for the CRX.... 5:56. I definitely yelled "God Damnit!". It was a great fight, but I guess both our teams found the magic on that stage.
Stage 6 was a different story. We were pushing harder than ever when we drifted wide a bit and found a bump in the ditch. Not a particularly tough hit, but something broke in the steering and the car was frighteningly unresponsive. We slowed to a crawl and Dustin wrangled the car out of more than one potential off. Two cars passed us as he turned the wheel and hoped during every corner. Left turns seemed easier than right turns, but the car wasn't making terrible noises or anything. We couldn't figure out the problem as we slowly made it to the end. We finished 2 and a half minutes slower than our previous stage time and the sweep crews were getting excited about finally being able to tow a car off stage, but we finished.
After the end of the stage we pulled off the road and started to diagnose the problem. The wheels were straight, the steering rack looked fine.... it turns out the splines on the inside of the steering wheel had given up holding on to the steering column at some point. That could have been catastrophic, but we lucked out. Now, how were we to drive the 6 miles back to service? After some consideration Dustin came up with idea that he could stick a tire iron down the steering situation and grab the steering column nut. Boom! Steering wheel. We were in business. We made out way as safely as possible back to service and incurred a 10 second penalty for lateness, but we made it. And still secured 2nd place in Gp2, 11th overall out of 16. Adventure!
Photo by Ian Davis