Racing isn’t always cut and dry: This is our 2013 Prescott story.
Two engine short blocks and a new head were rolled into my garage the weekend before Prescott, so those and the stand alone engine management that took too long for me to receive were going to have to wait until after the rally. Mildly disappointed with the situation I looked over the tires we had for the event. Two new Silverstone skins had been freshly mounted and I was picking over what was left of Rally Idaho spares. If I can’t have a hot motor, at least I have new tires.
Since we didn’t qualify for the NNRC in Idaho, our goal for the weekend was the California Rally Series CRS-2 championship. Our competition in class is a Porsche 911 driven by Jason Lightner. We raced together in Idaho, and at Gorman when we helped out with scoring I watched him beat a lot of teams and grab the Power Stage win – so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him at Prescott. We knew if we took first in CRS-2 we’d have the points. We also knew there would be a bunch of new teams in Subarus, and I delight in surprising people with the speed to which I can pedal a Dodge Neon down a stage. You must admit that all drivers have a few pounds of ego in the car. Mine is made up mostly of beating all wheel drive turbo cars. 🙂
We arrive at the rally and our best laid plans turn to shit immediately. Ray Hocker (NASA Rally Sport) hands us a start order list with a bunch of asterisks next to half of the names. “Congratulations! You are qualified for the NASA National Rally Championship.” he says to us. We excitedly thank Ray and this hasn’t even sunk in when a super clean Datsun 240Z driven by the past Prescott winning driver Brian Scott rolls by, and it’s built to the absolute limit of the class. Sure the 2.4L I-6 motor isn’t idling quite right, but I think it’s because it’s not at 6,000 RPM making 200HP. 😉 I look at all the clean fittings on the car and I day dream of the ported and polished head that is sitting on the floor next to the laundry and the box labeled “plumbing” in my garage. I look down at my start list and I notice that Brian Scott is NOT qualified for the NNRC. His last minute unlikely co-driver is Michel Hoche-Mong (who happens to be the CRS director) will obviously get CRS points and could jeopardize the CRS-2 co-driver standings. We need max points and I already know what’s about to happen… and dammit I’m going to try and stop it.
We arrive at the first stage, check tire pressures, and wave to the helicopter ready to capture SS1 “First View.” I respect that stage, but I don’t fear it. We let loose on those first twisty corners knowing that any speed we can get coming off that mountain we’re going to need for the high speed downhill to follow. Christine is 100% on, and unlike Idaho we are up and synced immediately. Foot to the floor through the rough section. Threading the needle on every cattle guard. SS2 “Witty Tom” saps all of our speed with the uphill left 2’s and 3’s, but we have some experience with the finish and we know we can be fast there. Here’s how the finish looked.
We pull into service and Eddie Fiorelli (who beat us last year at this event and is crewing for friends) is bowing head and hands with a “We’re not worthy!” 3rd fastest on SS1, 6th fastest on SS2 – we are in 4th overall. Gauntlet thrown.
For stage 3, our lights are aimed perfectly and we’re able to keep the pace. In the middle of the stage I run into this giant cloud of dust and a bit more in the next corner, but it was clear for the rest of the road. We see Kris Psara and David Ault changing a flat after the control and we stop to check what happened. “We rolled.” they explain. “What?!” we ask back. They had tumbled the back of the car and landed on the wheels. Didn’t even crack the windshield! “Well that explains the weird dust in the middle of the stage…”
SS4 is “First View” again, but it’s now up hill with no power. We got lucky when Psara missed his check-in and we were gifted a 4 minute dust window. A gift which we were able to use to set 6th fastest, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Datsun at bay. Scott set the 2nd fastest time and went faster up “First View” then down it. I knew it was only a matter of time. Back at the hotel, Brian Driggs and new crew volunteer Dylan Baile checked over the car and unwrapped and mounted the new Silverstone tires for Saturday. My decision to start on used Rally Idaho tires had worked out. We watched some in-car video and went to bed.
Saturday was a real test for me to see if Friday was a fluke. SS5 and SS6 are up hill and everyone but us seems to get going up “Witty Tom” and we start to fall behind the Datsun. We haven’t been re-seeded yet, but I’m going to try my best to not let that happen. Second place CRS-2 points may not be enough, and I’m watching the overall event time slip away. SS7 is “Perkinsville East” and it is my favorite stage at Prescott. We absolutely blast down it and I know I’m pushing the limits when we make a small mistake on a “L3 late apex” that could have landed us in trouble. Even with the berm slide into the co-driver door we set a rallynotes team record of 10 minutes and 7 hundredths of a minute. Brian Scott and Michel Hoche-Mong beat us by 2 hundredths and I’m crushed.
Here we are with four stages to go. Depending on how Jason Lightner finishes on Saturday we’d have no guarantee we’d beat him in the California Rally Series CRS-2 Championship. We’re in place to win a newly formed 2WD NASA National Championship at the end of year runoff event where we AREN’T the fastest 2WD car, and if I keep trying to catch the Datsun we’re going to off and lose everything. I’m beating myself up over this and meanwhile we’re in 4th place overall and there are 4 Subaru’s lined up behind us wondering how the hell this Neon got there. We certainly didn’t want to tumble it into the woods with two stages to go, so we settle into the last 4 stages and finish the rally with solid times.
We cross the finish line of SS12 (the Power Stage) 2nd in 2WD and I’m satisfied, but I want more. We went a full 5 MINUTES faster on Friday then in 2012 (mostly because of no dust). We didn’t really see Lightner all weekend as he was having brake issues and was trading times with Markus Saarinen and his fast Mini Cooper who went on to beat Lightner in CRS-2 for third place. We just won the very first NASA National Championship and managed to secure the California Rally Series CRS-2 Championship. Let’s spray some champagne!
I should know that if rally was easy and uncomplicated I wouldn’t enjoy doing it so much. We’re still hungry to compete at a higher level and we have to remember that it’s not always going to be a clear cut win. We love the tough competition here in the Southwest and I think it breeds some of the best drivers in the country. We’re going to keep pushing and get faster, and we’ll see you on the stages in 2014!
We finished 1st in 2WD & CRS-2 on Friday, 2nd in 2WD & CRS-2 on Saturday losing to Brian Scott and the Datsun, We got enough points for 1st in the 2013 CRS-2 Championship from the weekend, and we came in second in the NNRC event, but we are the unexpected 2013 2WD NNRC Champions as we qualified and Brian Scott did not. See what I mean?