On Saturday March 31, the 3-4-Three Challenge got back on track with a first place overall finish at the Indy Region SCCA “Almost April Fools” Regional Tour RoadRally. This event covered many of the great roads, paved and unpaved, in Vermillion, Parke, and Putnam Counties in Indiana. My lovely wife Angela assumed the driving duties while I “navigated” from the right seat. I put “navigated” in quotes because we run in the Limited equipment class and my time is principally consumed by the task of keeping us on time. Limited allows a precision odometer and any sort of calculating equipment, but prohibits the two from being connected. We use an Alfa Club odometer and a custom spreadsheet running on a netbook computer. The spreadsheet requires manual updating of mileage and delivers an output of our deviation from “perfect time.” The more frequently we can generate output, the closer we can stay to perfectly on time. Our spreadsheet is capable of generating a new calculation as often as every .05 miles with a single button click. To do so, however, requires almost all the focus of the “navigator.” In our system, the driver is primarily responsible for the actual navigating to keep the team on the correct course while the navigator works the computer and gives the driver regular verbal feedback on the deviation, if any, from perfect time.
At “Almost April Fools” we ran unopposed in the Limited class. There were, however, two cars in the Equipped class. Equipped allows the integration of the odometer with the calculation device. Special rally computers can perform several time/speed/distance calculations per second and give the driver continuous feedback via a dash-mounted meter. Once a navigator enters a speed for a segment, he can direct his focus on the task of actually navigating. On a Tour RoadRally, a good Equipped score is typically half of a good Limited score, with lower being better. Our finish of first overall against two Equipped cars was an unexpectedly good result. Our final score was 30, meaning the cumulative amount of our deviation from perfect time at each of the 12 checkpoints was 30/100ths of a minute. 30/100ths of a minute is 18 seconds, meaning we averaged being on time to within +/- 1.5 seconds per leg. Given the length of the rally, the challenging surface conditions, and the fact that Angela and I hadn’t done a rally together in about a year, we were both very pleased with the performance. The final results are posted here while a small photo album of shots we took is posted here.
The event was not drama-free for us, however. We failed to perform one of the most basic tasks before the start of the rally which was to ensure we had ample gas. I thought about it twice on the way to the event, but got side-tracked once we got to the registration point and didn’t think about it again until we were already underway. A quick glance at the fuel gauge on the odometer comparison leg showed we had under a quarter of a tank. We made a quick decision to continue on, hoping to pass a gas station somewhere along the route where we could use a time allowance to stop and fill up. It soon became clear we weren’t likely to see a gas station until the mid-way break. We went into fuel saving mode with the goal of making it to the break before running out. Our low fuel light came on on leg 5. At checkpoint 5 we let the car behind us know our situation so they wouldn’t be surprised if they saw us stopped on the side of the road. We limped on, short shifting where we could, and managed to make it to the break under our own power. We were both relieved and slightly embarrassed as we pulled into the gas station. Besides the gas issue, I let a few points slip away from us because I was slow processing all the information at a couple of checkpoints. I figure we really should have scored about 20, but being on the ball and catching timing discrepancies quickly is part of the game. Lastly, Angela found the car too loose on gravel roads with the larger rear swaybar. She wasn’t confident in the car’s stability and struggled to keep on time over some of the twisty, undulating gravel sections. I”ll be changing back to the stock rear swaybar for most driving, and breaking out the STi bar only for autocross events.
Road Rally is the discipline in this challenge where I am the most confident in our competitiveness; I fully expect to contend for the Limited class win on the Tour rally of the USRRC. There will be little margin for error, however, so Angela and I will have to be on the top of our game. We will compete in more rallies this year, working to fine-tune our procedures ahead of the big event, so check back later for more rally results. In the meantime I have work to do on the car. The rally this past weekend all but finished the front brakes. With an autocross school looming on the horizon, I must do something about the situation soon. Look for a new installment on the subject in the coming days.