2003 Maine Forest

Maine Forest 2003

By Anders Green of LinaRacing.com

The 2003 Maine Forest Rally was all about trophies, trophies, trophies! Unfortunately, none of them were for us. Lina Racing went to MFR with two goals in mind: training for the driver, and training for the navigator. Beating some turbocharged cars with a tiny 1.8 liter normally aspirated engine was just a pleasant surprise, like finding berries stashed between your ice cream and whipped cream.

It started exactly like every other rally: with a long trip in the tow rig. The only real difference is that this time, the AC was working! Now that was a pleasure. I gave the van a once over before we left, checking things off the list; oil level, tire pressure, and so on. Beside the "Power Steering Belt Tension" box that I checked, I put 'Slightly loose'. Oh, and it didn't get any tighter!

We caravaned up with Carl and Emmy Fisher for the first day. The plan was to split a hotel room. That all worked out just fine. Not quite as good was the power steering belt. Twice it started squeaking like a chipmunk on acid, and twice I tightened it up. It was all to no avail, however. On the morning of the second day, I tightened it up for a third time. The belt got loose again after an hour or so, and since Amy and I were getting into the book on tape pretty heavily, we just turned up the volume. An hour or so later, we noticed the noise was gone. Ahhh, well that fixed itself.

The power steering was gone too, and that didn't fix itself. We still had 500 miles to go, but I said, "Screw it, we're only driving straight anyway." The belt had been chewed to fine powder and sprinkled liberally on the front of the engine. Highway driving, lane changes and so on, felt pretty normal. Making those turns from the off-ramp, however, was Herculean. Good thing I've been working out.

We arrived at my parent's house in Waterville later that night. Mom cooked up some huge hard shell Maine lobsters and taught Amy the secret. The next morning, I rummaged through my father's hardware collection. His collection is larger than mine, but not as well organized. Maybe I just couldn't find the card catalog. Found some new bolts and big washers. Put on the new power steering belt from the 'Van Spares' box. Of course, I had had it all along, but no sense in trashing two of them. Roughed up the washer to give it some grip, tightened everything up, and it has now been 1000 miles without any trouble.

Left Waterville and drove up scenic Route 2 headed toward Rumford, which is only about a two hour drive. Lots of old New England farm houses, beautiful trees (in a much wider variety than we have in North Cackalacky), and naturally, some junky cars "stored" in the front yards.

The tech inspection session actually occurred twice: Thursday night and Friday morning. We were early for the early tech, as planned, and were the third car to go through tech. That all went smoothly, except for them saying that we wouldn't be allowed to run.

Only a few weeks before, the log book for the car had been issued, and the annual inspection had been performed at the same time. However, one particular belt mount had been overlooked. Essentially, we had to come up with some way to mount the outside of each of the lap belts, which were currently unsatisfactorily mounted directly to the roll cage. The safety implications dawned on me, only shortly after the denial of the safety implications, and we proceeded to start working on the problem. Nine hundred miles from your shop doesn't make for easy fabrication.

We ended up getting some stock Impreza seat belt bolts, and Greg Healey had the magic items: the belt latch points. So, after only a few hours, where we had talked to the Subaru factory team and some of the local rally fabrication teams, made several trips around to different teams and towns, we were ready to roll. Coincidentally, Greg is the person that I originally bought my old rallytruck from. Now that is service after the sale! Actually, it's more indicative of how friendly and helpful the rally community is: one of the National Safety Stewards had taken off into town in an attempt to find hardware for me, and the Subaru factory team had offered me the necessary hardware from their spare harnesses, which were still on their way there.

After tech, we headed up to registration, which was no problem. We ran into all sorts of friends up there, and headed down to the Brew House for dinner with two other teams: Groo and James Fox. They are both Saab freaks.

An early start the next morning. Half of that being up early was because we had things to do, the other half was because we were jacked! We're at a rally! Drove back down to the Linnell motel in Rumford, where morning registration was located. Bruce Weinman and I were running the ClubRally licensing seminar, and Amy was attending. We spent the next couple hours going over the very basics of rally for the new competitors.

Grabbed a few danish type snacks at registration, and then met up with Henrik and Eva, my brother and mother. They were going to be crewing for me, so they signed the waivers and got checked in. A little later, Peter, TJ, and James showed up. They were the rest of my crew, and had been 'recruited' via the New England Subaru Impreza Club (NESIC) online community. Got their waivers signed, and had their car checked in as another service vehicle, which involves showing some insurance papers, and they took off to do some spectating.

Amy and I went across the street to have a long overdue lunch and start going over the route book. I had some scallops and Amy had some gorgeous haddock. You don't go to Maine and get a hamburger.

It was a little drizzley, we got some warmer clothes and went down to Parc Expose to see all the cars. As usual, the top teams had stashed their cars there and left early, which is fine. It leaves more time to talk to all our friends, the real heart of rally in America.

Next, we had volunteered to marshal one of the night stages. This involved meeting up with John Buffum at the start of Stage 1, and then caravaning out to Stage 4. JB set us up at different areas. Amy and I were assigned a local unofficial spectator area. This is an spot where a group of locals were going to spectate. We couldn't stop them from being there, as they actually owned the land. It was about twenty people, and they all lived on that road, within about 600 feet of the spectator area.

We ate some of the food we had brought with us, and soon the cars were roaring by. The locals were well prepared, with shelter made out of tarps and two by fours, as well as a kerosene heater. After ninety minutes (there was very little attrition the first day, only three cars out) of drizzle, then rain, then dark, we packed up and headed back for bed.

Another early morning, with some hard boiled egg. Today was OUR rally! Drove the van down to the start. We had left the car there overnight, next to the Parc Ferme that the ProRally cars had to be in. We were in our suits already, and that staved off the chill of the misty Maine morning.

Henrik and Eva showed up shortly, and then the NESIC boys. They got to work checking and setting all the tire pressures. Good thing, too, as we discovered that the spare tire in the trunk was not holding air. "Get a new tire!" and we swapped the leaky spare out quickly.

Because of a peculiarity of the non-perfect seeding system, I was slated to start dead last. No seeding system is perfect, the one used here, called 'SpeedFactor' didn't have any data on me for the last couple years because I had been running only regional races, not national races. So my ranking had decayed with time. Kurt Spitzner from the SCCA national office noticed this, and by decree moved me up the start order to a more appropriate slot.

About this time I realized that I had forgotten my driving gloves in the hotel room. Henrik and Pete jumped into Pete's WRX wagon and zipped up to Sunday River. Phew, that disaster averted. When they came back, they asked me, "So, you found them, right?" Ahhh, no! No time for a return trip, so, new plan: the whole crew would head up to Sunday River, which was mostly on the way to the first service area. I would run the first stage without gloves, and then have them for the rest of the day. Ok. Amy and I and belted in, drove up to the MTC, and began the transit to the first stage.

The first transit is about an hour through some beautiful Maine foothills. Seeing gorgeous vistas overlooking small lakefront towns, with some low clouds and mist, is a fantastic way to start a rally. Partly because it's nice to look at, and partly because it means that you won't be getting a lot of dust from the car in front of you.

We are waiting in a line of about twenty rally cars for the first control. I see in my side view that Vantro is coming around the corner! We had beaten them to this spot, and the route to service was coincidentally the same as ours at this point! I flagged them down, and got the gloves. We also helped another team that was leaking coolant. They had blown a small fitting and it all gushed out. They had rigged up a fix, but didn't have enough water. We offered up some of the five gallon jug of distilled water from the service vehicle and they gladly took it. Ultimately this allowed them to make it through the stage to service and fix the problem properly!

We check in to the control on our minute without needing to jump out of the car. Amy was worried at first that we would be blocked by other cars simply because it was crowded, but those cars moved up as their minute passed. Once inside, Amy zeroed the odometer at the stage start sign. We had about two minutes before it was our turn to race. I looked over and asked her, "Ok, are you ready?" She had a big smile on her face, "Yeah."

The first stage we ran, Stage 5 of the event, is called Magalloway and is eleven miles long. Since this is a National event, Rally America was there, and in addition to providing live internet coverage, they supplied timing equipment. That meant that at the start of the stage there was a fancy countdown clock like you see in the WRC footage.

Watching the countdown, when it gets to about two seconds, I rev up to about forty five hundred RPMs, and at zero start to let the clutch out. The start has already been churned by all the rally cars in front of us, so there's no danger of snapping any transmissions here. Vroooom, and we're underway! It's a strange experience, because I can't hear the engine. We kept the exhaust stock for this race, so it's much more quiet than I'm used to. The stage felt like a video game; in the first part, there were all these bushes and reeds on the side of the road, and it made every corner look the same. Same texture, and same color. Then the stage dove into the newer sections, and we were in the 'proper' forest.

Amy was working the odometer and calling out the instructions. This stage was difficult for her, as she was using the overall mileage instead of the deltas between instructions. Even so, all the calls were early, so I had plenty of warning of the obstacles coming up. On transits, the overall mileage can be easier to follow, but she had forgotten to mentally switch over.

For me, the car felt light. It was less thunderous and more nimble than the rally truck I used to race. The rotation was a little more balanced around the center, rather than the front. Being lighter just made it feel like we would slide off the outside of the corner.

At one point, with over one and a half miles to the next instruction, just near the end of the stage, Amy cried out, "I don't know what's coming! I don't know how to help you!" I replied "Shhhh." At this point, just completing the first stage, I still had my hands full racing a car that was completely new, and many of the sight lines were very short. She settled down in just a few seconds and got back into navigator mode. We crossed the finish line, gave the time card to the control worker, and idled out to the transit.

During the transit, we were trying to figure out why the mileage was off on the stage, and nearly blew by the service area! Brakes! We pulled in and there was our crew. I think TJ flagged us down and pointed us to where the pit was set up.

We gassed up, and James checked the tire pressures all around. They had gained several PSI since we had set them cold earlier that morning. We dropped them down to a more reasonable pressure so we wouldn't slide off the road. It's always a very tricky compromise depending on what the stages are like ahead: lower pressures for more grip, higher pressures give the tire more resistance to blowing out on a large rock.

Just down the road about a mile to the next stage, Wilson Mills, twelve miles long. I clearly remembered the start of this stage from past years, but not the middle. One surprise is that one of the bridges was not marked in the route book! The bridges at Maine Forest are very primitive affairs: rough hewn, large lumber, with reinforcements where each wheel would ordinarily travel. This means there's a huge trench in the middle that drops down about three inches, which makes going over the bridge at anything other than absolutely straight a very precarious operation. And since rally cars tend to be sideways all the time, the bridges are even more dangerous.

Unlike the last time I ran this stage, there was no chipmunk challenging me at the start. We tightened our belts, and took off on our minute. Amy's calls matched the road better on this stage, and she was getting used to calling out the instructions while being pitched around like a paper boat in a tsunami. She wasn't quite as used to the microphones we were using though, and her voice kept getting louder and louder in my ears. During the next transit, I reminded her that she only had to whisper.

There was only a short, unpaved transit to the next stage. We were getting into the groove, and driving the car seemed easy. I reminded myself that it always seems easy right before you crash it. The upcoming stage was named 'Parmachenee Short' at twenty one miles, even though it is less than a mile shorter than Parmachenee Long, the last stage we would run in the rally. They both start and finish in the same place, but they take different loops in the middle.

Parmachenee has one of my favorite S curves in it, a hard right into hard left just three quarters of a mile into the stage. Because the section before that is so flowing, it tends to catch out many teams. The run out is also tricky, on the first outside, it's wet, soft, and marshy. The second outside had high hard bushes and some trees. So it's easy to get the first corner wrong, drift out into the soft stuff, and be in an absolutely perfect position to not make the second corner.

Sure enough, there were two cars off at that corner when we came around. I wasn't too happy with my own handling of it, I was distracted by the other cars there. Even so, we survived with minimal speed loss, and continued on.

The first really scary moment of the rally came up shortly later. An uphill section looked to go straight over a crest and open up. Rounding the top of the hill I see that the road turned hard right and there were stacks of boulders in front of me! The tree line I had seen that looked so open from the bottom of the hill was from the pond on the other side of the boulders! I went right hard, slid, gassed, countersteered, and kept going. Amy was doing her job perfectly on her side of the car and didn't even notice till I said, "Oh shit that was close."

The finish came right through a huge group of spectators, and we managed that just fine. Parallel with the finish control was a Subaru WRX on its side in the ditch, _after_ the finish of the stage. It had finished the stage, and not slowed down quickly enough. When it came up to the line of cars checking out of the stage, it dove off to the side to avoid hitting anyone. Diane Houseal gave us some weird sounding instructions at the finish: go to instruction two of the transit, and park. Huh?

We got there and found the rest of the ClubRally field parked there too. It turns out that a spectator had been hotrodding around the back roads in their Subaru WRX. When they had come to this corner (this part of the transit was also where the spectators came in to watch the stage) he had rolled it, and it burnt to the ground. There was some confusion, however, as the wreck had already been cleared away, but no one was there to tell us to leave. Finally we got a rally official there after having a passing sheriff radio down to the control. Now on to the next service at Oquossoc.

When we arrived in Oquossoc, the crew had set up right behind the Subaru factory team. Henrik started jacking up the car with TJ, Pete was getting the gas, Eva had the fire extinguisher, and James was taking some pictures. They had the big tarp out to park on, staked out with cones.

After jacking the car up, and discovering that the under-jack-board we were using was really at it's limit, it was time to inspect the damage. I had felt a little shimmy in the steering on the last transit. Turns out that we had bent the driver's front rim. It wasn't a bad bend, and I've seen plenty of bad ones, so I let it stay. We had also taken some hits on the skid plate, the gouges were there, and big, but no damage anywhere else. The exhaust had a bolt missing on one of the flanges, which explains why the car was getting louder as the stages went on.

Henrik and TJ got to work bolting the exhaust back together, while I proceeded to drink about a gallon of water. Some cold cuts and cheese were already out on the table, and both Amy and I made sure to get food in us while we could. I grabbed one of the 'Team Report' forms that I had prepared earlier, and started filling it out with details. Amy handed this in to the Rally America folks while James was scouting out washers from some of the other teams.

We got everything put back together and actually had about five minutes to relax. Back in to the car, and to the MTC Out control. We stopped to talk to James Fox, who's Saab had suffered from terminal wheel bearing failure. Amy was becoming familiar with the idea of getting the control workers to help her by now. Door closing assistance was common. At this point, she also got her eye drops out, as her contacts were drying out. The control worker helped bungee the bag back in place.

Magalloway Long, eighteen miles, was the next stage we ran. It was the same stage we ran in the morning, but backwards, with a new loop added in the middle.

Back to service at the Wilson Mills DOT lot. Everything was all set up again, a bonus for us. The Wilson Mills service seems less hectic, for two reasons. One, there's more room. Two, service is shorter, which means that fewer teams are there doing things. Again, checked tire pressures and made some small adjustments. Got a photo of the whole team together. We were just about to pull out when "Oh shit, the lights!"

Because of the spectator car that had caught on fire earlier, and unknown delays in the future, and the possible return of rain, I had decided to put the big lights on the car at this service. Unfortunately I had forgotten to tell anyone, even myself! So we started a mad dash to get the lights on. About halfway through, Henrik told me, "Just get in the car and belt up, we'll finish it!" I did what he told me and started hooking everything up.

They got the lights on and we took off down to the start of the next stage. Fortunately I knew that the start was only about a mile away. We pulled in with about a forty seconds to spare, and entered on our minute. Now we were on our own: we wouldn't see the service crew again until, _if_, we returned to Oquossoc at the finish.

The last two stages were Wilson Mills reverse and Parmachenee Long, twelve and twenty two miles. I noticed on the first that we were developing some rattling somewhere. In the two minutes between the stages, I looked underneath and checked out our front skid plate. One of the front bolts was a little loose, so I tightened that up with the wrench from the onboard tool kit. I gave the exhaust a wiggle just by grabbing the tail pipe at the rear, and it didn't seem too bad. If it was anything else, I couldn't really fix it, so I didn't want to know about it.

Parmachenee at this point was getting very chewed up. It had already seen the entire field of rally cars in the morning, and now again this afternoon. The surprise corner with boulders from this morning didn't catch me out this time around. My favorite S turn didn't go well, came in a little too hot. That corner is going to need more discipline from me in the future.

My first big mistake was on the last corner of the rally. It was right in front of a spectator area, and we had come through there very well the first time around. I didn't think the corner through at all this time. I thought, "I'll just do it like I did last time" without actually stopping to remember exactly what that method was. Came in too fast and went off the road. We were up on two wheels for a moment with the car at a forty five degree angle. Still on the gas, and Amy yelling at me to keep going, I downshifted to second as the car fell back onto all four tires. The wheels were spinning like crazy in mid air at full throttle! As soon as all four touched down again we started digging trenches with the all wheel drive. Slinging dirt everywhere and accelerating, we powered out of the ditch and back onto the road!

This was all within sight of the finish, and I _really_ didn't want to be stuck right here all day. We got big cheers from all the spectators. They love crashes, but there's one thing they love more: cars that drive out of crashes!

Coming out of the control we spotted JD Ackley and his posse. I pulled over and got out, both to say hello to him and also to check the damage to the side of the car. I was anticipating that it would be trashed, but it was untouched! The only damage was a broken turn signal light! Amazing! Stoked, we headed down to Oquossoc, waving and honking at all the spectators.

At the last control, tech was checking to see that all the cars had catalytic converters on them. We have more than one, so that wasn't a problem. We pulled back into our spot by the fire station, parked and got out. Ahhh! Finished! We pulled out some ciders in celebration! There are a couple sayings we have at Lina Racing, one is "The only thing better than rally is when rally's over!" The other is "Any rally where you can still drive your car on the trailer when you're done is a good rally."

And you always think that this is where the adventure ends. But rally's not like that. We headed back to the Sunday River resort, put our team shirts on, and headed down to the banquet. We checked the scores, and we actually did very well. The goals for this event were straightforward; I needed to experience all-wheel-drive, and Amy needed experience navigating at full speed. Both of those were fully satisfied. When we realized that our tiny, stock, 1.8 liter engine had beaten two turbo charged Mitsubishi Eclipses and some Audis, well, that was just icing on the kiz-ake! And we were only twelve seconds behind a three hundred horsepower Audi? Sweeeeet.

We stayed up late, endured the mumblings of the awards ceremony, and talked to all our friends. We found the Allens; Martin had let me drive his restored Mini in the parking lot earlier! Those cars are amazing! We hung out with the Last Ditch Racing folks, and Havas, and Amy spoke briefly with David Higgins, whom she has a bit of history with.

Finally to bed. TJ, Pete, and James had stashed their shirts at our car, we picked those up and headed to bed. I woke up at six the next morning, got dressed, and went down to load the trailer. Once again, I was saved by our infrastructure. I had forgotten that the trailer was all locked up, but the towing box has a spare set of keys! Hooray! I filled the van tanks with the gas left over from racing. We were on the road by eight o'clock.

On the way out of town, we saw lots of other rally cars heading out, and even ran into Alex Kurihani and Don Kennedy at the gas station. They passed us about four hours later on the highway. After about five hours, Chris Baker passed us towing their GTI. They had gone out on the first stage of the rally, much like we had the first time we ran Maine. We caravaned with them for a while and all got lunch together.

Now, you get one guess as to whether New Jersey screwed us. You're right, it did. We had heavy traffic all down the East Coast, and Chris actually got out in front of us for a while. One of the signs warned of congestion at the last exit leaving Jersey, and offered alternate routes. Chris took the suggestion, and were out of radio contact at the time. When I saw it, I decided that New Jersey had given me the screwgie too many times for me to fall for that trick, and I stayed on the turnpike.

Our cell phone rings a while later, not only did they take the detour and get slightly lost, their trailer was broken! One of the straps, or rings, had broken, and the electrical trailer connections had somehow broken! So now they have no trailer lights, and no brakes! We were already at the first service station outside of Jersey, as our plan never to set foot on Jersey soil had come to fruition. We were an hour or two ahead of Chris by now, so we got the supplies they needed, wire and connectors, out of our van and made arrangements with the people at the service area to stash it there till they arrived. A couple hours later, we called Chris. They had made it back onto the turnpike, down to the service station, picked up the supplies, and wired the trailer back into working condition! Now we were all on our way safely again! Incredible.

The remainder of the ride was pretty quiet. Amy and I listened to most of another book on tape. I got really tired about one thirty am, so we took a one and half hour nap. Drove for ninety more minutes, then another nap. Finally pulled in to our house at six thirty in the morning. Amy actually drove the last section, the traffic had finally settled down enough for her to try driving the van with a loaded trailer.

Months of work culminated in this one very busy week. SO much fun and so much work! Lots of generous cooperation between teams, and lots of good work within our team. Friends gathered from around the country, and new friends too. The highlight may have been Amy saying to me, "You can drive faster, because I'm not scared yet." Well, at least _one_ of us wasn't!