2001 Rapidan

Rapidan Rally 2001

Heat problems and the most technical course on the East Coast both worked hard to wear down Lina Racing's driver Anders Green at the Rapidan Rally. In a surprising turnaround, what appeared at first to be an easy race turned into the most grueling endurance event this season!

Rapidan Rally, named after a nearby river, took place in northern Virginia. A beautiful fall day hid the amazingly twisty course that would torture me during the next few hours. The stage was a five mile track encompassing one hundred and forty turns that were almost all hairpins. We would run the stage six times: three times in the morning in one direction, then three times in the afternoon in the reverse direction.

We had a small team for this event. I was driving, as usual. Carl Fisher, an experienced former rally driver, navigator, and event worker, took the co-driver's seat. Amy Feistel, at her first rally ever, constituted the entire crew.

The day started with meeting old friends. Randy Zimmer set up his service area next to ours. That ended up working well for him: he availed himself of our unguarded paper towels later in the day. Or maybe that was Russel. We, in turn, were repaid with a quick lesson on how to keep your front fascia attached: punch a few holes with a screwdriver and a hammer, then start in with the zip ties. JD Ackley was just down the row with his Audi looking very proper. Saab contingent James Fox, Ethan Maas, and Groo! made the long haul from the northeast. There was more than one Bowers running around. Eric Adams, who also lives in Cary, made the trip up and would be co-driving for the younger Bowers, Duffy. Constantine was right there, and Jason Rivas as well, both with their calmly confident manner. Greg "Healeymonster" was in the middle of things with trademark tank top and glasses. Alex Eristoy, all grins with no end of cool in sight, also made an appearance. Newcomer Lee Reodica was just excited to be there with his Subaru.

The day started poorly, before we even really got going. At tech we were informed that we had to thread our belts according to the diagram in the rule book. I piped up that they were FIA approved, and thus had to be wound as delivered from the factory. I didn't want to cause a ruckus, so left to rewind them. Once I saw what a colossal pain it was, I got out the rulebook, brought a belt up to tech, showed them the paragraph and the marking on the belt, and asked for my log book back. Next time I should probably save both the tech inspector and myself the aggravation by photocopying that page and taping it to my belts.

Driver's meeting, and then suddenly it was time to get suited up! A few teams made the mistake of free-as-you-please transiting up to the first control, and were assessed a time penalty for checking in too early. Due to a little clock confusion, we were almost one of them� Carl did some fast talking to massage the situation, and came out of everything A-OK. We pulled up to the top of the hill for the first run. The course would end up running in a big counterclockwise loop, with the service area in the center. There were many good spectator areas; from the tower in the center, you could see five rally cars simultaneously!

In fine and traditional Lina Racing style, Carl called the first turn "Hairpin Right!" when it was, in fact, a left. I congratulated him on his embracing the team history, and we had no difficulty negotiating the corner. The stage began with a series of switchback hairpins through high prairie. Then a long left sweeper right next to the tree line, around a tight right, then dove into the trees between the huge posts of a gate. We wove in and out of the trees, then a few off camber hairpins around a hill, over it, then past an old oak.

One wild aspect of the course is that "off camber" took on a whole new meaning. It wasn't the usual "water would drain to the outside of the corner" idea. Instead it was the "do this wrong, you'll tip over, even at low speeds". In fact, Sumit Panjabi, the event organizer, had rolled the day before, just checking the course!

There was a short water crossing that quickly deteriorated into a huge mud hole as multiple cars crashed through it. It was quite rough, and we learned quickly to take a wide, diagonal approach. Carl made excellent use of free "eye time" to scout out the situation as we approached. I only had enough time to dive us through it; with Carl's suggestions the sequential runs were much less jarring.

The next section ended up joining with a section of a rallycross course that I had run some weeks earlier. The well worn road through this section was amazing! The dirt had become some kind of baked mud, and was super hard. In sections, you could see where cars were leaving rubber tracks on this concrete hard surface. Having memorized this section previously, it allowed Carl a critical break to catch up in the route instructions. There were so many tulips he was calling them almost as fast as pace notes. He had also driven the course, and was able to sync back up using his prior knowledge.

Now we head down a long straight toward the spectator tower, with a bumpy section in the middle. Full throttle and we're in third gear� the next turn was an extremely cool combination of hairpin left into a 270 degree hairpin right uphill. It was one of the most satisfying corners of the entire rally when I nailed it: one four wheel oversteering drift popping smoothly into the next, with the whole truck feeling like it was rotating around your belly and not the front bumper.

Jammed past the spectators, getting some honking in when there was a straight section. Up the hill, hairpin with massive tree on the outside, then the longest downhill stretch of the course. Well into third gear, I have time to check the speedo just once as we get a little light over the crest: over sixty miles per hour. A wall of trees looming before us, nailed the brakes for the 90 left and busted a right for the hairpin. Looking down a long hill and up again, we had a choice: left or right of the big tree in the middle of the road. We always chose the downhill side, not wanting to get sideways trying to gain the upper ground. It was also a straighter shot.

"Ok, this is the nutty ass section" is what became the comment for this area. Characterized by the entire section being off camber, not just the turns, but the straights as well! On our first run through here, we very nearly slipped off the road and tumbled into the brambles! Tail hanging well down the hill, sliding at a thirty degree offset to where we wanted to be, we definitely found the poor line first time through here. We didn't make that mistake again and took the high line on subsequent runs.

After escaping the back woods, the gently rolling hills and switchback of the next section seemed airy and open. At least we wouldn't slip into the pucker brush and be swallowed up never to be heard from again! A rough section at the top led to a slightly off camber left into a right that you could ditch hook quite nicely� Just nicely enough to carry too much speed into the next off camber hairpin!

A double caution (in SCCA rallies, dangerous areas are rated from single caution up to triple caution) ditch mandated first gear driving across a ditch in the middle of the road: it was two foot drop! Any speed would have crunched the car completely. This lead us uphill to the plateau, where high sumac trees and gentle fields led us, not so directly, to the finish. We ended up less than 200 feet from where we started.

Having a near zero transit distance was appreciated, as well as the generous service times. There was a service after each stage, and they were between forty and fifty minutes long. This gave us plenty of time to drink some fluids and check out the truck.

I was beat! I sat down and started drinking water immediately. Carl was feeling a little queasy, not surprising considering the lack of any long straights to comfortably settle down with. After a minute, I took a walk around the truck to see how everything looked. We had hit that water crossing pretty hard, but had received only the standard bent chin spoiler that we get at every rally. Amy was checking the fluids, as there seemed to be a bit of a mess under the hood.

The second go-around was much smoother. We dropped some time, and the run was nearly flawless. Carl had a little trouble: he was leaving his clipboard in his lap, and the clip part was bumping up into the rally computer. He realized that suddenly the computer was in Egyptian Gimmick Rally mode, and had to rely on memory alone to navigate. Fortunately, there weren't any high speed sections were we could get caught out.

We finished the run, and we were hot! Something was wrong� What had been happening is that some of the hairpins I had been over spinning, cutting the inside at the end of the turn. The radiator was getting filled with fluff and seeds and grains from the fields! Even though we could clear it off during service, we couldn't get most of the seeds out from between the fins! Amy found something dangling under the truck, turns out it was the oxygen sensor. Before I could even find the gloves she had threaded it back in with her hands.

The third run, the last for the morning, had mistakes. Attacking the hairpins too aggressively lead to two spins. Then there was the off course excursion I commanded. I missed a turn and barreled into the field. I thought I remembered that the corner was a hairpin; I expected to pop out directly on the other side. Ohhh, I was so wrong. We probably traveled a quarter mile through that field. I remember the grass being up to the mirrors, about eight inches higher than the hood. So I could really only see about six inches in front of the truck. I was looking at the sky, seeing where the big trees were, and driving around those. After ten, then twenty seconds, Carl piped in with "I think we have to go right." "Really? Ok�" After all, he's the navigator.

Former co-driver, now spectator Eric Adams described it this way: "So after breaking Duffy's car, I spectated a little bit in order to see the Anders-Carl mighty truck rippin' it up. The road made several Esses on itself, and the Anders-mobile came around the first right hairpin nicely slideways and kicked up a lot of dust that drifted over the next turns (driving into his own dust). The next turn was a left hairpin tight around the outside of the clump of bushes that were about 15 feet tall. The truck roared away from the first turn and disappeared behind the dust. Then there was engine noise and a bunch more dust. Then the entire clump of bushes started shaking above the dust cloud like elephants were fighting in there. Then more engine noise, even more dust, and then the truck pops back out of the dust and slides around the next corner. It doesn't sound funny to write, but it was really funny watching Anders attackin' the shrubbery."

We pulled into service with all kinds of purple splotches from various berry bushes all over the hood. At one time, we also took care of a crab apple tree, and had a rain of crab apples all over the windshield and hood. I hit the wipers to get rid of them�

Finally, lunch time. Amy was on the scene with turkey sandwiches, and food in bar form. The day was heating up, and all this work, and I'm talking about the actual driving, was wearing me down. We had realized at this point that we needed to clear the radiator after every run. Also, the power steering fluid was depleting itself, with some help from me and the rough terrain. So many hairpins, the pump couldn't keep up. Halfway through the unwinding of a hairpin, the steering effort would increase, and the pump would spit fluid out the reservoir. Every service now consisted of filling up power steering fluid.

Already the roughness of the rally was apparent. Ten cars were out already, and there was a team next to me who had been through three Khumo tires already. Duffy had put a strut towers through the roof, and JD's enthusiasm had led him to a minor slide. Unfortunately, the slide managed to just pinch some electrical connections, shutting down the motor for the day.

Now, in the most quiz like rally ever, we would run this stage backward and see if we could remember what was going on. Carl and I were largely successful at remembering the style of the area we were in, and that kept us successfully on all fours. My left elbow was starting to really hurt, the hairpins left me no time to tuck it out of the way, and I kept smacking it into the armrest. One off camber hairpin over crest caught us out, and we locked up the brakes to keep us from spelunking. A fairly decent time, and then it was time for the power steering fluid again.

Fifth leg, and I had forgotten to remove the armrest! Man, was I pissed at myself! I yelled at Carl to remind me to take that out at the last service. He was caught off guard by my angry tone, and slightly bewildered by it I think. More smacking my arm, and then that same off camber hairpin over crest caught us! I told Carl to make a note in the route book so that next time we would be watching for it.

Now, writing in the car, under the best of conditions, isn't really conducive to good penmanship. What ended up in the route book, well, I almost decided to have him drug tested on the spot. Let's just say that it's a good thing we didn't have to make more than one note per leg�

Last service. The routine of oil, power steering fluid, clear the radiator, rest. I recall very clearly talking to the owners of the property at this point, telling them that if there were two more stages, I would probably just bag it right there. My arms were only able to keep up with my brain for the first four or five minutes of the thirteen minute legs. Carl could easily tell when I was working hard, all the grunting and huffing probably transmitted quite directly to his headset.

The last leg was comforting in its familiarity and its finality. It was so good to be driving this course for the last time! Finished the leg, almost broad siding a pine tree on our second to last hairpin, pulled into service, and shut down the truck.

Wooooo!!! The rally was over! The only thing better than going rallying, is when rallying is over! I walked around congratulating everyone, and giving them the very low handshake: it was too much effort for anyone to raise their hands up to standard handshaking position.

Zimmer had managed the win, battling Rivas all day, with only nine seconds deciding the winner. The podium ceremony, complete with spray down, was beautiful. Amy jumped in to help Sumit and Rob distribute the trophies. Let's just say everyone was thankful that Amy was giving out the kisses and not Mr. Bergstrom!

Fools that we are, we had signed up to compete in the rallycross on the same site the next day. Carl and I would both be driving the rallytruck. So we left the truck and the trailer there, and headed off to the hotel, with visions of a large, cool swimming pool enticing us like a mirage. Except it was no mirage�