I’ve just returned from a week in Missouri testing then (almost) competing in the 100 Acre Wood pro rally. We spent the early part of the week up on a Bison ranch with Ken Block testing our respective cars for the event, and that went really well for us. We put in a rear diff with way more static preload than normal and it made the car super-snappy – good turn-in on the brakes and lots of power-over oversteer on exit but killer understeer in off-throttle transition. So I was chasing the understeer mid-corner with center diff settings (fully computer mapped in my car, always my own program), and also with suspension settings. Fortunately the engineers from Ohlins Sweden were there also and we went through a bunch of iterations on the shocks, trying to find the right balance. By the end of two days of testing on the narrow dirt roads, we had a good setup and were ready for the race. Every lap of the 3 mile dirt course was within a half second of our best.
We were seeded to start first on the road, with Travis Pastrana behind us in second and Ken Block starting fourth. The organizers provided a practice stage and so we went out only a few hours before the rally to have a final shakedown. We were given a two-minute gap to the car in front of us, but we caught him in 2.5 miles – do the math on how much faster we were going. As I lifted so as to not rear-end them, the engine went “poof” and our hearts sank. I shut it off and our buddy Carl Decker, a pro mountain biker who took up rally this year (and is killing it), towed us back to the service area.
We bent the #4 rod like a banana. It happens sometimes, not surprising given the rod ratio and 30lbs boost we run, but still frustrating, and really unusual given the good rods we use. We may have lost the head gasket and then under vacuum sucked coolant, the piston is pretty clean on top. We’ll find out when we tear it down.
Anyway, it was only 2 hours to the start of the rally and there was no way to swap out the motor in that time. So we spent the rest of the weekend displaying the car, signing autographs, and hanging out. It was totally heartbreaking of course, watching our position as first on the road get taken over by Travis, then Ken after Travis went off and broke a control arm. We could have won the event. Whatever. Revisionist history.
But the DNF gave me a lot of time with a few people: Tanner Foust came to the event to hang out and we talked about tandem and technique. Brad Manka, who has been with NuFormz for the past couple of years and will be my crew chief in FD, came out to crew this rally (he came and crewed the last one too), and we talked a lot about the Viper and the changes we want to make for 2010. And last but not least, Jesse Wilks, three-time CSCS Drift Champion (www.cscs.ca, when the site goes back up), teammate at Stage 1 Drift Crew (www.s1dc.ca, ditto) and my personal “coach”, was crewing for me and we went over some classic Japanese videos studying fast initiations. Two years ago at this event, we took his S13 KA-T and my S13 SR20 (but otherwise pretty stock) to Hallett and practiced tandems, before I tested the Viper at El Toro in 2008.
This drift deal has been coming together for a long time, and I am so excited. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but I love a challenge. I don’t expect to be on the podium right out of the gate, but I don’t race to lose, either.
Should be a good season.