28 October 2007

Dunlop Targa, Day 5: Done and Done!

Saturday started cautiously. It was the last day of the event and a big one. After the beautiful weather the day before, the Hawkes Bay surprised us with uncharacteristically cold and drizzly conditions.

The first stage was cautioned as slippery and I had to keep my nerves at bay, as over-exuberance on the final leg has historically been the downfall of many competitors.

We were having problems with one of our carbs flooding, which made the car very difficult to keep running at low speeds. One more thing to think about wasn't what we needed. The uncertain conditions in the stage made it difficult to build up a comfortable rhythm and I wasn't sure how the new tyres (which we'd swapped the night before) were going to affect the car's balance, having yet to be "scrubbed in." Additional cautions also included a loose black sheep "somewhere" around the 5km mark - we didn't come across it fortunately. We finished within a reasonable time, but it was an unsatisfying drive.

The second stage of the day was much the same, with an unpredictable road surface. I didn't push and we were eventually caught by the Honda Integra Type R behind us. We waved him through but managed to stick with him for the remainder of the stage. Again, not a drive to be wholly satisfied with, but importantly, we kept it on the black stuff!

The quick service couldn't solve our flooding problems, so we were forced to continue as it was. I had to exercise a lot of heel and toe action to keep the car from stalling during the touring stages.

The road dried out as the day progressed and my confidence crept back, making my driving smoother and faster.

The next Service stop was also lunch, so was more generous at around 45min. We needed to take a serious look at the problem carburettor, so Alan and Hans dismantled it, checking for blockages along the way. We soon discovered that the float had a minute leak and had gradually been filling with fuel. The floats are brass and are soldered together - there was no way of knowing for sure where the leak was exactly.

After much deliberation we drilled a tiny hole to allow the fuel to escape, but now the problem was how to seal it. A butane soldering iron was tracked down from a generous service crew, but before we could apply heat we needed to evacuate the trapped petrol. Alan began to shake out the petrol, but it was painfully slow and time was running out, with our carb still in pieces.

Rob wanted to suck it out, which would have been horrible, so we decided to add flame. I applied a lighter to the dripping float and voila, instant flamethrower! Flame shot out of the tiny hole for a good few moments and soon the petrol was evacuated, but not before we set the grass alight! We soldered up the hole and Rob and I strapped ourselves in to the car in preparation for the next stage, which we were almost late for. Alan and Hans reassembled everything and we were ready to go as soon as they were, with the timing of a professional team! The engine fired up and we drove away, carbs functioning beautifully!

The next stage proved how cold it had become with new snow on the nearby Tararua Ranges. We lined up and a hopeful Honda crew chatted about catching us. Inspiration to drive faster maybe - but I was determined just to drive to my limits. We had a fantastic run, buoyed by the fact that the car was finally running like it should, and consequently, no Honda caught us.

But the continued use of full throttle took its toll. The float chamber was flooded again. Our fix had been temporary and our new hole had made things worse. We laboured to the next quick service stop where we quickly brainstormed over what to do. Supplies were scant and the soldering iron had been long since returned to the crew it belonged to. We had the mother of all stages coming up, and could not afford to have problems during it.

Hans remembered an old trick from his enduro riding days - they would repair broken fuel tanks temporarily with soap, since it doesn't react with petrol. I sprinted to the Norsewood public toilets, while Rob tried the 4 square. Only hand lotion - damn! Dad meanwhile, had found soap in the store, but with all kinds of fragrances, oils etc - not what we wanted in our fuel! We rifled through the shelves and found one remaining box of pure soap - bingo! $1.50 later and we had six cakes of the stuff! I sprinted back to the car where Al and Hans already had the carb in pieces. A small piece of the soap was then mixed with spit (!) and rubbed all over the float, which had been mostly emptied of fuel.

Rob and I jumped in the PV while things were put together in record time. Fired it up and away we went! So far so good.

When we next met at another service it was still running beautifully! In the meantime, we'd driven the stage I'd been dreading, SS36, at 44km long. What a stage! It turned out to be the best of the whole event. We were completely on form, flowing from one corner to the next, and bouncing off 6200rpm for the duration. Fantastic! Rob and I were whooping and screaming through the intercom, and we realised that we both loved this car. We caught and passed a Peugeot 106 and soon after saw tantalising glimpses of two seperate v8s ahead of us. We couldn't overcome their massive horsepower advantage though. We were surprised that we never saw the Integra's headlights behind us.

We told Alan and Hans to leave things alone, and that we'd finish the event on soap - only two more stages to go! They'd met up with Penny in the meantime and we sent them off to spectate in the last stage so they'd be in time to catch a glimpse of us in action. By now, the sun was even out.

The last two stages continued where we'd left off and the car, Rob and I were in fine form. We had learned that the Integra hadn't made it, rolling in SS36. I pushed hard but was mindful that we could lose everything here. I couldn't resist though when it came to crowd-lined intersections, braking late and flooring it around the bends - lifting the inside wheel every time!

Before we knew it, it was done, we'd made it! Through the final flying finish and Targa '07 was over. Where we'd end up in the results - we had no idea. But we'd surprised and entertained a hell of a lot of people and had had a blast doing it. The rush certainly didn't wear off during the tour back to Hastings, and would last for long time yet...

26 October 2007

Dunlop Targa, Day 4: Windy roads and windy roads.

Today took us from Feilding to Hastings and from two extremes in both weather and roads.

We awoke to drizzle and the anticipation of greasy roads, starting with SS23. Named Windmill Alley, it's soon obvious why. Huge wind turbines dominate the hills above Ashurst and Woodville, and if the slippery roads and high winds weren't enough to test the concentration, the sight of the enormous blades slicing past you certainly made it difficult to concentrate on driving!

We took it easy due to the conditions, and discovered that the PV doesn't like high winds! The sidewinds made it hard to hold a line at speed and wiper blades soon became useless, flailing about in front of the windscreen intsted of across it!

But we made it, across open flowing roads and eventually on to the almost summer-like weather of the Hawkes Bay.

An ill-thought seeding order meant that we often started with much faster cars directly behind us, which would soon catch us over the long stages. It doesn't help the driving rhythm to be constantly checking mirrors looking for the faster car. I have to admit to being challenged by it though, and I'm proud to have held off and kept pace with faster cars by using the tight winding sections to our advantage. I think we did rather well against one car in particular with twice our horsepower and twice our no. of cylinders!

Had some minor technical issues creep up, including a missing exhuast bolt, which made us even louder than usual. Despite encouragement from onlookers that we should leave it that way, Allan and Hans fixed it in record time.

A pretty tough day, leaving one more to go! More kudos from locals who witnessed our antics over the tighter sections today is good inspiration for the last day tomorrow!

25 October 2007

Dunlop Targa Day 3, Yump! (or How to Scare the Shit out of your Dad Part II)

I'm happy to say that I successfully "yumped" the PV today. I dunno if that term is applicable outside Scandinavia, but it's a Swedish car so I think it qualifies.

Stage 14 this morning had a stretch of 4 consecutive jumps, so the car now officially qualifies as a flying brick, even though ours isn't the boxy kind of Volvo.

We flew over at least two of the jumps, and possibly a third, till I was urged to back off. Gotta say it was incredible.

We made it through another long day which ended at Manfeild this afternoon where we had a blast going around the track - two wheels in places!

Some incredible stages today which rewarded smooth flowing driving. We're not sure exactly where we're placed at the moment but are very happy with our Targa so far.

Highlights were once again, many positive and encouraging comments from spectators and crews alike about the car, which we've been very humbled by. I also enjoyed our last service today, where while we were parked next to a $$$$ Porsche, people were more interested in our car!

The low point of today was during SS15, where a much faster than us Porsche 911 attempted to overtake us and rolled. I had backed off after a brow and a dip in the road to the left, I pulled over on the following straight where I expected him to pass on our right. But instead the mirrors were full of his car going end over end. Instincts told me to stop, but procedure during the stage mean we needed to keep going. I had stopped the car but by this stage another car had arrived on the scene, so we continued to the finish control to notify them of the accident.

Quite a shock to say the least, and a sobering one that managed to linger for most of the day. Thankfully both of the crew came through unscathed and managed to walk away from the wreck that was once their racecar.

Two more days to go, and another long one tomorrow, so sleep now!

24 October 2007

Dunlop Targa: Day 2, Fuel Crisis!

A great start to the day, and full of optimism as we were ahead of quite a few contemporaries.

SS10 and SS11 were set amongst the spectacular backdrop of Mt Taranaki and made for some inspired driving! I've been having a bit of trouble downshifting into second gear, but I think I'm finally starting to get it right.

What I didn't get quite right was a tight hairpin bend into an intersection on SS11, Inglewood 1. I ran too wide and into gravel which threw the car sideways! Driving my way out of it managed to earn a spot on the TV3 news, which I guess, adds some notoriety!

We've met with a lot of enthusiasm regarding the car, due to it's rarity and the way it's being driven. It's a great feeling when people get excited about what we're into and I love fielding questions like "what the hell have you got in that thing?" It really surprises people to learn that it's a Volvo engine and that this unassuming marque had a quite a competition history.

So on to the big stage of the day, Whangamomona. This was a monster 39km stage climbing up and then back down into a valley. It ran one way for SS12 and then in reverse for 13, the final stage of the day. Also a logistical nightmare. One way in, one way out, no cellphone coverage. What it meant was that Allan and Hans had to get in before the road closure, to ensure we could get service once we completed the stage.

We started well and I was getting a great feel for the road. Suddenly we started losing power. It only got worse and soon enough we were parked. No power at all! Safety triangle and Ok sign out, we proceeded to watch everyone we'd made time over pass us by! Along with the rest of the field.

We had plenty of time to figure out what happened but found out quite soon. No petrol. None whatsoever! The tank had run bone dry! We're still not sure how this happened since we were sure the tank had been filled the night before. A non-functioning fuel gauge doesn't help, but we'd easily relied on knowing avg consumption previously.

We waited for a tow out of the stage to our service crew so we could fill up in time for the stage start in the opposite direction. But no dice. NO-ONE could tow us, much to our disbelief. We watched many 4x4s equipped for this purpose file past us and decline requests for help or fuel.

Further insulting was service crews following the sweeper cars through the stage. This was clearly not permitted in the service crew instructions, and had Allan and Hans known this was possible, they would probably not be stuck where they could not help us. Of course there was no cellphone coverage for us to ring for help.

This will get tedious if I go in to more detail, but the short story is, we got fuel, we drove out, couldn't do the stage in reverse but are getting an estimated time based on our performance till now. Very frustrating way to end a day's competition, and we've lost a stage, but maybe I should take heart in knowing that running out of fuel has happened to much better drivers than me with much richer teams than ours!

23 October 2007

Dunlop Targa: Day 1, Use Your Power Arms!

Woah, what a day that was. So much so that I was too tired to update this yesterday (now edited)! I wasn't expecting the Prologue to fully prepare me for Day 1 and it sure didn't.

9 stages totaling 162km was a real workout, finally ending up in New Plymouth after a total of 351km of touring.

A highlight was seeing Glenys Neal (Penny's Mum) who marshalled at Special Stage 7, Marokopa. Her banner in the stage, "Go de Borsts!" sure was an inspiration!

Had a bit of an overheating concern during SS8. As it turned out, coolant had been escaping past the radiator cap - a bit of a scare, but no harm done it seems.

Also the rear axle is still holding up well, and Allan and Hans, our intrepid service crew added a clamp next to the bushing to dissuade further movement.

The touring section between SS8 and SS9 seemed pretty long at 78km and kinda threw me out of my "fast driving" state of mind. I think SS9 suffered as a result, but arriving in New Plymouth in one piece was rewarding enough!

I've gotta say there are moments where I'm jealous of drivers with power steering - I've got to use my power arms instead, but there's satisfaction in throwing an old car like this around these back roads!

22 October 2007

Dunlop Targa NZ 2007: Day 0, Prologue, or How to Scare the Shit out of your Dad.

End of a long day, so must be brief. After succesfully getting to the start and completing documentation it was time to see if I could drive.

These stages don't count, but it's supposed to be a bit of a shakedown for car and crew.
Stages P1 and P2 were Ardmore Quarry Road, run once one way and later in reverse.

We're regarded as one of the slowest cars (!) so we were just the second car to start off.

This was a bad time to realise that our tripmeter wasn't succesfully calibrated! Bad form to be honest, but it was too late for that now. It was very drizzly and we were warned that the stage was very slippery in places. That together with a potentially very quick Fiat Abarth behind us didn't help my nerves.

It was Rob's nerves that really took the beating once we started. Due to a problem with the camera there's no proof, but the cursing came thick and fast!

I had a blast, though it was hard work. The road was very unpredicatable and indeed slippery in many places, but the new tyres are certianly proving their worth!

So some confidence gained, we weren't caught, and we kept it on the black stuff. Not bad for a first go.

Some were not so lucky. We learned that three cars didn't make it through that first Prologue stage and the second was delayed for 40 minutes.

When we finally got underway, Rob was a bit more acquainted with the tripmeter and route book, and I a little less nervous.

I didn't spare the horses and really threw the car back through the stage, leading to a few hairy moments! But, again we made it through and with grins all round.

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But not to last unfortunately. After getting slightly lost back to service stop, we discovered some unwelcome news.

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A suspension bushing around the axle had torn free from its mounting point, probably due to my somewhat "spirited" drive in the last stage. Long story short, it's back to normal now but tomorrow will tell whether it holds up further.

So not so brief then, but must end now. Been a long day with only two stages, and Day One tomorrow is mammoth!

21 October 2007

Dunlop Targa NZ 2007: Day -1

One Day to go, and we're finally ready to go - almost. Last minute preparations take more than minutes and plans are found to work better when they're elastic.

Things we learned today: Incorrectly wiring a kill switch may cause fire. We will never be signwriters. Nevertheless, we now have a fully stickered-up car that's not on fire.

Things we already knew but were reminded of: Alan, our mechanic for the week, is a champion. Despite our unreasonable demands and lateness he effortlessly replaced all the rear rubber bushings with IPD's polyurethane versions (arrived just in time!). Proof to us once more that this would be much tougher, if not impossible without him.

Tomorrow will be my baptism by the aforementioned fire, but hopefully the metaporical kind.
So now to get some rest before my first competion start tomorrow!