RalliSpec made its performance rally debut at the Maine Forest ProRally this past weekend. The car, an '88 Toyota Celica Alltrac, was unproven coming into the event. In fact, due to their recent work overload and a last minute turbo rebuild (arrived Wed. afternoon!) it was a mad rush to get the car finished in time and required working late into the night most of the week. You can imagine the nervousness of the team starting the rally with no prior testing or shakedown of an all-new car.
After an 11 hour hell ride in an underpowered tow-vehicle the team arrived in Rumford, Maine late Thursday night. Friday's activities started with registration and an all too brief novice seminar. Luckily the team had a little time to get aquainted with the car which miraculously seemed to be performing flawlessly. There were a lot of positive comments on the build quality from some of the more respected members of the Prorally community.
Friday afternoon...parc expose found the team doing some last minute brake bleeding and seat adjustments. This was minor compared some other teams such as Pat Richard's which found themselves needing to change a transmission in an hour in order to start the rally. One of RalliSpec's service crew was kind enough to offer up the transmission out of his own Impreza RS road car but Pat decided they didn't have enough time to do the swap.
The rally started with a transit through the first special stage at which point everyone turned around and the stage was run in reverse at speed. The transit in was a bit intimidating because the roads were littered was large rocks (or small boulders!) many of which were embedded in the road with at least a foot or more or rock exposed...easily enough to destroy even the best prepared rally car.
Driver Dave Anton comments: "we wisely decided to take it easy on the first day because it was so rough and the car was unproven. With the adrenalin pumping its hard to keep from overdoing it but Andy was there to remind me to save the car for the second day". Co-driver Andy Coombs was calling the corners with the 3rd RalliSpec owner, Jorge Coombs, handling the crew chief responsibilities. The first day was not without incident... problems with the master switch left the team unable to get the car started while waiting to start the first stage! Luckily they were able to get it sorted out and start without penalty. On the 3rd stage more electrical problems brought the car to a halt as the ECU circuit breaker kept popping due a shorted O2 heater wire. As Andy ran down the road to set up the caution triangles Dave was able to get the car fired up again but they lost at least 3 minutes on the stage. At the end of the day results showed them 82nd out of 108 cars that started the event. The team was just happy to finish the day...a mangled skidplate, dented front control arm, and a gouged tire sidewall were just some of the scars showing on the car.
Day 2 brought a lot more stage miles but considerably smoother terrain. The first stage of the day was a 12 mile route through some lovely backwoods logging roads. With confidence in the car, the setup, and the Michelin rally tires the team felt they could start pushing the limits of the car. "The car handled perfectly. Getting the car to drift through the corners was effortless. I backed off a little over some of the blind crests and unmarked corners but otherwise pushed the car pretty hard. There weren't many long straight sections but I know we got the car over 100mph in a few spots, the car just had so much power." The team finished the stage ahead of the car in front of them (which started 1 minute before).
The next stage brought some drama and with it ended the day for the team. Having no time to test the car, the team was unsure as to the boost they were running as the stock gauge only goes to 8psi. Apparently the overabundance of power was a sign of TOO much boost..especially on the pump gas they were running. About two miles into the 12 mile stage the car began to lose power and the team knew they had serious engine trouble. With smoke and oil vapor pouring from beneath the hood the team pressed on at reduced speed just hoping to make it to the end of the stage. Unfortunately the car had other ideas as it ground to a halt a half mile later with a hole in the block and connecting rod shrapnel embedded in the radiator.
With the pressure of their first stage rally event off their shoulders, RalliSpec is committed to getting the car back up and running in time for some of the fall Prorally events. Testing and reliability are top priorities.
RalliSpec would like to thank Lee Reodica, Tony Powell, and Mike Wintrode for volunteering for service crew and doing a fantastic job. Without them this weekend couldn't have happened!