By Ryan Dunham
In what promises to be an extraordinarily busy year, I start off my year with two back to back weekends of rally on opposite sides of the country! I started in Dayton Ohio, with the NASA RallySport Ohio RallySprint presented by Brakim Racing. I flew into Dayton, Ohio on the Friday night before the rally, and was picked up by one of our service crew at the airport before heading to the hotel. My driver, Rob Dawson came in a bit later in the evening after a long-haul tow with the Rally car from update New York.
This was our first event of the year, and only our second event together. Rob and I previously competed in the Rally America regional rally, Nemaji Trail in Minnesota. The format of the event in Ohio is a bit different than a typical stage rally; the whole event takes place in one closed-venue location rather than on public roads. With a RallySprint, the same piece of road is used for multiple runs. In our case, 8 runs in the morning, and 8 runs in the afternoon but in the opposite direction, similar to an Autocross or a Rallycross.
The morning of the event, we arrived at Brakim Racing’s test facility with the temperature a balmy 4 degrees Fahrenheit, and went down to the garage for registration. We had to dodge around a Lamborghini Gallardo that is currently being prepared for gravel rally to get around to the registration table. We received our “appearance” package, and set of stickers to identify the sanctioning body and a car number and went to drive the course for reconnaissance.
Reconnaissance, or Recce for short, was allowed before the start of the event. We got in the service truck and pulled up to the start line. Matt Brandenburg of Brakim Racing kindly sat with Rob and I and gave us a few pointers as we created our pace notes from scratch for the first time. My job as the co-driver was to take what the driver is saying and break it down into shorthand to be able to read back to the driver on stage. After completing recce, we went to get our safety equipment and bring out the rally car for technical inspection.
During tech inspection, we applied (or rather, attempted to apply) the event stickers. We discovered the adhesive doesn’t stick so well in such cold weather, nor did the glass cleaner. Eventually we got it all sorted and were given the go-ahead to race.
We pulled around to line up with the rest of the cars and the lone motorcycle (with GIANT spiked knobby tires) and were called over with the other competitors for the drivers meeting. They warned us of tricky sections of the course such as a concrete slab and a couple of narrow bridges.
The first set of runs went well, a couple of inches of snow had fallen overnight, and our snow tires had good traction on the slightly compacted surface. As the day went on, the ground became increasingly slick and muddy (despite the below freezing temps), and everyone’s times suffered as such. Navigating our way through trees, across icy bridges and around buildings in the slick was exciting, and though the course was the same for our first 8 passes in the morning, it was a new challenge every pass because of the changing conditions. Hairpin turns throughout the course necessitated copious amounts of handbrake turns from Rob to get our old VW rotated into the turns.
Midday service came and afforded us a break and a chance to check on the car, as we had been hearing some scraping on the last few runs. It was discovered that the rear underbody protection was hanging loose. A quick addition of some zip ties and the rear skid plate was somewhat better secured than before. I checked the times of the other cars, and discovered that we were a solid 2nd in 2wd, and 4th overall. Times are cumulative throughout the day, and we needed to stay consistent through the afternoon to secure our position.
Feeling more comfortable in the car with the slippery conditions, the afternoon passes were run in reverse of the morning with some slight changes to parts of the course with some fresh snowy areas. Near the end of one of the runs, we had a problem coming out of one of the corners. The car was stuck in 4th gear, and Rob managed to limp it around the last few corners, unable to shift. He pulled up and jumped out to see what the problem was, murmuring something about the shift linkage. I could smell a bit of a burnt clutch, from having to slip it in 4th gear, and we discovered that the shift linkage had only unscrewed itself. We were able to borrow some tools to complete the repair.
While the linkage was being repaired, our main competitor, the focus with studded tires, was limping through the course with a flat front left tire. He had been caught by a BMW 318ti; seeing them come through reminded me of UK -style rally cross racing. They made it through the finish, pulled up behind us, and began to put their spare tire on. Unfortunately their spare was a hard-compound gravel rally tire, a large contrast to the studded winter tires on the other three corners of the car. We started hearing shouts asking for a floor jack, and when no one immediately answered, I asked Rob about his jack that we had used during mid-day service. One of our service crew went and grabbed the jack and the team with the Focus. Matt Earl and Co-driver Amy Feistel, used it to swap one of the studded tires to the front.
We got back out on the course, and started the rest of our runs. Because of how the shift linkage was reinstalled, it was easy to accidentally try to shift into reverse. To avoid scraping reverse, after the start we ran the whole course in second gear, bouncing off the Rev limiter on the faster sections of the course. This raised the oil temp on the engine greatly, and with an inoperative water temp gauge we took brakes between runs to let the engine cool just in case.
The last few runs went great, Rob was spot on and consistent (our last two runs were the exact same time) and had a good rhythm. I hadn’t been checking times during the event, and was surprised to see that we had finished 1st in 2wd, and 3rd overall behind the motorcycle and the lone AWD entry, a WRX. The focus which had been leading 2WD had an off on one of their runs and lost a large chunk of time, giving us the lead in the end.
What an amazing way to start the season! The next weekend I found myself in California at the CRS Rally School for some Co-Driver training and a rallycross with my other driver, Andy Cowan. Rob competed the next weekend at the Waste Management Winter Rally Sprint in Pennsylvania, winning the 2WD 2.5L and under class and placing 4th overall ahead of a number of AWD cars. My next event with Rob will be Susquehannock Trail Rally in Wellsboro, PA where we’ll face a deep and talented 2WD field at one of the largest stage rallies in America. Scores from the Ohio Winter RallySprint can be found here: http://nasarallysport.com/results/2016-Ohio-Winter-RallySprint-overall-detail.htm
Ryan Dunham is a budding US Rally Co-Driver competing across the country. Follow the rally action on Twitter: @rallyformel1, Instagram: @rallysideways, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rdunhamrally
Look for updates before, hopefully during, and after events throughout the season.