Thursday, February 17, 2005
Bill and John's Excellent Adventure. Part 4: The Classification Section
Well there have been all sorts of interesting developments at work this week but I think it would be politic not to discuss them here. I'll see how I feel in a week or two; maybe I'll revise my decision. Anyway for now I'll continue with the rally reporting.
Sunday January 30 was the start of the Classification Leg to determine the running order for the rest of the rally. Getting out first is a huge advantage for serveral reasons (i) It is psychologically good to be running at the front (ii) there is very little hanging around waiting for the "off" (iii) arguably the roads are in better condition, having not been churned up by 300+ rally cars (iv) the day finishes earlier and in brighter conditions and (v) both car and service vehicle crews are much less tired.
We started the leg feeling pretty confident. The car was in excellent running order having been fully serviced by Jim, Juliette and Steffan the night before. We chose to run with studded tyres as it was clear there was going to be a lot of snow around. After a slightly nervous start we made our way to the village of Burzet the start of the day's four regulrity runs embedded into a 300Km loop around Val-les-Bains. On collecting the timecard I looked at the prescribed regularity speeds. The first was, I believe 46.75 Kph (the are all in the range of 45-50 Kph). No problem, I thought but first do the correction factor. I was absolutely confident that the Halda was 4% slow [3.77% to be precise]. Thus the corrected speed should be 3.77% faster, right? Well that's what I calculated. At the start of the regularity there were several powerful rear wheel drive sports cars running in front of us without chains or snow tyres. "Great", I thought .."we'll show them what a Mini can do...". And so we did. These cars were slipping and sliding everywhere. Bill went straight past them and I started to realise what a ferocious driver he is. Like an idiot, I hadn't looked at the speed tables since our practice run to Monaco in December and for a minute or so after the start I was trying to remember what it was all about. Fortunately I settled down and started to call out times. It seemed like we were always running slow. Bill got faster and faster and was overtaking everybody -something that shouldn't really happen when the participants are sent out at 30 second intervals and are mean to be driving at absolutely constant speeds. I should have smelt a large, arithmetically-incorrect, rat at the point we overtook Alain Lopes and Joseph Lambert. These two are genuinely world class and have had a professional rallying background. They always place in the top 10 and frequently led the field outright. But we pressed on (although Lopes did re-pass us) and finished the stage with me thinking we were about 15 seconds slow. Nothing to worry about as past experience suggested that this level of performance would give us a class win at the very least. This was to be the pattern of the day. We were invariably quicker than much of the field and on the following to regularities I thought we had "cleaned" the times. Excellent. Our first obvious setback came at the end of the 4th regularity at Antraigues. At the end of the section (we hadn't seen the finish board) we ran into a traffic jam being "controlled" by a Gendarme. Nothing could clear the bottleneck and we lost 15 minutes getting clear. Fuming at this apparently blown section we thrashed on towards the finish at Vals-les-Bains. Time was very tight and Bill drove amazingly quickly although by now we were back on dry tarmac and it was clear the Colways were wearing rapidly and we were killing the studs -10" diameter wheels don't make for good retention. We got to finish at Vals and here I made what I thought was our first mistake (unknowingly I had already made a grievous error). There was a queue of cars waiting to cross the finish and we were alrady late. Unfortunately I did the gentlemanly thing and waited for our car to cross the line before presenting our timecard to a marshall. What I should have done was, at the first sign of a holdup, sprinted to the control desk and plonked the card down right away. Not stricly legal but that's what everybody was doing, perhaps because the rally organizers knew they were artifically holding things up with their pomp and circumstance arrival ceremony.
I felt a bit irked about this road penalty which I didn't feel was out fault and tried to appeal but to no avail. Bill and I duly slunk off to the hotel for a brandy while we waited for the results to be posted on the ACM's website. Just before dinner, Jim announced that the results were up and we were 252. I couldn't believe it. Sure we had lost some time at Antraigues and got into Vals a bit late but the rest of the day had been brilliant. Clearly not. The problem was I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Could it have been the Halda calibration? Perhaps I'd been running fast? Another crew was having suspicions about their own timing and we agreed to measure each other. Jim drove as we followed the other crew's 4x4 over several measured Km. We were 10% slow, apparently (this was suspicious as that's exactly what measurement of organizers gold standard made us -but I'd been concerned that we it was only a partial and we hadn't used the correct markers). Jim then pointed out a major error. Because I'd thought the Halda was reading slow (4%, remember?) I'd made our target speeds 4% faster. No! Idiot! You have to make the speeds slower too. Thus I'd doubled our error at a stroke! I'd been making our speeds 8% too fast. No wonder we'd been overtaking everybody. Aaargh!
We ate a wonderful meal although I was feeling quite gloomy and more than a bit stupid. Nevertheless I was determined compensate the following day although we had an awful lot of penalties to claw back. And we did although that will be the topic of a following episode.