Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Adrenaline Junkies

Flying with wing suits

This is probably the most insanely elegant activity I have ever seen. Now I wonder where I can get one of those suits....??

Update: Actually you can get them here. $1000. Hmmm...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

The Long and Winding Road405

Chuck has been waxing lyrical about different kinds of roads. Well how about this one for a nice winding effect...?

And on that note, I'm going to wind up my posts on the Monte Carlo for now, although I'll probably write occasional snippets from time to time.  Just watch out for the full story in the April issue of Mini Magazine (it's great -I've seen the proofs already). So all that remains is to say a big heartfelt "Thank You" to all those individuals and organisations who helped The Team in any way. Special appreciation goes to:
  • Minispares, Hertfordshire, UK, for extremely generous sponsorship
  • Piper Cams, Kent, UK, for our camshaft and ancillary parts
  • Mini Magazine, and in particular Craig McBeth, for agreeing to publish our story,
  • Marilyn Connell, Houston, Texas for graphic design work
Thanks everyone! Now let's raise a glass to "Next Year in Monte Carlo"!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Guru

willy cave
Willy Cave celebrates his 82nd birthday in fine style with a Mini -shaped cake

Somebody once described Willy Cave as "...the greatest living Englishmen...". Generally I dislike such characterisations but in this case it's pretty accurate. For five decades he has been a legend in European rallying and has occupied works seats for Standard-Triumph, Rover and BMC in the role of co-driver and navigator. Together with Peter Barker he was 2nd in class in this year's Monte Carlo Historique rally and 2nd overall over the infamous Col de Turini stage. Willy's other achievements include flying Spitfires and Vampire jets in Korea for the RAF and winning a BAFTA when working for the BBC. He is also an active skier and snowboarder. I should point out that Willy is now 82, having celebrated his birthday on the rally.

I first met Willy 10 years ago on a course where he was teaching rally navigation and I've used him as a sounding board for my silly questions ever since. He's always been the consummate, old-fashioned gentleman and displays one of the rarest combination of attributes, namely great knowledge with humility: a refreshing contrast to the bloviating, self-important alpha-males so commonly encountered today. So a belated Happy Birthday, Willy. You are a model to us all and I only hope I will be winning rallys and surrounded by attractive, adoring ladies at the same age.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monte Carlo Historique 2009

The Minispares-Mad Dog Rallying team race through a wintry France towards the Haute Alpes in a 1965 Mini Cooper S

I'm not going to do a full report on the Monte Carlo Historique this year. At least not just yet. I've promised a UK car publication, Mini Magazine, an exclusive. Although they haven't asked me not to blog about the event I think it only fair that they get first dibs.

What I will do instead is make peripheral commentary and add some video clips to convey a sense of realism. The first one is above. It's a simple transit or road section (not a stage) out of Valence. I wasn't calling times or corners so had time (just) to pull out the camera. While we are proceeding at a fairly orderly legal pace, the need to push on is evident and Bill blasts past two non-competing cars in grand style. I recorded this footage with my little Canon point-and-shoot in hand held mode. We did have a proper video camera fitted to the car but it tended to obscure the rear view and also access to the rear seats so it was removed. The straight cut gearbox whines like an overtired two-year-old who has dropped his ice-cream and the noise is very evident. Note also that we have lost 3rd gear at this point so changes are from 2nd to 4th. As you can imagine, I'm always hunting for ibuprofen after a day in the car!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cashing In One's Chips

While on the subject of pommes frites yesterday, this entry on the Dakar rally is nothing short of genius (commentary is in French but you'll get the idea even if you can't speak the language):

You can read more about Team Ch'ti Friterie here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Perfect Bacon Sandwich

bacon sandwich
The perfect bacon sandwich. Yum! Photo courtesy Wendy Harrison*

This post is in response to accidental conversations with my daughter, Olivia (who holds dual American/British nationality) and Philippe Picavet, a resident of Belgium and like-minded petrolhead. Now I have to be tread very carefully here as Olivia is not short of opinions (genetics) and an astonishingly good cook (not genetics, at least from my DNA) and has been fortunate to have been exposed to a broad spectrum of world cuisine. Philippe lives in Belgium and I have long maintained some of the best food on the planet can be found in his country -witness moule, beer, chocolate (2000 chocolate shops in a country just 1/6 the size of Washington state -that's probably more than they have gas stations!), gaufres, frites etc. Anyway, somehow the topic of bacon sandwiches and their construction came up. In my view a well-made bacon sandwich, or sarnie in English patois, is in the top 10 comfort foods in the universe. But they have to made correctly and they must not be confused with BLTs, club sandwiches or other such offerings containing various meats or vegetables. While these other constructions are delicious and quite legitimate they are not true bacon sandwiches. A bacon sandwich should contain just hot bacon. Here are the parameters for a perfect sandwich:
  • Bacon: it should be back rashers or slices. American bacon which is mostly pork belly-derived is too fatty
  • Cooking: slightly crisp but the bacon should not be overdone or leathery
  • Bread: soft large fresh rolls are the best. Open and put face down in the skillet before serving so the inside is slightly fried/toasted
  • Serving: should be hot. Can only be eaten with brown sauce. Should be accompanied with tea containing milk (sugar optional). Coffee doesn't work

If you can believe it some scientists got a grant to study the features of the perfect bacon sarnie and came up with the following formula:

N = C + {fb (cm) . fb (tc)} + fb (Ts) + fc . ta

where N=force in Newtons required to break the cooked bacon, fb=function of the bacon type, fc=function of the condiment/filling effect, Ts=serving temperature, tc=cooking time, ta=time or duration of application of condiment/filling, cm=cooking method, C=Newtons required to break uncooked bacon.

* The above photograph was kindly provided by excellent Scottish blogger, Wendy Harrison, and was originally posted on her site "A Wee Bit of Cooking". I don't usually do this but I'm so charmed by Wendy's site that I'm adding her to the blog lists on my sidebar.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Olivia Softball 1997
MD's 15 year old daughter prepares to knock one out of the park: inexplicably she now appears to be in her 25th year (somewhere along the line I blinked)

This is a shameless plug for my daughter who seems to have a talent for penmanship. Last summer she started a blog to document her travels in Korea but has now caught the bug and is writing about life observations. You can her find her at Vive La Liv. In many ways her style has a worrying resemblance to my own. I don't suppose this could be down to genetics or environmental/cultural conditioning? Naaah!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Land Rover Woes

Mini tows Land Rover
Mini tow starts Land Rover at Monte Carlo

In previous years our trips to the start and from the finish of the rally have been almost as eventful as the event itself. This year, with a fantastic sponsorship deal (thanks again, Justin) we were thinking that we would simply load the Mini on a trailer and drive back to Blighty in the relative comfort of long wheelbase Land Rover*. A prosaic but low stress journey was welcome after the rally but it was not to be. The Land Rover turned out to be about as reliable as a drunk on New Year's Eve. After suffering the indignity of being tow started by the Mini on the quayside at Monaco after it refused to fire up, it threw a major tantrum on the motorway at Aix-en-Provence and refused to proceed. As far as I know it's still there awaiting repair and my fingers are crossed that the Mini and trailer haven't been stripped bare like like a dead wildebeeste on the Serengeti plain.  I used to drive the exact same model as a student 40 years and I thought it was an antiquated, wallowing, alcoholic back then. Clearly nothing has changed since those days: a reflection of the £1000 development budget that Leyland, Rover, British Aerospace and Ford have lavished collectively on the vehicle in four decades. If I had my way I'd have the bloody thing melted down and made into garden gnomes. Oh, well! Next year we'll get a panel van and possibly a 4x4: both will be of German or Japanese descent.

* MD wishes to stress that the choice of the Land Rover was made collectively by the team and was nothing to do with the sponsors who suggested a different and entirely more sensible vehicle.

Monday, February 09, 2009

We Made It!

At MC Finish
PRX 720B at the finish in Monte Carlo

I'm back in Seattle and am delighted to report that the Minispares-Mad Dog Rallying team completed the 12e Monte Carlo Historique rally in fine style. Despite a broken gearbox (no 3rd or reverse), a sheared rear suspension knuckle and the loss of one headlight PRX 720B made the finish podium on the Quai d'Albert in fine style. We finished in the middle of the pack (209 out of 333 starters and were 5th in class (I'll have to verify that). And of course if we hadn't had the above problems we'd have been among the front runners. The attrition was amazing: 25% of all crews either failed to finish due to mechanical failure or the dreaded altercations with street furniture. Full reports will be forthcoming when I've had time to collect myself and put out all the usual fires that have ignited in my absence.