Nemadji Trail Rally Report

The Huebbe RallyeSport season kicked off this past weekend at the Nemadji Trail rally, held in Duquette Minnesota. The rally is low key and consists of two individual co-efficient 1 events run inside of the Nemadji State Forest. A smooth and twisty forest road is run twice in each direction for a total of just under 35 miles competition.

John and I had a tight timeline to get the car prepared before the registration deadline. We had sent our T1 4 speed off to Kevin at KCR transmissions in California to get re-geared and re-built. Our previous transmission was geared too short for the fast stages, so I had Kevin put in all new Weddle gears to give the Bug more top speed. After a shipping mix up with UPS, we only had about four days to get the engine and transmission back in the car, along with everything else on our to-do list, or we would miss the registration deadline. Luckily my father came over and gave us a hand and we had the Bug back on the road with a day to spare. I drove the Bug around town a bit and everything seemed fine. After our misfortunes at the last rally in Paris Texas I really hoped we had worked out all of the problems with the car.

We got the truck packed up and left town on a rainy Friday morning. It was an absolute horrible drive with hit and miss thunderstorms all the way from St. Louis Missouri to Owatonna Minnesota. (Normally the drive through Iowa is mildly infuriating but the rain made it worse) When we made it to St. Paul I called up my friend, and fellow competitor, Mark Utecht to let him know we were about to arrive at his house. I can’t thank Mark enough; he had opened up his house and graciously let us stay with him so that we could save a few bucks.

Saturday morning was nice and sunny, with some clouds moving in from the Northwest. The weather report called for a chance for rain in the afternoon and Mark told me the road normally gets real slick when wet. John and I got a quick bite to eat and headed up to Duquette to register and setup our service area. On the way we discussed our strategy and goals. We both agreed that I should drive with a moderate pace at 75-80% and aim for a respectable finish. Our primary goal was seat time and keeping the car in one piece. I’m still trying to understand how the Bug handles on gravel and what speed I can take certain turns. I hope in the next few events that I can increase my pace and start to challenge the other teams with their more modern cars. The rally had an eclectic mix of cars, ranging from the normal AWD Subarus and FWD VW MkI Golfs, all the way to a ground beating V8 Fox body Mustang and a 1975 Cosworth powered Ford Capri.

After a brief drivers meeting we jumped in the car and started to warm it up. Since we have never run a national rally we didn’t have a speed factor (which determines how fast you are relative to everyone else) and we were placed at the back of the field. We didn’t mind too much, seeing as the forest road had just opened up that weekend and all the cars ahead of us would be sweeping the road clean of loose gravel. The only problem we would have to contend with is dust from the competitors ahead of us.

As we transited to the stage I was a little nervous about the car and my driving. I kept running through things in my mind, wondering if I had tightened different bolts and worrying about the little noises coming from the engine. All of those concerns seemed to fade away as I pulled to the starting line and tightened my belts up. I revved the engine to 3500 and John called out “10 seconds… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!” I dumped the clutch and the Bug jumped from the line with massive wheel spin and then quickly into second gear, more wheel spin and into third. The car felt amazing with the new gears. The stage road was dry and hard packed, with the driving line already forming on the road surface. Some of the turns had the loose gravel swept clean and a few of the tight ones were getting chewed up at the apex into the softer base. John was on top of the route book notes and had a bit of time to make notations to the spots that were fast or slow and where the surface conditions were changing. Near the end of the stage we started to see the dust trail from the car ahead of us but it didn’t affect our time. When we crossed the line I checked the gauges and all of the engine vitals were in top shape. Almost nine miles of stage went by in a blur and I couldn’t wait to do it again. We turned the car around and got back in line behind the other teams and parked the car. John talked to the other co-drivers asking for their stage times and I checked the car over.

When it got close to the reverse running of the stage John and I talked over our performance and suggested that I attack some of the slower turns and really toss the car in. I was also being conservative with shifting the car and not revving the engine too high. My plan for the second running was to start shifting past 6000 and quicken up my shifts. We started the stage with a bit more fury than the first and things were going well. I was getting the car to rotate with more throttle and my steering inputs were more subdued. I was steering with the gas pedal and more or less guiding the front end of the car along with the wheel. Things were going great up until about the fifth mile and all of a sudden I started to notice a little bit of bouncing from the rear of the car during tighter turns. With about three tenths (and two turns ) from the finish line I entered a tight right turn and started to rotate the car. Once I reached the apex I had the nose pointed to the inside with a good deal of counter steer put in. All of a sudden the rear of the car bounced up and the car shot off to the outside. I tried turning back to the right but it was too late and we quickly ended up in a muddy ditch. I tried driving out of it but our left rear wheel was axle deep in mud. I stalled the car several times and finally the starter gave up and wouldn’t engage the flywheel. Oh crap now how am I going to get the car fired up again? Our only hope was to have heavy sweep pull us out and hope that we didn’t damage anything. After about 10 minutes of waiting the sweep crew tugged us up out of the ditch and gave us a push start. We finished the stage about 13 minutes off pace.

After leaving the finish line I noticed a horrible metal banging noise coming from the right rear of the car. Fearing that the starter had broken off and was beating itself against the transmission I quickly pulled over and jacked up the car. The starter was ok so I looked under the rear and noticed that the lower shock bolt had worked loose and the shock wasn’t connected to the arm. John told me that must have been the reason the rear of the car was bouncing so badly and tossed me into the ditch. I took out our spare tool kit and hammered out the bolt and disconnected the shock. We transited back into service and quickly got the car on jack stands. John scrambled to locate a nut and some spacers and I checked the rest of the car over. I noticed that the front wheel bearings were just a bit on the loose side so I tightened up the nut about a 1/16 of a turn. John found a spare nut and we reattached the lower shock bolt. We got the car back on the ground with only a few minutes to spare before our assigned check-out time of service.

During the transit back out to the stage I listened intently to every little noise the car made trying to spot any other issues we may have missed. John told me not to worry about the car and just drive, but I was still upset with myself for going into the ditch. About half way through the stage I started to pick the pace up a bit but our stage time still suffered. When we pulled up to the finish control and John opened up his door to hand in our time card I instantly knew we had another problem. I could hear a slight exhaust leak and feared we knocked off the collector again. I left the car running and ran to the rear trying to find the source of the leak but ended up almost burning my hand when I pulled back the mud flap. The #3 exhaust pipe has a flange under the head and the gasket must have broken down and disintegrated. Hot gas was pouring out of a 1/16 inch gap between the flanges and onto the mud flap. Luckily the locking copper nuts were still on the bolts so it was a quick fix to tighten everything up. I got the wheel back on the car and John checked with the other teams to see if we had fallen back. John came back and told me we lost about 30-40 seconds from their times and that I should try and attack this last stage.

 

We rolled up to the start line, John counted me down and we were off. Things were going great on stage and I was attacking more of the turns. Half way through the stage there is a great rhythm section with a series of fast linked turns that flow brilliantly from one to another. The car felt like it was dancing left and right with the back end kicked out spitting gravel off into the woods. Nine minutes went by in an instant and we had finished the event. On the transit back into town John and I discussed what went right on stage and where I was giving up time and needed to push. I hope to use this information at the next Nemadji rally in June so that we can try and make our way up the leader board.

Attacking the stage

Overall I think the Nemadji rally was a success for our fledgling rally team. We found out about some new problems with the car that need to be fixed and determined that I’ve still got a way to go in attacking the stages. Hopefully luck will be on our side when we return to the Nemadji Stage Forest in four weeks.

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