This is the first running of the event since it last ran in 2002.
Mark and I started to prep the bug for this rally about 3 weeks beforehand. We didn’t get an early start on it since we were worn out after Rally Mexico. Only a few minor things needed to be fixed and looked over and a new steering rack coupler fabricated. All in all the car seemed to be in good condition and ready to rally by the time we left St. Louis on Thursday night (or so we thought).
The drive up was supposed to be easy, as we planned on leaving Thursday night to drive part of the way up and finish the journey on Friday. This turned out not to be the case. About 50 miles into our trip the truck started to have a vibration. At first we thought it was worn shocks, so when we stopped in Springfield IL we went to the autoparts store to purchase new ones, with the intent to install them that evening in the hotel parking lot. After 120 miles the vibration got much worse very quickly and within 15 seconds the rear tire blew apart, badly damaging the fender on the truck. Luckily Mark was able to keep the truck under control and avoid crashing. We now found ourselves on the side of the highway with a destroyed tire and swapping it out with the spare. We finally made it to the hotel around 10:30 and into bed by 11:00.
The next morning we started our drive again but quickly looked for places along the route to get a new spare tire. We found a Sears Tire center that happily sold us a new 3100lb rated truck tire for $264.
The rest of the drive up was relatively uneventful but very beautiful, as the highway we took hugged the coast line of Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. We eventually made it to Newberry Michigan that evening before registration and technical inspection closed. Our car passed with no problems other than the inspector finding a loose seat bolt, which we fixed. We ended the day with a nice dinner at the Zellar’s Village Inn.
Since we had a long day on Friday towing up to Newberry MI, we slept in on Saturday so everyone was well rested. We grabbed a bite to eat for breakfast and headed over to the fairgrounds to setup our service area and get ready for Parc Expose’.
Stages 1&2 were super specials held at the fairgrounds/service area. It was on an old dirt flat track that was grown over with grass. The course was very simple and we were pretty much flat out for the entire two laps. After the first running we smelled a bit of fuel inside the car and investigated during our service. The bottom of the car was a bit wet with fuel and the fuel vent filter was wet. We quickly determined that the constant hard left turns had sloshed gas up the vent tube and out under the car. We didn’t have any leaks for the second running of the stage since we had less fuel in the tank by then. (We were second fastest in Group 2 for SS1 and first for SS2)
This rally only used a rudimentary route book with diagrammatic tulips for selected turns. No detailed stage notes were provided. The first real stage of the rally was on Skyline road. It was a fairly short 5 mile stage with lots of medium to fast turns. A few were tricky with decreasing radius on exit, but for the most part it was simple to read the road to gauge entry speed. The surface was a mix of hard pack sand & gravel. I took an overly conservative approach on the first running and it showed in my stage time. We finished 4/12 in Group2 (10/23 overall), 9 seconds back from the 1st team of Himes.
The second running of Skyline was in reverse direction. After only 23 cars the road was already showing signs of ruts and loose sand in the slower turns and braking zones. I was feeling more comfortable with the car and the road so I really pushed hard to try and make up time. We finished 1st in Group2, 6/23 overall.
SS5 Pike Lake
Pike Lake was a very fast 7.3 mile stage with only a handful of medium speed corners. I tried to push hard in the turns I could see, but for some I had to lift off. We only reached a top speed of about 90 mph. The car seemed to take forever to accelerate past 80 while on a gravel road. We’re at a severe disadvantage with horse power. A VW VR6 with over 180hp takes the top time of 5:43 compared to our 5:59. We’re 7/12 in Group2 on that stage but in overall classification we’re only 4 seconds back from 1st place in Group2. We’re making up more time on our competitors in the slower stages than they are beating us by in the faster stages.
The next stage is County Road 455. The first two thirds of the stage is like a gravel highway through the forest. It’s stupid fast and our average speed over the stage is 78 mph. Our speed is a bit better and we finish only 2 seconds back from the Group2 stage winner. Overall we’re still sitting in 2nd place in class. We then head back to service to refuel and check out the car. Nothing out of the ordinary is found in service and we proceed to run the same loop of stages over again. (Skyline In, Skyline Out, Pike Lake, CO455)
SS7 Skyline In
SS8 Skyline Out
Running Skyline is a blast. The road surface is chewed up a bit more, but that only makes for more sideways action (which I enjoy). We’re running stage times at the top of the Group 2 class and are tied for 1st place after stage 8.
On the transit to the next stage I spot a puff of white smoke come out the back of the car. I tell John that I think we may have damaged the motor and keep an eye out the back of the car for more smoke. It only smokes once more on transit but we decide to run stage 9 at a conservative pace for fear of doing major damage. On the transit to the stage 10 the car is now smoking bad. I know with 99% certainty that we have a badly worn valve guide. (I think it’s the exhaust guide) It’s making white smoke after a long decel (high vacuum) with getting back on the gas. It’s pulling oil from the rocker box, through the bad guide, into the combustion chamber. I take it very easy on the stage and the transit back to service. There is no use trying to finish the last two stages of the rally. We would have to go at such a slow pace that we would not finish high enough to get any Group 2 points and we may risk badly damaging the engine. The Bug is loaded onto the trailer and we head for the after party early.
Post event tear down:
It wasn’t the exhaust guide after all. It turns out the intake guide on #4 cylinder pulled out of the head.