My plan for entering Sno*Drift ProRally (or was it really a ClubRally?) was simple. I had a ProRally license that expires at the end of February, a Saab 99 that meets the safety requirements, and came up with a co-driver looking for experience. I enjoy driving in the snow, and based on results from previous Winter Rallies, horsepower probably would not mean as much, so the 99 might have a chance at a halfways decent finish. Brenda Corneliusen would take care of the co-driving chores, looking for more seat time before she joins Bob Nielsen for the rest of the 1999 CenDiv ClubRally season.
Diane Sargent, my spouse equivalent (a.k.a. the person who shares my mortgage), was to run her first ProRally with Mark Utecht in his Dodge Omni GLH Turbo. She has been competing as a co-driver since the mid-1980s, and she and Carl Kieranen took the Central Division championship in 1986 in his '79 Mazda RX-7. Utecht switched to ProRally a few years ago after several seasons of road racing an Omni in the Improved Touring category. He has been fast, enough to win the Group 5 class at Lake Superior PRO Rally last year, and finish third in Group 5 points in 1998. After a series of lesser experienced co-drivers, Mark decided to look for someone with experience to improve his chances of finishing well. Diane had co-driven for Craig Kazmierczak in another Mazda RX-7 for a couple of seasons, but since Craig lives a considerable distance, Diane was unable to participate in the car prep work, something she had done during the years she ran with Kieranen. While Utecht's home/shop is several hours away, it is far closer than with her previous rides, so she's looking forward to helping maintain the Omni, or whatever car Mark chooses to drive in the ProRally series. They have a pretty full schedule planned for 1999, as they will be contesting the Group 5 title in SCCA's Central Division.
As always, there was a little work to do on the 99, sometimes known as the "Yeneral Leif". A bit of rewiring for the gauges, clean the injectors, and a general nut-and-bolt were sufficient, though I would have liked to have installed the new higher compression head with an MSS camshaft. If I can afford to enter Headwaters in May, it will be ready then.
What I hadn't counted on for this rally was ice. Okay, I knew ice would be a possibility, and even likely in the braking zones on some corners. What I didn't expect was ice with the friction coefficient of an air hockey table. Michelin Arctic Alpins and Bridgestone Blizzaks were much in demand. My hope for deep snow was beaten with reports from the Press Stage, where J.B. Niday earned the nickname "T-Bone" by sliding his Ford Fiesta into a worker's Ford Expedition. I switched from the tall Nokia NR09s to the shorter, wider Hakka 10s, and wished for the softer compound Hakka Ones. A limited slip or locked differential would have been quite helpful as well.
Early stages were south, and all stages were within 15 miles, of central Atlanta. All service was at the headquarters hotel, the "A Win-Sands" (named after the owner's parents, Winston and Sandy). Immediately next to the hotel was a gas station and convenience store, and they even offered 110 octane racing gas just for the occasion.
The retirements started on Stage 1, Fish Lab, where Scott Carlborn slid his Jeep pickup sideways into a bank at the spectator area and flattened two tires, one more than the number of spares he carried. Rather than risk tearing up the bodywork and gears, he dropped out. Plenty of others found snowbanks early on as well; Scott Harvey, Jr. (Dodge Colt) and Doug Davenport (VW GTI) went off on the same corner not far into the stage, but both were able to get free and continued. Several other cars slid off at the spectator area on SS1, but all continued with only minor delays.
Our first big problem occured on SS2, Hardwood Hills North, where the sidewall of the right front tire was torn open by a large rock. During the ten minutes it took to change the tire, only two cars passed us, and one of them had started ahead of us.
I continued to tippy-toe through the stages and figured I had this ice thing figured out. As we were about to start SS6, Blue Lake II, (which we had run earlier as SS3) the start crew warned us that Krolikowskis were off the road. Not far into the stage we encountered J.B. Niday's Fiesta on top of a snowbank just as co-driver Leah Hoffa was setting up the warning triangle and "T-Bone" was pulling out his tow strap. We stopped, he hooked up, and we plucked the Fiesta out of the snow. Less than a minute lost. While we didn't see Krolikowskis, we did see three other cars atop banks, and we (okay, I) slid straight into the snow at a Tee at the spectator area, but the Saab was able to drive back out without assistance (and Bruce Beauvais has it on tape).
Near the end of SS7, Avery Lake II, there was a tight right hand turn following a downhill section. I was certain that I was barely creeping, but a large magnet hidden in the outside snowbank was suddenly activated and 2600 pounds of Swedish steel was just as suddenly beached on the bank. As I looked up, I saw my brother Jerry lowering his camera from his face; caught on film again. Several spectators tried to push but the weight of the stranded 99 was too much. J.B. Niday stopped to return the earlier favor and lost many minutes while his much lighter Fiesta yanked the Saab from its perch. This is also where the 99 got all of its damage during the rally: the left front turn signal lens broke un impact with the snowbank, and the rear bumper bracket was bent from the towing attempts. Another 8-plus minutes for us, while J.B. got his stage time adjusted for making the assist.
Henry and Cindy Krolikowski (Dodge Shadow) were able to take advantage of the time adjustments that were offered; they got back on the road about six minutes after stuffing it on SS6, and were later held up on the same stage by Mark Utecht's Omni being extracted. When Cindy K. requested a time allowance for being blocked by Utecht's predicament, no one questioned what they were doing behind a car that had started the stage six minutes AFTER they did. They got their six minutes in the snow erased and went on to win the Group 5 trophy over Utecht/Sargent by about three minutes.
Following SS7 it was back to Atlanta for a long service and lunch break. Only a few retirements so far; two due to encounters with snowbanks, one due to a misfiring engine. Tom Ottey and Pam McGarvey held the lead in their Mazda 323 GTX, followed by the similar Mazda of Gail Truess and Pattie Hughes. Wayne and Annette Prochaska, regulars on the ProRally circuit in a VW Golf GTI, held the lead in our class, Group 2.
From there we moved to stages that were mostly north and west of Atlanta, roads where there seemed to be a little more traction available. The first, Meaford (SS8), was over seven miles, the longest stage so far. This same area, with some variation was used again later for stages 10, 11 and 14.
Stage 9, McCormick Lake, had to be shortened, so revisions were made to the transit route. Unfortunately no revisions were made to the times and workers were told to wave teams in four minutes early. However, there was no official notice to sign so many veteran co-drivers were reluctant to enter the control zone before their given in-time. Apparently all did as there did not seem to be much of a backup. Near the end of SS9, the tulip arrow directed the route onto an inferior sideroad and the instruction read "!!Road Narrows". Narrows indeed! We went from a single lane road to a barely single lane path. There were quite a few spectators there and I was told the photo opportunities were spectacular as cars crested a rise into the light of the setting sun.
The remaining stages were pretty uneventful for us. We got caught by a couple of cars that had fallen off the road earlier, and we passed a couple that were struggling, including Ken Stewart in his 4WD Chevy pickup. The supercharged V8 had just too much horsepower and spent much time spinning the wheels, so Ken backed off in an effort make it to the finish.
A disappointing retirement was the Mazda 323 GTX of Truess and Hughes. They were running second overall when they lost a fanbelt and overheated the engine. Spectators later said that the car smelled hot when they went past. They parked the car at the start of SS13, then stood near the start line and cheered all the remaining cars as they left the line.
The awards party was held at the Eagles Club in Atlanta, and in addition to the trophies for Sno*Drift, 1998 CenDiv year-end awards were passed out. Thanks to our sponsor, Lake Superior Brewing Company, we were able to share some darn good beer as well.
Brenda did a pretty darn good job of keeping me on course, and she didn't have any indication of mal-de-mer. As expected the Saab was slow. Even without the time spent changing the tire and stuck in snow, we would have been well down in the pack, probably only three or four places higher overall.
Organizers hope that Sno*Drift will make it onto the National schedule for 2000. They have a great location, a cooperative hotel for headquarters, and all stage roads within a 15 mile radius of the headquarters. Plus the pool and hot tub at the A Win-Sands are away from the rooms and available 24 hours a day to guests, so a pool party that lasts until 4 am does not disturb other guests (ask me how I know this). They do need a bit more organization, but with the success of this year's event, they should be able to drum up more bodies once the word gets out. If you missed it this year, put it on the schedule for next.
Official Results - 1999 Sno*Drift Rally