Big offs hurt. Physically sometimes, confidence wise always. The only way to overcome is to get back on stage at the first chance.
Following our Olympus wreck, our crew chief, Mark Richard, and pro-from-Dover (Wales), Graham “Whiskers” Evans, worked their tails off to get us back in the game for Oregon. The damage was extensive, but with new glass, fenders, quarter panels, hood, roof, floor, motor mount, lights, bumper, cage bars and hundreds of hours of work we were ready.
Despite a three week time crunch, Mr. Mark and Whiskers got us back in the game a full week before Oregon, giving us a chance to run Nemadji Trail in Minnesota as a shakedown. As a tulip instead of stage note based regional, Dillon and I didn’t fully open the car up. We just wanted to make sure the car was mechanically sound and that we were focused and ready to push out west when it would count.
The road was good, but my odometer didn’t work, causing me to sit through most of the stage and look at trees. Dillon was bored too, wanting to open up the throttle on every corner. A new-found-since-Washington sense of maturity kept his foot light on the gas and the Focus on the road. We placed first in class, but would have preferred to have been fighting for an overall win. It was a successful shakedown none the less.
Before heading to Oregon we also got a new wrap. The freshest of Terra Firma wraps in fact. The only requirement for the design was more orange, and more is what we got.
With a successful shakedown and a clean new look we were ready to push. We recce’d with purpose, looking for any opportunity to gain a second. We stayed calm, clear and ready.
Thursday press activities went well. Pioneer square was a busy environment filled with Rally fans, interested locals and street kids. Practice runs at Portland International Raceway were key, allowing Dillon to fully push the car for the first time since sailing off a mountain three weeks prior. The only bit of drama through the day was a busted drive belt on the car, which was better than on race day.
Friday started well. PIR stages aren’t at all like the forest, but they have their merits. Lots of fans, a mixed surface and a fun atmosphere. We pushed within reason but kept focused. Oregon Trail can’t be won on day one, but it sure as heck can be lost. We took a few stages, lost a few seconds on others, but left the day with a 3.7 second lead. Although small, any amount of a lead helped to boost our confidence.
Saturday morning followed the good mood of PIR. Stages five and six were both solid wins, each putting another forty five seconds between us and our competition. We decided to give the car a break and maintained our pace while our competition sped up on repeat runs over seven and eight. We kept a decent lead heading to the prairie stages near Dufur. This is where the balance tipped out of our favor.
Dust. Dust is the only word to describe the remainder of our event. Everyone had to contend with hanging dust from other cars, we were possibly the only car that couldn’t see out of our own windows. During the repairs from Olympus several holes were missed in the Focus’ chassis. There just wasn’t the time needed to fill them. Over each stage the dust in the car got worse and worse. Dillon was able to keep his mind on the game, but I could hardly choke out stage notes while I coughed up black mucus. We wore tea towels like makeshift bandito masks for the final leg, but they became more of a hindrance to me than a help.
After Stage 11 I could hardly think. I was coughing and hacking, and the trapped moisture in my face mask was causing me to hyperventilate. I missed a transit call, causing us to get hit with a 30 second penalty. The final stage didn’t go so well either. Although we kept pace with the competition, I had to bail at the finish line to keep from up-chucking in the car.
We were down by 1.2 natural seconds heading into Sunday, 31.2 counting our penalty. The only option was to do our best on the first loop. Over the first leg we eked a few seconds back from our competition, despite the car misfiring for several miles following a water crossing. With one loop of three stages left we had to make our presence known.
Stage 13 was ours. It’s where the event turned. The notes were perfect, my calls were perfect, Dillon’s drive was perfect. We won the stage and took the lead back. Our main competition also suffered some major issues, giving us a wide berth through the final two stages. Our new found maturity came into play again.
Not wanting to risk another Olympus style last minute error we didn’t risk anything on the penultimate stage. Our only goal was to finish. When we crossed the final time control we had it, we won Oregon Trail by two minutes and MaxAttack! by one. Olympus’ bad juju was behind us.