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2001 Tbird Stories - Car 23 - The Range Rover

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Stories - Car 42, Car 14, Car 35, Car 46

Two stories from Car 23

Here's my full story from Thunderbird as part of the three person team in #23...hopefully enjoyable.

Rover, roll over.

We take Rover everywhere.  For the last two years Rover has been to nearly every rally we could think of.  He went to Totem in 1999, to Alaska on the Alcan, No Alibi and The Road Not Taken last summer and Friday Nighters in between.  Rover loved them all.  He just loves it when the windows are down, the music is on and we drive like crazy.

This year Rover went to Thunderbird in beautiful British Columbia.  It wasn't the usual team this year as my driver Steve Willey was off enjoying Antarctica this austral summer.  Instead I rode along with Michael Garvais, Kim Prater (Steve's longtime girlfriend), and Rover. Michael was the designated driver as he grew up in snowy Denver.  I shared the navigation duties with Kim as she wanted to give her first go on the Alfa Elite.

The weather was beautiful on the way up and when we arrived in Cache Creek there were so many rally cars that we knew it was going to be a really cool event.  Saturday started out nicely: tech, numbers, breakfast, gas, air in the Hakkas--Go!  As we drove the odometer check and the first few kilometers of the first regularity Michael asks "Where's all the snow?"  The acute left and elevation gain arrived shortly after and the snow revealed itself.

The scenery got better and better.  The first of the rally scenery popped up on a short uphill where we passed the local pickup truck with front grille and bumper in a deep embrace with a roadside tree and R. Dale stuck on the other side (I hear he simply stopped for aid.) I tried to imagine what stimulating conversation these two drivers might have had while standing there.

We finished that first regularity despite my woozyness from late application of the Scop patch.  To prevent further trouble I talked Kim into moving up to the navigation position for the next regularity. Kim took to the basics of the computer readily but it took a bit more effort from Michael to keep the pace on this one.  He was quickly coming to understand what BC rallies are all about.  Pushing as hard as we could to keep on time it didn't take long for us to become part of the scenery. It was a nice easy left sweeper.  I suggested "more power" from the back seat a little too late and we plowed firmly into the outside of the corner.
Michael thoughfully unapplied power to stop us just shy of a small tree. We set the triangle, dug a recovery path and waved at 30 or so more passing rally cars (and a frowning local.)  We also found a fully functional outhouse with a well stomped trail about 20 meters back up the road and took advantage.  Sweep arrived shortly after and easily returned us to the road.  Rover was still very happy too although having his doggyness was a clear disadvantage.

After this delay we skipped a few sections and rejoined the rally at 100 Mile House for the transit to start leg 2.  We were energized by the excitement of continuing (and recent rigorous digging.)  It was getting dusky so we pulled the lamp covers.  Michael was not shaken by our minor incident and was ready to go.  Kim stayed in as Navigator.  We began. Michael drove with new found respect but without trepidation.  A checkpoint and not much too late.  We were feeling good.  Then our second
incident arrived.

Michael steered gently into a downhill right curve and we got a little loose.  Applying recently refreshed techniques he avoided brake and worked the throttle gently, we passed the traditional "off" point of the curve, and emerged into the straight.  But we weren't well settled. The downhill didn't help, the vehicle fished a slight bit and we found ourselves pointed in a shallow angle to the left bank.  This time brakes were appropriate but not adequate.  I think I closed my eyes as the bank approached and thought "great, not again."  But it didn't happen quite the same this time.  I remember only the clanging sound of a toolbox being
dumped out and opening my eyes to be facing the wrong way on the road. It took only a second to remember the rest--Rover had rolled over.

It seems that the left front quarter of our brave Range Rover hit the left bank first and started the rear coming around.  That put us sideways and brought the right front tire into the soft hardness of the left ditch. The sudden implant of that right front into the snow and the top heavyness of the springy Rover flopped it over on the right side, then top, left and back to its feet.  During the roll the hood rode along the top of the snow bank while the back rolled on the roadbed.  All the while the back end was finishing its trip around spraying luggage, toolbox and other contents out the now open rear hatch.  We stopped.

Rover had come to rest very firmly planted in the left bank, on all four feet, listing to the right, facing the wrong direction, engine running, lights on, computer calmly ticking off our lateness.  I looked to get out but the snow was up to my window.  So I crawled out the roadside door. I jumped out to find the triangle convieniently dumped near my exit. Michael and Kim were deciding if they were all right while I headed up with the triangle.  When I came back down I found they were undamaged and were busy getting our stuff out of the road.  Once again we waved at passing rally cars while smiling with that giddy "holy sh*t, we're actually OK" look.

We salvaged what we could of the roof rack, picked embedded sockets and wrenches from the road and got everything repacked making sure no wallets or keys or glasses were left behind in the snow.  We dug out the rear recovery point and got the strap ready.  This time we didn't have to wait for sweep as car #56, an F350, stopped and gave us a quick pull. The Range
Rover came out as easily as the first time.  No fluid leaks were found and a little bashing got the hood latched again.  The rear hatch wouldn't close so we bungied that up as well.   Finally we picked up the triangle and were on the road again.

It wasn't too much further that we came across some of those nice Tabor people off the outside of a smooth T intersection and a few meters down an Impreza launched off the other side.  We stopped to gawk and see if we had the power to pull either out and found that we didn't.  We hung around watching the stars and the recovery attempts until sweep came and rescued them both.  All of us off-roaders paraded in to the Fraser Inn (except sweep who turned off to patrol the last sections.)

The beer tasted good and the food was rejuvenating after a long Saturday of rally.  We ate dinner and told stories with Gary Webb and John Kisela.  In hindsight it was a symbolic meal with them, the ultimate winners (Gary and John won with 7 points) and us who finished last (except for the DNS and DNF's) with 3100 points.

We talked until midnight and slept only six hours.  The three of us woke tired and not sure we wanted to continue day two.  I went out to see the Range Rover in daylight and was greeted by several teams who were surprised to hear what happened and through conversation gave the moral support to continue.  We couldn't quit, the old Rover was still perfectly fine (on the bottom at least, where it matters.)  We packed, ate, drivers meeting, fuel, and ready for another day.  I stole the wheel from Michael for a bit that morning so I could experience the joy of TBird driving. It started snowing, making for an interesting change from the clear day before.  I drove a few hours in the morning and confirmed for myself that our Range Rover is absolutely not the vehicle for Thunderbird (high center of gravity, way too springy and relatively skinny tyres.)  It just doesn't wanna behave.  Michael swapped back into the drivers seat again halfway through the day and drove us to completion.

Sunday ended on the ice track where each car got a run around the track in exchange for picking up all the course tires.  It was a fine way to stay busy waiting for scores.  I bowed out of the ride leaving Michael and Kim in the Rover for the lap.  I'd driven the Rover on an ice track or two on the Alcan so I let them go.  My advice to Michael was "have no fear, there's nothing to hit on a lake."  And have no fear he did.  They did need a little help from #56 again on the most distant hairpin when they got stuck driving over the snowbank to get back onto the course. After that he made one more lap and definitely had gotten the knack of it.

We journeyed back to the Wander Inn making a quick stop along the way to pick up an incident report form from a friendly RCMP officer in Ashcroft. The food, stories and videos were fine.  We were so glad to have stuck with it and finished the event.  As rally cars departed we found that we just couldn't leave Canada behind.  Rather than head straight South to Seattle we decided to head North and then South on scenic 99.  We overnighted in Pemberton, brunched in Whistler, coffeed in Vancouver and the Rover brought us home safely for dinner.

Will we be back next year?  Yep!  It was the best.  The organization, the cars, the people, the roads, the snow--what a package.  The Rover probably won't be back but we'll always remember TBird 2001.

Oh, there is that one nagging issue, the valiant Range Rover actually belongs to Steve who graciously volunteered it for TBird use.  He is relaxing in New Zealand and Fiji on return from Antarctica.  He has yet to be briefed on TBird.  How does one spin that tale?  Well, he does get rally-l...

Code 4 - This Pursuit is Over: Rally report from the T-Bird rally in BC. by Michael Garvais

  It was a good rally. We had lots of fun and learned many good lessons.

  Day one - High speed pursuit in the snow. The road conditions through the whole rally where roughly the same - hard packed snow surface with several inches of fresh powder on the surface and deep snow banks on either side of the road. Lots of trees. It was fairly cold and mostly overcast. In hindsight the assigned speeds for these roads seem a bit too high . This was the first time I had used a computer and I quickly learned that it tells you exactly how many seconds late you are running. Kind of nice knowing exactly where you are and how fast you have to go to keep up. The downside to this is that it might encourage one to drive too fast in order to stay on time. Our scores for the first 5 or 6 checkpoints were great - well, maybe not great, but for me they were pretty good. I think we had something like this: 0, 5, 7, 11, 15. The driving needed to keep up with these speeds was very intense. It was both stressful and enjoyable. I don't know how long this went on - seems like several hours. Then we went into the first snow bank. I came around a corner a bit too fast(hey the computer was telling me to make up time) and I took my foot off the gas. We kept going in a straight line. Probably should have kept power to those wheels to pull me back on track. (note to self: power through those turns and let this all-wheel drive beast pull you where you want to go.) It was a fairly soft impact and we all jumped out to dig the car out of the snow. We ended up needing the sweep truck, a Ford 350 diesel sort of thing, to pull us clear.

 No big deal - we ran ahead and rejoined the Rally for the next section.

This time I was even more focused on my driving. Power through those turns, keep up with that CAST, and get those zeros. I'm not exactly sure what the last couple of turns where like - seems like a hard right, downhill, then hard left... whatever. I was on it, driving that thing, keeping us on time, and powering through those curves. And I did it - we were heading for the right side of the road and I pulled it out and got it back on course..for the left side of the road. It was time for another snow bank.

Lets interrupt this story and jump ahead 36 hours. Eric, Kim and I are sitting in a motel watching "great high speed pursuits" on the learning channel. Great aerial footage of cars trying to evade police at high speeds on the streets of Los Angeles. Guys on Motorcycles doing 120 and then crashing into the sides of buses, flaming buses crashing into the sides of houses, things like that. This is where we learned the police lingo for what we did in the snow bank: "This is a Code 4 - The pursuit is over." It's cop talk for 'turn off your lights and slow down, this idiot isn't driving any farther."

So where was I? Heading diagonally across the road towards the snow bank on the left. The front left corner of the vehicle impacts the snow bank. I think to myself "oh shit here we go again." The rover starts to slide around - now perpendicular to the direction of travel. The front right corner hits the snow bank and sticks. The rover isn't moving forward anymore and the wheels stop sliding - but inertia isn't done yet. There is a sickening realization that things just got ugly. And loud. Large amounts of adrenaline dump out of wherever it comes from and floods my whole body. Two and a half tons of British engineering plus half a ton of passengers and miscellaneous baggage briefly leave the ground. Strange things come into my field of view. Like snow. and absolutely everything in the passenger compartment of the vehicle is now falling past my eyes towards the roof. and then back down. We landed facing the opposite direction and on our feet(wheels). Total time for all of this to happen: 1-2 seconds. We are now a Code 4 - this pursuit is over.

  I hear Kim ask Eric if he is OK. He is. I look down and don't see anything missing or any blood. I think maybe I should find out if Kim is OK. She is. We jump out. Eric goes running down the road to deploy the orange triangle. Kim and I start picking things up from the road surface. How do I describe the state of the Rover and our possessions? Total Shit Storm is the only thing that comes to mind. Every thing in that car that wasn't strapped down moved. We were strapped down. Nothing else was. There was a tool box in the back that was full of wrenches, sockets, and screw drivers. It had gone out the back of the vehicle and spread itself all over the road for about 30 feet. Shiny tools everywhere. And the luggage rack on the roof wasn't on the roof any more. It isn't in one piece any more anyway. Bags of stuff all over the snow bank and I don't know what else.

  We knew there was another car coming in about 60 seconds so we scrambled to get everything out of its way. At this point I realized that this was indeed a Kodak moment and grabbed the camera.

  And I don't know what else to say. Everything from that point on was sort of less...exciting. We cleaned up our mess and repacked the rover. The rally rolled on past us until car 56 showed up. This was another huge Ford 350. It took only a small pull to get us out of that snow drift. The Rover was fine. Well, not exactly fine, but it wasn't leaking anything, the engine sounded great, and the tires all seemed to be pointing in the right direction. The Range Rover is a very tough vehicle. We drove on down
the road.

  A few kilometers latter we came across a couple of our competitors stuck in a snow drift. We stopped to help dig them out and try to pull them loose. And then we headed back into town.

  I have to admit that I was done for. Not interested in continuing the Rally the next day. I figured there was no way we could drive at those speeds, and any way the rover is a mess, and might break down or something. Eric managed to get us out of bed and on the road the next day. We rallied on, but we rallied a bit slower. Eric drove a couple of legs and I think he will agree that those road surfaces where obnoxiously slick at best. I got back on that horse and drove the second half of Sunday. Eric was right, after you fall behind about 40 seconds keeping up no longer seems important.

  The Rally ended on a frozen lake with an Ice Racing track. Eric gave us some advice - "drive fast and don't take your foot off the gas" - and then he jumped out of the car to "take pictures." So I drove fast and kept my foot on the gas and went right off the far edge of the course. Almost made it back around and onto the track when I put it into snow bank number three. Completely high centered and not going any where. Sigh. We got pulled out and I did another full lap - this time with Eric in the car. I had a couple of corners where I had to pull the wheel hard over and floor it - as the rover continued in a straight line towards the side of the track. Only cursing at the top of my voice, something like, "Come on you big Pig!!" caused the car to slowly make it around the corner. I'm not sure that Eric and Kim had nearly as much fine as passengers on the ice track as I did driving it.

  And that's it. The end of the Rally. Amazingly we did not finish in dead last place. The rally master seemed to be impressed that we showed up the second day and finished the rally.

  We spent the rest of the weekend in a state of shocked disbelief. "I can't believe we rolled the Rover" could be heard at least once an hour for 2 days.

  A few lessons learned:

   1. The Range Rover is an amazingly tough vehicle. It will go anywhere - just not quickly.
   2. The Range Rover is too underpowered, and way too top heavy to compete at these speeds on these kinds of roads.
   3. Rolling a 4,900 lb. car is a very violent, loud, and unpleasant event. I don't need to relive this experience.
   4. We need to mount a video camera in the car next time. 
   5. Ice Racing is amazingly cool. Every one should try it. Even Kim.

  I seem to be the only person with any thing like an injury - the top of my head has a couple of scratches and a bruise. My shoulder/collar bone also got a bit bruised up. These things took 24-48 hours to show up.

  The rover has a number of new dents - the giraffe catcher is bent, front left corner massively dented, the roof is an inch shorter in a couple of places, the rear right corner has a good sized dent in it. None of the windows broke. It still drives in a straight line. I'm sure the body shop is going to find a few more things. The back door doesn't close or latch any more. I've got it safely locked up in my garage.

  And the owner of the vehicle gets home in 3-4 weeks...

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