First things first, let’s look at the facts: Klipdale is not just a name someone thought off, this little farming community got its name from the terrain just like the name suggest, Klipdale, this place is littered with stone banks that attempts to rattle the fillings out of your teeth on every pass. Every time we went over a series of these stone banks the only thing you can hear on the intercom: “Eina, eina eina” and these weren’t used to describe my fillings trying to jump from my mouth but my poor old car was taking a beating.
Then there was the event itself, seeing that I’m normally one of the radio marshals (Yes, for those that wondered, I’m a Radio Ham) in the background, I must admit that the event was well organised and I did not encounter any problems.
Thanks to the community, farmers, organizers, marshals and everyone that I missed for making this a very special day.
Let’s start with the week leading up to the event:
Ruan and I just finished doing a complete bolt check on the car and in the process we made a complete list of spanners needed for each critical part on the car; and by critical we categorized everything that could come lose and help us into a ditch, this list also ended up being the items that we wanted checked during the service breaks.
I had to replace all the CV bolts, inner and outer with new units and heavy duty spring washers as they came lose on our practise, also all the bolts on the steering rack were replaced with new units and seeing that the sump guard covers them, I locked them in place with spring washers and Nylock nuts. I always said you can lose your brakes but not the ability to steer.
Then it was onto all the small things, window washer bottle, tow strap, jack, spare wheel had to be mounted, well the list did not stop, it is all these small things taking all the time.
Tuesday was set aside for Rally School, yea you can laugh, well we did laugh our arse off for ourselves attending rally school days before the rally. From what we learned from Patrick Vermaak it was quite clear we were ok on the car building and preparing side, but the rally side was something else, he basically had to teach us what rally was really about, time controls (TCs), dead time, Penalties, lateness etc. the list goes on, the biggest things to remember never reverse in a control area and time has never been so important in your life. The weirdest thing about rally is the fact that it is probably the only place in the world that it is better to be late than early as the penalty for being early is greater than being late. We completed a mock rally on paper to teach us how to work out all the times between stages, when and how to TC etc. All the information helped to settle the nerves but it was also such an overload seeing that we now knew about so much more that could go wrong or done incorrectly. Thanks again Patrick for all the help and stressing us out further, well more Ruan as I had so much on my plate, I did not have the time to think about this.
Wednesday evening was used to get some of the smaller stuff done and then I spend the rest of the evening laying on Ruan’s couch while I watched the Pace Notes DVD and him navigating us through the stages with me constantly stopping him to make some changes. On our events a set of instructions called tulips are included in the entry fee, this is a very basic set of instruction just highlighting the major instructions on the route, luckily for us we can purchase a separate set of instructions called Pace Notes, this include a booklet with very detailed instructions and a DVD showing you the actual route. Some people would argue that pace notes is the wrong way of learning rally as it can have disastrous outcomes if you just look at what happened on the last WRC Portugal event due to pace note errors, but the key word is WRC, for us we believe it is the new way of doing things and the more information would put us in a better position to be safer on the stages.
Thursday I just had to call in some help in the form of Nico Botha to take the bakkie for a new set of rubber and later the evening to help me load the car on the trailer. Thanks Nico. One thing I noticed while strapping the car down was the fact that I need my own set of ratchet straps as it is quite a pain in the arse to work with a set that is for loading cargo rather than strapping down wheels. The rest of the evening I just packed, well not that easy as it involved sorting out spanners for each part of the car, figuring out what spare parts and materials I’m going to take with in case of emergency fixes.
Friday morning early up to pack for another 2 hours before work, 8 hours sleep an evening became a statistic at this stage of the fight. Seeing that we were also going camping did not easy the packing effort at all, to make matters worse I forgot to fetch the tent from the garage as we normally sleep in the bakkie, but seeing that it will be filled with tools and parts it was out of the question. As it was a the start of the Easter School Holiday we were very happy that we could be over Sir Lowrys Pass before the traffic started picking up, we had a nice leisurely drive to Riviersonderend to fill-up with enough fuel to get the car and service vehicle back to Cape Town. Only a handful of kilometres backwards we arrived at Khomeesdrif Camping Resort, all ready, relaxed and amped to pitch the tent and relax for the rest of the evening after the huge effort to get to this point in time. For a few moments we did worry about getting stuck with the super low profile trailer of Car, Boat & Truck. In true Ruan fashion he managed once again to have his timing 100% perfectly timed to arrive just when we wanted to sit down at the camp fire. We spend the next few minutes helping him pitch his tent before we could relax.
Saturday morning, up nice and early, strapped the headlight to my head and went searching for the showers in the pitch dark mist covered ski. For some strange feeling we weren’t that hungry, I managed to force a sandwich down with a cup of coffee, must probably have been the nerves. Filled out travel mugs with another cuppa and left for Rally HQ. On arrival we quickly got a nice secluded spot to setup our service area. A few minutes later we were joined by friends and very importantly my father and brother that were going to help in the service area. After documentation we quickly washed the car, finished a few smaller things on the car like making sure the cameras is working etc. Took the car to the scrutineers, my biggest concern, luckily for us we passed that test with flying colours and received a lot of attention due to the car as everyone loved the amount of attention to detail and the neatness. Finished the car and took it to Parc Ferme.
The nerves started building as all our friends started talking about leaving to see the first cars at the spectator points, thru my mind all sorts of thoughts flew by, the start of this whole new rally thing is about to become real, ready or not. After drivers briefing we discovered a very empty pit area, we went thru the starting list again, seeing that we are new, we were seeded last, just as we wanted it.
Our nerves were shot by this time, especially due to the fact that we started last and the wait was quite long, during this time we looked at what the other competitors were doing while entering the first time control, just to easy ourselves a little, it did not help, next time I’ll take a chair and a book to keep my mind occupied.
Stage 1 – Antoinette
Standing outside parc ferme, hands shaking…..all of a sudden Ruan gives the command, zip up the racing suite, enter the time control 10 minutes before starting time, walked to the car, made sure the bonnet clips is secured (all the weirdest things were popping up in my mind) balaclava on, helmet on the roof, get in car, grab helmet, Leatt on followed by helmet, strap the harnesses in correctly, Ruan speaking, can’t hear a thing, in actual fact it was very quiet in my helmet besides the huffing and puffing from my racing breath, kept on going, stressed some more about how much time is left before TC, had a glimpse upwards and noticed 3 competitors before us, what a relief, we still had some time, finished with the harness, plugged the helmet in, still no Ruan, went into a mild panic, had to look to my left to make sure he is still there, luckily for me he was also trying to get himself settled, but still the deafening silence, I can hear Ruan talking, but can’t hear him. What know I can’t hear him and he were the one with all the answers, a bright idea popped up, start the car, turned the ignition ON and all of a sudden Ruan was with me, started the car and realised that the intercom only works with the ignition turned on. As our competitors left the TC area we inched forward and on Ruan’s command entered, the go ahead was given and Ruan instructed me to leave, we took what we would call a leisurely drive to the stage start, just to realise half way there we need to get a move on. As we sat in the car waiting our time to enter the TC area, it seemed that Ruan knew what he think he had to do, I was relaxed, we were given the command approached the start line, stopped and sat waiting, Ruan’s clever watch started beeping, selected 1st gear, hand on the hand brake, nerves building and waited what seems like an eternity. Ruan counted down in 10 sec and all of a sudden the watch beeped on every second and Ruan counted down the seconds.
This is it, seconds from our first rally start and no freak in way we are getting out if this, only way out is thru the stage, marshal, Ruan and watch all start screaming in my ears, the natural thing to do was release the clutch, control the wheel spin to gain as much traction as quick as possible to get rid of this noises coming from all corners. As we drove up the hill Ruan gave a Right 7 call if I remember correctly, as we went over the crest the turn was in front of us. All I could think of was is this how a right 7 looks, my life flashed twice in front of me, managed to get thru the first corner a live, the next section was downhill followed by a left 2 up hill, not trusting anything I even managed to nervously tap the brake pedal before entering the corner and just as we went thru it think to myself that, that was unnecessary.
As we approached the approached a right hand corner Ruan instructed something like 150 flying finish, I was so relieved at the words “flying finish” as we were about to finish our first stage, that once I excited the corner I waited for the Flying finish board to appear, once I saw it I realised that there was very little road between it and the stop board, in true fashion I worked out the best plan to get this car stopped before the stop board but still fly over the flying finish board. Once across the board, I was very hard on the brakes, down shifting with the rear moving from side to side, I was so determined not to mess up our first stage and getting all the marshals angry, got the car under control in second ready to stop and all of a sudden Ruan shouted go go go 5m in front of the end board, which turned out to be the flying finish board as we previously passed the flying finish board. We had quite a good laugh about it with the end marshals.
A very indescribable feeling went thru me, the car was in one piece, we were in one piece, we knew it was slow but did not care, we just finished our first gravel rally stage and in a position to tackle the next one. Ruan did the math and told me we had x amount of time to get back to the following TC which would be a service, again our drive was to leisurely as we made it just in time.
It’s hot in the car while sitting with a helmet, balaclava, 2 layer race suit, shoes gloves, closed windows and waiting to enter the service area. Once in proceeded to our area, parked the car as my brother instructed. One thing you must realise, even thou I worked 4 years on this car and .would like to believe I’m the boss of it, once you enter the service park for the first time, you realise that you are just the driver that could feed some information back to the crew, but that is about it, they are in control. Ruan gives the commands being when to stop where and when, the command to proceed etc. and very importantly read the pace notes. He is also the one giving the service crew specific instructions what to do and point them to the attention areas as I instructed him during the open section back to the service area. The service team you just have to trust, part of their job is to do a bolt check, once you leave the service area, you can’t be wondering did they fasten that bolt or that one. This is very much a confidence sport, you have to have confidence in the person next to you (the co-driver has one big list of duties to take care off, not to mention the responsibilities), those in the service part making sure the wheels stay on, your family and friends at the spectator points having the confidence in you to safely drive the car thru the stages in order to go home after the event and start planning the next one, all this must be done to the second. I like to call this Timed Chaos.
20 Minute service time, 0sec go, pull away, drive to the service crew, stop, while the first member opens the bonnet, the other ready’s the jack, we get out while remembering the sequence ( pull harness straps to release tension on the belts, unplug helmet from intercom (keep in mind, know your co -driver can’t hear you anymore), release harness, open the door, unbuckle helmet, remove helmet and neck brace and place it on the roof, remove steering wheel, get out of the car, remove balaclava, feel the ground beneath you). We decided to keep the car full of fuel, one less thing to worry about while on stage, thus we need to refuel, Mike gets under the car and start checking bolts, especially the CV bolts, my father helped Ruan with the fuel, I’m under the car, up again, checking that, doing that, finally settling to check the engine bay, oil is good, the rest looks good. All of a sudden Ruan gives the command to get ready and in the car. Hell, I have not even rested or had anything to drink, grabbed a bottle of water, had a few sips, suit on, in the car, helmet on, 3minutes before our TC out time, I can feel the car being lowered, started the car, got the OK from Mike to leave the service area, reversed and proceeded to the TC. 18 minutes gone.
What just happened, apparently this is what they call servicing, I was supposed to catch my breath and relax, in the meantime I’m overheating in the mid-day sun with 5 stages to go and another 4 of these chaotic services to go.
Stage 2 – Geskenk
We will repeat this 13.8km stage later the day, on the open section we decided to drive a little faster on the open section 14km long, we arrived a little before time and had some time to sit still and relax, most definitely the way to do things.
This time around we felt a little more at ease with the whole timing side of things as Ruan managed to get us into another stage without any penalties. Being the first time we were on this stage, we took it gentle, but the biggest thing about this stage was the stone banks, it was littered with them, every time we went over one it felt as if someone was trying to tear my heart apart, the poor car. Probably one of the reason why we will never be super-fast, I will never be able to drive this car to the limit as I have too much feelings for the poor thing.
A very nice stage, a little more technical than the previous one. Ruan especially enjoyed this stage seeing that he had less time to look around, it seems that he likes to be kept busy, I’ll think of something to add to his list to do. We had a few issues with the notes not being read fast enough, but purely because we changed them due to watching the DVD it seemed that you had more time, but that bit us, if the calls is underlined it is done so for a reason. Well seeing that our speed is still slow enough we managed to make it and learn from our mistakes. This time around as I heard the call coming over the intercom for flying finish I knew to attack the second board and then brake to stop before end control marshals.
As we did coming to the stage, we drove faster than 60km/h back to Klipdale co-op 18km away, due to the fact that we do not have an ODO in the car, we almost took the wrong turn off. Once we arrived at the service area we were about 7 minutes early, got out of the car, removed the helmets, opened the suites and relaxed, all this while we had the time to have a nice chat about what just happened and what needs to be done in service. This is the way to do things, I even managed to use the wiper blade as a clothing drying line to dry a little. Proceeded through the TC and stopped in our service area, all relaxed, told the crew what we wanted done. Mike proceeded at jacking (we need to get rid of the wooden spacer on the jack) the car up while I inserted the stands, Ruan and my father started the refuelling process, Mike started checking bolts and I made sure everything under the bonnet is in order. Once Ruan and I were done with our duties we had time to stand around, have some cold refreshments and relax. Once Ruan gave the 5 minute call we got in the car, started strapping on and in, in a much more relaxed way, 3 minutes before we had to be at the TC the car was on its wheels and we proceeded out. A much more relaxed way of doing things, as we were waiting in the line to enter the TC I realised that we need to buy more time in the service area.
Stage 3 – Antoinette
We were starting to feel more at easy, but I still did not trust these gravel tires and struggled with forming the pictures from what is ahead by listening to the notes, or it was just matter of I just drove on what I saw and did not listen to Ruan, seeing that I’m a master at pretending to listen and only remember certain keywords to make enough sense when caught out (did I just say that out loud). This was also the stage that we nearly soiled our suits, we went down a hill, the road opened and you could probably see the road for 1km ahead, we entered an easy right, I had the car positioned on the inside line and all off a sudden I saw a ditch on my line that must have washed out during the previous weeks rain, I changed my line successfully missing the ditch which looked like it could remove the front right wheel, but as I tried to bring it back to the racing line the rear stepped out, we left the road and ended on the grass doing +-100km/h, managed to keep it next to the fence trying my best to get the car back on the road, Ruan looks up and is just like: get it back on the road, get it back on the road. I did not say anything but were thinking to myself, what is he thinking I’m trying to do. Being about 1.5km to the end, I actually hoped the flying finish is in sight.
Again we had time to relax before entering the TC, this time around I checked the tyre pressures, not realising that they are still hot, I deflated the left rear wheel too much, quickly told Ruan to phone Mike to get the compressor going in order for us to inflate the tyre, my bad. Arrived in the service area, we all did our thing, if I remember correctly my father was still out spectating, but this time around one of the crew members of the team next to us came around with an air hose in hand, started pumping the tyre, damn this is some good service and sportsmanship. As we were getting ready to leave my brother informed me that the portable compressor were in the bakkie with my fiancée spectating, another big fail on my part, I need to add it to the packing list, the other thing we realised is that we need a quick way of communicating with the service crews.
Stage 4 – Hermanusheuwel
Exact same stage as Antoinette, just in reverse. This stage went great, a little less nervous braking before crests and corners, better lines with the whole stage just feeling like it flowed better and started to form a picture of what the pace notes tried to describe. The rhythm was better, LOL, Mike you will understand.
Everyone knew what they had to do, even though we decided to only do a visual check over of the suspension parts and bolts. Checked the engine bay, filled the fuel tank and placed some newer rubber on the front and moved the front rubber to the rear due to rubbing.
Stage 5 – Geskenk
No words to describe the mix of feelings and emotions, one thing is for sure, taking a blind crest flat foot without knowing what is on the other side is not easy, yet we still managed to brake before it.
After the stage we decided to be as quick as possible in the service area to allow Mike some time to get out to the spectator point and at least see why he was slaving away in the service area, he could also see for himself that we are not trying to break the car. As we stopped before the TC, we got out, I started check the fluids under the bonnet, once done we relaxed. Again, would have been great to communicate with the service crew to inform them beforehand what we wanted done. Stopped in the service area, instructed Mike the engine bay is done, only a visual inspection, no fuel and leave as quick as possible to get to the spectator point, we will finish. After they left, we realised that the fender lost a bolt and that the door was hitting the fender as a spacer was lost on stage.
Stage 6 – Hermanusheuwel
The rhythm was good, the confidence building but still severely lacking. The best part of the stage was the fact that I was confined to force myself to flat foot a crest as by this time I knew what was on the other side, nothing. As we approached the one crest, a long uphill section Ruan gave read the note as something like crest 380, I went for it, this one I’m going over flat foot, as we neared the top Ruan again read the note, this time he sounded different, but still I was on my way to flat foot this crest, no matter what is wrong with him. We approached and as determined as I were, I just had to lift partially, what a weird nauseas feeling linked with a very big amount of adrenalin, we will practise this one, apparently it takes years. After the stage Ruan told me he read the note and could see I was going for it and wondered for a second if it really is straight on the other side with enough road to be safe, this was the reason why he sounded strange.
As you can see, the car and us made it in one piece on our own steam into parc ferme.
Video footage of Stage 4
Sorry but I did not record any GPS data, next time hopefully the new logging system will take care of that. You will hear rear tyres hitting the arches, the bump stop rubbers I have in place is obviously not enough, there is more than the cars weight going through the rear wheels on compression. Something I was unable to simulate with only the cars weight on a jack and no spring on the shock.
Worst thing of it all, the main GoPro died after this stage, and I’m so sad I do not have footage of SS 5-6 as we really started rallying in those stages. I’m currently waiting on connectors and mounts and stuff to make this video system better as I want to input audio, power and trigger the camera from a logger, this way I can have one button to press before a stage to log ECU, GPS and video.
SS1 Antoinette 9.9km: 8:07
SS2 Geskenk 13.4km: 10:31
SS3 Antoinette 9.9km: 7:31
SS4 Hermanusheuwel 9.9km (Antoinette in reverse): 7:20
SS5 Geskenk 13.4km: 9:53
SS6 Hermanusheuwel 9.9km (Antoinette in reverse): 7:06
As you can see the times came down as we grew the ability to shift enough brain cells aside to form a picture of what is ahead and the confidence build in the tyres etc.
We identified a few issues, especially in the service area that will get immediate attention as we need to settle things a little there as time is very limited and I need the time to think about what happened and what could be done to improve.
For us to finish without any time penalties and a car in one piece without the need if speedy repairs, is a major win, the speed will come with years of experience.
We ended the day 12th out of 17 starters.
Thanks to Selina Botes, Mike Mathee & Patrick Johnson for the photos, I find it a little hard to take stills and drive the car, without you this update would have been rather dull.
Car Boat Truck Mechanical & Bodyworks for the work on the body and providing us with a trailer, luckily we did not cause to much work.
Thanks to everyone behind the scenes organizing the event, the farmers, community, family and friends that made this possible, even the uncle at the prize giving that tried to drown me in wit blitz & local beer when (thanks brother) Mike told him it is my birthday and first rally.
Thanks to everyone that encouraged Ruan and I to pursue this sport, just to name a few, Pierre vd Westhuizen, Patrick Vermaak and Johan Zulch.
Selina thanks for standing by me and for the very special cake.
More Pictures – March 2014 – CCMCC Klipdale Rally
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