Day 2 started off a little earlier, with Parc Expose opening up at 8am. I was able to explore my reverse skills in the rally car as we had to back down a narrow street to get into our parking space for the day. The best part was not only having to navigate backwards while trying to look through the cage and nearly 20 blind spots, but I kept getting put into the wrong parking space and having to continue on until they sorted out where I was actually supposed to go. While I admit it was a bit stressful, it was also quite amusing for anyone watching.
Saturday was a bit more intense to say the least. We headed out to start SS5 that morning, when we came upon a red cross. It appeared that we were about 3rd or 4th on scene at the time. The brother team of Chris Chilson and co-driver Brandon Chilson of the red and black Subaru Wagon #615 had rolled on stage and landed on the roof. Both competitors were thankfully okay, however after a few other competitors had passed thru, the car began gushing fuel all over the interior of the car. The car itself was placed over a small drainage that went into the ravine just down the crest of the road. As a safety precaution, the red cross was thrown and the stage was halted. Jess and I pulled off to the side and I checked in with Brandon and looked over the situation with the car. The fuel tank had emptied itself, but the car was filled with little puddles of fuel and the smell of the fumes hovered around the car.
After double checking that he was okay, he mentioned to me that Chris had been standing with the red cross sign and had not been back to check the car, so we decided it would be best for him to take over that responsibility so I could get Chris back to his car and check in with him. Poor Chris was standing there still wearing his helmet holding the sign and chatting with fellow competitor Jeff Carl. Brandon and Chris swapped places, and Jess and I got Chris some water and had him take off his helmet so he could cool down, and reassess the car and situation. The remaining competitors arrived and pulled off the to side. We discussed possibly flipping the car over, but given the fuel leak and it’s position, I suggested we wait until sweep arrived as to avoid any potential environmental damage, or other unnecessary emergent situation. Sweep arrived, Chris explained what had happened and why the red cross was thrown and everything was radiod in. Once that was sorted, one of the zero cars lead the rest of us through the remainder of the stage. There we headed onto SS6 and 7.
The stages went fairly smoothly, and Jess and I were finally starting to get a rhythm down. She was only off a few place in the notes and did an excellent job informing me and getting back on. We made it through both stages and headed to service to meet back up with our crew. I played a little more with the DCCD controller, in an attempt to find that right equation for better grip and began getting more comfortable with the car as each mile passed by.
Service went smoothly, with particular attention paid to the suspension and small rocks that managed to wedge themselves in the brakes. After service we transited to SS8, were disaster struck. Mid-way through the pack, cars were being held at the start of the stage. All we knew upon arrival is that there was a crash with a red cross thrown. Per protocol, the team that was involved was kept confidential, and the all too familiar and dreaded silence fell upon the remainder of the field who was wondering if the driver and co-driver were okay.
While many competitors chatted and supported one another, we all tried sorting through who could have been involved. Jessica was worried that her husband and father in law could be involved as they should have been in the missing pack of cars, but was quickly reassured as they had never made it out of service. After about an hour of radio chatter, what sounded like a lot of chaos and confusion; we had discovered there had been yet another 2 crashes on SS8. One of the lead competitors Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan had gone off, as well as who we later discovered was Louie Jonas and Villa Cseh. (Yes, our Villa who recently competed at Hyperfest with me!) From our understanding the ambulance that was at SS8 had been sent to SS9 for another red cross, and then the competitors on SS8 then had to wait for another one to arrive. (Perhaps we will leave the entirety of that situation where it sits until the open discussion can begin about everything that went wrong in those few hours of chaos).
Informed by crew, we were told that on SS8 it was MacKenzie Cucino, co-driver and fiance of Jesse Whitsell of the #786 VW, that was injured. About an hour and a half later, the ambulance had arrived to SS8, where they could render aid to the hurt competitor and get her airlifted out. We were informed by stage marshalls to turn our rally cars around and head back to service as SS 8, 9, 10 and 11 were being canceled due to injuries, crashes and time lost. We headed back to service, anxious to find out MacKenzie’s condition. We were able to speak with Jesse who informed us MacKenzie was being airlifted to hospital to treat cracked t5 and t6 vertebrae from the crash. Thankfully, she would be okay and a full recovery is expected.
Upon arrival to service, everyone was lined up until the front line cars made it through the weigh station and control, and then we were regrouped and sent in for service. Afterwards, we left service and headed out for stages 12 and 13. Thankfully, we made the call to put the light pod on the car, as we ended up needing it on the 29 mile stage of SS13. We did, however, discover that the lights needed to be re-aimed, and the co driver map light was not working. Oh, and that the LED display for the DCCD controller is extremely bright at night - which thankfully Jess used to finish reading the last few miles of notes! At first glance on SS13, we noticed headlights beginning to catch up in the distance. I thought to myself… there is no way that is the “little bubble car” (that we referred to it as) that is catching us. However, if it was, we figured more props to them! We maintained our speed as smoothly as we could until the headlights began getting much closer and I made the choice to pull off to the right to let them by. I will be the first to admit that I was happy to see it was one of the faster Subarus in our class that were having trouble at the start of the stage a few cars before us. We kept up with them for awhile, but the dust and fading daylight made it far too difficult to see much of the road, so we were left to come to nearly a complete stop a few times to gain our bearings better. It was the longest stage I have ever driven on in 7 years of competing, and we were nearing the end of the event, so Jess and I decided to take it down a notch and get to the finish. Stitch was handling far better on day 2, and we felt much more confident by SS13, despite all the chaos from earlier in the day. I focused on some of the hairpin turns using a mixture of left foot braking and clutch kicking to swing the rear end of the car around the turns as best as I could, and it proved to work fairly well by the end of the event. As we made it through the flying finish of SS13, Jess and I squealed with excitement.
However, the adventure was not over just yet. We had one final service to complete at the fairgrounds and the running of the Super Special Stage again. Jess and I decided this was our moment to try and redeem ourselves a bit after working out some of the kinks of the car and having some seat time with Stitch. We were paired up with a husband-wife team who were also in a Subaru and decided to ask if they would be okay with us taking the right lane for the run of the Super Special as we did not have a working handbrake for the hair pin. They kindly agreed, and we were extremely grateful. During our run, Stitch was a little laggy on the launch, but woke up once the RPM’s began to build. He handled the sweeping turns graciously and without leaving us stuck in neutral, a large difference from Day 1. The first loop left us shortly behind the other Subaru, building the adrenaline and Jess and I were determined to fight til the finish. The second loop proved kinder to us and we rounded the corner to the straight away closely to our competitors. My heart raced as we approached the hairpin, hoping my driving skills and practice from the day would prove successfully; which thankfully did. We came across the finish line first and again, screamed and giggle with loads of excitement, that not only did we redeem ourselves from day one, we also finished our first official stage rally in Stitch 2.0 together and made our crew proud!
Day 2 made for an intense experience, from start to finish; with a lot to consider and learn for future events. Jess and I are really excited to run NEFR in just over a week and see how Stitch handles the gravel roads of New Hampshire and Maine.
HUGE THANKS TO ALL THE VOLUNTEERS, COMPETITORS, ORGANIZERS AND SPONSORS FOR MAKING THIS EVENT POSSIBLE.
AND TO OUR CREW:
RYAN DAVIS, RYAN HOLZBAUR, BRYAN MCGRATH, MIKE BUTLER AND IAN KESSLER. AND OF COURSE TO THE RALLY MOMS- SUE KESSLER AND SANDY WHITE- FOR SPOILING US ALL ROTTEN AND GIVING LOVE TO THE RALLY PUPS!