With the temperature diving, the warmth of the Tim Horton's coffee and donuts in our bellies didn't last long. Fortunately the NISMO Stuff Frontier requires very little maintenance or prep work on an event to event basis. She more or less, rolls off the trailer ready to go, not requiring wheel/tire swaps or lots of electronic finagling to get her where we want her for an event.
After registration and tech inspection we were ready for some warm up laps. The Rallye Sanair allows one to get some pre-event driving in before even recce in order to help teams get their vehicles dialed in. Not having run the truck at speed since its swampy demise at Black River Stages last year I was a tad nervous belting in with David--would everything work correctly? would there be any noticeable engine misses or unforeseen changes due to the crash and all the yanking and tugging the truck suffered?
First worry out of the way was when we plugged in our intercom and could communicate with one another via our headsets. I had been worried that maybe the water had gotten into the intercom/wiring and shorted something out but the PCI Race Radio setup appeared to be in perfect working condition. Out on the track for our warmup laps the truck ran fine--which is not to say that it ran fast but it ran no differently than it every had. Engine seemed find all the way up to the rev limiter, shifting was clean, brakes held, steering was true. The track at this time had only a handful of other vehicles on it and required little vision or forethought as to the traffic surrounding us, giving no indication of what the later racing would be like.
The driver's meeting was all in French so neither David nor I really had any idea of what was being said and for all we knew they were making fun of the silly Americans and their slow, waddling, dinosaur of a truck. The organizers very nicely provided a recap of the driver's meeting to the handful of non-French speakers after the French portion wrapped up and we were good to go--nothing unusual, just that during the race we should use our signal lights to indicate on which side we would like a closing vehicle to pass on and that even though the race took place on a closed track we were still required to put out triangles and such as if this were a "typical" stage rally.
Starting 25th of 28 (of the 29 vehicles entered one blew an engine during warmup) vehicles on the day put us near the tail end which was good as it would mean fewer vehicles entering and exiting and racing on the track during our time, leaving us with less to worry about. The stages themselves were laid out over the various portions of the facility including a tri-oval track and its infield, a dragstrip with chicanes, access roads, pit lanes, etc. making for quite a number of different configurations with each stage some 10+ kms in length and some 120 kms on the day.
The day would unfold without drama for the NISMO Stuff Frontier and its crew. As has been typical, we had minimal service to perform during the day's three service periods. At the first service we increased our tire pressure significantly as we had underestimated the degree to which the sidewalls would slough over upon cornering. Though not nimble by any means this improvement did lead to more confidence behind the wheel. Which is really what ended up being the most beneficial aspect of the day. Not only did I regain the confidence in the vehicle that was lost at the last event but the lack of need for true "stage notes" allowed my codriver to impart his driving knowledge upon me during the course of the day. A far better driver himself than I am, David Dennis was able to provide feedback in terms of when to shift for better vehicle control and proper corner entry points for example. Additionally I felt our communication skills improved as we were operating with our heads on a swivel all day with the truck taking on the role of a Gloster Gladiator while our competition flew by in FW 190s.
Though the track had few elevation changes it did present a number of other challenges. Foremost amongst these was the narrowness of the chicanes. Even after the course workers widened them a tad after viewing the truck attempting to get through them they were still only marginally wider that the truck and its mirrors. Additionally during two stages there was a "gap" through a cement wall that had to be negotiated that was itself not much wider than the truck. This caused a severe slowing of the vehicle to prevent massive damage or to navigate the chicane which, if hit, would result in a 30 second penalty. The frequent 90+ degree turns didn't help speed much either (as evidenced by the pictures here) with swift changes in direction not advisable. Lastly, the truck itself is not exactly a high horsepower machine. While its lack of power keeps all its innards nicely encased within their metal housings, it does not make for brisk acceleration.
All that being said we finished 25th of 29 entries on the day. We were the last of the vehicles that did not DNF to finish the event. Which is perfectly OK by me. I take a lot of positives away from the event including the fact that David and I had a great deal of fun, got to go to a different country and culture, hang out and meet some great people, run in a new and different series, brought the truck home in one piece, got lots of seat time and built upon what rally skills I possess. Not bad for a couple days effort.
Since we plan on running the entire Rallye Quebec series, we'll be seeing these cars again in the near future and on terrain much more suited to the truck. We won't be fastest in those events either but it will be a more level playing field for sure and should help us close the points gap between ourselves and the frontrunners in the Jon Nichols Cup class. We'll see...
Thanks for this event of course go out to David Dennis (my codriver) for his help, advice and directions all throughout the weekend, to BTF Fabrication for the incredibly durable suspension design which has never had a moment's failure in the ten significant events the truck has been run at (8 stage rallies, 2 hillclimbs), to www.bodyarmoroutlet.com for their support as team sponsor and for providing items such as a handy emergency knife ready to cut my harness or punch out the window should I dunk the truck in a pond again and to Nissan itself for crafting this durable and versitle machine which has NEVER suffered a mechanical issue or breakdown during any event, no matter what has been thrown at it.
I hope that some pictures and video exist out there that show the truck with OTHER vehicles as I was certainly not alone out there!! And still pictures would be best as in those you won't be able to tell who is passing who!!