Starting the day off we really wanted to see how the DMACKs held up from a cold start. Track temp wasn't exactly balmy so we figured they would last for a good portion of the day. The first stage is always a bit jittery when you haven't driven the car for a little while, so we really didn't know what to expect from the car, tires, or driver!!
We ultimately were following behind Peter Thompson, who is always incredibly quick at Shannonville and definitely has the equipment to have a great result. With Martin Donnelly behind us, also very quick and competent on Tarmac (no surprise really given that he's Irish. I'm pretty sure it's a genetic trait!). Warren Heywood rounded out the group, he would also be very competitive although perhaps a little bit underpowered against the stronger running open class cars. Good thing he is able to drive the pants off his car to keep up!
Starting the first stage was all about getting used to the tires. We went out well but had to remember to keep it sticky and tight, as opposed to slidey and loose which would be how we normally run! Car felt great for the whole run and we had a good mix of on the limit braking as well as some slightly sideways action, courtesy of Warren making some large cuts and dragging a bunch of mud out onto the track. He'll deny it vehemently, but the colour of his car at the end of the event didn't lie!
Favourite part of this section of the track was probably the chicane before the pit straight. We had a fairly solid line coming through and the felt good and strong pulling out. Good practice for ESPR since there's a number of chicanes there to break up the faster straights.
Coming into the end of the stage, we felt like we'd gained a little time on Peter Thompson, however Martin Donnelly pulled in a little sooner than we would have liked, meaning he closed the gap a bit and gained some time on us.
We started off the stage fairly strong but soon realized that although the tarmac is fun once in a while (or all year as with the case for 2014) the gravel is really where I'm most comfortable as a driver. It felt like each time we hit the gravel section we may have picked up some time on the other competitors. At times as we came through it was a little dusty, but staying committed to the notes, we pressed on and made up time. There were only a couple of slightly loose moments, but still in control and we finished the stage with very few issues.
Although we didn't know where we were sitting on the day, we know now we dropped 24s on the first stage and only 4.5s on the second stage to then leader Martin Donnelly.
All good and on to service.
Out we go for the second loop which was the first pass of the long stage with the whole pack running together. We knew there would potentially be some passing in this group, which can be interesting, but also a little odd for rally drivers!
Everything was going well and we were catching and passing a few cars, but after about 3 laps we had an issue which I'll put purely down to inexperience on tarmac. We didn't know at the time, but we had a long lock up on the inside front tire coming into some heavy braking. Huge plume of tire smoke (which was thought by the crew in the stands to be any number of things from lockup to blown engine) and we had an issue. We kept pushing but the car felt like it was running on a flat but with none of the negative affects. Since we had a lot of laps left to run and didn't want to damage the car if 'something' let go, we decided it safer to pull off and go to service. Thanks to the unique setup of Shannonville Stages rally, there's open service and you take the time penalty on the stage. A shame because we were running well, but necessary.
Pulling into service we had the Planet Motorsport crew check out the issues and found a substantial flat spot on the right front tire. The car was up on stands and it was decided to check it out for any other ill effects. Upon closer investigation it seems there was a bushing that was failing and needed to be changed out. With some help from Chris Martin and of course Iain, they had it changed out pretty quickly and got us ready for the restart on the next stage.
Restarting the third loop of stages, the flat spot had really cost us a lot of time. The restart rules allow you to take the fastest time on the DNFd stage plus a 5 minute time penalty. This would effectively put us way out of contention unless other people also had issues.
We went out for the final three stages and had a relatively trouble free loop. Some great fun at the back of the track through the gravel and some interesting progression throughout the day.
On the final stage, we really felt like we were pushing the car and setting some good times, which was evident by us winning the stage by 8 seconds over Peter Thompson. Unfortunately Martin Donnelly retired earlier in the day so we weren't able to see how we're stacking up to the early leader.
Overall a great rally day and we had a lot of fun, but waiting for the results and podium was a great display of sportsmanship and patience! Nobody really had an idea of where we had finished with almost everybody having an issue throughout the day and taking a 5 minute penalty.
Results were recalculated about 5 times with errors caught by different people, but ultimately we came out with a solid 2nd place overall, narrowly missing 1st place by 8s had we taken off the 5 minute penalty. Peter Thompson took the overall win with a solid drive.
Time to focus on prepping for ESPR, which is why I'm sitting in Chicago airport right now, drinking a Sam Adams, waiting for the flight to Westchester, NY.