In a nod to Ken Block, Ford of Europe presents its own juiced-Fiesta rally car epic: Snowkhana One. Almost as entertaining, almost as creative, but at nowhere near the same kind of budget.
In an almost inconceivable move, Ford of Europe has announced today that they will withdraw factory support for the WRC.
Ford has the longest history with the WRC and it’s predecessor, as well as an admirable win record going back to the beginning. Much of Ford’s reputation in Europe was built on the success of rally participation and leadership.
This is a very dark day for Ford Fans and the WRC – one which nobody would have ever foreseen.
Going back in time to Buffalo NY, 30 years ago.
November in Buffalo is a time I have some nostalgia for… Being an absolute car-nut, it meant that the summer racing season (autocross and Open Track events) was over and it was time to put the car away for the winter. Of course, I stretched it out for a few weeks from the first sub-zero day until the first snowfall, since I certainly preferred driving my nice summer car instead of my old winter car. But at some point the first snowfall inevitably comes, sometimes as early as the last weekend of October, and it’s time to switch cars. My summer cars were Mustangs, and my winter cars over the years were a mix of German Capris and American Ford Escorts.With the Capri, I’d run 4 snow tires and get thru most of the snow and ice ok; although obviously traction wasn’t perfect in this rear-wheel drive car. At the time I was a college student, so money was in short supply and the tires weren’t always in great condition. The Escorts came later and were much better winter cars – they could run all year with just all-season tires and of course front-wheel drive made for far better traction.
So the major downside was that I had to put the good car away and get out the old car for 6 months. If there was an upside, it was that this time of year was also a really great time of year for TSD (time-speed-distance) car rallies. I was a member of the Southtowns Rally Club (as I think it was named – if it exists anymore I can’t find it) for a number of years, as well as another rally club. We ran rallies all year round, but the fall and winter were the best of times because the climates and roads got progressively more challenging.
The object of a TSD rally, if you haven’t been on one, is to match your time, mileage, and speed to the route setup by the rally master. On a route you decode as you are driving it from the provided – and purposely cryptic – instructions. It isn’t a speed event, but it is about maintaining an average speed on the public roads it is run on. You have to decipher instructions and follow the route the rallymaster created – solely with instructions such as ”turn left at 3.2 miles past last turn”. Periodic checkpoints would check your progress and time. Off-course checkpoints would catch you if your measurements were off – for example if you saw a turn at 3.1 miles and took it. Many participants found themselves completely lost if they didn’t interpret the instructions correctly.
The fall rally season would start in the October timeframe with an all-day rally that ran over several counties south of Buffalo for a couple of hundred miles. This would start in the morning and run until dinner, when the prizes for most accurate time and navigation would be handed out. The rally was named “Discover America“, the rallymaster and event organizer was Tom Krajewski, and – incredibly – it’s still running all these years later. My Ford dealer in Arcade NY was usually a sponsor. The owner, Les Halazi, enjoyed rallying a lot. The first time I met him, he had entered in an an untitled Ford Futura right off the lot with dealer plates!
The next big rally of the season was the annual Halloween rally, which besides navigational challenges included stopping by graveyards to pick out clues. The clues provided the next turn on the rally route. Prizes were given for the most involved costume. In 1981, a friend and I went as the the Bell Hoop Elves from the Wizard of Oz movie. Weird costumes, and it took a lot of nerve to wear them. Embarrassing. But it was a purposely calculated decision and we won the best costume award because of it. In fact, those costumes blew the competition away. I’ve got a picture, but it will *never* be seen in public.
The winter rallies would get progressively tougher – the conditions would worsen, heavy snow and ice would be the major problem. I remember that the driving was even tougher than deciphering the route instructions. By the time the snow really piled up around the end of November and beginning of December, we were well-tuned “winter drivers” and could handle anything as long as the road was passable at all. And sometimes it barely was… the annual Thanksgiving rally in 1982 had us driving a Camaro with 2 old snow tires down roads in the southern counties where walls of frozen snow and ice on each side of the road were over 10 feet tall. It was literally driving down tunnels… outright hazardous… and the car was not at all suited for it. Nonetheless, we won it… and the jerks organizing the rally gave the prize to another car solely because it’s owner had prepared for rallies with a professional rally computer and 4 monster snow tires. We felt we should have gotten the prize because we had a far tougher driving experience in a far more challenging car that obviously took far more skill to drive. But the organizers felt their own car club member should have won because he spent more money to participate in the rally hobby. But our prize was a 20 pound turkey… and neither of us had any need for that or for their “rules”.
So while the season was tough, and getting a lot tougher, all of us made the most of it and managed to continue in our motorsport hobby, such as it was. And that’s how it worked in Buffalo – whatever your interests were it was important to dive right into them or else you ended up hibernating all winter and hating the climate even more. That’s why you see Buffalo Bills fans sitting in their open stadium (under any conditions – even wind chill well below zero) and enjoying their game. And that’s why we went out and drove challenging roads all year round, no matter the weather. Call it making lemonade out of lemons, it was good times.
If you like rallying as much as we do, you’ll love this fan tribute to the sport. And if you don’t know what rallying is, this will convince you to find out.
Rising Empire Choir #1 – Immediate Music
Gears of War 2 – Heroic Assault
Hans Zimmer Megamix Vol 1 – Theme from Rock (?) and Honour Him from Gladiator
There doesn’t seem to be any live television coverage of the Rally America events this year… but in return Rally America has a YouTube channel.
Follow the link above to the YouTube channel for Rally America.
This is better than nothing… and of course we don’t get any live WRC coverage anymore either (thanks to Speed TV and it’s NASCAR focus). Fortunately, NASCAR seems to be finally sinking under it’s own weight… perhaps Speed TV will reconsider.
A nice little article in the Detroit News on road rallies brought back some fond memories: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060315/AUTO03/603150396/1149/AUTO01
This is how I got started in the hobby a lot of years ago: driving and navigating in TSD rallies, followed shortly thereafter by spectating and later in various worker postions (up to Stage Captain) in SCCA Pro Rally.
The typical TSD rally was an all-day Saturday deal: meet in the morning at the start (usually at a car dealership), get the route instructions a minute before leaving, then drive for several hours. Following the route instructions as best we could. TSD instructions are tricky – for example an instruction might be given to turn left in 4.8 miles from your present position. You may drive 4.6 miles and find a left turn that you assume to be the correct one - only to find that the turn further up the road at 4.8 miles is what you really wanted and that you didn’t calibrate your own speedometer to that of the Rallymaster.
Now you’ve got to get back on course. TSD rallies are run on public roads, and the average speeds are always well under the posted speed limit. The object here is precision navigation, and your score is based on precisely following a set of route instructions. Timing is based on how closely you followed the route at the prescribed speeds, and wins are often by mere seconds.
Rallies often end up at a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere – which you have now successfuly navigated to - and where you’d have a drink and dinner with your friends while you awaited the results.
I did dozens of these for my first few years in the hobby. Usually as the driver, although sometimes as a navigator. The instructions were complicated and challenging – and often the roads and the conditions were equally so. Readers will remember that I am originally from Nifelheim (the Norse Hell, the first step in my own personal Dante-esque divine comedy) and we did these rallies year-round – no matter what the conditions were.
I remember one rally in the dead of winter on isolated roads south of town - many roads had just been plowed out and had a 6 foot or higher snowbank on either side of the road. In this rally, we took a friends Camaro that didn’t have 4 snow tires. The driving was extremely difficult, much less keeping up to any kind of speed. At the end of the day, we were somehow in first place overall. Due to precise navigation, but also due to my somehow keeping that stupid car on the road. It was probably the most difficult and dangerous peice of driving I’ve ever done.
There are dozens of classic stories about these events, including the infamous Halloween Costume Rally in which I was somehow persuaded to dress up as a Bell Hoop Elf from The Wizard of Oz. Needless to say, my navigator and I won the costume contest out of sheer outrageousness (the Rallymaster said quote “I can’t believe you have the b**** to wear that”). The rest of the rally involved the usual course navigation as well as several excursions into cemetaries to get clues as to the next turn. Getting in and out of my Mustang Indy Pace Car (which featured full Recaros) was very difficult in these costumes, so we didn’t do too well in the rest of the event. I have a picture of us in the costumes (which shall never be seen in public)!
Sadly, I recently found that the club which ran these events in that area has gone defunct. That’s too bad, they were a lot of fun.
I also attended an SCCA Pro Rally in the very first year of my involvement in the hobby (and as many more as I could after that). This was the Happiness is Sunrise rally in Pennsylvania, a defunct event but known back then at the time as one of the best (thanks to Tom K for the ride there and for the introduction to the hobby). It isn’t run anymore, but the more popular and longer-lived Susquehannock Trail ProRally (STPR) on the same roads in Pennsylnavia is still running (although the SCCA has ducked out, a new organiztion has taken over) and as healthy as ever. Run in early June, it’s probably the best event for spectators in the United States. I’ve attended several, and helped run several. It’s a classic, and probably the best in the country.
Professional (“Pro”) rallying is done off-road, in closed-off sections of land – usually public forests. They typically start at noon and finish the next morning. Unlike TSD rallies, because the event is on closed roads, it’s run at full speed and purely for the fastest time. On unpaved dirt roads. This is the *real* thing, the most original and purest form of racing.
Car preparation for these events is governed by a thick rulebook. Most of the required modifications revolve around safety – after all, the cars will be at high speed on unpaved roads – often jumping over rocks and bouncing off dirt banks. Performance modifications are also allowed. The car themselves are typically small and FWD, althouth AWD Audis, Mitsubishis, and Subarus rule. Detroit “tanks” are never used (although in the link you’ll read about Don Rathgerber, a Ford engineer who ran a Mustang for several years – I’ve seen it and have talked to him several times) because they are too heavy and poorly balanced. Early Volvos are a classic example. Today, Golfs, Evos, and STIs are typical.
Spectating at one of these events is one of the best things you’ll find in the motorsports hobby. Organizers will provide maps for spectators so that you can reach different parts of the course. While I moved away from the Northeast for good many years ago, I did manage to get back to Pennsylvania for an STPR event in 1992 (in my trusty SHO Taurus) and later to an event in the Olympic mountains outside of Seattle in 1997 (in another SHO Taurus). With some luck in my schedule, I may get to STPR this year.
In 1992, I did have luck in my schedule and I even got to the event early to watch the tech inspection. On Saturday, the first event of the day is the annual chicken BBQ run by the village of Wellsboro for the spectators (if this doesn’t do it for you, there is an annual rattlesnake festival the same weekend just outside of town. BBQ rattlesnake is good!). Or you can hit the famous Wellsboro Diner – an original 20′s style dinner with lots of chrome and stainless: http://www.visitpa.com/visitpa/details.pa?name=Wellsboro+Diner
Then the rally begins with a “park ferme” around the town square for the residents. Then it’s off to the roads in the nearby Susquehannock forest.
In order to spectate, plan on having a small and manueverable car – and one that gets decent gas mileage. You’ll be surprised how few gas stations are open in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. At one event (around 1983?), we were lucky enough to find a gas station open late at night – and even more suprised to find it run by an old woman in her eighties who knew my Grandmother (who was originally from northern Pennsylvania). Maneuverability is also needed because spectator parking is alongside narrow roads in the forest – with minimal turning room.
My first spectating point was the infamous “water crossing” – where the racecars hit a shallow patch of water at full speed (stalling out if not done properly). Unfortunately this year, due to heavy rains, the water crossing was about 6 feet deep and this small section of the rally had to be moved. I then spent the rest of the day and night chasing the rally around the Susquehannock region and spectating at several points.
One of my favorites spectating sites was next. Imagine this – it’s pure black and quiet. You are huddled together with other spectators on the side of a mountain, hanging on to a tree so that you don’t slip down onto the road. In the distance you hear the sounds of a performance engine revving up and down – as the racecar goes up and down road. Suddenly, the night lights up and the rally car flashes past you (mere feet away) at high speed. And, on this particular turn, it has to execute a 180-degree hairpin turn and head back up another hill. The bottom of the hairpin has a one-lane wooden bridge across a creek. The top drivers execute the turn with wildly varying states of perfection. Inevitably, one car doesn’t make it and ends up in the ditch. Another hits that car. And another barely makes it, scrapping off their rear bumper against the side of the hill.
Unlike years past, I gave up at about 3 AM in the morning and headed back for my hotel – enjoying one of the best drives I’ve ever had as I wound my way out of the forest and back to town (probably a 60 mile drive). It was completely dark, moonless, warm, and dry. Some of the roads were dirt, and others were pavement. All were complicated to navigate (nowadays I’d use GPS). Another spectator in a beemer had the same idea, but my FWD SHO was a far better car on these roads.
If you’re up at 6 AM, you can attend the racer’s breakfest and awards ceremony. I wasn’t up to it this year, and I needed to get back to my office anyway. I recommend it if you can manage it, and it’ll give you a chance to see what remains of the rallyists cars after a long hard night of racing.
These years were possibly the highpoint of my racing hobby. Every weekend from the 1st of April to the end of October, there was either an autocross or an Open Track event, along with a Pro Rally in Ohio and the one in Pennsylvania. The winter was spent at TSD rallies or locked inside the house after shovelling snow all day. The winter part is the part that I don’t miss at all, although I’ll admit it would have been a lot easier with an AWD car and in a part of the country that wasn’t so economically depressed. You can also read about my misadventure of autocrossing on ice in an earlier post this past month. My winter racing (TSD or on ice) was an attempt to keep away from falling victim to the Stockholm Syndrome the locals suffered. The worst example of that was the betting pools that took place the year the total snowfall approached 200 inches.
I’ve been on only a few TSD rallies since those years, most recently a Miata club event in Central Texas (2nd place overall). Fond memories of that include being chased by cattle on Willow City loop (not a city at all, and the loop is a 30 mile winding ”farm-to-market” road in the middle of nowhere that goes thru people’s back yards and has live cattle wondering about). Possibly being in a red car with cow-skin seat covers (hey, this is Texas) caused the animals to go mad.
I’ve got a lot of pictures (and some video) of the HIS and STPR Pro Rallies that I’ll put up on the site someday. And some of the Olympic rally in Washington, which include the first Mitsubisho Evo I’d ever seen as well as a Pro-Rally Supra. I’ll add this to my to-do list (organized courtesy of OneNote 2007) and come back and illustrate this story more fully.
February 6, 2006 Ford of Europe has many reasons to celebrate overnight for Marcus Gronholm’s win in the Uddeholm Swedish Rally in Karlstad; it was Ford
Ford has reaffirmed it’s comittment to international rallying via the WRC. Ford has a very long history with the sport, perhaps the longest. Ford also reminded the WRC what was required from it, helping format a schedule that would maximize spectators as well as television coverage.
Continue at link: www.paddocktalk.com/news/html/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=26320&newlang=eng&topic=26&catid=0 “Two drivers, Two cars… Drop the flag…It’s all good!”
Paddock talk is to me a new website, focusing mostly on European-type racing, but also including Champ and IRL (as well as, unfortunately, NASCAR). Separate RSS feeds exist for each type of racing.
Five years of factory effort – resulting in many successes – to end after 2005: http://www.pistonheads.com/news/default.asp?storyId=9406