Round 4 - Longyou
For Tony, the five-hour drive from Shanghai to Longyou was an anniversary with an extra special place in his heart. This was the place where, two years earlier, he had tested and demonstrated Prodrive’s Subaru N12 to all the team owners and drivers competing in the championship.
Tony – “For me, without Longyou and its Super-Special Stage, Prodrive, Adrian Bukmanis and his belief in me as a driver, I would not be living the dream that has become my life.”
As it was, the conditions were looking to be identical to 2006. With consistent rain drowning the region, the tight, technical rally stages became even more of a challenge for all the drivers in the China (and the penultimate Asia Pacific) Rally Championships.
A tough recce was anticipated by all the crews, driving on road tyres in appalling conditions.
Tony – “The stages are incredible. A real rally! The total opposite to any other rally this year in the CRC, with narrow, tight, technical, slippy mud tracks climbing to the summits of mountains and back down again. Awesome!
While we were struggling with unresolved centre differential and ABS issues – leading to a near-fatal end to our recce – how the front wheel drive crews even made it through on road tyres is beyond me. To get to the end of this rally will be an achievement in itself.”
The pace notes were like none other John Allen had written in his 10 years co-driving career and, yet again, another steep learning curve in the Kiwi/Aussie crew’s apprenticeship together. The long nights perfecting their notes as one of the only teams not to have competed here before, were made that little bit more exciting by the organisers moving the finish line 3 km further down the road on the second pass, through one of the most technical stages of the rally = No Notes For This Section Of The Stage.
Friday afternoon’s new Super-Special Stage would be preceded by a dinner with good friends, including Neal Lowe, who informed Team FCACA of a myth within the service area. He explained they had positioned themselves in “the mouth of the tiger,” where two buildings meet, to create this mouth that has led to the demise of many a team, with little or no explanation …?
The rain continued to pour for Stage 1, the very new Super-Special, which although very spectacular, was a waterlogged mix of mud and a large rock.
Team FCACA’s number one driving combo lined up on the start line with David Higgins and Leuan Thomas for their first Subaru/Mitsubishi drag race from the start line together. With the APRC contestants running first on the road, the stage progressively became a train track with every pass, leading to Tony and John bogging twice while trying not to cut the slop the corners had become and losing nearly 5 seconds to David and Leuan.
A 5.30am Saturday start was well anticipated, as Tony had talked all year about this being the most important rally on the CRC calendar and an opportunity to compare the pace with the Asia Pacific competitors.
Stage 2 would be run three times today and, with the road section timing being a little tight, Tony’s mindset would be literally to get through the stage. This becoming a genuine challenge with 30 seconds to launch and, after swapping helmets, leads and a few choice words, the pair had no intercom. Effectively driving blind with one glove and his helmet undone Tony set time through the twisty, fog-soaked mountain of 8 minutes 53 seconds 24 seconds off the quickest APRC driver and 15 seconds off the leading CRC driver.
With another tightly timed road section filled with sorting out the offending intercom, Tony and John checked into time control with 10 seconds to spare and strapped in for Stage 3.This was an incredible 10.5km stage with every surface you could expect to find on a snow-less rally.
With that Aussie twang once again describing the tricky roads, the pair started out well until a misheard note leads to Tony stalling the Subaru before a very fast tarmac section and losing a load of time in the process, followed by a front puncture with 3 km remaining. By the time both front tyres, tyre pressures, a replacement air filter and the front bumper had been cleared of mud there was more than a couple of conversations about that “F#%kin tiger’s mouth” back in service.
Stage 4 was a disaster, kick-started with a fast left mud corner into an immediate square right, raised through a field as wide as the car, potentially ending the rally there and then resulting in another stall – followed soon after by a half-spin leading onto a tarmac one-lane bridge and then the icing on the cake was the loss of power, originally thought to be a flattened exhaust, leading to Tony and John crossing the finish of the stage (literally) on fire with only three cylinders.
The fire was put out and it was decided to try and make it back to the service area. The engine had lost all its oil, heat seized twice, but drove to within 2km of service. The pair pushed the car to the remainder of the way, checking into service 20 minutes late.
Tony – “This fire thing is becoming all too familiar. My third now in two years?
I had always anticipated this to be a tough rally and personally had focused on this in my preparation leading up to Longyou. Unfortunately, some things you just cannot prepare for … this is motorsport! The most frustrating thing here for me is not finishing the rally, Its never having a trouble-free stage to compare our pace against some of the best Group N drivers in the world”.
“Personally, I blame Neal Lowe and his tiger story for all our problems this weekend” :D
Later, a huge surprise found to be caused by contaminated fuel!
A Longyou service area myth where 2 buildings met creating what has been named the "mouth of the tiger."
Every Team before us that had been located here had extremely bad luck?!
“An extra special thanks to Prodrive’s John Mclean for honouring me the privilege to sit with me in our test earlier in the week and his continuous instruction both with the car, as a driver and as a team. Also, Mr Chen and Adrian Bukmanis for once again making the trip to Longyou, making me who I am today. You’re Both Super Stars!”
Congratulations to Cody Crocker and Ben Atkinson on his 3rd APRC championship title, taking the Asia Cup on the last stage by 1.2 seconds with an inspirational drive in their 2007 Subaru Impreza and to the stars of the CRC Dean Herridge and Chris Murphy 3rd outright and winning their 1st CRC rally in their 2008 Subaru Impreza.
Now for the penultimate China Rally Championship round… The Shaowu!
Written by Tony Green