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China Rally Championship – Round 5 – Shaowu 

The 5th and final round of the China rally championship.

 

The “oh so familiar” journey from New Zealand to Shanghai was well anticipated by Tony for the final China Rally Championship round for 2008.

It has already been an incredible first year for Shanghai-based Team FCACA.

If Tony had not blown up his Prodrive-built N12B engine in the previous Longyou Rally, the team really could have been looking at least at a podium finish in the China Team Championship in their inaugural year.

After a confusing 20km test, Tony had found out which tyres and suspension not to use and was left with more questions than answers for the team, Prodrive’s John McLean and Pirelli (who would not make it to Shaowu till just before Friday afternoon’s rally start around the very impressive super special stage). 

With the exciting announcement of team owner Mr. Chen piloting Team FCACA’s second Prodrive N12 for the Shaowu rally, it was agreed that Tony should take this opportunity to shake down the second car (after extensive damage on the Longyou rally), while testing suspension and tyres to suit this abrasive test stage surface.

Tony – “Every member of the Team FCACA family is growing together in their respective area! It’s incredible to be such an influential part of our Mega Team that, at the beginning of 2008, could hardly communicate Chinese to English.”

 

Arriving in Shaowu (together with an exhausted John Allen) the pair had time to get some sleep before making their way to the best test road they had driven this year. “A real credit to the development in the management of our Team!”

After a confusing 20km test, Tony had found out which tyres and suspension not to use and was left with more questions than answers for the team, Prodrive’s John McLean and Pirelli (who would not make it to Shaowu till just before Friday afternoon’s rally start around the very impressive super special stage). 

With the exciting announcement of team owner Mr. Chen piloting Team FCACA’s second Prodrive N12 for the Shaowu rally, it was agreed that Tony should take this opportunity to shake down the second car (after extensive damage on the Longyou rally), while testing suspension and tyres to suit this abrasive test stage surface.

This test left Tony and John feeling confident of pushing harder than ever before to show their true pace, at the penultimate rally for 2008 – a rally no team had ever competed in, as it was new to the China Rally Championship.

Wednesday and Thursday would each be filled by a recce, which revealed the true nature of the four stages – to be run three times each, with a total competitive distance of approximately 142.8km. The stages themselves looked to suit the Mitsubushi, with a lot of high speed sections but also included technical, tight gravel, smooth tarmac and sandy roads with some very unforgiving rocks and crests. Nothing like the test stage that given the Kiwi/Aussie pairing their confidence to push harder than they had so far this season.

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The Shaowu Rally is a Tyre war. Ideally, you would make four Tyre choices for the ever-changing stage surfaces, providing a real challenge for all the drivers and teams to ponder.

Team FCACA’s Tony and John were invited to participate in Thursday afternoon’s media shakedown for a taste of the super special stage that would also play host to Friday afternoon’s rally start.

As the pair rolled up to their first run, the mood in the car was electric, with their minds firmly on the job of being quickest on the brand new 100% dirt stage. Unfortunately, that confidence would once again be tested when Tony felt his stead hesitate for a second, followed by the all too familiar white smoke and flames of a blown engine(?) …

This was not the start Team FCACA had hoped for after the Longyou Rally and also, disappointingly, meant no rally debut for FCACA’s Mr. Chen as his engine was the only one left, so would now have to be transplanted into the number one driver’s car.

Thanks to Prodrive’s John McLean and Team FCACA technicians, this engine transplant would happen quickly and efficiently in time for their 8pm scrutineering time. The boys would then return to service to triple check everything on the Prodrive Subaru and, together with support from Subaru China, would trace the engine failures back to contaminated fuel.

 

Tony – “This, together with the fact that the engine in our car is well past its used-by date, is not filling us with confidence, when just hours ago we were on top of the world working to win the stage.

This is the nature of rally!  We’re happy this happened today, we’ll be back tomorrow to drive it like we stole it!”

 

Friday was a new day and time for the team to concentrate on the job of getting to Sunday’s finish, starting with the honour of lining up on the start line with Finland’s Juha Salo and Mika Stenberg for Tony and John’s second Subaru/Mitsubushi drag-race in front of tens of thousands of very enthusiastic spectators.

 

The Stage 1 pace was hot, with the pair only being able to post the fourth quickest time on the 2.7km stage. 

Saturday morning would continue the run of bad rally starts, with the Kiwi/Aussie team-mates being the only drivers having to honour the speed limit on the road section for fear of exclusion after the Mohe Rally fiasco.

 

The time for the road section leading to Stage 2 (San Du 1) was tight, allowing no time to check tyre pressures and a mad rush to get helmets, gloves and harnesses on. As the pair slid into time control, there was no-one there to take the time card, meaning John had to undo his harness and run to the desk one second late and so incur a ten second time penalty, John’s first ever in his ten years of competition! Dazed and confused, the pair then had to prepare for the stage start, putting this out of their minds for a tough stage. With dust hanging in the air, they set a time over the 14.7km stage of: 10 min, 51.9 secs. 9.6 seconds off the pace.

 

The road section to Stage 3 (Long Hu 1) was much more achievable, allowing skyrocketing Pirelli tyre pressures to be eased and a more relaxed stage start, setting a time over the 11.2km stage of: 7.43.3 … 2nd quickest and 2.8 seconds behind Juha and Mika.

 

Stage 4 (San Du 2) would begin to set the mood of the rally … 

Both Mitsubishi Evo 9s, piloted by Finnish drivers Juha Salo/Mika Stenberg and Jarkko Juhani/Mikko Pekka Lukka 

“(David Higgins’ replacement for this rally)”, would set the pace – with Juha/ Mika setting a time over the 14.7km stage 

of: 10.22.5 Followed by Jarkko/Mikko: 10.26.2 Then, Dean Herridge/Chris Murphy driving their 2008 Spec, Team Subaru China Impreza set a time of: 10.32.0 With Tony and John driving to Prodrive’s (John McLean’s) orders, they set a steady time of: 10.34.3

 

Stage 5 (Long Hu 2). The last stage before service and the final two stages for Day 1.

It was decided to push a little more as the engine was holding together.

 

Tony – “Juha and Mika are mad. Their stage times are simply awesome! John and I wanted to push hard on this stage and did well until the half-way mark, where the stage changes from flat-out to the tight technical stuff and where I stalled on a hairpin, losing approximately 12 seconds in the process … Gutted!

However, it could have been a lot worse as I counted no less than six cars off in the stage.

There’s loads more stages left to make an impression on the top three spots, as long as our engine holds together as it resembles the sound of a coffee grinder at the moment!”

 

Over the 11.2km stage:

 

Juha/Mika: 7.29.7  

 

Jarkko/Mikko: 7.38.2

 

Dean/Chris: 7.42.3

 

Tony/John: 7.49.4  

 

Stage 6 (San Du 3). The third and final pass through San Du would start to form an Kiwi/Aussie battle against Team Subaru China’s Australian partnership of Dean Herridge and Chris Murphy, while Juha and Mika once again continued to set the pace…

 

Over the 14.7km stage:

 

Juha/Mika: 10.15.8

 

Jarkko/Mikko: 10.23.3 

 

Dean/Chris: 10.27.5

 

Tony/John: 10.27.9 

 

Stage 7 (Long Hu 3). At this time of the rally, Tony and John needed to bring the car back in one piece – but at the same time didn’t want to lose touch with Dean and Chris, while wanting to set a time that didn’t include a stalled engine on the final pass of this stage for 2008…

 

Over the 11.2km stage:

 

Juha/Mika: 7.26.8

 

Jarkko/Mikko: 7.34.7

 

Dean/Chris: 7.37.5

 

Tony/John: 7.37.7 

 

At this point, John (in typical Aussie style) became a Kiwi, celebrating the two tenths of a second they had pulled out of their Aussie friends – only the second time today the pair had been quicker than the Subaru China drivers.

 

Things started to get a little more interesting when it was revealed by John and confirmed by Tony that neither had expected the engine to last this long. So, it was straight back to the hotel where the pair worked tirelessly on perfecting Sunday’s stages, while also working together with Prodrive’s John Mclean to make a plan for Sunday. This included a safe engine map and no launch control, in the hope of nursing their well-used N12B engine to the finish line.

 

Sunday morning started with the 11km Stage 8 (Wu Jia Tang 1). 

 

This stage had more surface changes than days in the week, starting out on smooth narrow, tarmac roads with a terrible start (no launch control) and driving extra steady on the first 6km of tarmac to save the soft Pirelli tyres for the remainder of this stage and Stage 9 as instructed by Mr McLean.

 

Jarkko and Mikko started out well with their second, fastest stage for the weekend with a time of: 9.01.4

 

Juha/Mika: 9.02.9

 

Dean/Chris: 9.16.9

 

Tony/John: 9.17.1

 

Stage 9 (Zeng Jia Wei 1). An “up and down” stage for Tony and John, with Tony driving average in the ever-changing conditions while Juha/ Mika showed their true pace, setting a time over the 14.7km stage of: 11.50.7

 

Jarkko/Mikko:12.02.6

 

Dean/Chris: 12.12.4

 

Tony/John: 12.12.8 

 

(and loving the Subaru battle with Dean and Chris).

 

Stage 10 (Wu Jia Tang 2). 11km of competitive stage with Tony and John now working on pace note improvements, while crossing everything in the hope of making it to the finish. The Kiwi/Aussie Subaru battle just keeps getting closer, with Stage 10 completed one-tenth of a second off Aussie superstars Dean and Chris.

 

Jarkko/Mikko: 8.57.8

 

Juha/Mika: 8.59.5

 

Dean/Chris: 9.12.3

 

Tony/John: 9.12.4

 

Stage 11 (Zeng Jia Wei 2). Another 14.7km stage, which could have very easily been the end of Team FCACAs 2008 season with a mistake on a “Don’t Cut” leading to a heavy impact which, for Tony, resulted in a bent steering arm.

Tony – “For us, I made a mistake on a 5th gear right hand bend, which we had changed to      ‘Don’t Cut’. Luckily (the first time this year) we got away with it. Unfortunately for our good friends and our Subaru battle, Deano and Murph didn’t on the very same corner and their rally is over. Both John and I are really disappointed and genuinely would have preferred to continue the fight down to the wire, stoked with battling for third.”

 

Juha/Mika: 11.49.3

 

Jarkko/Mikko: 12.05.5 

 

Tony/John: 12.11.7

 

Wirtten by Darryl Fernandez

Rally Blog – John Allen – ‘Aussies’ win Chinese rally title

 

Sitting in a car surrounded by fire extinguishers and a car dripping oil is not normally a good omen for Tony Green and me to be any chance of taking out the top placed international driver/co-driver pairing in the Chinese Rally Championship, but only three days later we would achieve this amazing result. 

 

This engine meltdown was the second in short succession.  After popping an engine in the last rally in Longyou, this replacement engine had only done a further 50 kilometres before letting go in high profile circumstances on the official shakedown. 

Those who know Prodrive know their engines don’t just let go for no reason and our chief engineer, John McLean, tested our fuel against a sample kindly lent to us by Subaru Rally Team China.

 It appears that our purchase of fuel from a now-defunct Chinese team, was contaminated.  With no other fuel option available to us, John McLean made the decision to use only the top two thirds of our fuel drums and hopefully avoid collecting the dirty fuel.

Our team boss, Mr Chen, kindly donated his well-lifed engine from his car so we could compete on the weekend. I believe at this stage the car had already exceeded the 1200 kilometre re-build limit before we even started the rally so I didn’t even bother to study Sunday’s pacenotes, thinking the car would be unlikely to make it this far. 

 

China knows how to put on a show and the super special is no exception. Built at the last minute on over 150 acres of land, and with a newly completed 1500 seat concrete grandstand filled to capacity, and the surrounding hills filled with spectators, we managed fourth fastest behind Finland’s Jarko Mettinen, Juha Salo and then Aussie Dean Herridge.

 

It looked like a Finland/Aussie battle at the front of the field. I know Tony calls himself a Kiwi, but as is tradition, because he is doing so well, for now we will call him an Aussie. Naturally if he stuffs it up, he will become a Kiwi again!

 

Leaving the super special was a debarcle!  The people of Shao Wu are fanatical rally fans and the road was quickly blocked in both directions as rally cars tried to overtake stationary cars and spectators decided to do this in the opposite way.

It literally became an impromptu autograph signing session as thousands of spectators also made this journey on foot.

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We did the usual signing of posters, t-shirts etc, but then it started getting a bit ridiculous once we started signing anything they could get there hands on, motorbike helmets, money, handbags, jeans, mandarins!? And even Chinese ID cards…I hope that is allowed!

Saturday morning Dean Herridge and Chris Murphy took out a second fastest time on the first stage and Tony Green and I took out the second fastest stage on the second stage.  After that, though, it was the Finnish boys taking out the top two stage times on the remaining four stages of the day. 

 

The Finnish boys were in another league. Juha Salo was first, leading his countryman, Jarrko Mettinen, also in an Evo9 by 36 seconds. A further 18 seconds back was Dean Herridge and then another 23 seconds back was Tony and I after also incurring a 10 second penalty for being one second late into the first time control.  To this day I still maintain I made it in on time to the first time control, but no amount of protesting was going to get this ten second penalty overturned.  I went to bed on Saturday night hoping this wouldn’t cost the team a podium.

 

That ten-second penalty could be academic as on Sunday morning I overheard the team discussing “piston slap.” Those in the know are well aware of my mechanical ineptitude, but I know enough that the term “piston slap” is not the name of an American rap band, even more worryingly as a co-driver, I could actually hear it.

 

The game plan for Sunday was changed slightly.  We figured if the engine was going to let go, we might as well make it spectacular and go for it and try and chase Dean down for the final podium spot.  The last two stages on Saturday we were only 0.4 and 0.2 of a second behind Dean.  On the first three stages on Sunday, the gap was only 0.2, 0.4 and 0.1 of a second, which is amazingly close on 15-kilometre stages.

All was to change on the following stage where we snagged a right front wheel on a hidden washout on a fast 8R.  This nearly ripped out the wheel from Tony and resulted in the front wheel being pushed against the guard.  That basically ended our chances of a podium, however, after getting to the end of the stage, we noticed we were one minute ahead of Dean.  All was revealed as we left the control and saw Dean on the side of the road and the car with a huge amount of negative camber on the front wheel.  It appears Dean hit the same washout as we did, but with a worse result. It was really disappointing for Tony and me to see Dean and Chris out like that as we were really enjoying the fight.

 

With no chance of catching the Finns, we elected for a very safe engine map and hoped to get the car home on the final two stages content with our third place. Four kilometres into the final stage, we had Juha Salo’s co-driver, Mika, waving us down as their car was on its roof.  Again this is not the way we want to gain a position and we finished the stage with our first stage win of this event and second overall.

Better news was to come overall as, with Dean and Juha failing to score points on the this rally, it elevated Tony and I to the champion international driver/co-driver pairing for 2008, and if the rules had allowed, we would have had enough points to be the Chinese Rally Champions…the only problem is we are not Chinese so we don’t qualify!!

2008 has been an amazing year for Tony and I and the newly established Chinese team, FCACA.  This has all come about from a dream of a Shanghai businessman, Mr Chen, with a passion for cars and an amazing talent for picking an unknown driver, but who could see Tony’s passion and commitment for rallying.

After the first rally in Shanghai where we finished second, I proudly stated that no-one had heard of Tony Green, but he is going to be a huge talent in rallying in the coming years.  Thankfully, he has proved me right by winning the international driver award and taking me along for the ride to be international co-driver champion in China in 2008. Amazingly, he did this in a Cody Crocker-like drive without bending one panel all year, until he stood on the bonnet in his final victory celebrations!

 

Also ,I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr Chen and his team in FCACA for taking me on as their international co-driver. It was an awesome experience to be a member of the FCACA family in 2008.

 

Written by John Allen

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2nd Overall in Shao-wu... AND 1st in the foreign driver's championship in our first year together. After 10 years away from my home to chase an impossible dream it finally has become reality!  - Tony Green

 

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