Monday, December 7, 2009

Big White Winter Rally 2009

Our Epic Saab Snow Rally Adventure in British Columbia

Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC
Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC

My co-driver for this event, Jesse Parkerton, and I left from my house in Port Orchard and headed towards the border Thursday afternoon, already about 2 hours behind schedule.  I was in my 1975 Saab 99 EMS rally car, and he was behind me in his girlfriend's Subaru Impreza. After a parking lot headlight replacement (made easy by new well-nuts) and an hour in traffic before Everett, we finally made it to the border.  Canadian officials flagged us and after answering some very intresting questions and waiting an uncomfortable amount of time, we were told we could contiue on our trip.  Crossing at Blaine was our first mistake, and in choosing this route we could never know we were about to waste 6 hours of our life that could have been avoided.

After an hour of traffic, an hour at the border, and an hour getting lost trying to get to Provincial highway 1, we were finally on our way.  After a few mountain passes were behind us, snow started to pick up and eventually we were traveling in a pretty thick storm.  We stopped at a chain up area and did a full rally service on the rally car: put on the studded tires, scraped the window and cleaned tail lights, scraped ice off the wipers, and tried to diagnose a failiure of the wiper washer pump.  Eventually we continued on, with about 4 hours of what should have been our sleep time so far wasted.

After meandering though more mountain passes wasting more time (they seemed to never end) we arrived at Big White Ski Resort at 8:00 AM, a half hour before registration opened.  We had hoped to be there around Midnight.  A quick few minutes lying down and we made it to registration at 9:29, a minute before scheduled closing.

Jennifer really did a good job of keeping this event flowing, and did an amazing job with competitor relations.  I'm sure we were a nightmare customer, showing up with none of the proper paper work filled out and hardly able to think or answer questions.  Somehow we got through it all and got all set up with our route book and recce information, and left to go do our reconnaissance.

We decided to do recce with the service vehicle, the Impreza.  With it loaded down with all of our tools and spares and a few extra Saab wheels and tires, we journeyed off into the forest around Big White to check out the course. 

With Jesse driving and me falling asleep at the route book, we never really did get any notes down.  We just sorta said "yeah that looks fine, I think we'll be ok, nothing too out of the ordinary" and continued on.  After a break we came back out and did some more recce in the rally car, but we got lost a few times and skipped a whole stage altogether.  Friday was a colossal failiure for us overall, we were just too tired to be effective in any situation.  We called it an early night and tried to get some sleep.

Saturday started off with us missing the Novice Competitor class.  With our minds ignorant to how rally works in Canada, and still groggy from the past 2 days, we headed out into the white abyss that surrounds Big White.

The first stage was thick with fresh snow from the night before and was very challenging for us.  The car wanted to hook into snow ruts and pull is off into the thick snow on the side of the road.  About 600 meters off the start we got sucked into the ditch, following some other competitor's ruts, and were thoroughly stuck.  After a few minutes the sweeps showed up and tugged us out.  Within the next kilometer we were stuck again, this time nearly sliding off an embankment, but we came to rest just shy of the edge and were left with quite a terrific view as we waited for the sweeps to arrive again.  We finished the stage taking it a little easier, and now I was thoroughly focused on keeping the car AWAY from the thick snow on either side of the beaten path.

Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC
Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC

The next stage was quite a blast and the first time through we had no problem and had a great time.  The second time through though my confidence and speed were up, and coming down a rather steep hill coming off a corner the car started to fishtail unexpectedly and as soon as the front wheels got a taste of thick snow, the back took over.  We came to a rest facing up the hill with Jesse's side in the bushes, parked on top of quite a bit of shrubbery and snow.  The sweep got us out, but it cost me a bumper.

After this we ran the same stage again, but backwards.  Before starting it the second time, I hit a rut and got pulled into the ditch BEFORE we even got to the time control.  At a mere 5 miles per hour a rut pulled us down into the ditch and there was nothing we could do.  Again noting to myself: "The only thing that matters is keeping this car in the middle.  No matter what you think is going on, you have to stay in the middle of the road!"

Most of the rally officials remember the radio traffic that happened next:

"Car 9 has started, FINALLY."
Sweep: "Encountered some debris from car 9, stopping to pick it up."
Start: "Are they with the debris?"
Sweep: "No, they are nowhere to be seen."
Finish: "Car 9 has finished." (loud noises in the background)

Minus a muffler and bumper, we head back to the resort and are ready to show the SnowX'ers how it's done.  They watch us drive right by, our beat up cars heading to the front of the line.  No doubt watching to see how real rally drivers tackle a simple SnowX course, they intently peer over their dashboards and watch every single one of us DNF the stage.  Sliding this way and that, and making split second rally decisions about which obstacles to go between, every single one of us did the course completely wrong.  Turns out we have a lot to learn about SnowX! My time was 1:33, compared to 1:13 of the SnowX winner, and I didn't even do the course right.

Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC
PNW Novice Champion Quinn Morley in his Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC

We did a service and headed back out into the woods to do the Gem Lake stage.  My co-driver, instead of reading a pace note like all the other teams, just tells me "Ok you've got about 10k of nothing and then 10 alternating hairpins in a row, and then we're done."  Great.  Intent on not getting stuck in the snow banks again, we just kept the car around 35-40 mph and finished the stage.  On the 1:15 minute transit back to the resort, we were actually late because of all the slow traffic on the Big White Road.  We passed a few people but you can only do so much.  The snowy, icy conditions were forcing local traffic to slow down below the 80 km/h speed limit and delay us.

Total we had over one hour and five minutes of lateness during the race.  However, with several competitors sure to be disqualified because the maximum lateness was only 30 minutes, the MPL was changed to accomodate all of us.  I'm pretty sure that every single competitor got stuck at some time or another!

The next morning we left at 10:00 AM, and got back to Port Orchard at 8:00 PM.  This time we took a much better route, coming down CA-33 to 3, Crossing the border at Orville/Osoyoos, coming down 97 into Wenatchee, and getting on I-90 at Cle Elum.  A lot less meandering around mountain ranges than using the passes in Canada, and the border crossing was a breeze.

Saab 99 EMS Rally Car at Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC
Leaving Big White Winter Rally in Kelowna, BC. Taken from inside the Saab Rally Car.

The Spirit of Rally award was given to us and another competitor (the G2 VW that DNF'ed due to engine failiure), and we recieved the Last but Finished award as well.  All in all, we got $155 for our troubles.

Here are the results from Big White Winter Rally:

1. Onur Tezcan (BC) / Aaron Neumann (BC) 1991 Subaru Legacy Turbo, red (car 5) 1:04:01.1 PGT
2. Hardy Schmidtke (AB) / Adam Vokes (AB) 2002 Subaru WRX, wrb (car 1) 1:04:39.2 PGT
3. Tibor Kertes (AB) / Sebastian Fudalej (ON) 1992 Toyota Celica GT 4, white (car 8 ) 1:13:05.8 OPEN
4. Craig Ross (BC) / Dan Norkus (ID) 1990 Eagle Talon, white/blue (car 6) 1:20:31.7 OPEN
5. Mark Jennings-Bates (BC) / John Hall (AB) 2004 Subaru STi, wrb (car 2) 1:27:39.7 OPEN
6. Graham Bruce (AB) / Christa Monasch (AB) 2002 Subaru WRX, black (car 4) 1:44:04.1 OPEN
7. Kris Dahl (WA) / Don Burress (WA) 1988 Honda Civic, orange (car 7) 2:10:28.6 G2
8. Quinn Morley (WA) / Jesse Parkerton (WA) 1975 Saab 99EMS, black (car 9) 2:17:38.6 G2
DNF Eric Grochowski (AB) / Leanne Junnila (AB) 1996 VW Golf, orange/black (car 3) engine disintegration G2

We had a good time at this event, and I would love to do it again next year.  It was by far the biggest challenge that I've faced so far as a competitor, and I believe that anyone can really learn a lot from this event.  I can't think of anything that I've done in my life that would be more extreme than this rally, it felt almost like a fight for survival at times.  The snow was awesome, cheap accomodations, and now that we know the best way to get there I would say it is an event that everyone who rallies in the Pacific Northwest should consider doing.

Thanks to Jennifer and Alex and all the volunteers for a great event!  I know it wasn't easy but it was worth it for all of us.  Hopefully we can come support this amazing event next year, too.

Visit the Big White Winter Rally website at:

For a few more photos check out my Big White Picasa Album or watch the slide show below.

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