Thursday, April 30, 2009

A nervous wait

A number of Targa's competition stages have chicanes added - they are there to reduce average speeds, slow you down on very long straights, and to add to the difficulty of the event (trust me, it doesn't need much help).

The chicanes are temporary (or the locals might get a little upset) and made of those red or white road works / crowd control barriers. I guess they're a metre and a bit tall and maybe 3m long.

So, three barriers, right entry, go left, right exit. At the end of a long straight and you're at full noise as it approaches - 300m, 200m, 100m - brakes, clutch, blip accelerator, change down, get through and get back on the power. Easy. You wish.

Chicane rule number one: don't hit them. It costs a 5 minute penalty along with paint, panel & ego damage.

On one of the first stages we cleared the chicane by 2 or so centimetres. And since that one I've been treading a little softer around chicanes. I'd prefer to drop a couple of seconds getting through rather than thump one and have it cost 5 minutes.

Rule number two is don't pass another car within 200m of the approach side. I didn't know about this rule until late today.

Car are started at 30 second intervals - if the cars in front & behind you are moving at the same sort of speed as you then you should have the stage to yourself. But if you're a bit quicker then the car in front you might get to overtake; a little slower than the car behind, you might be overtaken. It's one of the most exciting parts of Targa: passing someone who's doing warp factor 5 while you're at warp 6. And the overtaking rules are simple - you get caught, you let them through.

Now mix Chicane rule 2 with the Overtaking rule.

We had almost caught the car in front of us as we were coming towards a chicane. I thought we'd be hugging their back bumper by the time we all arrived at the chicane and they'd let me through as we both exited.

But 400m or so before we got there he moved left, off the racing line, and signalled me past. So I kicked it hard and went for it.

Very heavy breaking into this chicane - I came in way too hot - through we went and one with the rest of the stage ... Which went blisteringly fast (by out standards).

We were chatting with the car we passed while waiting for the start of the next stage - it's always polite to say thank you after passing. And they mentioned that Chicane Rule 2. I hadn't heard of it.

I'll admit I haven't read every single paragraph in the Supplementary Regulations. Do you drive a car? Know every detail of the road laws? Same sort of situation.

I've looked at provisional results on the web site and no mention of a penalty.

So now I'll have to wait until the morning to find out for sure one way or the other.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Drive like you stole it ....

Before I tell how well we did today, if you're looking for a cozy pub, with good food and great atmosphere, give the Royal Oak in Launceston a try. Corner of Tamar & Brisbane, and an excellent front bar. Cold beer, and no pokies or other distractions.

So, today was Day 1. A little odd that we've been here since Saturday morning and Wednesday was the first day.

Targa Tasmania make the first two days "easy". Maybe a better way to describe it would be "not crazy hard".

The Base & Trophy times (see below) are set for reasonable speeds - the idea is to ease crews into the first couple of days so nobody drives off the road trying to make a target time before they've warmed up and gotten comfortable in their cars.

And that's exactly what we did - got settled into the car, and got used to each other's company again.

Base time is sort of "scratch" or "par" but you don't score any points for going faster, only lose them for going slower. So if Base time is 5:00 there isn't much point in going through at Warp Factor 5 and doing the stage in 4:00. By the same token, you don't want to be any slower than 5:00 if you can avoid it.

We have to be under Trophy time to get a Targa Trophy (which we're trying to get).

Base time is set for the entire field, Trophy times vary by Category.

Both get quicker over the course of the week. The times shorten and the average speeds go up. By the end of the week, Base time is set at something like a 130kph average. Doesn't sound that fast if you're cruising down the freeway. Now try it over a 25k winding goat track of the country road, up and down a mountain - and throw in a couple of almost U turns into side roads to make it a little more enjoyable. This is serious stuff.

We 'cleaned' the first three stages - in other words, under Base time. And we comfortably hit Trophy time on all nine stages.

There were a few messy corners, along with a couple of gear changes that I'm not all that proud of, and I reckon Scott isn't claiming a 100% success rate with his calls.

But overall, a great day and we drove it like we'd stolen it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

An easy day.

Today was Prologue Day.

A "hurry up and wait" sort of day.

Our report time was 9:08:30 (we were 20 minutes early) and expected departure time was something like 9:25.

We were the 115th car to leave - today the field left Silverdome and also started the Prologue in numerical order - so at 115 we were almost half way through the total field of 275.

50 something km later we arrived on the start line in George Town. This is the only stage that we get to drive in a convoy before we compete on it. It's a 5km street stage with a few twists - through the library car park and around the wrong side of a round about to name just two.

After travelling the course (at the speed limit - the road was still open to the public) we lined up in the local park (quite a sight) and waited about an hour and a half before the first car went out. We were given lunch, and we wandered around in the autumn sunshine and chatted with other crews. A relaxing way to kill some time. Wouldn't have minded a beer as well, but ...

Not only is it a "00" event (as is all motorsport), but a number of Tassie's Finest were waiting for us at the start line. And everyone - drivers & navigators - blew in the bag.

Then a line up for the start and our turn was approaching.

Intercom on.
Harnesses tight.
Gloves on.
Lights on.

Roll to the start line and watch for the lights. 10 second light. The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... Go! Welcome to Targa 2009!

Scott was calling the corners: 5 left into 4 right, tight right 3, 150 m, and I was doing my best to take it a little easy. Maybe 6/8 of flat out.

And before we knew it - about 4:13 later actually - we'd done a lap of George Town and our Prologue was over.
The Prologue is only for bragging rights and seeding the field for Day 1's start order: the fastest cars go last.

So if you've go little or no chance of being at the sharp end of things the best strategy on the Prologue is to take it easy. Don't break the car - it's a long time from there to Hobart. Don't make fools of yourselves in front of a big crowd - if you're going to have an off, do it where do one can see it.

There are a couple of other reasons for going a little easier - a low start number means you start early day. I'm fond of a lazy start to the day, but I'm here to drive, and I want to get out there. And if you start early, all being well and if the Gods of Motorsport are smiling, you get in early at the end of the day.

So we didn't bust the car, we just drove quickly, and all went well; in an hour or so I'll get a text telling me our report time for tomorrow.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Radiator problems

This morning we headed out to Symmons Plains raceway - maybe 20 minutes from downtown Launceston - to give hot lap rides to sponsors. I was assigned a couple of Vodafone people.

But first up, a few laps to familiarise myself with the track - it's a basic loop. At one end a cranking left hander, almost a U turn, the other end is a long left sweeper. No issues with the tight left, but the long one had me bluffed, and I managed to do some gardening on the first lap (a small off). No obvious damage (other than my ego).

I've driven on race tracks plenty of times, but always mixed in with traffic of similar speed. A very different story when the track is full and there are put put cars like mine and brand new EVOs and a GT3 997 Porsche or two.

A couple more laps, I was getting used to being passed VERY quickly and time to go back in to collect my first passenger.

The cabin of a race car is not very roomy and it took a few minutes to get the big fella strapped in and comfy. If his breathing (we were using the intercoms) was anything to go by, he was a little nervous.

I was explaining everything as we went around, calling the speeds and telling him what gear we were in. On the second lap, heading up the back straight I asked "have you ever had a Lamborghini pass you when you were doing 160K? No? Then watch it as it passes us on your side". And it did, like we were standing still. And then they threw out the anchors for the end of the straight and it shot a massive burst of flame out of each exhaust. I reckon he'll be telling that story for a while!

Back in to the pits, got one big guy out and started trying to get one very big guy into one very small race seat. He was bolted in and we were about to head out when I noticed steam leaking from the bonnet and the gauge was almost off the scale.

Not a good thing.

Cut the engine, opened the bonnet and it was obvious that the radiator was cooking.

A group of experts gathered and the consensus was that I'd done the head gasket, although there were none of the usual signs, like milky oil.

As the car was cooling down we found the chief scruitineer who gave us extended time to get back to Launceston.

We finally tracked down a tow truck and while we waited we refilled the radiator and decided to start the car. And it seemed fine. So we cancelled the tow car and headed back to Launceston.

Temperature gauge exactly were it should be the entire time. Into a servo near the Silverdome, who flick passed us to the auto electrician.

I run a second radiator fan - the car tends to overheat on hot track days, probably because it never gets proper cool down time.

Mark at Carswell Auto Electrical (I can highly recommend them!) worked out that one of the fans was tripping the fuse. No problem we were moving, but a big problem when we were stopped. We've decided to run with only one fan - I'm not worried about overheating, especially with the weather we're expecting and we can sort out the dud one back in Melbourne.

So from a head gasket (which would have put us out of the event) to a minor fan problem and we're now ready to go for the Prologue tomorrow.

And I don't need any more excitement like this!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


We're competing in Late Classic (81 to 90) in the 2.0 to 2.5l category. There is an outright competition (we have no chance whatsoever) and a handicap event (not sure how many in that group, but not many - maybe only 3 or 4).

Today was documentation and scrutiny.

Tuesday we've got the prologue stage in George Town. We don't start the race proper until Wednesday.

Tomorrow we're at Symonds Plains - the local race track - I volunteered to do some hot laps with local kids as passengers. Which meant I got to select our documentation & scrutiny time for this morning.

And I picked first available slot at 9:00.

Got there a few minutes early, we were first in line and all done by 9:20. Last year I had a middle of the day slot and they were running late and it took forever.

I'll post another photo later in the week when it's full, but I took this when we were the only car in the Silverdome - quite a sight.

Then a bit of stuffing around, decals on the doors, and we're in the middle of nowhere doing recce again.

It rained nearly all day, but we got through most of what we wanted to do, including taking a look at Cethana, one of the classic Targa stages: 40k, up and down a couple of big hills, lots of very fast sections mixed with tight, tight corners.

After Cethana we had an interesting stop in beautiful Wilmot, Tasmania, where the one & only service station isn't open after 2 on a Sunday afternoon. It was almost 5 when we pulled in, the petrol light having been on for 50k or more of hilly terrain. I called the RACT - there was no way we were going to make it to the next town, but as we settled in to wait we noticed someone in the closed General Store / Post Office / Petrol Station. They kindly opened up, sold us a tank full and we were back on our way.

About 550k of driving, nearly 9 hours in the car, now it's time for something hot to eat and cold to drink.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A solid day ....

We arrived in Devonport on the Spirit of Tasmania (not sure if it was I or II ... there isn't much difference) at 7:00 this morning.

I had a crappy night's sleep - the crossing was fine, but the boat was noisy and I kept waking up to the hum of diesel engines.

A minor hiccup just after we disembarked: Scott realised he'd left the recce notes in the cabin. A call to Spirit, we found the security office and half and hour or so later and we were on our way to Launceston.

Here's a tip: service stations in little towns in Tassie tend to be closed in the morning on Anzac Day. Didn't run out, but the petrol light was on for longer than I would have liked.

A quick breakfast in Launceston, then we did the odometer calibration, found the serviced apartment (it's ok, but just), got the hire car and with a few delays we were off to do some recce by about 11 o'clock.

We managed to cover all of Day 1's competition stages and a couple from Day 2 & 3.

We've got a Hyundai Something to do recce - we're not allowed in Targa cars on the course within 3 weeks of competition starting so we've had our recce sponsored by Hertz' rally division instead.

Some interesting corners, all now marked the our pace notes, but nothing too scary - provided it stays dry.

Today was a wonderful day for a drive around northern Tasmania: sunshine but not too hot.

Until early this evening.

Now it's raining.

Maybe raining is an understatement. It's more like "Noah, is that ark finished yet?!".

2008 was a dry Targa. If I had a choice, so would '09, but unfortunately it's not up to me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New toys!

I bought a Tryedog system today - wireless temp & pressure sensor for my tyres.

No more getting out of a warm, dry cabin and fiddling in the cold & rain with a pressure gauge that never quite wants to go on the valve stem. This year, we're doing it the modern way.

It took about 6 minutes to install - 2 minutes to read the manual and 1 minute for each corner of the car.

The photos are crappy, but you can see the rear left (R. L.) sensor and the display showing 31.5 all around. And yes, I know that's a bit high, but the car is sitting in my garage, not on the start line. I'll be running around 28 degrees cold, depending on the weather.

Next step is easy - in about an hour, we're driving to Port Melbourne, getting on the Spirit of Tasmania, and sailing to Devonport.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A couple of ticks on the to do list

They might not be the best photos I've ever taken, but I'm smiling when I look at them.

Fire extinguisher is refilled and certified - they're good for 12 months, not 2 years.

Decals are done - this is the one on my bonnet (or is that obvious?).

Tomorrow is tyres.

Friday is checking everything one last time and then Spirit of Tassie sails at 8pm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Disaster prevented ....

OK, the nice people at Wormold are going to recertify my fire gear tomorrow.

I was lucky - it needs to be recertified, like all pressurised fire extinguishers, every 2 years. And I had in installed in early 2008, so it shouldn't need it until early 2010. When I was picking up the car, I wondered aloud "when does the extinguisher expire?"

So we checked.

And it needs to be checked in Jan 2009, because it was MANUFACTURED in Jan 2007 and installed in Feb 2008.

It could have been an issue - if the scrutineer had noticed it on Sunday (and I reckon he would have), I would have had to find someone in Launceston to do it, or I might not have got a start. Horrible way to miss out on an event I've been looking forward to for nearly a year.

Anyway, that problem is behind me now.

Next we have to have the new decals put on the car (I'll post photos once they're done), new tyres (Thursday or Friday), and a few comfort items, like a spare fire proof balaclava .. It's one thing to wear a smelly balaclava under your helmet for a day on the track, quite another to wear it for 5 days running. Yuck.

I'm sure something will try to bite me between now and Friday, but I'll keep you posted.

Preparation continues

I'm collecting my rally car this morning; after Sunday's very successful shakedown session at Sandown it's been for a spanner & fluids check: making sure that everything that should be tight is, and checking things like my break pads to make sure they've got plenty of 'meat' left in them.

And I needed a new windscreen washer pump and a label for my driving lights. Little things, but they make the difference between an easy drive and a frustrating one.

We've just discovered the on-board fire extinguisher is out of date. So I'll finish this post after I've found someone who can certify it for me ASAP.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A change of pace ...

Today I've swapped 2 wheels for 4 and dragged my rally car to Sandown for it's final shakedown session before I head to Tassie for Targa ( next Friday.

It's a Maserati Club practice day - I'm very proud to be both a member and on the Club's committee - but not many members run Maseratis.

Lots of Porsches, EVOs, Skylines,Lancers, BMW, an Aussie Race Car series car (go Ruth!), Jags, a couple of Peugeots, Alfas, a very fast Gemini (!), an Ariel Atom and other interesting odds & ends.

Mine is an early Porsche 944. First year of production. Not all that fast, but beautifully balanced and nimble in the twisty bits. Pity that Sandown is more straight than corner, but every bit of practice helps.

A number of people had offs which motorsport for "leaving the track when you didn't intend to". No one was hurt, and they clipped a minute here & there from some of the practice sessions and it didn't slow things down too much.

I only had one incident - someone in a big sedan who was much quicker than me on the straights, but had to start breaking WAY BEFORE I did ... so he was leaving me behind on the straights while in the corners I was almost ramming his back bumper. It's not a race, and there is no passing on corners or under brakes, so he SHOULD have let me through. But he didn't. So I bailed out of that session. I wasn't going to wreck my day, or my car, getting mad about some idiot who didn't know what he was doing. He'll learn (I hope).

And I was 4 seconds faster by the end of the day - an EXCELLENT result.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ok, it didn't quite go to plan ..

Cycling in a group has all sorts of rules & laws – some are 'written', some you have to learn the hard way, and some are, well,  just obvious.

And the most obvious one is that if you want to ride with a group, you have to go where the group goes.

This morning, my plan was to head into the Dandenongs and hopefully conquer (Ok, ride) Donna Buang. So I met group of guys for coffee at 6:45 (yes, cycling is an EARLY morning activity). I only knew one of the them, but, again, it's one of those things about cycling – if you can keep up, and ride in a bunch (more on that in a minute) - you're welcome. And my being there made a group of 6, so when we were riding 2 abreast no one was stuck talking to themselves.

I tried to steer the decision towards doing my ride, but majority ruled and instead of East we headed South along Beach Rd.

I guess it's a bit like sex – as long as you're enjoying it, does it really matter if you're not doing exactly what you want?

Bunch riding is great – the time & distance fly past as you chat about ... well it's usually about cycling. And  group always moves faster than an individual, especially this individual. So we motored down to Frankston (40k) a few kilometres an hour faster than I would normally ride. Then some hills, coffee in Mornington, some more hills, some sprints (I won one of them!), and then a solid ride home.

It turned into one of those rides that it doesn't matter how far you go, the last 5K is a MAJOR EFFORT. I sort of     hung on, and with the aid of a few very well timed traffic lights, managed to arrive back within a minute of the rest of our little peleton.

More coffee (three for the ride – it goes well with cycling and early mornings) and then home – 125K, at an average of about 30kph (fast for me), and maybe 600m of climb ... Which of course means 600m of fast descent.

And the rules?  You have to learn to sit side by side, and just off the wheel ahead. Ride in a straight line. Maintain the pace. And when it's your turn on the front of the line – do the work or get out of the way. And have something interesting to say.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Heading for Donna Buang

Ok, I've worked out the mail to blogger thing (not at all difficult). So that's one less excuse (not being near the PC)  for not blogging.

I've set myself a huge hurdle to get over tomorrow – I'm aiming for an almost 200 km ride, with a 16.8K climb in the middle: Mt. Donna Buang.  Elevation increase of 1080m, which means it's an average climb of about 6.5%

And there are a coupe of hills in the way between home and the base of the climb.

I'm not worried about the climb(s).

I'm not worried about the distance.

I'm a little worried about doing both together, but I need to get this under my belt well before July.

So now that I've bragged about the effort I'm going to put in tomorrow, I'll have to post some stats when I get home .... Maybe after the shower & something to eat!


Just testing the mail2blogger thing.