Apogee survives New England Forest Rally 2018 – Day one!


BMW NEFR Concord Pond Jump

Photo: David Coseboom

Anyone who has run a stage rally event will tell you that just finishing an event is an accomplishment. All forms of motorsport have their own unique challenges but one of the biggest challenges with stage rally can be just keeping the car together for the whole event. A typical rally consists of over 100 competitive miles of unprepared back roads that can have loose, rocky, gravel surfaces, lined with trees, rocks, culverts, cliffs, and sometimes large wild animals. There many things can end your weekend early for even a minor error or issue. Even if you are running a clean race, you could clip a rock that had been pulled up by a previous competitor (not in your notes) and end up tumbling into a group of trees.

New England Forest Rally 2018 – Intro

Having a car that can handle encounters with those obstacles can greatly improve your odds of having a successful event. We have been working towards this goal for about four years now. After we broke our first rally car last year we spent quite a bit of time over the winter building our new car to be able to handle the rigorous conditions of stage rally and come out clean. We had our first full test at STPR in June. While the car ran almost issue-free, the stages were also smooth at that event that it did not give us a full view of how well our parts and upgrades would handle the more severe stage rally surfaces of Maine.

The New England Forest Rally is a favorite event for many competitors, and is certainly one of our favorites as well.  In the region, NEFR is generally the one big event every year that everyone tries to make it out to. It is set in a beautiful backdrop of northern New England; the stages are technical with complex turns and elevation changes. There is a great atmosphere with the fellow competitors, the organizers and the spectators. It is, however, a punishing event for equipment. The rougher stages on day two and the second portion of day one can be very rough and rocky. Bent wheels, suspension, and underbody damage are common. Even the smoother stages are closely lined with trees, rocks, culverts, and tight bridges, with and without guardrails… The attrition rate can be high, and this year was no exception. Roughly 1/3rd of the competitors that entered did not finish the race in 2018.

New England Forest Rally 2018 Apogee Motorsport

Tyler was keeping busy all weekend making sure our nuts and bolts stayed tight. Our crew did a great job all weekend making sure we had everything we needed and that the car was in great shape.

Looking back on NEFR 2015

New England Forest Rally has some of the best fans in the east coast for rally. Quite often on transit, we pass by numerous enthusiastic fans cheering us on. We are use to that on stage, but seeing the excitement on transit is awesome!

Our track record for NEFR is a mixed one. Our first running of that event was in 2015; the upgraded suspension we had planned at the time had been delayed, and we ended up running stock suspension in the car. That suspension only lasted 3 stages. By the end of the first day we had blown all four shocks and ripped the top mounts completely out, causing the front struts to start moving around in the shock towers. That created some interesting alignment issues. By day two we had our suspension tied together with whatever straps we could find ,and were just trying to make it through the day. Our exhaust had also come off, so we were using hand signals for the notes due to the car being so loud.

At the end of the event, our car was hammered. There was extensive damage to the floor boards, including a 6-inch tear into the transmission tunnel that was either caused by our exhaust impaling the car when it was ripped out, or we may have had a tree stump enter the tunnel during our off-road excursion that landed us on a cluster of pine tree saplings. All our suspension components (front control arms and rear trailing arms, tie rods, shocks and coils) were completely shot. Our exhaust from the header to the tail pipe was completely gone, and we had gone through several wheels.

Looking Back on NEFR 2016

Our 2016 running of NEFR went quite a bit smoother. We ran the whole event without much drama, however our car had still sustained quite a bit of damage, with more suspension, wheel and underbody damage.

In my previous articles, I covered our misfortunes at NEFR last year (2017). We had started improving that car prior to the event, which was showing promise, however, our rear suspension had started failing and we lost control of the car on the second day, which caused severe damage to the front end. This gave us the motivation to start getting serious about improving the level of our build on the new car.

New England Forest Rally 2018 – Day 1

The first day of the event is home to the legendary stage named Concord Pond (pronounced kahn-kerd). This stage is one of the smoothest of the event, though it can also be unforgiving for any competitors that go off line. For the past two years, Concord pond has been run twice back to back.

I think this is a great idea, as it is one of the most spectated stages and it allows us to get in the rhythm before moving on to the rougher stages later in the day. We set our best time on Concord pond this year with a 5min01sec. This is a couple seconds faster than our previous best.

 

I think this is a great idea, as it is one of the most spectated stages and it allows us to get in the rhythm before moving on to the rougher stages later in the day. We set our best time on Concord pond this year with a 5min01sec. This is a couple seconds faster than our previous best.

New England Forest Rally 2018

Photo: David Coseboom

We were satisfied with that result, we are still getting the hang of the new changes on the car and are trying to avoid pushing too hard this year until we better understand its limits. The first loop of stages went perfect, the car felt great, and the times were decent. We gave the car a check over and then sent it out for the second loop.

New England Forest Rally 2018 Logging truck

This is a common sight at NEFR. Most of the stages are on active logging roads. They are closed down for all traffic during the actual rally event. But during recce the day before we need to be on the lookout for these massive trucks coming down the stage at us. It can definitely make things interesting.

The next two stages were some of the roughest of the event, so that was to be our best strength test of our new build. The third stage of the day was a nine-mile stage with the large “S” turn in front of the spectator area. This has been a turn that we always have a hard time getting the notes correct for. It feels like the turn gets longer each year, which throws our line off. This turn also has the large rock hiding in the grass that took out a major competitor this year, which I will get to shortly. We made it through the stage cleanly and made it through the narrow chicanes. Our only issue  the third brake light, which separated from the rear window.  We removed it at the next service.

We were able to get a great service area location between Team Subaru, and Just across from Hoonigan racing. Its nice to be next to the big teams and be able to watch how they operate.

Ken Block’s Big Accident

There is a long turnaround between the third and fourth stage on Day 1 since they are down and back stages. Usually there is a two-hour wait as the cars are run though and the next stage is prepared since the reverse stage takes a detour down another side road. As we were waiting to run the next stage, we saw several competitors removing their helmets and gearing down. We took a walk up and found out that the stage had been red crossed and the cars were stopped. “Red cross, the stage is shut down” was announced to our line of cars. That is never a good thing.

New England Forest Rally 2018 turn around Saab 900

Since stage three and four were partially run on the same stage down and back. We had to wait at the end of stage three/start of stage four for it to start. The turnaround wait time can be quite long due to the rest of the field needing to clear the stage and the cars in front to run. So we usually have some time to chat with the other teams and give our cars a rest.

Red crosses are displayed in rally events when a competitor has been injured and needs medical attention, or of there is another immediate emergency like a major fire that is a safety issue. We found out that it was Ken Block in his 1991 Ford Escort Cosworth Group-A rally car. We were grouped in start order between Ken’s wife Lucy, and Ken’s Co-Driver’s (Alessandro Gelsomino) wife Rhiannon.

One of the most visually striking locations of the weekend. The Height of land is located up on RT 17 north of Peru Maine. This is not normally a route we take during the event, but we were rerouted due to the accident on stage four.

This was obviously a very stressful situation for both of them, especially with the limited information that is common with rally events in such rural areas. We ended up hearing, thankfully, both made it out of the car as it was catching fire, but the car was a total loss.

New England Forest Rally 2018 Ken Block Pre Crash

One of the last chances that we got to see the Cosworth. Unfortunately Ken Block’s weekend took a hard left turn on stage four, and his car became another casualty of NEFR.

The corner that they went off on was the S turn in front of the major spectating area that I had mentioned previously. It is a tough turn from both directions. Apparently they had been having issues with the sequential gearbox and it would not shift when they entered the second portion of the turn. That caused Block to go further into the inside of the turn, clipping the large (but usually hidden until the last second) rock, flipping the car over twice and landing against the tree. His car ignited immediately, and despite using four large fire extinguishers, they could not get the fire under control.  We have actually departed the road in this exact spot in previous rallies (depicted below is NEFR 2015).  This is a dangerous sport, no doubt about it.

New England Forest Rally Spectator Turn Crash
Around 7:30PM the decision was made that we needed to transit back to Sunday River. Due to the fire we were not allowed to transit down the stage via the normal transit route back, so the line of about 45 cars had to convoy back down random rural Maine roads. It was an interesting ride back in the large parade of rally cars. We were happy with our decision to top off during the last service, since this transit added quite a few miles onto our planned loop. The views along the route, however, were breathtaking. We drove by Mooselookmeguntic Lake and past the Height of Land outlook. While the cause of our inadvertent sight-seeing tour was lamentable, it really was an incredible ride back.

When we got back to Sunday River to finish our day, we gave the car one last look over. Everything still looked great on the car, and we did not see any damage or potential issues. It was a great start to the event for us, and we finished day one sixth in our class. Not bad given the stiff competition we faced throughout the day.

The NEFR Rally Car Return Parade

Stay tuned for Day 2!

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