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Last Ditch Racing, a Maine based performance rally team, enjoyed an epic journey to the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Salem, Missouri to compete in the Rally America Regional Rally Championship as well as the National and Regional portion of the events. The team were invited to compete in the Regional Rally Championship based on their finish as the Rally America Eastern Regional Overall and Open Class Champions in 2008. The team were also Eastern Regional Open Class Champions in 2007.

The 100 Acre Wood Rally in Salem Missouri is round 2 of the 2009 Rally America Championship. Known as a fast and flowing event, it is in contrast to to the tighter, more technical roads the team is used to seeing at New England and Eastern Canadian events.

After an epic two days, filled with much drama, the team took 2nd place in the Rally America Regional Rally Championship, and 3rd in Open Class in the 100 Acre Wood Regional Rally. The results are but a small part of the weekend’s story.

With the rally located just over 1,500 miles from the team’s home base in Bangor, Maine, just taking the start is an accomplishment! Adding to the stress of moving the team halfway across the country, the day prior to the departure saw Maine hit with a large Nor’easter storm that dumped about 16″ of snow on the team’s headquarters. “I had to get the tractor out and snowblow just to get us out on the road. We didn’t see another car on the highway that morning for over an hour,” said driver/owner John Cassidy.

Once on the ground in Missouri, Driver John Cassidy and Co-Driver Dave Getchell spent most of Thursday on one pass recce, while the crew fettled with the car and put it through technical inspection. A frantic call from the crew to Cassidy informed him that the turbo restrictor was 0.06mm too large for the regulations. Without a spare, the crew were on the phone in a matter of minutes and found a machine shop in Salem, MO that specializes in design and repair of equipment for the lead mining industry. The crew brought the old restrictor and within 2 hours, the enthusiastic crew at the machine shop put a new restrictor in the teams’ hands, enabling them to start the event. “I had no idea why the restrictor was such a miniscule amount over,” said Cassidy, “but our car is always legal and we didn’t want anything to put our results in Missouri in question. The work by the machine shop was exceptional and our helmets and hats are off to them!”

Clear to start the race on Friday, Cassidy and Getchell were off to a relatively slow start. After two stages, they found themselves more than 30 seconds behind 2007 RRC winners Henry and Cindy Krowlikowski. Determined to pick up the pace, disaster struck. One of the power steering lines developed a crack. Forced to race 3-4 stages with manual steering, Cassidy knew they’d bleed time. “It was a huge blow to our confidence. We went from race mode to survival mode. Good thing it’s not our first time in that position. In addition to the power steering loss, we had a crack in the exhaust manifold. I was worried that the exhaust leak might cause the dripping fluid to ignite in the engine bay. Luckily that didn’t happen, but other things that we expected did.”

At the start of the last stage, while waiting to start, the crew heard the telltale screaming of metal on metal in the engine bay. On stage, the now dry power steering pump seized, causing smoke and sparks to fly out of the engine vents/scoop as the pump also took out the alternator/power steering belt. Able to finish the stage, Cassidy and Getchell shut down all unnecessary electrical systems as they knew they were now running on battery. “We had about 25 miles back to service and weren’t sure if we could make it on just the battery.” The answer came shortly later, when the lights started to dim, then flicker. With the low power level, the engine control unit started to run erratically, so the crew was forced to pull to the side of the dark Missouri country road.Fellow Subaru driver George Georgakopoulos pulled over and offered to tow the team into the final MTC of the night. Said Cassidy, “Being towed in a quiet, cold car, just 10 feet off the back of another careening through the dark at 50mph was quite a surreal experience. It took all my concentration to keep the tow rope taut and be safe. Without George, we’d never have completed 100 AW!” The team ofThe team of Fox/Blattner graciously loaned the team a welder to make repairs to the exhaust header.

Seeing Steel Tulip-4 roll into the MTC on the hook, the service crew knew they were in for a long night. The crew sourced another power steering pump from fellow competitor Pat Moro. Again, without Pat’s help, the team would not have completed the event. While the crew replaced the pump, Cassidy and Getchell headed to the local auto parts store for a replacement belt and power steering fluid. After dropping off the supplies to the team around midnight, Cassidy and Getchell headed back to the hotel while the crew worked through the cold night. Crack in the header welded up, Cassidy was awakened often by the crew with status updates on the repairs as well as for guidance on how to proceed. “It wouldn’t have been so bad,” said Cassidy, “but I had developed a nasty sinus infection that hit hard on Thursday night and was having trouble sleeping as it was. At one point, about 04:45, the crew called me and told me the Dodge Sprinter was dead on the side of the road! A deer had run out in front of them and they honked the horn. The dash lit up like a Christmas tree and the truck died and wouldn’t restart. I fired up the laptop and went to the online Sprinter forums and found a post about someone having similar issues after using the horn. I told them to check fuse 7. It was blown as was the case in the forum post. The truck fired up and they continued on their way back to the hotel. They thought my ability to service the Sprinter over the phone out of a dead sleep was spooky! ”

Starting Saturday over 3 minutes down on the first place Krowlikowskis, Cassidy and Getchell knew they needed to push. The crew assured them the car was 100%. On the transit out to the first stage of the day, the power steering hitched a few times and had Cassidy worried that he might not have it for long. Then the power steering pump began to squeal. Cassidy and Getchell played all the possible scenarios out in their minds. Replacement pump might be bad? High and low pressure lines might be swapped? Steering rack damanged? Belt too loose or too tight? They got to the next stage start a bit early and decided they’d take a late penalty if need be, if only to suss out the issue. Turns out the new belt was a bit loose and slipping, causing the squeaking. Tightened and good to go, they strapped back in.

The first leg of stages went well for the crew, but didn’t see them setting any land speed records. Their close ratio gearbox, with the ultra short final drive-perfect for twisty Eastern events-was not working so well on the fast open roads in Missouri. “It was frustrating,” said Cassidy, “We were pushing as hard as we could, but the drivetrain ran out of gumption just around 100mph. We needed another 10mph at least for Missouri.” Temperature was also an enemy for the team. The team were running on Pirelli soft gravel tires for the first time at the event, and while Friday’s temperatures were within the operating range for the tires, Saturday’s temps were at the lower limit. At the second service, they decided to mount some Yokohoma AO-34 snow tires as the stage conditions from that point on were questionable with a winter storm warning posted for a possible 6-8″ of snow. Competitor Krowlikowski was out with a blown turbo, so the team had an opportunity to push for another position at least. “There were no smiles when we heard that Henry and Cindy went out-they were having a fantastic event and to go out with a mechanical issue that is out of your control is always difficult.”

To the team’s surprise, the next 4 stages had no snow, but Cassidy found the Yoko’s offered more grip than the Pirellis. “The Yokohama AO-34’s have always been a favorite tire, and I love them more now. Although still not reaching the velocities they wanted, the team had power steering, a repaired exhaust header and sticky tires. “Although a bit late, things were as good as they could be for us! The last loop of 4 stages saw the team pulling into the finish control of each stage to find the car ahead still completing their paperwork-a sign we were making time. Each time we’d pull up and see them there, we’d high-five! It was a good feeling.” It was a feeling that continued into stage 14. The stage was covered in about 4-5″ of snow, and by this time, Cassidy and Getchell felt like they were at a Canadian Rally-familiar territory. “We were smiling like a couple of schoolboys with a naughty magazine. We knew this was our opportunity to have fun and go fast. The gearing of the car isn’t really an issue in the snow, as it’s about smoothness and commitment.”

Stage 14 saw the team set the 10th quickest time, 1 second behind eventual event winner Ken Block. “We had a great time on that stage and passed one car and were catching a second, meaning we were clawing time back. It’s the stage that represents the rally for us-the crew, local businesses and fellow teams had all worked together to get us to that point and we were standing on their shoulders in order to push through the snow in the dark-just a great feeling that’ll we’ll carry forward to the next event and beyond,” said Cassidy.

The team ended their trip home just behind another snowstorm-the same that they had in Missouri-just now in the Northeast. Nine days and over 3,000 miles later, the team is ready for a bit of time off, but knows that assimilation back into, “normal,” life won’t be easy. Said Cassidy, “It’s always difficult when you come back and friends and co-workers ask if you had a good time or a good trip-they just don’t understand the depth of the answer we “could,” give them! We usually say we had a good time and leave it at that!”

The team would like to thank their crew for their support prior to, and during, the event We couldn’t have done it without you! Drew Simpson, Ken Anctil, Chris Boone, Bronson Crothers, Nate Haskell, Rob Sockalexis, Nate Sockalexis, Samantha Francis and Duncan Matlack.

The team’s next event will either be STPR in Pennsylvania in June or the Rallye Baie Des Chaleurs in New Richmond Quebec in July. Check the team website for upcoming plans/events.

For more information the 100 Acre Wood Rally, please visit: http://www.100aw.org/

And finally, Last Ditch Racing would like to thank their 2009 Partners for their support:
Triple Caution, LLC, http://www.triplecaution.us
Hydra EMS, http://www.hydraems.com
Team O’Neil Rally School, http://www.teamoneil.com
Mark Fleming Photography: http://www.markfleming.pixyblog.com/

For photos, videos, team blogs and more information on Last Ditch Racing, please visit: http://www.lastditchracing.com
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For LDR Videos, check out out Youtube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/LastDitchRacing

To Purchase Last Ditch Racing Gear, please visit: http://www.cafepress.com/lastditchracing

Photos by Lorne Trezise, Copyright 2009 frozenmotionphotos.com

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