So Round 3 of the Championship is complete and John and Mike have made their presence very felt on the series by picking up some convincing stage wins, however what should have been a well deserved overall win turned out to be another reminder of the tough world of Rallying.
The logistical problems as well as the slightest of errors have resulted in a 4th place overall (2nd place in the NACAM Series), but in all fairness should have been a win. The Team arrived on Wednesday hoping to meet the car in good working order. You would remember that the Engine was replaced after the last round in Mexico. However we met the car with some cosmetic shipping damages (lights, bumpers, etc) as well as some much needed parts did not arrive, the new fuel bag, radiator, fan assembly, etc. Apparently no transport trucks are allowed to enter or leave the Mexican border, so all the trucks had to be offloaded, and re-loaded at the Mexico/Guatemala border (new trucks, trailers, documentation - the works).
So the crew from Dom Buckley (Colin, Pete, and mastermind Phil Marks) arrive a few days before and got to enjoy a couple days of rest in San Jose as they had no car to work on. With an impossible task ahead of them, they got the car Thursday morning, with no parts and were given a deadline of 9pm that night to complete all works and have the car ready on the transporter to be sent up to Liberia (4hrs drive North). After all the drama in Mexico it was simply a punch to the stomach with these problems continuing. To make matters that much worse, the Service Truck with all the spares that John ordered was stuck on the Costa Rican port and was never cleared. John bought a truck for the series but was advised not to ship it in to Mexico as it would be too difficult to get it in and out with their Customs regulations. So midday on Thursday, just got the car, no spares, no truck. Basically we all discussed heading back home.
John has to be commended on his 'Never Say Die' attitude as he remained completely positive and focussed on finding solutions the entire time. Also to add to the Sh^t list was the fact that co-driver Mike Fennel who was delayed in leaving Jamaica was only meeting us on Friday evening after the scheduled pace note allotted time. Basically it was chaos. No Car - No Parts - No Navi.
Thursday afternoon arrives and while the fuel bag appears, apparently it was re-loaded into Trivino's spares leaving the Mexican Border by accident. But the fuel lift pumps are nowhere to be seen. Ok - call Mexico and find out who packed them. Right Fuel Pumps located in another box, but no radiator as this was sent in the Service Truck which was stuck on the port. Just about every solution was discussed, then finally a radiator is lent to John from a street Evo, but no fan. This is at 8pm Wed night and the transporter for all the cars is waiting on John to load with the organizers looking at a loss for words. The Team would also love to drive the car the 200km north to break the engine in but obviously impossible with no radiator. Plan - start the car with no fan, load it on the transporter and figure out the best case scenario in Liberia on the Friday while the John does pace notes with a makeshift Navi - enter Stuart Johnson and myself - the standard issue substitute navi.
Car Transporter with most of the cars already loaded waiting on us
New Fuel Bag
Phil Marks installing the Fuel Bag lines
Working right through the evening mounting up skid shield, radiator etc.
John doing his best to stay positive
Pete and Phil mounting tires
So with tensions high we begin the 4hr drive to Liberia to the hotel. It would be a good time to point out that Costa Rica does not have any highways and the road although nice and smooth is the main transit across the country and is full of daredevil truck drivers in big rigs. I mean its 10pm at night and we are playing live Mario Kart against 18-wheeler semis, with Powell, me and Phil in a Toyota Yaris, while Sobby and the rest of the team minus Mike are following in an SUV loaded with suitcases and the few spares. Welcome to the Rally Costa Rica hahaha.
So we arrive a tired bunch into Liberia and head to the hotel which is on the Pacific coastline. 1AM find a bed and sleep. Wakeup call Friday 6am and head to breakfast to discuss the plan for the day. Peter Clark, and the Service Crew deal with the car and scrutineering, while John, Sobby and myself go to do pace notes. The NACAM competitors drive in convoy, first stopping off at Central Service to see where it is, then head to the stages. The Costa Rica national championship drivers had the week to do their notes.
The Pacific ocean and view from the Hotel carpark
Carlos and Memo Izquierdo who won the last Round before knowing the fate of their engine
John and Peter Clarke talking with Ricardo from NACAM (white jersey)
All teams arrive at the start of stage 1 (everyone's in a YARIS by the way) and begin the 22km recce. I got the job to write notes while John drives and Sobby points out anything of danger he could add to the notes. The first drive through is behind other cars so dust is immediately an issue. You go back for a second pass and if you don't get the notes right, tough luck. The first stage is long, flowing, 4 different surfaces, including freshly paved tarmac, 3 water splashes, and bloody fast. Notes are key and this is the first time i have ever taken notes for John far less under the pressure of get it right the first time. So went the nervous note taking of the remainder of the stages. 2 different stages run twice forward and twice backward to make up the 130km. The second stage was actually piece of the first one which made things a little easier, but it was like our old Rollercoaster stage, and i think a large pair of brass testicles may have been required. Loosely translated, notes were key.
Trivino getting interviewed before doing notes
4pm Friday - End of notes, rush back to Service where Mike has arrived with a fan from Jamaica. John wants Mike to see the stages so me and Sobby rush back to the stages (15min away) to fight the fading light. Mike makes numerous changes to suit the driver, and we high-tail it back just in time for the ceremonial start where the crew needs to be in full gear for 7pm. The Ceremonial Start was similar with big crowds, all drivers in full apparel, with the crews going over the Start line after some short speeches and interviews. Not as picturesque as the old town of Oaxaca in Mexico but definitely a really warm welcome to all the teams by the Liberia crowd.
Trini and Jamaican flags
Sobby standing guard over the car
John sizing up his competition
A wider view of the Start
Trivino, Carlos Izquierdo, Jose Montalto, Memo Izquierdo
Carlos Izquierdo being a sport and walking over the start line despite already having retired with a blown engine
John and Mike driving over the Start
Ceremonial start is finished but not before we get a flat in the SUV, and the little jack in the back couldn't jack up a go-kart. So Peter Clarke has to bring the Rally jack back to town for us. The reason i've gone in to such detail is to illustrate how tough this is in a foreign land, where you don't speak the language and have to figure out a solution to literally the slightest of problems.
No end to the fun...haha
We sort out everything, pack the SUV with fuel, tires, the few spares, and we eventually get back to the Hotel around 1am (remember we have been up since 6am the morning before). In the mean time we get word that Trivino is having ECU mapping issues, and Izquierdo (winner in Oaxaca) has blown his engine in a short test to correct a misfire on the Friday evening. HMM maybe our bad luck was contagious. At least we felt comfortable that it was not just us having major difficulty.
Sat morning 6am - Rally Time - tired but anticipating a good day. John drove the car back and forth from Service to the hotel and managed to put about 150km on the new engine by the morning.
The morning prep goes surprisingly without incident and John and Mike head down to SS1, with Sobby and I following in the Yaris. Start of SS1 is delayed as the organizers have challenges locking down the 22km stage. They eventually shorten it to 18km to please some of the residents and we get going about an hour later. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms the entire time, but the sun was out in full force, and apparently so were the bugs. Compare it to rain flies swarming, they would go all between your shades, up your shirt, down your socks everything. So all the drivers remained in full race suits while Sobby and I swatted away.
John and Mike trying to check in struggling with the language
Very picturesque start of the stage, Costa Rica is extremely scenic
The War on Bugs....haha
you can always find a B13 apparently
The competition at this point looked to be John, Trivino, and a few of the locals in Subaru's (N15, and 2 N10's). Jose Montalto is the Costa Rican champion - 22 years old and an FIA Pirelli Star driver.
SS1 and Jose catches John and Trivino fast asleep. Jose puts 20sec on John and a few more on Trivino. Good news is that the car is perfect, and John is already ahead of Trivino, bad news - de young boy reeaal quick!
. Not to be outdone Penti put it on them for SS2 and 3, and heading into Stage 4 (last stage of the morning and last of this particular stage) just 3sec back of Jose, and a very comfortable 22sec lead on Trivino. Were things finally going our way? The mood was high and then the unthinkable happened, well disappointing to say the very least but i guess expected given the substitute paces notes. A left 3 was called as a left 5 (no real fault of Mike's - the notes were no where near what was required) and John went off the road. Narrowly missing 2 trees front and rear, they luckily escaped with just a punctured rear right tire, but stuck and needed spectators to pull him out. 6 minutes plus are lost but at least he drove out the stage and is still in the Rally. John hurries back to Service, in the process shredding the tire and wheel, which cuts, the lines for the brakes and rear differential. Big brake kit means no spares to borrow, and the simple puncture now turns out to be a costly one. The crew manages to very solid patch but sends John back out with no rear brakes and no rear diff. (have a look at the pictures above)
The afternoon stages go without incident and John manages some impressive times even without some much needed parts working. He loses a few seconds to Trivino on each stage and any intention of winning at this point is soon forgotten. It was a bitter pill to swallow as John could have won this Round, and in the process beaten a top FIA Rally young driver.
The Rally ended late due to the delay at start, and all the winning cars go back to Service to be scrutineered. To put it lightly they were completely stripped apart. The FIA Scrutineers checked engine capacity, gear ratios, and all sealed components. The transfer case was pulled as well making the already tired service crew work ridiculously hard to put the car back together before they fly out the following day.
Jose's Subaru N15 with the intake manifold stripped apart to check for homologation
Checking Engine cc and Gear ratios with a special tool and rolling the car forward manually. Crazy level of scrutineering.
John and Jose Montalto after an incredibly long day
Scrutineering is passed without any issues, and we head back to the hotel around 10pm. Time for a shower, a bite to eat, a short nap, and then saddle up at 1am to drive back to San Jose to catch an 8am flight to Panama and then to Trinidad. Sobby, Mike, and Peter attended the prize giving and that was all she wrote.
At the end of it John and Mike are definitely on pace and able to better top level Group N competition in Central America. John IS fast but Trivino is consistent. The man does not make mistakes and he has been fortunate with the car surviving. By contrast John has had no end of car problems, logistical problems, and in this instance a small mistake cost him the win. So from a critical point of view Trivino's experience at WRC level and obviously having competed more at other major championships that involve lots of logistics IS an advantage. John may have to get lucky with the logistics and go more conservative on the driving (knowing that he is on unfamiliar territory)
if he is to win. There are 3 more rounds to go, and John looks like he can manage 2nd overall pretty easily but knowing that he has the capability to beat Trivino on the gravel will make not winning this Championship tough. The math says that Trivino is too far ahead half way through but who knows what lies ahead. Next is Peru which is very high above sea level and the right tuning will be absolutely key with the low oxygen. Phil Marks is probably one of the best Evo men on the planet, so stay tuned.
Its important that the guys behind the scenes are mentioned, Dom Buckley are a damn committed bunch, and they work regardless of time, task, weather, or situation. Phil Marks may have a few different opinions on life but his skill with a laptop and commitment at this stage of his life is insane. Peter Clarke from Jamaica once again handles all team logistics, from lunch to the documentation, to protests in Spanish. We had Sobby with us this time, and he thought he was coming on vacation to watch Rally Costa Rica......hmm great intentions but not reality, Sobby drove one of the support vehicles, helped pace notes, and was an integral part of getting through this tough weekend.