Today was the final day of the rally! With the three cars in the overall lead throughout the rally switching places a few times, today took on a special meaning for their drivers - would they knock the first-place car down a notch or two, as they had done before, and be able to claim overall victory? Seldom has a rally last day offered such opportunity!
For our Bodacious Racing team, however, the final day meant the last chance to appreciate the spectacular scenery of New Zealand, drive the well-prepared, well-balanced Escorts, and look forward to reconnecting with significant others at the finish. Their competitive spirits were directed at besting their own times, shaving off seconds in regularities, and the good-natured rivalry between Cars #25 and #28. In that, they definitely won!
The new tires proved a boon to Chris and Jeff in Car #28. Being able to hug the turns and skid around corners with a firm grip on the road allowed a more finessed driving style. Tim and Jim in Car #25 were driving with a new half-shaft, and reconnected drive train, and all held together beautifully, allowing for smoother gear shifting and steering ability.
During one regularity, Chris told Jeff he needed to drive straight for 18.63 seconds. Jeff complied, then when Chris said "Take a right," Jeff realized the time clock read 19.04. "Wait!" he shouted. I'm 40 seconds slow?" It took them a few beats to realize 18.63 seconds translates to 19.03 seconds - only a second off the calculated time!
Tim and Jim had their own timing communication story. After the axle nut had failed on Saturday and they were patched back together by the sweeps, they were back on the road. The usual countdown on the timed regularities is for the navigator to announce at each route book instruction point "1 second early; 3 seconds late; 1 second late" etc. That allows the driver to try to correct his speed accordingly. Jim immediately got into that routine, directing Tim, when he suddenly announced "22 minutes late!" Of course, this was due to the repair stop, but Tim and Jim had a good laugh about it while zipping along the regularity course.
While the support team of Jan, Peg, Beth and Gaye were walking around Christchurch and exploring the Botanic Garden, a nearby park, and the town center, the rally officials arrived at the hotel to set up the finish. Upon arriving back at the hotel, the team found some familiar, friendly faces from previous rallies, and identified where the cars would finish. Chris's parents, Pauline and John Loader, arrived at the hotel, and the anticipation of the finish began. With the inflatable arch set up at the circle driveway behind the hotel, the first finishers began to stream in, pause for congratulations and pictures, and go on their way to park their trusty cars after this challenging and spectacular rally.
Soon we could see Jeff and Chris's Car #28, and Tim and Jim's Car #25 a few cars from the finish. Tim, not able to resist one last joke, started edging his Escort over to the right, to pass Jeff! But Jim disagreed with that tactic, so, laughing, they fell in line behind Car #28, and soon both cars crossed through the finish arch, to the requisite hugs and kisses from the support team, and applause from the entire body of onlookers.
This was a small rally, with fewer than 30 cars competing, and it made all the difference. The drivers and staff all bonded, there were many stories of shared experiences, and friendships deepened. Everyone had only good things to say about the organizational details of the New Zealand Classic, and the beauty of this amazing country.
A table was reserved for the entire Bodacious Racing team and support crew for the awards dinner, and it was a convivial event. With a fine introduction of statistics - 58 regularities, 7000 kilometers - the dinner was off to a great start. Pictures were shared on a large screen, thanks were given to the amazing staff (who were met with a thunderous round of applause) and awards were handed out for time-winners in each class and overall. Jeff and Chris managed to finish 3rd in their class, only to find that awards were given to only the top 2!
But awards are not why the Bodacious Racing team drives these rallies. The adventure appeal, technical challenges in both driving and navigating, and the opportunity to travel in a way not open to the casual tourist is what feeds the interest. The cars, the camaraderie and the overall experience of the New Zealand Classic definitely delivered on that interest.
Jim and Jan, Chris and Beth, and Tim and Peg will head back to Auckland on Monday, to stay in Pauanui with Chris's folks, and spend a few days exploring the North Island together; Jeff and Gaye, after a slight detour in Sydney, Australia, will head back to the States. We'll all plan a reunion in Montana later this spring or summer. New Zealand has been a wonderful experience, and we plan to return to explore various areas in a less hurried fashion.
We'll do one more post on this rally, once all the pictures, video clips, etc. are collected. All the drivers have things on their phones to share, and it will be fun to see some of the action as captured by our drivers.
Details on finish order, prizes, etc., can be found on the Endurance Rally web page here.
What's next rally-wise? In early November, everyone will head down to Lima, Peru, for the ERA rally Lima to Cape Horn. At the moment, Tim and Jim are thinking they want to attempt it in the vintage 1936 Ford Cabriolet. Jeff and Chris are preparing a new car - more details to come. Thanks for following along!
March 7th, 2020
Dunedin to Lake Tekapo
The penultimate day of the New Zealand Classic began for our Bodacious Racing team as Car #28 started the long day at 8:13 AM. Prep time was behind them, accomplished on the rest day in Dunedin. Today was about driving hard and accurately, getting through the 5 difficult regularities while accumulating as few penalties as possible.
Knowing they were entering the most difficult navigational day of the rally, both Chris and Jim, acting as navigators in Car #28 and Car #25 respectively, had planned a flawless guide. They and their drivers, Jeff and Tim, followed that guide to the letter. With 5 regularities, that is no small feat - no missed turns, no skids out of control, and managing speed appropriately to minimize early/late penalties.
Unfortunately, an unanticipated mechanical problem hit Tim and Jim with a time penalty. While driving a regularity, the left rear axle nut came off - causing the drive shaft to slip out of the differential. With no drive ability, Tim managed to direct the car to the side of the road. Car #25 was quickly found by the sweeps, who were able to get the necessary parts back together, and secure a nut in place. Jim reports "We were lucky this didn't happen at speed - while we suffered a 3-minute time penalty, we could have suffered way worse if it had happened at speed, or on a steep incline."
Jeff and Chris report the tire rotation and swap done yesterday made a huge difference, and they were happy to have the extra traction as they climbed mountain roads with 1000-foot drop-offs and no guard rails!
Our team reports today provided the most amazing scenery in an unbelievably spectacular rally full of scenery! The drive past Mount Cook, seeing the incomparable turquoise of Lake Pukaki, counts as one of the highlights of a day full of them.
The support team, meanwhile, had their own day of stunning scenery, making their way in perfect weather across the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton on the InterIslander Ferry, and then down the Eastern coast of the South Island (known as the Mainland by South Islanders!) to Christchurch.
The day began early with a taxi ride to the ferry dock, in a not-quite-large enough taxi, causing Jan, Peg and Beth to hold a large suitcase in their laps with the trunk full of other luggage. Fortunately it was a short trip! Once at the ferry dock, we were able to check that luggage all the way to Christchurch, which made the day's travel much more efficient.
The forecast for the ferry ride was "Calm", and it delivered. That didn't stop us from enjoying the sign pointing out the motion-sickness bags, but we all were glad we had no need for them!
The ferry ride is an incredible way to enjoy the sights of this island country, and the train ride rated up there in its experiential quotient! The natural beauty of New Zealand cannot be overstated, and our many pictures do not do that beauty justice.
We took so many pictures, and are only sharing a few. The No Trespassing sign at the train station had a particular appeal to our team drivers; the train stop in Kaikoura and the Whale Watch station; the train itself; our enjoyment of our wine and cheese purchase from the train concession; the many shots taken out the ferry and train windows; all give you a taste of our day as we made our way to Christchurch. But we toured past so many hills rising from the sea; picturesque houses perched up high; sprawling vineyards; grazing sheep and cattle; salt-evaporation works; fields of corn, potatoes and more; rock formations where the ocean met the shore; driftwood constructions along beaches; surfers enjoying the crashing waves - we couldn't photograph all of the beauty, but secured the experience for ourselves and hope some of our readers will do the same one day.
Safely in the hotel car park, our rally drivers addressed the issue with the axle on Car #25 by completely replacing the rear axle. Chris reports it took him and Tim longer to pull the spare out of the car than it took the sweeps to replace it! They had carried the spare just in case, and with only one day remaining in this rally, and another challenging day ahead, they figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Car #25 will drive the final day of this rally knowing they did what they could to be prepared for a clean drive.
The last day of the New Zealand Classic finishes Sunday at the Chateau on the Park hotel in Christchuch, where Peg, Jan, Beth and Gaye will be on hand to greet our team. The first cars should finish around 3 PM - and then the celebration will begin!
With the end of the rally in sight, our Bodacious Racing team made the most of their last rest day. Dunedin is yet another picturesque New Zealand town, named and built by Scots immigrants missing their home country. "Dunedin" is the Gaelic for "Edinburgh", and our intrepid driver and great walker Jim sent us pictures reflecting the architectural similarities.
Morning found our drivers meeting over breakfast to plan their day. A hearty breakfast prepared them for the day of car repairs, sorting car necessities, and repacking bags. Ever-curious Jim, of course, rationed time for his walking tour of the city!
Primary on Chris and Jeff's list was swapping out the tires on Car #28. An inspection showed worn treads, and Jeff is sure the slick tires contributed to his putting the car in a ditch yesterday. Rotating tires, replacing the most worn with the spares, was quickly accomplished. They decided they would drive the car to fuel up and thoroughly clean the windshield. In doing so, they heard a grating noise. Not able to diagnose it once they were back in the rally car park, they tracked down the sweeps, who were just getting ready to go out for the day.
Happy to help, these talented mechanics quickly identified an inner bent rim on one of the just installed spares. It ended up being a more difficult repair than expected, but eventually the tires were judged good to go.
Meanwhile, Jim and Tim found some great white duct tape to repair the fiberglass damage to Car #25 that occurred during their accident yesterday. Good as new! A more complicated inspection and lubrication process set their squeaking brakes right.
Jim and Chris holed up at a table together with their route books, preparing for Saturday, which is rumored to be the most difficult day of the New Zealand Classic, complete with 5 regularities. With the rally coming to an end, navigators are challenged to pull out all their talents and skills for a clean run. Tim and Jeff retired to their rooms to review emails, get other work done, and for Tim to recover from his cold.
Last night Tim, Jim and Chris hosted a birthday dinner for Jeff, who will celebrate soon after the rally ends. With steaks and wine, it was a perfect time for friends to review this and other rally experiences, and to look forward to future adventures! They entertained each other and other rally participants at the restaurant, with a discussion of the differences between drivers and navigators. Drivers, they agree, when asked where they are going, answer, "I don't know." "Well" the questioner pursues, "don't you have a route book?" The driver replies, "A route book?"
The navigator, on the other hand, could bore a questioner silly with a too-detailed answer to the same question, and are frequently photographed with their trusty route books by their sides. Drivers, they conclude, are good at following directions. Navigators are just smarter!
The support crew, meanwhile, spent the day exploring Wellington. A cable car trip to the lookout above the city proved an excellent way to enjoy the vistas of this seaside town. They then hiked back down to Lambton Quay through the Botanic Gardens, learning about native plants and delighting in the fragrances and textures. A walk through a greenhouse provided much needed warmth for Jan, and everyone enjoyed a light lunch (and a slice of apple cake) in the Garden Café.
Saturday the support team will get up early to board the ferry to the South Island, the same ferry the rally folks took nearly 2 weeks ago.
And the rally will continue on to Lake Tekapo, with 313 kilometers, no doubt loaded with circuitous challenges!
March 5th, 2020
Invercargill to Dunedin
With the last rest day of the rally beckoning in Dunedin, our Bodacious Racing team was up bright and early to accomplish the route there. With 4 regularities scheduled in the rally route book, they knew it would be a difficult day, calling on their remaining powers of concentration, focus and energy, depleted by the past 3 weeks of rallying.
As Jeff reports "We once again grasped defeat from the jaws of victory."
Chris had stayed up past midnight Wednesday night, working on studying the route book directions for each regularity. Each navigator has their own approach to how to review a route book. Most involve marking specific directions in corresponding colors, and writing out notes to themselves about anything that might appear particularly questionable. Chris, an excellent, experienced, and accomplished navigator, is no different. But with four regularities to prepare, it's not surprising that something slipped through the cracks of this careful planning.
The first two regularities came off like clockwork, with Chris's directions melding perfectly with Jeff's driving - even if Jeff put on a bit too much speed and they ended up with early penalties. The real issue came in the third regularity of the day. The first half flowed perfectly, but on the second, when Jeff spotted multiple tire tracks left by cars turning to the right, he asked "right turn ahead?" and Chris said, "No, stay straight!" It didn't take long to realize that they should have turned right; they backed up, spun around, and headed back. The penalty they were hit with wasn't horrible, but of course, every penalty counts against you.
On the final regularity of the day, Jeff took a corner too fast, and that put the front tires in a ditch! Fortunately, they were able to back out of it successfully and get back on the road, but it definitely wasn't a boring day for Car #28.
Tim and Jim in Car #25 had their own challenges. While we've reported about regularities held on race tracks, the vast majority of them are held on public access roads. While there isn't tons of traffic in this sparsely populated country, there is some. Tim drove around a corner today to face a car driving towards him, and he couldn't quite stop in time. He clipped the corner of the other car's bumper. In decent sportsmanship and good nature, they settled the problem with a cash payment, and both cars were soon on their way, the "civilian" driver with a story to tell about seeing a classic Ford Escort driving the New Zealand Classic.
Apart from regularities, our drivers found themselves driving through "both food groups" as Chris says: sheep and cattle. Having become adept at fording animal crossings, they enjoyed driving carefully through the herds, serenaded by the complaining baaa's and moo's.
Upon arriving for a rest stop, they saw an intriguing poster. It advertised the "Owaka Stacker." What would that be? It turns out it's a "Country Music Extravaganza." New Zealand has a rich country music scene, as any fan of the television show "The Brokenwood Mysteries" could tell you. The Owaka Stacker was held, however, on February 29th, so it will have to be an experience to look forward to another time.
A new experience they had today involved a river crossing. While they've driven across shallow crossings, and managed larger rivers on beautiful bridges, the crossing option today was a punt boat. Using very basic equipment - a flat platform mounted on two pontoons anchored to a line running across the river - each car needed to drive onto the platform. The pilot then released the punt, which travels with the force of the river across the line to the other side. Deftly (or not) docking the punt, the car is then driven off the platform.
Rally drivers were joking about the antiquated equipment, and that it was probably the same set-up used in the late 1900s when first installed! It was a new adventure, however, and with coffee and cake waiting on the other side, upon a successful crossing, drivers milled about waiting for their time trial time and enjoying watching their fellow competitors cross.
Meanwhile, Friday is a rest day in Dunedin. Tim decided he needed to wash some clothes, so he laboriously laundered each item in his bathroom sink with bar soap. Rinsing and wringing by hand followed. In looking for a place to hang things to dry, he opened a closet to find a stackable washer/dryer! He figured he would rewash everything, only to realize he didn't have laundry detergent. "No problem," he told Peg. "I'll just throw the bar of soap in with the wash." Peg reports she's sure he was teasing her, but you never know!
With Peg, Beth, Jan and Gaye in Wellington, this will be their day to adapt to the 18-hour time difference (yes, it's Friday morning as this is written!), and to get ready for tomorrow's adventure of a ferry trip across the Cook Strait to the South Island, and a train ride down to Christchurch for the end of the rally.
Word has it the regularities will be even more challenging on Saturday as the rally drives to Lake Tekapo, and then on Sunday to the finish in Christchurch. There's more than 600 kilometers left to go, and the plan is definitely to finish the rally on a high note.
Thursday's drive had a delayed start. While our Bodacious Racing team and some other rally drivers had decided to skip the motorcoach trip up the muddy road to what is reportedly one of the most scenic places on earth, Milford Sound, those that made the voyage reported a rewarding experience. Taking kayaks out in the fjords and on the Sound, enjoying good company, and absolutely stunning views of a classic 3-masted cruise ship provided a top-notch experience for those who took advantage of the opportunity.
However, the day's return, to collect cars in Te Awau for the day's drive to Invercargill did not go off as planned. While various drivers, including our team, waited for the others to arrive, they received word that the motorcoach had broken down! While those trapped in Milford Sound did not exactly mind being able to stick around in the fjords, it took 3 hours to repair the bus. Start times kept getting set, then reset. Finally the motorcoach was on its return trip, and Jeff texted to say Car #28's start would be at 3:47 PM.
In the meantime, various crews and the sweeps, hanging out in Te Awau, found inviting restaurants where they could relax and enjoy local fare, and the scenery!
Due to the late start, 2 of the 4 regularities were removed from the route book. The two that they did get a chance to run were held at the Teretonga race track, famed in the 50s and 60s for world-class racing. That definitely added something to the day!
It took only 4 hours or so to follow the rally route to the night's finish at Invercargill, and once again, the cars performed admirably. Jeff told Chris "It's so nice to drive a rally without hearing you bitch about having to repair the car!" Chris replied "It's so nice to drive a rally without hearing you bitch about what a crap car we're driving!"
Tim continues to battle his cold; a rest day in Dunedin will no doubt allow him to clear it for good. And support crew Peg, Jan, Beth and Gaye traveled via San Francisco to Sydney to Wellington for a little New Zealand adventure of their own, before meeting up with the Bodacious Racing team in Christchurch for the finish on Sunday, March 8th.
Tomorrow, on to Dunedin!
March 3rd, 2020
Queenstown to Milford Sound (Te Awau)
It was a misty day when our Bodacious Racing team woke up early, ready to start the day's drive. In fact, it was so early, the sun had yet to come up - but with early starts assigned, both Car #25 and Car #28 needed to be prepared for another challenging drive along the spine of the Southern Alps.
The rest day had been much needed, and with clean laundry delivered in ample time to pack, our team was set to get back on the road.
Knowing the day would be finished for them a few hours sooner than originally planned didn't stop our drivers from going full-out for the day. Tim was definitely under the weather, but he was happy to climb into Candie's driver's seat. Focusing on the road, he said, would take his mind off his cold.
During the one, very long regularity, quite a few cars missed a key turn. Jeff and Chris made it - but just barely! Jeff reports Chris had his face buried in the route book when he said "There's a right-hand turn at 9.54 kilometers." Jeff looked at the Monet, and it read "9.51 km". So Jeff slammed on the brakes, backed up slightly - there was the road, hidden by shrubbery-- and made the turn! He and Chris cracked up at the near miss - but they were glad they caught it.
Tim and Jim were not so fortunate. They, like others, lost time finding their way back. They were fortunate to realize early they'd missed the turn, back-tracked, and successfully found the road, finishing with only a slight penalty.
Throughout the day they were hearing from others who were opting to stay in Te Awau and not make the trek to Milford Sound and the accommodations on the cruise ship. With multiple hotels available, rally participants had no trouble booking rooms.
Part of the rally fees cover accommodations in each day's location; this is for double rooms. Tim and Jim have been bunking together throughout the rally, but Jeff and Chris, needing more down time, have paid extra for single rooms. Tonight in Te Awau, however, Tim and Jim will each have their own rooms. They decided Tim might sleep more soundly in a room by himself, and he might also avoid re-infecting Jim!
Rumors abounded about the cruise ship accommodations. Word had it there were double staterooms, with a bathroom down the hall shared by multiple rooms. Rooms were also reported to be very narrow, with a single small window high on each wall. Since there's a certain tendency of claustrophobia in certain drivers, these rumors made it easy for our team to make the decision to stay in Te Awau. We've included links Jeff sent to what he was told was the ship; once they regroup in the morning, we'll learn more about the cruise ship experience!
Once again, even with the rain the scenery was impressive. Te Awau is the gateway to the fjord country of the Southwest Coast of the South Island, as well as the launch point to Milford Sound. As the day progressed, the skies cleared, so by the time they parked the cars for the evening, they could appreciate the mountainous surround. There was an alpaca farm nearby!
Another day completed, with the end in sight! The cars continue to perform well, and everyone talks about what a great time they are having and what a fabulous country New Zealand is. Tomorrow's drive to Invercargill will continue that experience.
With 9 straight days of driving behind them and a week remaining that is rumored to include some of the most difficult driving of the rally, the rest day at the Hilton north of downtown Queenstown was a welcome respite.
Internal clocks woke everyone early, but it was a luxury to know there was no rush to getting up and getting ready. The downtime enabled everyone to connect via phone and email with family, friends and work back in the States.
Chris and Tim spent some time checking the Monet distance/time monitors. They feel they might not be completely accurate, but recalibrating made little difference. They drew the conclusion that the demanding driving with frequent turns makes it hard to accurately plot the distance needed to travel in the route book. Maybe they cut a corner, and the pace driver did not; maybe the pace driver cut a corner, and they did not. Whatever the story is, they're doing pretty well as is, and just need to be aware the Monet may not be accurate 100% of the time.
As a reminder to those who have followed these rallies before, or those new to rallying, drivers and navigators are given a route book detailing each day - known as a “tulip book.” Each day is marked out in directions and icons, but seldom are road names indicated, or towns located. Instead, directions might read: (icon for straight) 2.4 km; (icon for bridge); (icon for straight) 3.1 km; (icon for left turn) (icon for stop sign). It is very easy to get "lost," since you don't know exactly, mapwise, where you need to be! The Monet keeps track of time and distance, and the navigator resets it each time a direction is completed and a new one started. The only way you know you are lost is if something is in the route book, and you don't see it - such as a bridge, train tracks, etc. Then your only recourse is to retrace your drive back to where you know you were on the correct route, and try again. Following other drivers often can compound someone being lost with others being lost. It can be nice to have the company, but it's nicer to have figured out the correct route! At this point, all members of the Bodacious Racing team are experienced, but that doesn't mean mistakes don't occur. It's part of the challenge of endurance rallying.
Afternoon found Tim, Jim, Chris and Jeff meeting up for a jet boat tour of Lake Wakatipu and the rivers flowing into it. This was a classic tour opportunity. Everyone was issued a life jacket, strapped in, and subjected to a canned tour narrative. But they managed to have fun, and it was nice to let someone else worry about the direction and control of the vehicle! Despite it being a tourist experience, the ride managed to surprise Chris into some language he then needed to apologize for... They opted not to couple the jet boat tour with bungee jumping, however!
After drying off back at the hotel, they met to board a 5:15 PM ferry into downtown Queenstown, to meet up with Chris’s folks. Pauline and John are enjoying their own tour of the South Island (they know it well!), and will meet up with the rally again at the finish in Christchurch. The ferry ride itself was a turbulent experience, and even our strong-stomached sailor/drivers commented it was a challenge! A certain blog writer was warned it would not have been a fun trip for her!
Tim ordered hot tea with bourbon back at the hotel, a sure cure for the incipient germs floating around. Jim is completely healthy, but working to stay that way, and Chris and Jeff are warding off illness, too.
Tomorrow the route will end at Milford Sound. With the recent torrential rains, however, the road for the final 2 hours up to the Sound has been washed out, and in the interest of safety, the rally has decided cars will end the day at Te Anau, and then the drivers will hop a motor coach to Milford Sound. Accommodations are on a cruise ship in the Sound. A Bodacious Team meeting resulted in our drivers deciding they will just finish at Te Anau, and they have booked hotel rooms there. Being on a cruise ship, in a below deck cabin, in the age of coronavirus, did not seem like a good idea! There might not be enough hot tea with bourbon to cure that exposure!
March 1st, 2020
Fox Glacier to Queenstown
What a difference a day makes! A terrific thunderstorm rolled over the Fox Glacier hotel during the night, compounding sleeping difficulties. Jeff pulled his travel fan out of the car before he turned in, to use in the stuffy hotel room; again, no screens on the windows invited swarms of insects in when they were opened. But the storm's result made the grogginess from lack of sleep go away quickly. Clear skies, freshly washed greenery, and the spectacular view of Mount Cook and other impressive mountains looming overhead greeted the Bodacious Racing team Sunday morning.
The views got even better as the day went on. Traversing roads through the Southern Alps, our drivers skirted Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, enjoying the blue water views. Roads climbed and descended, some challenging underpowered cars. The Escorts performed spectacularly, handling the altitude changes and the frequent curves with aplomb, giving Jeff, Chris, Tim and Jim what they called "the most beautiful drive of their lives."
Jeff described the environment as "primordial," changes around every corner, going from rain forest to desert and back again, with every landscape in between. The unique New Zealand flora adds to the impression of times long passed, creating an otherworldly aura to the vistas.
The only drawback was they were on a schedule! Jeff wants to go back and drive the same road, but be able to stop and enjoy the views a bit more. And they all say, if you're going to New Zealand, don't miss the amazing scenery of the South Island mountains!
Before the end of the day, Cars #25 and #28 followed the rally route to the Highland Motor Sport Centre in Cornwall. This race track community offered some zippy driving opportunities, but when they learned their experience would be limited to following a pace car around the track, they opted to leave the track and follow the remaining route to the hotel in Queenstown.
Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. Some rally drivers have taken opportunities to go for helicopter tours, skydiving, or ziplining. So far our team hasn't bought into any of those opportunities, but there was discussion of jet boating...
Queenstown offers a much needed rest day on Monday. Laundry was sent out, with the hope it will be returned in time. Chris and Tim plan to check on the Monet time-clocks, and possibly recalibrate them. They feel the accuracy of them may be off in both cars. Chris's folks will be checking in with the team, visiting with them in this beautiful part of the country. The hotel also offers a great bar, even if the auto-correct on Tim's phone had a little trouble relaying the name "Wakatipu Grill and Bar" to Jeff!
The rally finishes a week from today, with more adventures yet to come!
While fewer than 300 kilometers were driven today, they were demanding ones! The fog and clouds had cleared by the time our Bodacious Racing team started their day, giving them tremendous views of the Hokitika area. Tim managed to take lots of pictures - and he is definitely mastering the selfie - but only got to sending them Friday! They may be a day late, but they are worth perusing, capturing the feel of their location.
We also learned that Jim DID venture out on to that long suspension bridge written about yesterday… and we have photos to prove it!
The Southern Alps run the mid-section of the South Island, north to south, and the route today took them on true mountain roads. Foliage obscured turns and the sides of roads, dropping thousands of feet into mountain gorges, that were hard to make out as they climbed in altitude. Between the overgrown shrubbery and ground cover, and the low-hanging clouds, it made sense to stay well in the middle of the road!
Jeff and Chris tell of coming around a corner to hear and see a waterfall gushing down the mountain-side, with no sense of where it started up inside the clouds, or where it ended, endless feet below them.
Regularities and time trials continue to challenge with tricky directions, but our teams did fairly well yesterday, each catching themselves in time to avoid a mistake that was so commonly made the rally marshals posted a team to supervise that corner and provide assistance if necessary. Neither Car #25 or Car #28 managed a perfect score, but they did manage to avoid wrong turns!
Visiting the twin glaciers, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, was an interesting geographical exploration, and the bottom of Fox Glacier was a good spot for a stop. These are some of the most accessible glaciers in the world, flowing 2600 meters from the mountains, fed by four separate glaciers. At nearly sea level, the Fox Glacier is 300 meters thick, and flows on melted ice, slowly, but measurably. While some rally drivers opted for a helicopter ride to travel the length of the glaciers, on such a cloudy overcast day, our drivers didn't think it was a good idea to go up in a helicopter! So Jeff, Chris, Tim and Jim enjoyed hiking along the ice, and viewing the natural phenomenon from the ground. Chris and Jeff found a photo opportunity at the same time - taking pictures of each other!
Everyone arrived at the night's hotel ready to relax. Eight straight days of rally schedule and driving is taking its toll. The rally dinner and breakfast buffets have also become increasingly unappetizing; our team walked to a nearby pub for dinner. While the food wasn't anything special, they figure it was better than the buffet offerings!
Tim enjoyed the fish he ordered, which he thought was a "grouper," is called a "groper" in New Zealand. Just an example of how New Zealand English differs from American English - in an entertaining way!
They were told the hotel was resting at the foot of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain at more than 12,000 feet, but with all the clouds, they had to just trust that was so. Again, it is supposed to clear overnight, so they should be able to verify that in the morning.
Tim and Jim were quoted in an Endurance Rally press release about the New Zealand Classic; check out what they said here.
Tomorrow, on to Queensland - and a much-needed rest day!
February 28th, 2020
Nelson to Hokitika
Our Bodacious Racing team and the other New Zealand Classic rally drivers entered their 7th straight day of driving, this time under threatening skies. Despite this, the real story of the day was the spectacular scenery.
Driving inland from Tasman Bay, they proceeded along the majestic Buller River, rushing through the awe-inspiring Buller Gorge. Trees were everywhere, and the lush greenery hampered views around corners and up and down hills. With three regularities on the schedule, drivers knew they were in for a concentration challenge once again, made even more difficult when the skies opened up and hampered visibility with torrential rain and winds.
After the first stop of the day, our drivers took a pass on walking across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in New Zealand. Hearing about the wind and rain, that sounds like it was a good decision! Other rally drivers, however, were tempted by the experience.
During one regularity a particularly tricky spot posed a challenge to Tim and Jim. They initially missed a turn and were confused by the route book directions, but then they figured it out, righted themselves, and only lost a few seconds. At the end of the day they learned they were not alone; some teams had many penalty seconds added to their times.
Arriving at the coastal road, they enjoyed amazing views of the area around Punakaiki at the edge of Paparoa National Park. This area is known for the limestone formations known as "pancake rocks", and the surge pools and blow holes that result from the sea washing over the low, folded and flat rocks.
Heading towards the West Coast of the South Island, and looking forward to seeing a spectacular sunset over the Tasman Sea, the weather continued to deteriorate. After a very long day's drive, they were grateful to arrive at their hotel in Hakitika, and to be able to park the cars. A walk along the beach was not advisable in the rain, but they did enjoy their beachfront room views.
Hearing reports of other car's misfortunes is making them continually grateful for the limited amount of work they have had to put into the Escorts. The Austin Healy drivers discovered quite through serendipity that their frame was cracked. Putting the car up on a ramp to repair a minor exhaust issue, they discovered the break. Fortunately, they were able to work with a local mechanic to weld the frame back together - and drive away with that repair done, and a safer exhaust.
Tomorrow will be a shorter drive day, as they enter into the Southern Alps, ending at Fox Glacier. Good pictures should come our way!
It was another grumpy morning for the Bodacious Racing team, because they had another hotel without air conditioning! Sleeping with the windows open is not an option when there are no screens, with mosquitoes creating their own sound system looking at places to land and bite. It's hard for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere to think of in these cold days of February, but down in the Southern Hemisphere, summer is in full swing, and it's an extremely hot one as well.
Rested or not, our drivers were up to greet the day. Not quite half-way in on this rally, the jokes are flying fast and furiously! Chris and Jim seem to be the best - or worst, depending on how you look at things - at playing pranks on each other. Today Chris sauntered down to Car #28 to see the return of an inflatable sheep, taped to the roof of the car! We first saw this sheep during a TransPac yacht race several years ago, a nod to Chris's New Zealand roots and the close proximity that means to sheep. This version was decorated with various sayings including "I missed Ewe," and "Chris's Love Ewe." Needless to say, this brought a smile and many laughs to our drivers, as well as to the other rally drivers enjoying the prank!
The comradery between drivers needs a shout out. When you're spending this much time together, driver and navigator naturally bond, and the fact that the Bodacious Racing team has shared years of friendship helps them communicate better and enjoy the rally experiences more. Friendships have grown with other rally drivers as well. Our team was met by Brian Head and his wife, who took some great pictures of the cars exiting the ferry in Picton. Brian drove the Peking to Paris Rally last year, and decided since he was in New Zealand, he should pop in to see the rally participants! They had fun reconnecting and filling Brian in on their New Zealand adventures so far. Meeting so many interesting people who share your interest in vintage cars is part of the fun of rally driving.
The drive through the Waiau River valley and through the Lewis Pass provided gorgeous scenery and interesting roads. The time trials continue to challenge, with gravel roads and lots of surprises, including an abrupt finish at the top of a hill! The swerves and hills make for a mystery route, where our drivers need to be prepared for anything, while staying on top of their speed. At the beginning of one road there was a sign warning for "4-wheel vehicles only", but despite the fact that none of the rally cars have 4-wheel drive, it was full speed ahead!
Jim and Tim had their Monet distance tracker - vital for following the route book - fail during one section today. Tim reports he just focused on driving the car while Jim cursed the instrument and reset all sorts of buttons - but he got it working again!
The drive today included several river crossings, which is always a challenge. Entering water that is moving past, not knowing how deep it is, judging the right entry and exit points, all place certain demand on a driver. But water crossings can be a lot of fun when done well, and Jeff and Chris, and Tim and Jim, were quite successful each time.
Driving a rally with no drama is sort of a new experience for our Bodacious Racing drivers! Jeff reports it's a real pleasure to just check the tires, tighten a few bolts and clean the windscreens - then retire for the evening! Not worrying about broken parts or malfunctioning engines is a gift after some of their previous rally experiences.
The finish today was at the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum-an odd combination, and one our team chose to not explore in detail.
Tomorrow holds the longest ride of the rally, 471 km to Hokitika. There will probably be sheep!
February 26th, 2020
Blenheim to Hanman Springs
After a virtual rest day, with the most challenging part of the course driving their cars on, then off, the InterIslander Ferry, our Bodacious Racing team hit the road today for their first real glimpse of New Zealand's South Island.
Despite the course being rerouted, due to fears of the cars sparking fires during this unusually dry summer, they still had some challenges to their skills.
This is wine country, with vineyards stretching out in the distance, sunshine glancing off car hoods, and dips and bumps in the mostly gravel roads. They keep comparing the drive to the Pacific Coast; first the rain forests of Washington and Oregon; then the flat sunlight of Southern California; then the lush vineyards of Northern California.
With one regularity being canceled, there were still two held to ramp up the competition. Tim and Jim, in Car #25, were only 2 seconds late on the first; and on the second they received the prized zero! Seems like they are really getting the hang of the necessary computations and coordination to hit the mark so successfully.
We are not sure how Jeff and Chris did in Car #28; Jeff told us the time trials were all canceled. It seems they just weren't as memorable to him as Tim's and Jim's were to them!
Jeff did report it was an absolutely gorgeous day, with the pictures sent by all four of the guys bearing witness to that. The cars are operating well, though the gravel roads are definitely a challenge to the tire treads. They're discussing if they want to source and install new tires at some point, but so far they are confident the spares will compensate.
A stop at a crawfish shack - known as rock lobster in New Zealand - provided a great photo opportunity, and drew comparisons to the Rhode Island "Big Blue Bug" along I-95. We all would rather enjoy the crawfish!
Jim showed up at dinner in his own tribute to the crawfish - a bright orangey-red shirt. They all began calling him "Crawfish Jim", much to the entertainment of other rally drivers!
Photos today are a grouping from yesterday as well as today. Of particular interest to Gaye, Jan, Beth and Peg are the docking of the ferry and the train tracks along the shoreline. At the end of next week, the ladies will all be traveling that route, by ferry and then by train, to meet up with our drivers in Christchurch.
Tomorrow the rally route takes Car #25 and #28 to Nelson. Word has it that Jeff and Chris have spotted an island for sale off the coast there. Will there be a meet-up with a real estate agent?
Today was a pleasant and relaxed day. Not needing to get in the ferry transport line until 11:30 AM allowed everyone a bit of a sleep-in, or at least a leisurely breakfast and pack. Chris took advantage of the extra time to swap out the tires on Car #28, putting the front tires on the back, and the back on the front. This will ensure more even wear; the gravel roads have worn down the front tires considerably. The next swap will be to install the spare tires, and use the most worn tires for the spares.
It was a spectacularly beautiful day in Wellington, and perfect for crossing the Cook Strait, with very little wind. Lining up with the other rally cars, as well as regular vehicles, including tour buses, caravans, and the odd sheep trailer or two, our team was able to get out of the cars and take some scenic photos and video.
The InterIslander Ferry runs several times a day between Wellington and Picton, providing an important link to the two main islands of New Zealand. With a car deck and several lounges, it's a comfortable ride across this body of water.
Once loaded, however, our drivers found they would not be taking off anytime soon! The bathrooms weren't working, and without functioning toilets, they couldn't take off. When it was clarified that there were working toilets were in the "premium" section, the ferry was cleared for departure, and the 3.5 hour trip began.
While Jeff settled in the lounge with his book, Chris, Jim and Tim walked the ship. Views were spectacular from all vantage points, but they finally settled on the front deck. They did a great job of sending us some beautiful pictures!
By the time the ferry entered the channel to Picton, the team reports that the sheep trailers were smelling a bit ripe! That is just part of the ferry crossing, however - and those sheep are everywhere!
With fewer than 10 miles to drive to the hotel, once they drove the cars off the ferry there wasn't much driving to enjoy. Blenheim is the center of the Marlborough wine region, the area that first brought New Zealand winemaking to the international stage back in the 80s. We can't be sure if they will enjoy any of that wine region experience tomorrow, but certainly a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc will be on hand tonight!
Tomorrow, a circuitous route will take them from Blenheim to Hanmon Springs.
February 24th, 2020
Palmerston North to Wellington
With no air conditioning in the rally hotel for the second straight night, our Bodacious Racing team gathered for breakfast grumpy from lack of sleep. The temperatures have been quite high, and keeping windows open when you're in the middle of town with the resultant street noise was not a good recipe for sleep! With no window screens, the mosquitoes are all but invited to buzz in and feast while you toss and turn. Fortunately, Wellington will offer accommodations that include air conditioning.
Once on the road, things brightened up considerably. Traveling on mountain roads through some of New Zealand's wine country lifted spirits. Lush pine forests often surrounded the route. The cars continue to perform well, and have become quite popular on the rally. You can see multiple pictures on the Endurance Rally website, and an interview with Jeff about Car #28 can be viewed in the embedded video within today's post.
The first time trial of the day turned into a navigational disaster for Chris and Jeff. They found themselves coming into a checkpoint from the wrong direction, and then they made it worse in trying to right themselves. The marshal was gesturing for them to turn around, but they misunderstood and shot off down the road. Chris was struggling to follow the route book instructions, but was dismayed when he saw they were supposed to be on a gravel road-and they weren't! At these speeds, you cover a lot of distance very quickly, so with the book stating they would cross a bridge in 5 km, they sped on. In 10 km, once there had still been no bridge - uh oh! They spun around back in the direction they had come from, "hauling ass," as Jeff describes, back to the checkpoint. With no traffic, they were able to approach 140 km/hr, but they barely made it back to the finish before the course was packed up. Obviously this resulted in a big time penalty, and forced Car #28 out of the top ten.
Tim and Jim managed the trial with no issues whatsoever, successfully following the tricky navigational directions, and moved up in the rally standings ahead of Jeff and Chris. And, of course, they are not pushing that fact at all!
During the next stop at a country store, Jeff and Chris learned that numerous experienced rally drivers and navigators had the same experience of getting turned around at the same spot. The directions are written in such a way as to make it difficult for them to be followed, and comparing notes on how their misadventure happened made for lively conversation.
Spirits weren't dampened, however, and after another stretch of competitive driving, the last stop of the day was at a winery where they could sample the local pinot noir and enjoy a well-prepared lunch. Jeff says he was wary of having more than a small glass of wine, with driving into the city still ahead, but Tim, Jim and Chris had no trouble finishing off the bottle. Jim stretched out on the hood of Car #25 to enjoy the beautiful day and his fine glass of wine.
Back on the road, Jeff and Chris pulled into a gas station to fuel up. A police car pulled in after them, making Jeff glad he hadn't had more wine! The police were friendly, however, but as they drove away, Chris told Jeff he was glad they hadn't used a breathalyzer on the navigator!
Wellington is a lovely city, with beautiful harbors, interesting architecture, and many great restaurants. Jim was able to catch sight of locals out in Maori-style canoes-waka-paddling in the late afternoon sunlight. Wellington is known for its wind, which definitely put on a show for our rally drivers. They are staying at a high-end hotel, with good air conditioning, so sleep won't be prevented by the heat tonight, their last night on the North Island.
Tomorrow will mostly consist of driving briefly to the harbor, boarding the Cook Strait Ferry for a 3.5 hour ride, and enjoying the view! Tomorrow night they will be on the South Island, in Blenheim.
Waking up at a hotel surrounded by volcanoes, including Mount Ngaurohoe (better known to Lord of the Rings movie fans as Mount Doom), was a little anticlimactic, since the clouds continued to hide the natural beauty of the area. The heat continues to sear our drivers, despite the altitude, and without air conditioning in the hotel, sleeping was a challenge.
But up on time, and ready for the start, our drivers found a hairy spider weaving a web on a truck parked next to Car #28. There are 3 poisonous species of spiders in New Zealand, and while they won't kill you, a bite might make you plenty sick. Fortunately, Jeff just took a picture of the big guy, rather than try to pick it up to threaten his friends!
Jim is recovering well from his cold, and he and Tim stopped at the pharmacy to replenish their vitamin C and cough drop supplies, just in case.
The day continued cloudy for the most part, but climbing in altitude brought some welcome cooler temperatures. The extreme heat this summer has stressed a lot of plants in the mountains, causing many roadway trees to lose their leaves, creating a semblance of fall, which is officially still a month away.
During a time trial, Chris and Jeff forgot to hit the trip meter, leaving them unable to accurately time their run. But they report they don't really care; driving it is what's fun, with the timing being quite secondary!
Tim and Jim still haven't figured out their 32 second early penalty; they think it probably is 3.2 seconds, but again, does it really matter? They are more interested in the drive.
Car #25 was challenged by more sheep today. They came around a curve in a gravel road to find three sheep on the side of the road. They had somehow broken through their pasture fence. Tim reports "Instead of sitting there and watching us go by, the sheep decided to get into the road and run away from us. I had to slow the car down rapidly as Jim was yelling at me to not chase the sheep. I was yelling back "I am not chasing the f***ing sheep!" So we slowly roll down the hill and the sheep keep running in front of us. They would go around the next curve where we couldn't see them and I would slowly bring the car around the curve and there they would be, staring at us. Then they would turn around and start running down the road again. Jim and I were laughing our asses off because the sheep were too stupid to move to the side of the road and let us go by. Then we started to worry they would run themselves to death because they had already run for at least 2 kilometers. Finally, there was a wide spot in the road and the idiot sheep moved to the side - and we got by them." It seems that those sheep like the looks of our Bodacious Racing team!
Passing through Taihape, "The Gumboot Capital of New Zealand," Chris was able to get a photo of the giant gumboot sculpture, made of corrugated iron. This town hosts a gumboot tossing contest every year as part of its festival celebrating the practical footwear.
Jeff reports the town of Palmerston North looks like a prosperous place, but once again the rally found they had booked into a hotel without air conditioning. While the temperatures earlier in the day had cooled a bit, Palmerston North was baking in the sun, making the rooms unbearably hot. Jeff hoped the fan in his room would help cool things down before bedtime.
Meanwhile, gathering for their traditional daily beer gave Tim a chance to take some photos of Jeff. Being Jeff, of course, most are not fit for publication - even for the friendly readers of this blog!
There are some great pictures of Car #25 and #28 on the Endurance Rally website, their Facebook page, and an interesting video on YouTube. Check them out!
Tomorrow the New Zealand Classic will continue on to the capital city of Wellington, and the last night on the North Island.
February 22nd, 2020
Taupo to Whakapapa
The day dawned cloudy, with threatening skies. But somewhat refreshed by a day off from driving, clean(ish) clothes, and good company, our Bodacious Racing team loaded up in Cars #25 and #28. John and Pauline Loader were on hand to see the guys off, and sent in a great video of each car starting the day's 404 km drive. They've reported there were no sheep packed in Chris's trunk!
It wasn't long before the rain began, and once it started, it continued on and off all day. The drivers have learned not to mind the precipitation, however, as it does help keep the dust down on the gravel roads.
The team was once again struck by the spectacular landscapes. Jeff reports very odd-looking mountains, formed by layer upon layer of volcanic ash. Again, they were reminded of how much of New Zealand is dedicated to agriculture. Sheep, large dairy and beef cattle herds, fields of grass, lavender, oats and flax; all were part of the scenery as the rally cars zipped past. Jeff, the beef cattle rancher, reports that he saw some good-looking cows, glossy and well-fed!
Lunch included vegetable sandwiches and meat pies at a stop in Whangamomona on Highway 43. This stretch of state highway has been named one of the 10 worst roads in New Zealand by the highway police, mostly due to the unpaved sections and high accident count. Rally drivers love this kind of road, however, and compared notes of risky driving over lunch.
Highway 43 also took our drivers through the Moki Tunnel, nicknamed the "Hobbit's Hole." This dark, narrow, low-ceilinged tunnel brought back memories of the coal truck tunnels in China during the Peking to Paris Rally. Fortunately there were no coal trucks to spar with here. Seeing the literal light at the end of the tunnel, and exiting to the lush, green landscape were welcome experiences!
There were three regularities driven, and two of them were quite short distances. On one, Tim and Jim were hit with a 32-second early penalty. They are protesting, since it was impossible to drive that distance in so little time. The other drivers were teasing Tim about how he must be a world rally championship driver to finish so quickly! Something must be have been off on the steward's timing of Car #25.
Our team timed their day's finishes well. They all arrived in the hotel lobby just as the skies opened wide to pour rain on those competitors still finishing up with their cars in the car park. Those cars sufficiently closed up before the deluge enjoyed a natural shower, cleaning up some of the dust collected during the long day's drive. But for the open cars that were caught in it, an additional clean-up will be required before their drivers can comfortably embark on tomorrow's drive.
Jeff reports three cars have retired from competition. All the drivers, however, are continuing, in rental cars, or newly purchased ones! One team found the rental cost of driving a car all the way down to Christchurch and returning it there was too pricey. Instead, they went to a used car lot, bought a car, and plan to sell it at the end of the rally! That's one way to stay in the fun!
The Escorts are attracting a lot of attention from the locals, being popular cars in New Zealand rally history. Jeff did a video interview today about the cars, but it has yet to surface any place we can find it! If we can track it down, we'll be sure to post a link to it here.
The rally route continues to meander its way south tomorrow, to Palmerston North.
The team has welcomed a rest day! After the physical and mental challenges of intense concentration while driving in steep mountain terrain and on serious race courses, the Bodacious Racing team took advantage of the day in Taupo to recharge for the next nine days of endurance rally driving before their next break.
Laundry was a key issue; being comfortable in your clothing takes on a major importance when you need to be so tightly focused. With the hotel telling rally guests they couldn't guarantee that laundry sent out on their arrival night would be back by the 8 AM departure, our team decided they would take matters in to their own hands. Jeff dumped his dirty clothes into the shower, then climbed in with them, giving both himself and his dusty shirts, socks and underwear a thorough washing with hotel shampoo. After rinsing things and wringing them out, he hung it all to dry on his balcony. Maybe not the most attractive for the other guests, but Jeff didn't care!
Tim and Jim had a similar approach, but in typical Jim fashion, once his clothes were dry, he pulled out the room's ironing board and iron. Even on the road, Jim wants his clothes neat and tidy!
Tim was tempted to take a picture of Jim ironing... but with Jim in his "jammies", Tim felt it wouldn't be right to post such an interesting picture on this blog. They praised the high-tech fabrics they had chosen to wear, which wash well by hand, and dry quickly.
And Chris? Well, it is possible he gave his laundry to his Mum...
Chris has re-familiarized himself with one of his favorite childhood candies, Pineapple Lumps. This is not a product that is widely exported - and they're pretty good! It's something else for the support team, heading down there in 2 weeks, to look forward to.
The day was spent mostly in rest and recovery. Jeff saw Jim at breakfast, who said he planned to go back to his room and work on getting healthy. Jeff had scheduled several phone meetings back with people in the States, and Tim and Chris caught up with email. Tim provided a few more pictures from yesterday, when he staged Jim next to the "other McLaren" sign at the race track they drove, shot Chris suppressing laughter while being photographed, and posed the beloved "Candie" in a bucolic setting.
They also went over both cars, tightened loose bits, repaired tires, examined the fuel tanks, cleared out trash, and cleaned things up - not that Car #25 needed it, with Tim and Jim washing every bit of dust off at each opportunity!
Dinner for the team included Chris's folks, as well as his godparents, who came to the hotel to meet up with everyone. Chris has been commenting throughout the rally on how much more he appreciates the natural beauty of the country since he left 30-some years ago. Hearing stories of the changes of those past years from people who have been living there was interesting, and they learned of issues created by population growth and increasing diversity that parallel those of the U.S. and Europe.
Jeff is kicking himself for missing a nice photo opportunity, saying he should have asked the server to take a picture of the dinner group. But he made up for it a bit, by taking a picture of Chris's Mum Pauline, standing next to Tim in Car #25.
Our team will be on the road again, with their clean laundry packed away, on Saturday. It will be another 400 km day, to Whakapapa and Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand's largest ski resort.
February 20th, 2020
Gisborne to Taupo
With memories of yesterday's harrowing drive in everyone's mind, the Bodacious Racing team started out prepared for another demanding day. And they got it! The packaged breakfast might have left something to be desired (choice of honey nut peanut butter or vegemite on a slice of white bread), but at least it provided fuel for the challenges ahead. With Car #25 (Candie) freshly washed, it was back on to the dusty road!
The team tells us that 75% of the day was spent on more winding gravel roads. In many places, more switchbacks would be welcome; the customary road building technique seems to be to just climb up, and then head down! Tim reports he's developed a blister on one finger from hanging on to the steering wheel so tightly to keep control of the car on the road! That's a testimony to the intensity of the driving focus, for sure.
Jim is definitely fighting a cold, and Tim unloaded Vitamin C and throat lozenges from his pack to help out his navigator. They revealed, however, that they've been sharing a water bottle, so Tim might be experiencing his own cold symptoms soon!
All of the drivers are having a great time; they love driving the Escorts, saying they are just so much fun! They accelerate rapidly, hug the turns, and are easy to steer and brake. These right-hand drive cars were purchased and rebuilt specifically for this rally, and they all say how pleased they are with how they are performing. Driving on these demanding roads is much more enjoyable in a car that is perfectly designed for them.
However, Chris and Jeff are finding that not having race seats in the cars can make the quick race track turns a little uncomfortable. Going into a turn at 80 mph means Chris gets bounced around in the navigator's seat, struggling to hold on and still keep time. On the track, Jeff was going so fast he missed the turn marked by orange traffic cones. Getting the car sorted out and back on track was not easy or time-efficient, and he says he should have been listening to his navigator! Chris would echo that...
Jim and Tim experienced a flat tire during their drive on the gravel roads, but fortunately it wasn't a dramatic blow-out. A quick tire change had them on their way in no time.
Lunch at the Gaiety Cinema and Café was uninspiring, but they did get a kick out of the happy name!
During a time trial, Chris and Jeff completed the first half in exactly the time allotted - perfect timing, driving, and navigating. However, in the second half, they were hit with the maximum time penalty, through no fault of their own - besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As they came around a corner, they were halted by herders on horseback, moving sheep from one pasture to another. And when sheep are moved in New Zealand, we're talking a lot of sheep - thousands of them! There was no choice but to sit and enjoy the view… and try not to calculate how the ticking clock would result in a serious time penalty!
Eventually the herd was successfully moved, with fencing efficiently keeping the sheep from milling on the road. The sheep-watching experience brought a return of sheep jokes directed at native New Zealander Chris, with a warning to not tell Beth that Chris might be finding a new girlfriend in the flock!
Tim and Jim had their own heart-stopping experience while driving on the narrow, winding road. Ahead of them on the same road, Tim spotted a roller-truck working on the roadway. Knowing he didn't want to get stuck behind it, Tim carefully judged the width of the truck. Did he have enough space to go around it? Deciding that he did, he warned Jim "Close your eyes!" and sped up, quickly leaving the truck in the dust behind them! Nerves of steel, for sure!
Getting to Taupo was welcome after two days of exhilarating but exhausting driving. Knowing they have a rest day on Friday, everyone was able to relax. They had planned to send their laundry out here, but were warned by the hotel it might not be back in time for them to leave Saturday morning. This will be a challenge, since they all are tired of being dusty and were looking forward to clean clothes. Chris joked he would just give his laundry to his mother, who was coming with other family members to the hotel to meet him for dinner. They'll figure it out!
Jim headed to bed early to work on his recovery, and Jeff wasn't far behind him. Friday will allow everyone to check in with home, enjoy the spectacular scenery of Lake Taupo and the surrounding ancient volcanic landscape, and follow-up with car repairs, rest, and replenishment for both cars and people.
The day dawned as another hot one, in this New Zealand summer. A misty rain helped keep the dust down, however, which was a help as our Bodacious Racing team embarked on a challenging day's drive.
This rally has been marked with frequent timed regularities - at least 3 a day. Today they were faced with 4 of them, on the most challenging route yet. The drive through rain forest and mountains included 60 kilometers or so on the Motu Road gorge, widely regarded as the toughest, most challenging road in world rallying.
Jeff reports it was definitely a drive for the stout-stomached and non-acrophobic! Twisting, winding roads, straight up climbs and straight run descents, sheer drop-offs, and steams to be forded challenged our drivers. At one point, speeding on a road with a 1000-foot drop on the left side of the car, Chris admonished Jeff, "Whatever you do, stay on the road!" Some drivers got carsick, needing to pull over on the preciously narrow shoulder to recover. Everyone was grateful they encountered no oncoming traffic, since the road was scarcely wide enough in places for one-way traffic. Mud formed in some areas, edges of the road washed away in others; they definitely needed to stay focused. Take a look at the nearby YouTube footage from 2015, to see what some of what our drivers are experiencing.
Chris, however, was able to take some scenic pictures as they climbed and descended; with only one option of direction, his skill at navigating wasn't in constant demand. And Tim sent a shot of a strangely mysterious "Tea Party" set up in the jungle - go figure!
Lunch was at a restaurant/shop "in the middle of nowhere," according to Jeff. The restaurant efficiently served 60-some drivers and support crew, and our drivers ate steak and cheese pie. Desserts were ordered, too, with Jeff and Chris going local by ordering a raspberry Lamington and a cream donut. Jeff had not so complimentary things to say about the Lamington (something about tasting the way he imagined a urinal cake to taste!), but Tim gobbled it up, saying it wasn't bad at all!
Some rally drivers had speed/distance calculators confiscated by the rally committee. With all the regularities/time trials in this rally, the New Zealand Classic organizers had made this technology illegal, as they wanted drivers and navigators to rely on manual calculations. Knowing this, our drivers did not install such equipment in the Escorts, but some other drivers hoped to be able to use them. A level playing field, in this area anyway, has been restored.
After driving past multiple fields of grapevines, our drivers gratefully pulled into the car park at the hotel. Still beastly hot, they snagged a seat directly under an air conditioning vent, to relax after a demanding rally day and enjoy a good, icy drink. They report, however, that the walk to the rally dinner restaurant was about a mile away, and included a rocky railroad bridge. Navigating that in the dark was no fun, especially with Jeff still recovering from his foot surgery, but at least the food was good!
While the fuel leaks have not been repaired, Cars #25 and #28 managed to keep things under control by not topping off their tanks upon fill-up. Friday is the rest day in Taupo, and they have a plan to seal the vent holes with makeshift check valves. They may also replace the lug wrench Chris managed to twist nearly to its breaking point in muscling lug nuts the other day!
The rally heads to Taupo tomorrow. With Jim feeling a little under the weather Wednesday evening, it will be good for him to get a bit of rest. Thursday, while short in distance, promises to offer up its own challenges, as the rally heads back inland.
February 18th, 2020
Auckland to Rotorua
Fighting through Auckland morning traffic to get free of the city, Cars #25 and #28 began their day heading southeast into the lush countryside. They are really getting a sense of the country; with a land mass similar in size to the state of Colorado (and with about a million fewer people), distance is covered each day in a most circuitous manner!
The destination today was Rotorua, a well-known geothermal area considered sacred to the Maori people. About two and half hours on the direct route from Auckland, the rally route took closer to seven hours, with twisting roads both paved and not, and the sights of Peter Jackson's filming of The Lord of the Rings all about.
A fuel stop by Car #28 in the morning resulted in a discovery. With only 5 minutes to get to a time trial 5 kilometers away, Chris pumped petrol, then ran inside to pay, while Jeff got the car started up. Suddenly, there was a knock on Jeff's window. A service attendant was standing there with a screw gun in his hand. "Mate, you've got a screw in your tire," he said. Sure enough, Chris and Jeff looked and there was a screw in their tire. They both had the same thought: Was it there when they pulled in? Or was the screw gun in the attendant's hand for a reason? At any rate, the attendant cheerfully removed the screw from the sidewall of the tire, and immediately they all heard a hissing sound. "Quick - put it back!" said Chris. With the screw reseated, Car #28 hurried off to the time trial.
Of course, they couldn't ignore the issue, so once at the time trial location, they prepared to change the tire. Chris pulled out the lug wrench, but the lug nuts were so tightly seated he had trouble loosening them. Finally, with some serious torqueing of the wrench, he managed to loosen them, got the car jacked up, then quickly change the tire. Jeff reports that while Chris was seriously frustrated with the lug nuts being so tight, it only took 5 minutes start to finish to change the tire. Not bad timing at all. With one of the spare tires in place (they have two of them), they replaced the seriously twisted tire iron and the damaged tire in the trunk, and took off on the time trial - late, but successful.
One of the stops for the day was at Bridal Veil Falls, a plunge waterfall along the Pakoko River in the Waikato region in the Waereinga Scenic Reserve. Getting their book signed was good enough for Chris and Jeff, but Tim and Jim took advantage of the opportunity to do a little sight-seeing. They hiked the mile or so to the falls, and enjoyed the lush tree canopy (of Tawa trees, another New Zealand native species) and the sights and sounds of the spectacular 180-foot waterfall, landing in a deep pool carved by the water pressure. The explanatory signs and the unfettered setting point up a real difference between natural wonders in the United States and those in New Zealand. The US puts up guard rails, blocks to viewing, and serious warnings about no close access allowed. New Zealand merely displays the view, and states that there is a large rock in the middle of the pool... leaving visitors to draw their own conclusions about the advisability of diving!
The lunch stop, another civilized affair, was at a blueberry farm. The Mamuka Blue Blueberry Café served a variety of options for lunch, most with blueberries. Jeff had a very tasty looking Thai chicken salad with blueberries, and Chris had the pork belly - also with blueberries! Seeing the blueberry bushes and farm equipment was a nice counterpoint to the start of the day in city traffic. This is quite an establishment, with a museum, tours of the fields, and a retail shop. And who doesn't like blueberries?
It was easy for our drivers to draw parallels between Roturoa and Yellowstone National Park in the US, with its geothermal springs, geysers and natural beauty. They reported it was quite hot there, and Chris and Jeff took their beers outside after they realized the sheltered bar area at their hotel had a fireplace burning despite the heat!
A larger car concern has developed; both Escorts are leaking fuel. It seems the vent hole in each gas tank has no check valve. Filling the tanks only halfway seems to keep spillage to a minimum, but this is a serious safety and environmental concern. They're brainstorming how to remedy this, and are sure to be spending some time Friday on their rest day forging a solution.
Meanwhile, Chris was able to get the screw hole plugged in Car #28's damaged tire, so they are back to their 2 spares. That's a safety precaution they are happy to be able to take.
Tomorrow, on to Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand!
It wasn't easy to leave the beauty of the Bay of Islands behind, knowing that the day would end in the metropolis and resultant traffic of Auckland. But with open roads, beautiful scenery and interesting regularity challenges (including an opportunity to drive on part of the Waipu Caves stage of the World Rally Championship course), the third day of the New Zealand Classic found our Bodacious Racing team enjoying the drive back down the coast to the most populous city in the country.
A new tweak to the time trial experience was added as well. Each car was given an "allocated start." This means they were assigned a specific time to start their time trial, and they needed to start on their own. There was no marshall giving the countdown and go. This is the first rally Tim, Jim, Chris and Jeff have driven where their cars are near each other in starting order. But with the '71 Escort car #25, and the '72 Escort car #28, Tim and Jim are given a slightly earlier start time than Chris and Jeff.
Chris and Jeff were at the start line, with Chris, as navigator, counting down for their assigned time, when they saw Jim and Tim pull up behind them. Confused about the times, knowing Tim and Jim had an earlier start, Jeff and Chris waited for Car #25 to pull in front of them. But they didn't. So a few seconds after their start time, Chris told Jeff he needed to GO! Their start alerted Jim and Tim that something in their timing was off, so they took off, too, then overtook Car #28. Clouds of dust on the road didn't help the confusion, and when Jeff and Chris stopped to get their book signed at the midway point, they asked the marshall to clarify. He advised them to run their best time - and overtake Car #25 if needed. So they did! Leaving Car #25 literally in the dust, they got to their finish, but not in the timely fashion they had planned.
Jim, as Car #25's navigator, kicked himself for getting the start time wrong, but you can be sure he'll be razor-focused next time there is an allocated start! And talking the experience over helped all our drivers understand the proper way to drive this kind of time trial.
Coming in to Auckland, Jeff reports there were two options: drive straight to go into downtown, or veer right back onto the highway. Jeff never even saw the straight road into Auckland; he veered right, despite Chris's directions from the route book, then needed to lose 15 or 20 minutes in stop-and-go traffic to get off the highway, and head in the correct direction.
Auckland is based around 2 large harbors, and they are filled with yachts and boats of all sizes. Iconic sailboats are on view, and for those with a deep history of yacht racing like our Bodacious Racing team, the harbor is always entertaining and inspiring. Auckland Domain, a major city park, wraps around an extinct volcano, and is a great place to learn about the flora unique to New Zealand. It is a lovely city, but there's no time for sight-seeing during a rally! All they care about is how difficult it is to follow a rally route with all the regular traffic a city entails.
After officially finishing at the hotel, Chris and Jeff had a post-drive beer, waiting for Tim and Jim. They came in eager to drop their gear in their room, sluice off some road dust, and join their friends. Chris met up with his sister Karen, her husband Dino, and their daughters, for dinner, conversation, and the catching up that is always easier to do in person than over the phone. Chris's mother, Pauline, reports that all their friends and neighbors are following the rally reports and this blog, and they are looking forward to meeting up with the rally drivers at different points over the next month. So Chris is enjoying a little home town advantage in his birth country!
Tomorrow (Tuesday) finds the rally leaving the northern loop of the North Island, and tackling their longest drive yet, heading to Rotorua, with its rich Maori history, and geothermal springs.
February 16th, 2020
Whangerei to Russell
The Bodacious Racing team members settled into routine on the second day of the rally. Time trials are proving computationally challenging to Car #28. The charts provided have calculated distance times speed to produce a sum of time. Cars are rated by how much faster or how much slower they perform from that calculated time. Jeff and Chris figured out, however, that since Jeff clips all the corners on a track or regularity, they are actually driving a shorter distance than given in the chart. They were consistently early at each finish-and were penalized accordingly. Monday, their 3rd day driving, they will attempt to figure out how to be "late" based on the distance covered, and hopefully end up on time!
There's a story we have yet to track down. Tim and Jim have named their 1971 Escort, Car #25, "Candie." Something about it being a sweet car... but there may be something else in there. So all the pictures Tim and Jim are sending have captions: "Jim and Candie" or "Candie in the Shade." Intriguing hints of someone's fantasy life? It makes us laugh, though!
Saturday afternoon took the rally drivers to the northern end of the North Island. They report that the countryside reminded them of Scotland - except for the unusual flora. As an isolated island country, flora and fauna developed independently on the islands, creating a curious environment to those used to North American or European plants and animals. Pictures of a large Puriri tree, with its thick trunk and various plants growing off of it (epiphytes) have been sent in by all of our drivers. The leaves of this large shade tree were boiled down by the native Maori into a paste used to heal cuts and bruises. Norfolk Island Pines, which have become a popular house plant in the northern hemisphere, are native to New Zealand, and provide their whimsical profile to many a view.
With the exception of a malfunctioning brake light on Car #28, the day passed with no major issues for Bodacious Racing. The start was held up temporarily, however, when one of the cars starting before Cars #25 and #28 didn't fire up. A quick visit by the sweeps, however, and they were good to go, and the rally was back on schedule.
The rally ended back in the Bay of Islands, with cars boarding a ferry boat to Russell. This area is known as the birthplace of Aotearoa (founded by the aboriginal Maori) and New Zealand (founded by Europeans). In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, considered the founding document of modern New Zealand, was signed here by representatives of the British Crown and Maori Chiefs.
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel, where our drivers finished for the day, has a sign posted stating "Refreshing Rascals and Reprobates since 1827." Chris reports that when he lived in Auckland, and was doing a fair amount of ocean sailboat racing there, a popular yacht race finished in Russell, and the hotel had quite a reputation for drunken sailors! Our drivers, all of whom have a history of yacht racing, including the Chicago to Mackinac race on Lake Michigan, saw parallels to Mackinac Island's Pink Pony!
After finding out the brake light problem was merely a loose wire, and quickly repaired, it was beer time! Tomorrow (Monday) will find our rally team heading back to Auckland, leaving the scenic beauty of beaches and rain forests behind, for the traffic of the largest city in New Zealand.
Today was the start of a new rally, and the start of a new day. It was the first extended time driving in the newly built cars, and the first time in a while driving a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road. The guys are exploring a country two of our drivers are visiting for the first time, and going places even the two drivers more familiar with the country have never been. The New Zealand Classic Endurance Road Rally has begun for our Bodacious Racing team and their 60 or so fellow competitors!
The first day in an endurance road rally is always planned to be a fairly easy challenge. Jeff said the actual highway distance between start and finish would be about an hour and a half, but following the route laid out in the route book had them driving for about 8 hours!
The rally kicked off with a ceremony at the starting arch, with Maori performers inspiring the competitors with traditional song and dance. Once clear of Auckland and its suburbs, the open road, with few other cars about, allowed our drivers to relax into the routine of driver and navigator, while enjoying the sights of the New Zealand countryside.
The first stop was at the New Zealand Sheep & Wool Centre, for a welcome break and cup of coffee. For each New Zealand resident, there are about 5.5 sheep - and that number is drastically down from the 20 to 1 ratio of the early 80's, when there were more sheep, and fewer people! But sheep remain important to the New Zealand economy, and this center explored that importance. Of course, with Chris having taken years of grief from American friends about Kiwis' "closeness" with sheep, he jumped out in front of the jokes by calling this rally stop "a New Zealand peep show"!
Back on the road, with a few challenging twists and turns, Tim and Jim had an unwelcome surprise. The fifth gear in Car #25 stopped engaging! While this won't be an issue most of the time on the rally, it will be a frustration when they need to go at speed. Unfortunately there isn't a quick fix for this, and while Tim emailed Gary and Simon at RPS, who built the cars, he knows there is nothing that can be done short of replacing the transmission. We'll see how much of a frustration this becomes for Tim and Jim.
After a stop for what Jeff reports was a "civilized" lunch (often a rally lunch is a quick grab of nourishment, rather than a sit-down-and-enjoy affair), the rest of the first rally day was driven through smoothly, ending mid-afternoon at the hotel. The organizers of the rally warned this night's hotel was rather basic, and dinner was planned at a nearby marina.
There wasn't much work needed to be done on the cars besides the usual maintenance and organizing procedures, so the drivers enjoyed their beer time and relaxation. Tomorrow the northern loop from Auckland and back continues with a drive to Russell.
February 14th, 2020
Imagine this: You pick up your carefully prepared rally car, a 1972, right-hand drive Ford Escort, specifically chosen and rebuilt to compete in the Endurance Rally Association's New Zealand Classic. Your teammates are checking out their car, Car #25, a 1971 Ford Escort. You hop in your cars to drive them from the delivery warehouse to a gas station, then to the rally hotel where the 2020 rally will begin in two days. You are driving Car #28 down the road, behind Car #25. Then, steering wheel comes off in your hands!
So it begins... a reminder of the challenges of endurance rally driving!
Chris, Jeff, Tim, and Jim arrived in Auckland on Tuesday, after nearly 36 hours of travel, from their homes to their airports; on to Dallas; then to Sidney, Australia, then to New Zealand. Most of the readers of this blog know that Chris was born in New Zealand, and his folks still live there. Our team picked up a rental car at the airport, and drove to Pauanui on the Coromandel Peninsula to Pauline and John Loader's house. It's nice to have parents who live on the beach in one of New Zealand's most popular resort communities!
They were able to enjoy Pauline's and John's hospitality and the beautiful sights of blue sky, beautiful shoreline, and a visit to some of Chris's teenage haunts, while recuperating from travel and adapting to the time change.
Thursday morning found them in the rental car heading back to Auckland, to meet up at the rally hotel with the bus that would take them and the other competitors to the warehouse to pick up their rally cars.
This is the point in the rally experience when the show really gets going. Claiming cars, checking how they survived the trip, mixing with the other competitors, many of whom you've driven rallies with before - this all amps up the excitement. Tim could not stop smiling as he took his seat in Car #25, and Jim proudly posed by the car. But with Tim and Jim leading the way, they hadn't driven far when they heard a car honking. Tim looked in his rear-view mirror to see Car #28 pulled to the side of the road, with Chris waving his arm out the window, and Jeff waving the steering wheel!
But, as Jeff says, there are advantages of driving a rally in a developed country like New Zealand. Consulting with the sweeps (the rally mechanics who have saved the day for many a rally car driver), they were able to secure the wheel well enough to get to the hotel. They then decided that since both cars had the same steering set-up, it made sense to replace both wheels. Chris located a car parts shop, and was able to source new steering wheels and hubs to fit each car. After a long afternoon of repairs, the cars were good to go.
Reporting on this rally needs to take in to account the time difference. New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of Eastern time, so it will usually be the next day when we're filing the report for the previous day.
On Friday, February 14th, the day was taken up with administrative details: Officially signing in; collecting the route books and identification cards, as well as regularity time books; Scrutineering to show that each car has the proper and required equipment; and attending the Competitors' Briefing. Meeting up with Chris's sister and her husband, as well as the nieces who have grown up since Chris saw them last, added to the pleasure of being in New Zealand. Chris's family will be checking in at various points along the way as well. Our team members enjoyed dinner, collected the laundry they had sent out immediately upon checking in, and retired to their rooms to pack, and hope to get a little sleep before beginning the 21-day adventure that is the 2020 New Zealand Classic.
Cars #25 and #28 will start a little before 10 AM New Zealand time - which means by the time you all read this, they are on their way to Whangerei!
The team arrived in Auckland last night, and they're resting up from the 36-hour journey at Chris's folk's house in Pauanui, on the beach outside of Auckland. They'll hang out there until Thursday, when there is a rally dinner. They plan to pick up the cars on Friday.
February 9th, 2020
It's rally time again! The Bodacious Racing Team has left for New Zealand. They are scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, February 11th, and the rally begins on Saturday, February 15th. We will begin posting updates here soon!