GASS LEFT FLAT IN ULSTER Darren Gass and Neil Shanks were classified as fourth in Super 1600 on this weekend's Ulster International Rally, but exited the event early on day two with alternator and battery failure. The FIA sanctioned event rules...
GASS LEFT FLAT IN ULSTER
Darren Gass and Neil Shanks were classified as fourth in Super 1600 on this weekend's Ulster International Rally, but exited the event early on day two with alternator and battery failure. The FIA sanctioned event rules mean that if a competitor retires part way through the final leg of the event but can present the car at parc fermé, he is classified as a finisher.
The event had a shaky start for everyone as the first stage was effectively cancelled. The second car on the road crashed blocking the stage, making stage two the start of the rally. "It was a bit of a let down," said Darren, "but at least nobody was hurt and there wasn't much of a delay." The crew had successfully tested the car in the previous week, diagnosing a problem with the flat-shift, a device that allows gear changes without lifting off the accelerator. "We managed to tweak the suspension for the bumps as well," he said, "so I was itching to get out on my local lanes."
The crew set off into stage two but immediately struggled with the pace-notes, Neil admitting that they were not perfect. "It is always difficult to get 'notes right for technical stages when you can only reconnoitre at low speeds, but we managed to amend them on the first run and they should be better second time through." Darren also suffered with a long brake pedal that shook his confidence, so the Crozier mechanics replaced all the brake pads and bled the system at service, resolving the problem for the final pair of stages.
The first of these was a re-run of the cancelled opening stage and the crew's rally continued to be fraught. The intercom became intermittent over the bumps and as darkness drew in, Darren braced himself for the final test. "I've only done a couple of stages in the dark before," he said, "and while the lights are excellent it's still pretty scary out there." Todd's Leap proved tricky for all the front wheel drive cars, Darren and Neil having a "wee moment" when the car bottomed out on landing. They returned to Armagh relieved to have made it through the opening five stages.
Day two dawned very wet with running water down the stages and mud on the road making the first eight mile test treacherous. Darren managed to stay between the hedges but the conditions meant grip levels were very low. "There's no grip coming out of slow corners and the braking areas are a nightmare," exclaimed Darren, "We went for the right tyre but its hideous out there."
The next stage would see an end to their run as the electrical system began to shut down as the alternator failed, flattening the battery. "First we lost the wipers, then the fan and we decided to call it a day before the cooling fan stopped and we cooked the engine." explained Darren back at service. The wisdom of his action was based on Roman Kresta's similar experience the day before; his engine had overheated after losing the alternator belt. After Jim Crozier had waded across a sodden field and fitted a new battery, Darren drove the car back to parc fermé to be classified as a finisher.
"Definitely one to put behind us." said a downhearted Darren in Armagh later, "We are supposed to be running as course opening car on the Plains Rally in three weeks as a pre-Rally Yorkshire test. Obviously there will be no pressure as we won't be timed, so I hope we can make some progress with the gravel set-up now all the tarmac events are over."