Practice for PPIHC starts early in the morning. The teams have to be on the mountain and set up well before first light, and the cars start their runs as soon as the sun wakes up enough to light the road.
For 2012, practice was spread out over three days, and for each day, the teams got to make a few runs on about one-third of the complete course. In order to qualify, the race organizers look at the best sector times from the second day and then stack the field accordingly. So each practice is important from a development standpoint, but the second day is absolutely critical if you want to make it into the race on Sunday (the third day).
On the first morning of practice, we had what we would call “a slight off” in rally terms. The car went off the road a bit and came to a quick stop by hitting a small boulder. Because this happened fairly early on, our car had to be moved to the side of the road while practice continued, and our driver, Scott Crouch, called down to our team members in the pits to let them know what had happened.
However, as we started hearing from people who had seen the car as it was towed down the mountain, the consensus was that our race most likely was over.
But being an experienced rally team, we were not going to let a slight off take us out of contention. We let our determination and optimism take over.
The impact on the right side of the front end had collapsed the frame all the way to the engine and broken the exhaust cam gear. We knew that there was a reasonable chance that our engine was destroyed, on top of all the physical damage.
One of our fellow competitors, Jim Keeney, let us borrow his shop, and our mechanics Briant Szobody and J.D. Dowd set to work. Because most of the components were completely stock, replacement parts were readily available. And because our shops, Flatirons Tuning and Flatirons Subaru, were only a few hours away in Boulder, Colorado, a truckload of parts was already en route.
The first thing that we did was to repair the damaged exhaust cam pulley and get the engine put back together. If the engine was damaged or destroyed, it was going to be a long shot at best for getting the car back up and running.
The rally gods apparently were impressed by our effort, and our car fired up on the first try.
Once we knew that the engine was working, there was no stopping us from getting the car patched up.
Our team worked straight through the night, and we had the car back up on the mountain the next morning, ready to qualify.