The Trans America Challenge 2018
27 May - 17 June 2018
JUNE 13, 2018
Aspen to Park City
Rest days can lull a rally into a false sense of peace and security and today, this proved to be the case. With just under a week to go things seemed to have settled into a pattern and the results were beginning to look almost decided.
This morning then, with the beautiful town of Aspen, and the snowy peaks of the Rockies disappearing in our rear view mirrors we set a course for a new chapter in the route book and, almost straight out of the gate we were into a circuit test at the excellent but possibly not much used, Aspen Motorsports Park.
This was a nadgery little section and it contained a chicane which was judged so crucial to the overall result, that the ERA Rally Director, Fred Gallagher himself was on observation duty here. Under an oversized brim and clutching a clipboard he assiduously recorded any infringements incurred.
Two laps per car were down on the schedule and, after a lot of revving and squealing this short little blast left most of the crews with broad beaming smiles and a sense of a job well done.
It was also good to see Mick and Grace De Haas along with Michael Kershaw and Matthew Smith back in the hunt and lined up with the rest of the rally on the grid after their enforced sojourn in Santa Fe. Mick and Grace gave it all they had around the circuit but sadly, Michael and Matthew finished their day in a hire car as the Mustang’s engine gave up the fight soon after they pulled off the track.
David and Jo Roberts however, knew that they had time to make up in this, the final week of the Rally. So, they pushed their well travelled Triumph hard, and through some of the sharp corners it began to complain, audibly. Thankfully, once the clock had stopped and they’d pulled off into the pits, Andy Inskip and Tony Jones leaped into action and quickly diagnosed that their ‘big end’ had been suffering from oil starvation, brought on by centrifugal force.
The Time Control in the Whistle Pig Cafe in the town of Rifle gave the crews a chance to reflect and relive their track time before the long haul to lunch, in the town the Rangeley, through the vast semi desert of lower Colorado.
We all knew that this was going to be a long day on the road so, after a quick hotdog / burger / ice cream and some time at the petrol pump, the crews climbed back into their cars and pointed themselves towards Utah and the longest regularity of the Rally so far via the town of Altamont, in Duchesne County, where another Time Control had been sited in the Sinclair fuel station.
Having been notified of our impending arrival by the 48 hour car, this small town, with a population of just under 300, had turned out in force to welcome the cars and to mingle with the crews under a heaving canopy of selfie sticks and cowboy hats. With such a reception, the Trans America Challenge felt like it had come home.
Sadly though, we couldn’t stay too long in Altamont as there was one more Regularity to complete off before the days end and, the stunning 35km section through the beautiful Uintas Mountains was the perfect way to end an incredible day although the last time control might be remembered for all the wrong reasons by Manuel and Irene Dubs who overshot and were landed with a hefty penalty which at days end denied them the third place.
Once we’d wrapped up proceedings, we made our way down the hill and booked into the night halt where we tucked into generous, and beautifully prepared, elk steaks in the Marriott Hotel in Park City. Here we learned that at last there has been a change to the top three placings. David and Jo Roberts, who’ve never led an ERA rally before, are now in top spot - some 22 seconds ahead of Jim Gately and Tony Brooks with Mike and Lorna Harrison only one second behind them.
Tony Brooks, whilst disappointed was generous and philosophical at dinner and declared that he and Jim were “determined to keep looking through the windshield not the rear view mirror”. They know that they’re strong in the regularities but less so on the tests so have decided to box clever, keeping their powder dry and the pressure on the Triumph and hoping to force a mistake. Jim’s post match analysis though was slightly more succinct, when he got news of the results he shot back “Aw shit. I hate that track”.
David and Jo Roberts though were rightly delighted with their new status but admitted that it feels a little strange. The oil starvation gave them a fright this morning and as David reflected on what was a great day he knows that in this game you’re “only as good as your last mistake”. Similarly, Jo isn’t in the habit of counting her chickens before they hatch and tonight she says that she will be looking closely at the routebook to time their sprint to the line with as much accuracy as she can.
Finally, before we sign off we must wish Janet Howle many happy returns. It’s her birthday today and this isn’t such a bad place for a party.