Donal Crooke: Tackling a Canadian Icon

December 6, 2012 by Donal Crooke  

Donal Crooke, an ex-Mondello instructor from Dublin, Ireland and Team competed in the “Rally of the Tall Pines” last weekend, the final round of the Canadian rally championship – and the teams first foray into Canadian Gravel rallying. Backed up by another ex-Mondello Instructor, Dave Heavey of Circuit Racing fame – also now living in Canada and getting down and dirty with the Rally guys – and a fine band of Merry men from Kildare and Tipp – the team tackled the most famous Canadian rally of them all. Driving an EK Civic which replaced the Peugeot 205 from the Irish 205 Challenge, the new car is built with all parts shipped from and under the watchful eye of Eoin from Murray Motorsport – the car was built to be tough to survive the challenge that is the Tall Pines Rally.

It was some challenge for man and machine right from the start. The note making on Friday was a long ordeal, we done 1000kms in the recce car just making the notes for the next day from 5.30am until 5pm! We then had a shakedown session Friday night. First time on gravel first time night time rallying, first time with new co-driver, first time switching to North American style notes… and a very tired driver = sticking the car in a ditch 1km into the stage! Disaster! I hadn’t played with the HANS devices which I was using for the first time either, so couldn’t get helmet or HANS off my head – so one was left looking very foolish whilst the car was getting towed out of the ditch by the sweep crew! No damage except dented pride! I think it was a good thing to happen, calmed us down a bit for the next day!

Next day started well, there was a ceremonial start ramp where each car and its sponsors were introduced. Snow fell over night but we went out on the new Gravel tires which were fine, just slippy under braking in some sections. It was amazing to do – there were so many spectators out on the stages! Stage 1 was good, there was a lot of cars off already! Stage 2 was extremely rough (a famous one called ‘The Peanut’). Some of the stages were incredibly rough. Me or the Civic were not a fan. Think trying to drive a car up Croagh Patrick and you’re about there. But the balance of the stages were Canadian Rally Classics, beautiful fast sweeping gravel roads with plenty of jumps and crests – makes co-driving quite a daunting challenge, with each co-driver popping stomach settling tablets at each service!

Stage 3 went really well – we were coming up a bit more on the pace, so things were starting to go really well. The first half of stage four was very rough, some real bad jumps and hard hard landings. The car cut out after a big jump and came to a halt. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so we were there for about 18 minutes on the side of the road. Eventually we spotted the kill switch wire I had hooked up to the distributor had broke – we joined the wires again and we set off again!
We had fun for the rest of the day, getting faster and faster. Still not on the pace of the Fiesta that came first in the class, but for first time on gravel we were happy enough that we were getting closer and closer to their times as the day / night went on.

I gave the Service crew plenty to do – Service intervals were short – and then almost everything was loose coming back in each time! The guys done a great job of it, helped along by a hip flask or two to keep the spirits up in -7 degrees!

Some amazing stages and spectator spots on the famous ‘Iron Bridge’ stage, (said bridge now has a bit of Civic paint on it)… then it was into the night stages. One of which was incredibly rough, the second two were just amazing. This was an incredible experience – we had a lot of expense getting the car ready for the event, but it was worth every penny for these stages. Lamp pod on full blast, flying over the crests, spectators lining the way with bonfires going through the forest – it was an experience I will never forget.

The last stage was a super special, in an arena style area, with a big jump in front of two big grandstands. We did not make notes on this course and came over the big jump flat out (not realizing just how big it was!). Apparently we got the biggest cheer of the night (I hope it got us on the TV!) but we landed right on the nose and done huge damage to the chassis legs which were punched up by the new underbody protection. The belts are now rubbing on the chassis leg, the side skid plate was wrapped around the driveshaft, but we limped back to cross the finish line and finish the Tall Pines 2012!

Only 29 cars finished from the 57 that started – there was some cars going home in a very bad way, so very happy to finish, a little disappointed with all the time lost – I think we could have nabbed third but we got it home and without too much damage!

Very tempted to give the full Ontario Championship a shot next year… a trip to Murray Motorsport is on the cards at Christmas to talk about new suspension to handle the Canadian jumps a little better.
A big thanks to Murray Motorsport for their help and advice in building the car, as well as supplying and shipping all the parts. Thanks also to ABR Signs Oldcastle for all the Graphics and Design work, and Galway Carbon as well as our Canadian Sponsors, Rosemount Sales & Marketing and Cambridge Centre Honda

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