Placentia has claimed another victim.
The stage through the oldest continuously-inhabited European community in North America (sorry, St. Augustine Florida) contains some fast corners, some tiny laneways that look like Joe Butler's driveway, the infamous Jack MacDonnell Sea Wall (where said Jack crashed his Datsun 240Z on the next-to-last stage several years ago) and a bailey bridge!
But the toughest corner is a long downhill left-hander that looks for all the world like a banked oval race track. As the car nears the bottom of the "soup bowl", the suspension gets compressed right against the bump stops by centrifugal force, so when it hits the massive pothole at the apex of the corner, the car just bounces into the air because there is no springing left to absorb the bump.
Depending on where you have the front wheels pointed when you depart the earth, and/or where the car lands when it eventually does, you may get lucky and carry on up the hill on the opposite side - as Brian and I did a few years ago. In fact, that might have been the first time I got more than two consecutive words out of him in the car. As I corrected right, caught the rebound and corrected left, then right again to regain control of the car, he just looked up briefly from his pace notes and said, "Nice catch. 90-left in three, two, one…''
A man of few words, our Brian.
Last year, an Austin Healey and a Honda CRX both ended up in the ditch on the outside of this corner.
Two years ago, Ross Karlin and David McIntyre backed their BMW M3 into said ditch. This year, navigator McIntyre had added a little picture to his pace notes at this corner, showing a little car off the road with a big "X'' through it. "DO NOT GO HERE!" was the message.
Somewhat ironic then that Karlin and McIntyre were among the first cars to stop and assist Dyrk Bolger and Terry Milnes, whose lovely old (1963) turquoise Mini had hit the ditch with extreme prejudice. Karlin who heads up the Emergency Medical Services team in his home town in New Jersey immediately set to work to secure the area and tend to the occupants, while McIntyre drove their car on to tell the officials downstream that there had been a serious incident.
Janel and Keith Tanner in their beautiful Mazda Miata had actually been the first car to stop - several others drove on past because they never even saw the little Mini in the ditch, so deeply was it embedded. The Tanners, rookies to rallying let alone to this event, did everything they were supposed to do in a very difficult situation, so congratulations to them.
Brian and I and several other cars stopped too, to help warn on-coming cars of the problem.
Something this serious always means the stage is "scrubbed'' - it won’t count for scoring. The challenge is always to get the news to the start of the stage so the timing marshals won't send any more cars into the fray.
Two ambulances and a fire truck soon arrived. Dyrk had already got out of the car; Terry, wisely, chose to stay in the vehicle until the paramedics arrived to do a safe extraction, which involved slicing off chunks of the car's body to get him out.
By day's end both had been released from hospital, bruised and sore, but not seriously injured.
The car, however, looked pretty much used up. Hence the reference to "four'' above - there are now four Minis remaining, the two new-generation cars of Brian/myself and Doug Mepham/John Solecki, and two 1959 models driven by Richard Patterson/Tony Mattson, and Dave Pledger/Chris Willett.
Dyrk and Terry from the Winnipeg area were rookies last year; they could barely spell "rally". Dyrk had done a lot of vintage racing with the car, and it showed in his fast and very tidy lines through the corners. The team finished first in their class, and third overall in the Classic division, an astonishing result for first-timers.
Of course, you never wish to see anybody crash. But it is especially difficult when it happens to a lovely, well-driven older car like this - containing two of the nicest people you would ever hope to meet.
Another crash saw a Honda CRX go so far into the woods that again, most subsequent competitors, including us, never even saw it. I don't have details of this one as I type, but again, the occupants are OK, the car not so much.
On the positive
side, the weather was largely spectacular - one misty cloud caused a few
windshield wipers to be turned on - and the driving has been terrific.
Tomorrow we drive up to Leading Tickles, just about everybody's favourite stage.
Tune in tomorrow for details on that - and on how Brian and I work together in the car.