And it was almost the end of our rally.
We were doing the famed Cethana (“seth-ANNA”) stage of this five-day rally, a mighty 37 kilometre test of car and team, with sharp bends, huge elevation changes, terrifying descents.
They’re for sissies.
Near the end of the stage, Doug Mepham who was driving our Mazda RX-7 twin turbo began to notice huge puffs of smoke as we passed certain corners.
That couldn’t be us, could it?
The car was losing power, not a Good Thing when you’re trying to climb a mountain.
It was also making unpleasant noises, sounding, as Doug put it, “...very second-hand.”
He managed to finesse the car across the line, with more smoke belching out of our massive drainpipe - er, tailpipe - than you’d see at a Pink Floyd concert.
Still, he had managed to make our ‘trophy time’ - meet or beat this bogey for every one of the 38 stages during the event, and you get a lovely plate-shaped trophy.
(“Targa” means “plate” or “shield” in Italian - hence, “Targa Tasmania”.)
But finish every one of the 12 remaining stages? With our motor apparently grenaded?
No oil in the sump?
No water in the rad?
"We could just chuck another whizzer on there," said Gary.
The fluids re-filled, a quick fire-up of the engine indicated they might be right, but only closer examination would prove that out.
If it was the turbos, where would we get replacement parts here in the wilds of Tasmania? Where would we install them? And how would we get the car from here to there?
All questions would be answered in short order.
Hughes called Briggs, who had previously been planning to meet us later in the day to ‘laptop’ our engine to download some test data.
“Might you bring your trailer to Cethana instead?” asked Gary.
Several other phone calls and a trip back to Launceston for Doug and me in Briggs’s ‘ute’ in search of parts have ended up with the car and bits from several sources convening here in Tim’s garage.
Along with the first, second, third and fourth most knowledgeable experts on Mazda RX-7 turbos in the entire universe. Who knew that they all lived within 30 km of Penguin Tasmania?
They have thrown themselves at this car, and are determined to get us back in the rally tomorrow. Tim, James, Laurie Williams and Keyran Spaulding have spent about five hours - given up their Saturday afternoon and evening - bashing this thing back into shape.
Tim and his wife Kiley even fed us supper (they call it ‘tea’ down here).
I had met Gary and James just a few days ago. I had never met any of the rest until this very afternoon.
What absolutely amazing people.
They have discovered that the shaft connecting the impeller side to the compressor side of the front turbo has broken. The impeller, now free to run amok, did in fact do so, fiending the housing which cut through to both oil and coolant channels, allowing them to feed their contents into the exhaust manifold creating the rock-show pyrotechnics.
Whether the problems we had earlier in the week were a contributing factor, we don't know.
And we don't care - all that matters now is making it run.
They've had to mix-'n'-match bits from here and there to make a functioning turbo system.
But it looks like it might work.
OK, they’re lowering the car off the hoist, and are about to fire it up…
IT RUNS!! All right!
Tim and Laurie are taking it for a test run. If it all goes round and round - as it should, being a rotary engine… - Doug and I will head out on the four-hour trek to Strahan, and re-join the rally tomorrow.
Our hopes for a ‘plate’ are dashed. Our objective now is to simply earn a ‘finisher’s medal’. It is well within our grasp, thanks to the generosity of these people.
Getting to know them, and being part of a story like this, is better than any trophy.
We’ll let you know tomorrow how it’s goin’, mate.