Photo by Henry Roeters

I wrapped up my first season of racing this year with the Rally America season finale, Lake Superior Performance Rally in Houghton, Michigan. This is one of the oldest rallies in North America and it’s earned a tough reputation. With a freshly rebuilt engine and a highly experienced codriver in Angela Cosner, I headed out to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Photo by Angela Cosner

Our recce vehicle was Angela’s lifted Impreza. The Friday stages looked a bit soft and the Saturday stages looked rocky. The wagon looked muddy after taking it through the spectator stage.

Photo by Angela Cosner

Friday started pretty well. After getting muddy in the spectator stage in Houghton, we drove an hour to where the rest of the Friday stages were. We started off pretty slow. I was significantly underestimating the grip from the gravel tires, so my braking points were way early.

The next stage was similar, just getting used to the car at the limit. Unfortunately we had to transit stage 4 because a pickup truck appeared on stage just as David Higgins was about to start. Next was our first service, no issues yet. My crew was all students from the local college, Michigan Tech.

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After service we headed out for the night stages. These were my first gravel night stages, and my pace suffered significantly because of my weak lights. You can only drive as far as you can see, and I couldn’t see very far at all. Upgraded lights will definitely be on the list before the next race.

Unfortunately at the end of SS7, I noticed the temp creeping up as we came in to the finish control. I pulled over and popped the hood, and there was coolant spraying out of the radiator. I decided to call it a night there, my first DNF.

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Sweep towed us back to the service area and we started digging in to it. There was a steady stream shooting out of the back of the radiator. We ran around to some of the other teams while they were packing up and got a bottle of stop leak from Team O’Neil and threw it in the coolant tank. It tried valiantly, but it wasn’t enough to plug the leak. We loaded the car on the trailer and began the long drive back to Houghton at midnight.

Photo by RJ Kassel

Just as we were ready to give up, I got a message from River City Rally team, the same team that gave me a spare power steering hose. They had a spare radiator! We stopped by and picked it up and continued on to Houghton. We got to the Walmart parking lot and swapped the radiator. We couldn’t flush the system, so we just hoped it would be OK.

Photo by author

(Spoiler alert: Not OK)

It held fluid, at least, so we packed up and went to bed at around 4.

We grabbed some more coolant in the morning and drove over to Saturday’s parc expose in L’Anse. We unloaded, bled the cooling system, and headed in to parc.

Photo by Ben Newburn

While the motor was running, we hadn’t seen the last of our cooling issues. On the way to the first stage of the day, I noticed the temp needle creeping up. I shut the car off and coasted for a bit and the needle came back down. I did the first stage shutting the car off every few corners when the temp would get hot.

It seemed like the thermostat was sticking. I had to keep it open to keep coolant flowing. So, I decided to try going flat out everywhere.

Photo by Henry Roeters

It worked! As long as I kept the engine at 3500+ rpm, it wouldn’t overheat. This was working out great, until the exhaust came apart.

Turns out all the bolts fell out of the midpipe flange. Angela was yelling notes and I could still only hear them if I lifted. This made for a lovely transit back to service. We were able to find some bolts that fit and got the exhaust reconnected.

Photo by Ben Newburn

The afternoon loop started great. I could hear notes and I was pushing harder than I ever have been. As I got more confident in the gravel tires, I broke later and later and ended up cooking my brakes. I noticed a bit of brake fade, which I could deal with, but my clutch started acting up. The trans got very difficult to shift, especially when stopped.

I nursed it to the end. This year had the last stage along the river in downtown Houghton. I did the entire thing in second gear, since I was worried what would happen if I shifted. The course was extremely tight, and my time was very slow as a result.

Photo by Henry Roeters

Still, I was happy to make it. After all the work of getting the car prepared and fighting through all the issues we had, we made it to the finish line.

Photo by Robert Peters