Story - Ron Sorem
Yokohama Pacific Forest Rally 2005
Ron Sorem © 10-17-2005
October 14 & 15, 2005. Merritt, British Columbia. The West Coast Rally Association, part of the Canadian Association for RallySport (CARS) organized Round 5 of the 2005 Canadian Rally Championship, sponsored by Yokohama Canada. PIAA USA and Canadian Tire provided additional partnership support. The City of Merritt contributed greatly to the support of the rally and provided the in-town cooperation making the street section possible.
Registration at the host hotel, Best Western Nicola Inn, moved to the Merritt Civic Center for Friday’s activities where radio Net Control, Service, and Driver’s Meetings were held. Tech Inspection and Scrutineering revolved around a Parc Exposé at Canadian Tire, where all cars were on public display allowing fans to talk with all crews and watch any last minute preparation for the rally.
Friday was also spent previewing the course. The Yokohama Pacific Forest Rally is a “Recce” event. The “reconnaissance” gives teams a chance to see the roads at slower speed and develop their notes for every corner, straight, crest and dip, rough or slippery detail of the route. One section had seven instructions in the route book. We wrote forty notes, only to find that a detailed stage book was available with over sixty notes. The organizers were very cautious on Recce speeds, set at 60km/h, and enforced! Four teams took first-offense penalties of $100. One team recorded two violations, $100 first offense plus $500 second. Safety is at the forefront of PFR.
Merritt’s downtown Railyard Mall was the site of the in-town Spectator Stage and Parade, a short section of paved and gravel parking, and city streets. The ceremonial start was conducted by Mayor David Laird under bright TV lights and accompanied by Merritt Police, RCMP, Merritt Fire (who had wet down the street for added excitement), and well attended by the residents of Merritt and surrounds. The Parade Lap featured the course opening Car 0, all competitors and both Sweep vehicles on course all at once, covering the serpentine course through the mall.
SS1 was a timed run over the same “Railyard” course, at speed, at one-minute intervals. Car 0 (Ron Sorem and Ken Lingbloom, two long-time drivers, without a co-driver) ran through in 1:52 with lights and siren to alert the spectators that the rally was starting. Car 2, eventual winners Antoine L’Estage and Yanick Napert in the 1997 Hyundai Tiburon AWD from John Buffum’s Libra Racing, ran the same course in 0:54; less than half the time. This fact weighed heavily in Car 0 out-times for subsequent stages. We’d leave early enough to clear the stage and not delay competitors starting, yet close enough to keep the stage “hot”. There were no competitor casualties on Railyard, but flying gravel inflicted a minor cut to one little girl, who became the darling of the Awards Banquet Saturday, and one shattered storefront door, a looong way from the course. All was well with the City. RCMP and Fire both asked why we don’t use more of the downtown next time! Only one retirement occurred after SS1, the Acura of Kris and Ed Dahl, with a broken axle.
SS2 was “Comstock North”, about 10km south on Hwy 5 to Exit 276, crossing under the freeway onto single lane forestry roads. An uphill start then down to a medium left through puddles, covering the windshield with mud. An acute left with a rough uphill approach turned the rally west again through gentle bends rising and falling before dropping through a medium right onto pavement where top cars have been “heard” against their rev-limiters in top gear on past runnings of the stage. Easy right over crest dropping to easy left with dip into tunnel, medium right (concrete wall on left). Nearly top speeds again along a short level straightaway, long crest easy right, drops through rough, easy left gravel dropping easy right… Then it gets busy; dropping steadily through several medium lefts and medium rights to easy right through cattle guard, 100-meter warning, and Flying Finish. The stage ran 5.83km; we’d joked earlier we’d take 8 minutes, they’d take 6… We took under 7; they took under 4. We’d have to do better to stay ahead of the rally!
The rally transited into Merritt for SS3 “Railyard” again, then to the Civic Center for Main Time Control and Service, before returning to “Comstock” for SS4 where nearly every car was faster and the cows were further away from the road. One car, also further away from the road, into a tree, was retrieved by Fast Sweep and continued on, although quite late.
Next up was the Old Nicola Road, east of Merritt, now known as Princeton Cut-off, for SS5. “Princeton” is a 9.23km twisting goat trail of a road climbing steadily along the west slope of Sugarloaf Mountain with chicanes through the miniature canyons at every point where water runs off the hill. Sharp lefts into hairpin rights into sharp lefts for the larger run-off cuts, all with exposure on the right side. An occasional straight then more exposure, then dip. Easy right into major dip, which got worse with each car’s passage. An uphill straight, easy right, double caution HPL HPR overlooking a long, deep, exposure. Right at T (with media crews) climb to easy left dropping to easy left through tunnel, cattle guard medium left, climbing and twisting to top out with an easy right through cattle guard, Spectators, 90-right onto pavement then downhill to Flying Finish. The entrance onto pavement was first smooth, then increasingly rough as every car sprayed gravel across the roadway. Fast time for the stage was 7:07. Two teams ran very late, but there were no retirements.
The rally ran “Comstock” again as SS6. The last car for SS4 had checked into the Arrival Time Control on Comstock, received a provisional out-time, drove to the Start Control and stalled, with a fuel leak. A looong time later the fuel leak “sealed itself” and they began the parade as the last competitor, leading Fast Sweep, Sweep, and Car 00 who were opening for the running of SS6. With all this completed, Car 0 opened the course and Car 1 started. Car 1, Patrick Richard and sister Nathalie Richard, had earlier been experiencing electrical problems and their Open class 1999 WRX Sti rolled to a stop just 100m before Flying Finish with a blown Turbo, becoming the only retirement on Comstock.
SS7 saw the return to Princeton Cut-off, climbing out of the valley at Nicola to near Hwy 5A overlooking Merritt by night. Again, nearly all cars ran the stage quicker and there were no retirements.
The final transit brought everyone to the Civic Center for MTC shortly after 11pm.
Day Two began with early morning rain. However, by the start of the Spectator Stage at Active Mountain Raceway, skies and spirits had both brightened. A good crowd packed the hillside to watch the rally slide around about 2.5km of roads within the AMR site. (Originally set at 2.94km the route was shortened slightly to avoid the “Mud Bog” exiting the stage.) Grip ranged from wet gravel to “a bit muddy”. Scott Trinder and Bill Westhead suffered a spin along the flat section, struck (and dislodged for later competitors) a large rock, breaking the rear suspension, continuing in “3 wheel drive” and leaving their 1995 WRX-RA bumper at the last corner before Flying Finish as they completed the stage, game-over.
The rally turned east through Merritt and began the 30km climb to Helmer Lake for SS9. Cold and cloudy, some had speculated earlier as to snow, but it did not appear. “Helmer” was 22.87km long, the longest stage of the rally, and would be run three times during the day. The start was downhill, easy right dropping, medium right into easy left, rough uphill easy right (passed VIP spectating at Camp Yokohama). This stage had several “over crest” corners and became more “slippy” with each running, although the first run was enough for Warren Currie and Robin Chapelsky from Edmonton in their 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi. Changing surfaces, first grippy then slippy, caught them “just inches out of line” and prompted a BIG “three and a half with a twist” with no injuries, attesting to a great cage, car prep, and safety gear, but putting them on the trailer none-the-less. Helmer would see other “offs”: Chad Manley and Jaclyn Schofield stuffed their 1985 VW Golf GTI and would later retire; Colin and Teresa Armstrong were a bit less “off” in their 1991 VW Golf and were able to finish.
Stopping on SS9 Helmer to secure some downed banner guard (and leaving all lights on at idle) taxed Car 0 electrical to where the alternator apparently needed to take a “time out”. Running only on battery (and not noticing that) we arrived at AMR for SS10, rolled up to Start Control with a provisional out-time, and with less than one minute to go, the car quit--no juice--too dead to call in on the radio! Luckily Car 00, Eric Grochowski and Leanne Junilla, was still on AMR and able to jump in, take over, and open the course while we sat just inside the stage and tried in vain to restart the car; eventually to be towed out. Also towed out, game-over for the second day, was the Dahl’s Acura, with a second broken axle for the weekend. After our alternator, now well rested, received a jolt from the equivalent of cardio-paddles—“Clear! Zot!”-- It ran. We checked in at Service and the consensus was “don’t use all your lights”. Thank you. Whereupon we left, announced to Net Control we were back, and transited to Nicola Lake SS13, sadly by-passing the 2nd and 3rd run on Helmer.
“Nicola Lake” was 7.13kmm, smooth, rock based with fine light colored crushed stone with very few ruts or holes and relatively level. There were a couple of twists and a flat-5-left with only a big tree to protect the exposure. A quick R-6 into Turn-L-6 gives a group of Marshals a great view. (Though likely unnoticed, this intersection is just above some pictographs overlooking Nicola Lake, within Monck Provincial Park.) Uphill, to Flying Finish and a big dip before Stop. We break 100km/h on SS13 but Car 2 will take only 4:09 over 7.13km. That calc’s out to over 103km/h average! And, the fastest stage was still to come.
The Transit section was rough, with varying depths of dips and cross-ditches. We were allowed 20 minutes to cover 7.29km and to save the suspensions most cars took all 20 minutes.
SS14 covered Sheep Lake – Mab Lake road. Starting uphill into easy right, twisting, trying to gain speed yet stay in line. “Mab Lake” was the fastest stage of the day, with two areas of top, or near top speed, smooth wide mainline separated by sections of medium lefts, rights and a 90-left with a water-splash. The 13.82km stage saw fastest time of 7:31, calc’ing out to over 110km/h average (68.5 mph). Antoine L’Estage drove the Open class Tiburon passed the speed gun at 93mph, roughly 149.6 km/h. The stage ended on a long flat right passed Spectator into an easy left to Stop, perhaps a bit short for run-out for the top cars.
The rally made a quick trip into Merritt for Service and Re-Group, giving crews a chance mount light pods and prepare for the night, then back along the Ranchlands Trail for Nicola Lake SS15 and Mab Lake SS16. No real surprises, most everyone adjusted to the darkness for Nicola Lake. Everyone took 12 to 40 seconds longer on Mab Lake, with one exception -- Car 24 went off, only 2km from the finish, on its roof, 20 to 30 feet down a cliff, and although the crew was fine, it would take more than Sweep to retrieve the bright Orange WRX Wagon of Seattleites Colby Boles and Wayne Hickey.

Banquet and Awards convened at Merritt’s Civic Center. Top honors in the Yokohama Pacific Forest Rally National to Antoine L’Estage and Yanick Napert from Quebec. Second in National to Americans Matt Iorio and Ole Holter in their 2002 Mitsubishi EVO VII. Third place to Norm LeBlanc, Pemberton BC, and Keith Morison, Calgary AB, in their 2002 WRX.

Top Regional awards in Merritt by Night went to Scott Trinder and Bill Westhead. Second to Norm LeBlanc and Keith Morison. Third to Americans Nat Snow, Duvall WA, and Ben Bradley, Gresham OR, in a 2000 Impreza 2.5 RS.

For Sunday’s Regional Helmer by Day, First to Norm LeBlanc and Keith Morison. Second to Nat Snow and Ben Bradley. Third to Gary Cavett, Kirkland WA, and Alan Perry, Bainbridge Island WA, in the Open class 1995 Impreza “WRX”.

Next CARS National is Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft ON, Nov. 25-26
Complete results, photos and information at www.pacificforestrally.com
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