The 2nd Trans-America Challenge 2015
7th - 28th June 2015
Day 2 - Moncton to Edmundston
The Spirit of Brooklands.
Pulling out of Moncton, just inland from the Gulf of St Lawrence the cavalcade that is the Trans America 2015 headed out of town. The sun was shining, the Canadian women's soccer team had just beaten China in the World Cup and we were in for a treat. We were going racing... Stateside style.
An oval banked track means many things to different people. To Bradley Wiggins it means one hour of pain which results in a new world record of 54.526km. To Jimmie Johnson it means seven straight Nascar Championship wins. To a Vintage Bentley enthusiast such as Martin Hunt it means Brooklands.... to the Trans America Rally it simply meant a lot of fun.
This morning we took a rare - for an ERA event - excursion to such a banked track at the Petty International Raceway, a quarter mile asphalt oval that dates back to 1983. They host Mascar events here - miniature American stock car racing - but nothing could have prepared them for the eclectic collection of racers that turned up at their raceway this morning.
In a classic 'run what you brung' sprint the rally cars lined up to take to the bowl cheered on by their fellow drivers.
Stephen Partridge enjoyed it so much in his Galaxie Sunliner he even did an extra lap. A victory lap? Unfortunately not. That honour would have gone to Peter and Zoe Lovett who are obviously getting their eye in and posted the fastest time just ahead of three cars who all posted exactly the same time.... the Garratt and Brown Stag, the Clint and Dawn Smith E-Type and the Halter and Engelhardt Ford Falcon, one second behind the Lovett Porsche.
From these early mornng fun and games on the track the competitors made their way to Moncton's Magnetic Hill, a stretch of road which is a local phenomenon. The idea is to roll down to the 'bottom' of the hill then come to a stop. Put the car into neutral and release the brake. As if by magic you roll back up the hill you've just come down. Incredible - and even more incredible is that it only costs $5.00. The truth behind this bending of the laws of nature is a little more credible. It's an optical illusion and you're really just rolling down a very shallow hill. Damn!
Many cars tried it out and most managed to add to this local legend by rolling ever so slowly back to the start point. The big Malaysian Rolls Royce however succumbed to the regular laws of physics, mass / velocity gradient etc. Magnetic hills clearly don't apply to a car which weighs in like a pocket battleship so reverse gear had to be engaged.
Things became a bit tougher after this though as we took to the less travelled country and back roads on the way to the lunch halt in Rogersville. Muddy and somewhat rutted in places after a very severe winter you could just about believe you were back on the roads in Northern Kenya. One lady competitor was heard to ask a bystander if they had a spare sports bra that she could borrow. Unfortunately the reply, also overheard was a negative one.
It was here that we found Gavin Henderson who had pulled over to offer assistance to fellow Porsche drivers Marco and Carol Marinello who were a bit worried about their exhaust note after a muddy section. Nothing was amiss though and the pair from the Stuttgart stable carried on without further ado.
The lunch halt restaurant was doing a brisk trade as almost 100 hungry rally crew members descended on them while sweeps Owen and Jamie Turner busied themselves in the car park fixing all manner of minor mechanical ills.
From here we took to Route 108, a long, straight road that threads threads its way through a birch and pine forest which could almost be described as Taiga. The tarmac here was also of "variable quality". After regular harsh winters the word is that the 'Report a Pothole' scheme hasn't been rolled out in New Brunswick yet.
The weather took a turn for the worse on the way to the afternoon regularity test and our westerly progress became very wet indeed although we had the road almost to ourselves. One loose moose jogged along bedside us as we ploughed on to Plaster Rock, home apparently, to the worlds largest fiddlehead. An edible fern considered a delicacy in these parts.
At this point the border with the USA was just to our left as we turned North to Edmundston via the town of Grand Falls where the St John River tumbles 23 metres through a rocky cataract from the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.
Before turning in for the night though there was one more activity to be enjoyed which was about as far from a banked oval as you could get. An excellent regularity section through the woods complete with covered bridges, tight bends, slippery climbs and steep descents, 9.24km of fabulous wet gravel with just enough give in the turns to be exciting and to keep the drivers on their mettle and the navigators usefully employed. The ever precise Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown were matched to the second for top spot here by Clint and Dawn Smith in the striking custard yellow E-Type Jaguar.
We’re in Edmundston this evening, a city on the same St John River where there’s a thriving paper industry, a carpark full of wet and dirty rally cars and a hotel bar full of tired and happy drivers. Tomorrow it’s full steam ahead to Quebec via a short ferry ride over the St Lawrence River.
So, the results sheet remains unchanged at the top with Phil Garratt and Kieron Brown our overnight leaders still there followed by Clint and Dawn Smith. Alan Beardshaw though has slipped from second place overall to joint 5th. Peter and Zoe Lovett are sitting pretty in third.