“If you’re going to do a car rally, there is only a story in coming in first, or last,” said The Editor.
As I was hardly proposing the Dakar Rally or even Targa Newfoundland, I chuckled to myself. This was the Mini Monte Rally, a local event in southern Ontario. Advertised as a fun event geared for those with “minimal to no experience,” all I needed was a car, a pencil and paper, a navigator with a watch and 30 bucks. With a nod to the sunny July Sunday it was being held on, I borrowed a shiny convertible, and The Editor offered up his navigational services. This was a good thing; I am one of the directionally challenged, but I reasoned a beginner rally would be goof-proof.
At the coffee shop meet-up point in Kitchener, I soon learned our car held two newbies, not just one. As we listened intently to instructions, we both nodded along, confident that the other was absorbing it all. Our instructor ran through basic abbreviations used on the program, how each stage was marked, and how to read the instructions.
Stage One was my kind of map: line-by-line directions, with distances and speeds indicated. Stage Two was a page of hieroglyphics that made no sense to me, but I reasoned, as the driver, it didn’t matter. I had a navigator for this very reason. Stage Three was a combination, with all the stages containing the abbreviations the instructor had just run through.
As we left the meeting and headed to our car, I asked The Editor if he could remember all we’d just been told.
“I know we are car number 3,” he replied confidently. It became rapidly apparent he had been brought along for his devilish good looks and rapier wit.
I zeroed out the odometer and we began.
The Mini Monte is a nod to the famed Monte Carlo Rally originally begun in 1911, with endurance teams from across Europe meeting in Monaco after an exhausting and difficult multi-stage, multi-day event. I drove last year with former rally great Rauno Aaltonen, the Flying Finn. We hurtled down an Austrian alp in winter, me clinging to a door handle as he casually chatted about rallying. As he told story after story, I knew why he still had that grin on his face at age 74. Who wouldn’t want to test themselves, their car and their luck in something as extreme as a rally?
Our Monaco was Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area in Ayr. We were one part of three different rallies taking place across southern Ontario that day, with our leg, at three hours, being the shortest. We would be covering 100 kilometres and meeting up with the other groups for the final leg.
Our first half-hour was easy; deceptively so. We patted ourselves on the back for knowing that RRX meant railway tracks, and that STOP meant stop. We would occasionally glimpse the car ahead of us, which had left two minutes before we did.
“You might want to slow down a little,” suggested The Editor. “We’re told when to Change Average Speed [CAS], which deals with the average speed we want.”
“But it’s slower than the speed limit,” I argued. “And we have gravel roads which I’m going to go way slower on, so I’m going to need to make up time somewhere.” There is a reason the driver is just supposed to shut up and drive. We discovered this at the end.
Your odometer is your friend. You’re told when to reset it, and they even give you checkpoints to test yours against the rally log. Most odometers are slightly different, and accumulating these differences can push your numbers. Backing up because you’ve missed a turn a few times can throw you off, as can making a right and not a left and not discovering it for two kilometres.
At each checkpoint, the driver hops out and goes to the control car for a sticker. They record when you’ve checked in, and give you a time to leave that checkpoint. They will not comment on how you’re doing, even if you ask them nicely. I’d get back in each time, sticker in hand, itching to pull away too soon.
“You don’t win because you pass the guy ahead of you,” said The Editor. “They left two minutes ahead of us, so I think they’re supposed to be two minutes ahead all the time.”
“Maybe they goofed, and now we’re supposed to be ahead of them,” I reasoned.
“I don’t think so.”
As we cruised through verdant fields of corn in the countryside, the hot sun blazing, I decided doing rallies was really easy and fun. I wondered when we could step up and do one that really tested our abilities.
“Wait. What was that street name?” asked The Editor.
“I dunno.” I backed up, again, on the empty road, once again throwing off the odometer. And my navigator.
“That’s our right,” he said. “And I realize it’s pointless at this time, but just for fun, I’ll tell you the CAS is 54 km/h.” I took the right, ignored the rest.
As we cruised into the correct checkpoint a short time later, the skies opened up. We got the roof on the car up just in time, as puddles formed in minutes. I looked at The Editor who pretended he couldn’t see me.
“You mean I have to keep getting out of the car to get the stickers?”
“Those are the rules,” he laughed. I got soaked. Over and over. I kept asking the checkpoint people how we were doing, and was met with a blank smile, over and over.
“I think we must be winning,” I said. “I mean, we haven’t made any mistakes.”
And then we ran out of road. With the rain reducing our vision, we calmly passed through each section. We laughed at a typo on the sheet, smug that we still knew which road they meant. Sitting at an intersection that didn’t exist, we looked at each other.
“We didn’t miss it. We couldn’t have,” I said.
“I know. What’s TS mean? You remember?” asked The Editor. I looked blank.
“Traffic signal,” he remembered. We’d gone through the traffic signal, but couldn’t find a left or right indicator on our directions. We sat in the pouring rain in a parking lot, both conscious of the time ticking away, wondering if victory was disappearing with it. I snapped on the navigation system, which I would consider cheating if I wasn’t aware that I get more lost with nav systems than without. Finally figuring out at least which direction we were supposed to go, we backtracked and got back on course. In the true spirit of sportsmanship, we both decided that if we screwed up, no doubt everybody else had, too.
They hadn’t. Or if they had, they weren’t admitting to it. As we all converged at the right place at the right time, I knew I’d made up the time somewhere else and we were fine. As they began the awards ceremony I was puzzled to not hear our names called for first place. Worried I would not have a story, I spoke to the organizer.
Not to worry.
The Mini Monte BBQ Rally is held each July across southern Ontario. Go to montecarlorally.ca for more information.