Making of a Championship: Part 5— Down the Stretch
Two weeks after Rally Colorado, the team returned to action at Sno*Drift Summer Rally and made it back onto the podium in their first ever rally using only tulip notes, a source of early consternation for Mike.
“Prior to Summer Sno*Drift, I had never competed in a blind, tulip rally,” Mike says. “I knew Dave could drive fast ‘blind,’ so that took a bit of pressure off me, but I was nervous because I didn’t really know what to do inside the car. It took a few stages for me to feel comfortable with my calls.
“Dave and I continued to adjust calls and techniques for every blind, tulip rally of the season. There’s just something a bit unsettling about them as a co-driver because there are times on the stage where you become a spectator because it could be a mile until the next tulip. With pace notes, you’re always making calls, which helps you stay on track.
“I don’t think it was until after Summer Sno*Drift that I began to think that we may have a chance at the overall National Championship. I was still pretty leery about it, though. There were still a lot of stage miles ahead of us and you never know what is going to happen in rally.”
From there, it was on to two October events: the single-day Show-Me Rally, which shares roads with 100 Acre Wood, and Lake Superior Performance Rally, known as “The Oldest, Meanest, Toughest Rally on the Circuit.” With Fetela winning again at Sno*Drift Summer, it would likely take two more podiums to maintain the overall championship lead, and the prospect of points racing began to weigh in.
“The final events were nerve racking for sure and I definitely eased up—Mike might tell you that I didn't though!” Dave admitted. “The pressure for the class win slowly decreased, but I knew one DNF could throw it all away, and that was also when I started paying attention to overall points and piling pressure on myself by figuring out all the what-if scenarios. Because I was in the points lead, it was easy to dream of something I knew was impossible. I wouldn't say I was concerned about Piotr, because I was confident that he would win the overall by the end of the season, but I was definitely paying close attention to his every move just in case. I was mostly just hoping to keep it as close as possible for some bragging rights—to pull off 2nd overall and even be close to Fetela would be amazing!
“I quickly found out the end of a championship season is particularly challenging for a racer if you're in the points chase. All you want to do is go fast and have fun, but DNFing one race could throw away your season. At the same time you can't go slow either because finishing up near the top gives you a much bigger points spread to the guy behind you and limits the gap to anyone in front of you. There is definitely a fine balance you have to find. And with the ongoing motor issues race after race, motor after motor, there were moments I wondered why and how I kept going.
“Early on, there were a couple times people suggested that I sit out a race and every time I replied ‘Champions don't quit!’ Of course at the time I was dreaming of a class championship but that line became my internal motto. It was sad to think of what if I had a consistent running motor all season? No DNF at 100 Acre, probably a couple other event wins... but in the end it's all part of racing. Everyone else had their could have/would have/should have moments as well. Now, it was time to just hope I could finish out the season without another significant motor issue. Luckily we finally got a motor and computer package that ran right, so we were able to finish strong.”