Joey@WORKS On Monday, May 3, 2010

Sonoma, California - April 30, 2010

WORKS Rally finished our debut event for the 2010 Rally America Series at the world famous Olympus Rally in Washington. It has also been almost a year since our driver, Lars Wolfe, had been on the trail. 51 teams entered in the event this year, but only 18 made it to the end. WORKS Rally was one of those lucky 18.

The choice to prepare a Lancer Ralliart instead of an Evolution was well thought out but we knew that certain preparations needed to be made right from the start. The two main hurdles were the TC-SST twin-clutch transmission and the rear suspension. We took the necessary steps to reinforce the transmission clutch packs since no one has yet to successfully run a twin-clutch transmission in rally. We saw this as a risk worth taking since many rally cars in WRC utilize sequential shift transmissions, so we wanted to get as close to that technology as possible that the Rally America Series would allow. Also, the rear suspension of the Ralliart does not allow for the same amount of travel as an Evolution. With several airborne experiences during Olympus, this was a trial by fire.

Bringing a prototype car to scrutineering is always exciting. The car was examined under a microscope by the judges. After a couple of very minor adjustments the car was off to the park exposé. WORKS Rally showed up to the event with only 3 crew members; driver Lars Wolfe, co-driver Jon Burke, and technician Josh Shutz-Hellam. Many rally fans were surprised to learn that our car was not an Evolution. And since many fans were familiar with sequential-transmission technology used in WRC they were very interested in our decision to use the TC-SST gearbox. At the exposé the team was approached by two fans: Tino Fortunato and Nikki Saetre. They offered their services as crew members, which could not be more appreciated for WORKS Rally on a gloomy weekend with foul weather forecasted.

It was at this point that the team began to develop a relationship. This was the first time that Lars Wolfe and Jon Burke had worked together as driver/co-driver, technician Josh Shutz-Hellam has only been with WORKS for about a month, and now there were two complete strangers in the crew. And since the co-driver acts as the brain of the rally car and the driver acts as the nervous system the two of them needed to find a common ground in their communication. And taking into account that this would be a shakedown for a brand new car, this was forecasted to be an interesting weekend.

Lars and Jon set off for Stage 1, Wreck Creek, at 8AM. The TC-SST’s quick and aggressive shifts shot the Ralliart off the starting line much quicker than anticipated. Since Lars had his hand in every modification made to the car he was particularly in focused on every creak and squeek it made. They reached the second service stop at the end of Stage 2 with no mechanical issues. By the end of the day only minor repairs needed to be made. This was alone was cause for celebration for the team. Already we had passed a milestone no other company had done yet. Our upgraded twin-clutch transmission had held for a full day of competition.

That night the team began their routing maintenance in the hotel parking lot. As it began to rain, a local by the name of Harry Buckman saw the techs wrenching on the car and offered his garage to the team for the night. Without his help, our team would have had a much longer and harder night. We owe a very special thanks to Harry.

After the team-building crash-course that was Day one, Lars and Jon began to find their rhythm. Comfort and familiarity for the Ralliart was improved and the team started clobbering 30-40 seconds off their previous times. They were looking forward to test the car’s true power on the dry and infamous Brooklyn stages. However, it was in this stage that WORKS Rally ended the race last year. Lars describes how he felt as he approached the very turn that claimed our Evo IX. “It felt like I was playing Gran Turismo with my kids on their Playstation. As I drove past the spot, I was watching the old car’s outlined shadow roll off the road. It was like passing a ghost. At that point, I felt like I could really let go of that experience and move on.”

WORKS Rally finished 8th out of 13 in a prototype vehicle. We are excited about the information we gathered about the car and know what needs to be done to earn our spot on the podium. It has been a year since Lars has been behind the wheel; the cob webs are coming loose and his spirit was revived this past weekend. He admitted that he was nervous and apprehensive because of both the car and his hiatus. We look forward to working with Jon Burke again at the Oregon Trail Rally in a few weeks and hope to see some of you there.