Busy time overseas; this is going to be a jam-packed blog! It’s quite long, so pack a snack and rest up!
Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia. Beautiful weather nearly all year. After a 4 and-a-half hour and 14 hour set of flights, both of which were delayed, your body is thoroughly confused. What makes it worse is you leave Sunday night - fly all night, and then arrive early a.m. on Tuesday morning. Upon our arrival at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning in Brisbane we went through Australian Customs and meandered out to the busses, dreary and ready to get to the hotel to shower (and probably get a nap to make up for the poor sleep on the flight). The bus drive is about an hour and a half, and after the 18+ hour flight you just don’t want to ride anymore! So, getting to the hotel and moving around is quite the accomplishment! Showers usually never feel as good as after around a 20 hour travel trip!
Tuesday is a full ‘day off’ for most crews and the time you can go out and see Australia. I was fortunate enough to be one of five guys to go to the 'WRX Rally Experience' course using nearly the same car as I recently bought back in the US. I had a blast!! I have a new respect for WRC and any rally driver for that matter. Car control is much more difficult than it looks! The pros make it look so easy. Nevertheless, a great time was had by all and I have new experience which will help in driving my car. The instructors ride with you and critique how you drive, and as Mark said to me ‘I’m not here to tell you how to drive, just how to drive this car on this track.’ The car handles nothing like any other car I’ve driven and car control tended to be opposite that which I had learned up to this point. One of the most confusing parts is Australian cars are right hand drive, which means the shift handle is on the opposite side! That was quite weird, but by the end of the day I was getting pretty comfortable with it.
After the rally course, the course owner had a surprise for Luis. We drove for about another 15 minutes to… well, a cow pasture. We then realized, in the midst of this pasture was a grass air field and soon saw the reason for coming. Luis was getting a ride over Surfers Paradise in a Gypsy Moth (very close to the Tiger Moth) airplane! As they came back to land after their 20 minute flight, the pilot gave Luis a great time of aerobatic maneuvers including loops and wing-overs! The Moth is quite an agile plane being so rudimentary in design and construction. This was built in 1942 and was a cloth covered plane!
Byron Bay is the East most point of Australian mainland and has a beautiful lighthouse and rugged coastline.
Unfortunately, by the time we got to there the sun had set; but it was a beautiful sight to see the lighthouse at full beam lighting up the night sky!
Thursday brought another short work day. We made the trip back to Byron Bay, during daylight hours this time! This time we traded Mark for Foggy (one of our ‘truckies’). So, now we have almost all the biggest guys on our team in our ‘Starlet’! The brakes sounded worse every mile, but some rain kept the windshield clean! Being such an adventurous group, we hiked all the way down the trail and beyond onto the jagged sandstone rock shoreline. ‘The sea was furious that day….just kidding! It was actually a beautiful day and even though there was great power in the waves we saw, it was quite calm. I decided to make passage out to the ‘safest’ far rock to have Marty get a picture of me at the most Easterly point of Australia. I climbed out and waited for him to shoot the photo. He snapped a couple of shots and as I started to return he told me to wait because there was a better wave coming. Me, being so trusting, stayed, and as you can see it was a great wave! I think my clothes are still wet! After this, on the climb around to the other part of the Bay, I managed to lose my cell phone. So if any whales call you, tell them to send my phone back! I think it may return to me when we travel to Long Beach next year, with the sea currents and all! We did get to see some whales and some dolphins as we walked back up to the lighthouse. Amazing time!
The ‘race weekend’ went quite well, to say the least! Everything was smooth; no dramas. Nelson gained his highest qualification position of his ChampCar career on Saturday obtaining 5th position. Dan ran 8th. Red flags hampered both he and Dan on their qualifying runs, so the results weren’t quite up to expectations.
Raceday is always exciting in Australia! They have many festivities going along with the race and it is great for the fans to enjoy. Our day was extremely thrilling! The race was very eventful, and unfortunately one of these incidents included Dan. He made a mistake and found himself sideways in the tire barriers. This was especially bad because he had the opportunity to close the gap from 2nd place behind Will Power for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ points. Oh well; we’ll get him in Mexico!
Strategy and skill finally paid off for Nelson down under. Pit stops went well and he and the car were working seamlessly together! The team was at last able to convert to victory!! An exhilarating end to a great trip! Well….except for the 19 hour long series of flights home, but… ‘No worries mate!’
Special thanks to Patrick and Hugh for their help ‘down under’!!