This is my second time writing a post mortem for Rallye Perce Neige, the first event in the Canadian Rally Championship calendar. I guess it is a habit now. I consider this event the most challenging event in the calendar to shoot. It’s a very long day, it is usually very cold, and begins before the sun comes up and finishes long after the sun goes down. It is a proper winter rally, with challenging conditions for the teams. If you’re going to break anything or find holes in your rally armor (pun intended), it will probably happen here. If you want to read about different shooting techniques for rally, I discuss those in last year’s post so that is a good place to go.
Last year, the day started off very sunny and very cold, with the weather turning to snow by evening. This year, the rally started with blowing snow, but not quite as cold. In Perce Neige terms, “not quite as cold” means the temperature was warmer than -30C. This was a welcome change from the day before the event, when recce happened. On that day, the temperature in the morning was below -30C and being outside for even short periods of time was seriously no fun.
The day before the rally starts, I drive the stages – or most of them – to look at corners and figure out where I want to be. This is usually uneventful. I will make special mention of how nutty the Kitigan Zibi stage was to recce, though. At 40 km long, and barely as wide as your car in some places, it is a committent. Even driving an AWD car with brand new winter tires, I managed to get stuck. In the back of your mind, you think about this and realize that you’ll need to come back out there on race day. Yar!
Not just me this time
I need to thank Frédéric Senterre this year. Fred was my partner in crime last year for our crazy trip out to Idaho Rally International. At the 2019 Rallye Perce Neige, we drove the stages in the Laverdiere Rally Team recce car. It is a long day, and having someone to work with is fantastic. Thanks, Fred! I should have had him with me during recce though – he could have helped push my car out of the snowbank.
My movement plan for the rally was different this year. I took a risk by skipping EC1 and going to my first spot of the day on EC2. It’s a risk because there have been times when cars have had a bad enough “off” on EC1 to end up out of the event, and if that had happened this year I would have had no photos of that team. Thankfully, that did not happen. This year I shot both passes of Blue Sea. I skipped the Farley stage this year, having shot it three years in a row. I reserve one stage every year for shooting teams queuing for the arrival time control, and this time I picked the first pass of Kitigan Zibi for that. While photographing at the start of that stage, I discovered where I want to be next year. It is going to be so good.
At this point in the day, the sun is beginning to set. The rally was running a bit late right now, and we discovered that the last stage of the event, EC16 – the second pass of Lapointe – was cancelled. In previous years I shot this stage, because getting a night time shot of teams coming across the last corner before the final time control is a very cool thing. Since this stage was cancelled and the final time control was now at the end of a long forest stage instead, I rethought my plan.
Instead, we head to the first pass of Lapointe. This would normally be the last stage of event. Because we want to get a variety of images we pick it now, instead of shooting two passes of Marie-Anne. Lapointe is a logistical challenge because there are very few parking spots. We park behind the flying finish and hike in, two kilometres, where there is a great left hand corner. I brought strobes for this corner and set them up on the inside. At first I was a bit worried about one of them, because it was on a stand that was not-quite-off the road, but no one hit it so everything worked out.
The final stage of the day for us was the second pass of Marie-Anne. I have mixed feelings about this being the last stage for getting action photos because there are several long forest stages afterwards. Perce Neige really is a rally that is won or lost on those long forest stages, and so much happens on them. It is a photographer’s choice to go out into them, but it is a commitment of time and you may miss opportunities to shoot a lot of the closer stages where movement between spots does not take so long.
After this, it was podium time, but not for a few hours. Podium at Perce Neige is a mixed bag because it is often delayed and runs well past the end of the rally, but the atmosphere is so good that you can’t help but have a good time. There are lots of people, music, and a nice finish line ramp that other CRC rallies do not have. It is a great spot to get candid crowd shots. Bonus points for being able to get warm near a large fire.
Keeping things warm this year
I am quite good at keeping everything warm in the cold, and so this year played out a lot like last year, with one exception. After every single stage, the batteries came out of my camera, and went into an inside pocket. Last year I kept my backup batteries in my inside pocket, but kept the ones in the camera there all the time. This worked completely fine, until I had a problem on the Marie-Anne stage. Last year, right at the end of the stage, my D810 started flashing ERR and the only way I could fix it was to disassemble everything right there in the snow and put in warm batteries. No harm, no foul, but it was a bit annoying. The batteries had just become too cold.
This time, removing everything and working off of warm batteries resulted in no problems. Like last year, I also had hand warmers inside my F-Stop Tilopa camera bag, and for my Phottix Indra batteries, I wrapped them in two pairs of socks with hand warmers sandwiched between. After two night stages, my batteries still registered “full”, even when shooting at full power. Impressive!
I myself also stayed warm this year. Mostly. There is always a boot dilemma at this rally. I own boots that are ridiculously warm. My Harkila Inuit GTX boots are amazing. However, they are too large to safely drive with, and I can’t wear snowshoes with them. This means I need to compromise. The boots I usually wear at Perce Neige are reasonably warm, especially if I put feet warmers in them. Feet warmers eventually wear off, and if you are standing in thigh-deep snow for an hour without moving, well, there’s no boot for that.
I also can’t say enough good things about coffee. My wife bought me a Stanley thermos for Christmas. It is, quite frankly, the best thing ever. I still had hot coffee at podium, 17 hours after filling it. I find this amazing.
The End of the Day
Lest you believe that the day ends after podium, allow me to divest you of such notions. For teams, there is often a lot of work in the service area. Many teams are on the road bright and early the next day. For series media members, my rally continues at the hotel room, editing images until the wee hours of the morning. At the 2019 Rallye Perce Neige, I finally crash land after having a well earned cider (or two) at 2 am. I was back up and in my car at quarter to seven the next morning, driving the 1200km back home. It has been a great event! Now, on to the next one.