Second place finish in Ridgecrest! After damaging the rear suspension at the Gorman Ridge Rally and with only 2 weekends to re-prep and test the car for the final race of the Ultra4 Western Series championship, I put everything on hold and went to work. The first week was spent taking everything apart, ordering new parts and assessing the damage. Luckily, I had enough spares to get the car together for the first shake down and CVT tuning on Labor day. The ambient temperature was 106 degrees. My truck’s radiator ruptured on the way out to the desert, and my friends diesel over heated on the way home. It was a very long day…The second week, I got my truck fixed and a bunch of new parts installed on the race car. New wheel bearings and hubs, sphericals, heims, reducers, bolts, washers, nylocks everywhere, and some more CVT changes. The final shake down and new belt break in was Sunday the 8th. While backing out to go on my third belt heat cycle, the car made a loud and violent pop. The rear inboard CV had bent it’s retaining ring out of the groove and the CV was bound up. I had 3 evenings after work to fix the problem and prevent it from happening again.
I had to overnight new CV joints, prepped them, then TIG welded the retaining rings into position. Unfortunately, after doing all this and re-assembling the car, one of the axles was still bound and didn’t have any plunge at droop. It’s 12am on a work night and I discover that the transmission is shifted half an inch off center and the rear mount is bent. (from “The Jump” at Gorman Ridge Rally) I actually had spare transmission mounts already, so I loosened, centered and re-tightened the engine and its mounts a few times until the rear of the transmission was centered in the chassis again. With the transmission centered, both rear axles had equal amounts of plunge at droop but it was dangerously tight. I made the decision to use my spare axles that have a few races on them, but were well prepped and I ultimately trusted them more than the current situation. I get them in the car, verify they have a healthy amount of plunge and kill the garage lights at 3am. I get off work Wednesday and put the last few things together to go shake the car down for a 3rd and final time before I pack and leave to Ridgecrest in the morning. Axles are good, suspension is solid, belt is ready, and the CVT just needs one more change. I spend Thursday morning doing the last few little things and double checks to be 100% confident in the car before it rolls onto the trailer. I pack and leave about 6.5 hours later than I wanted to but make it up to the Paddock around midnight.I unload and try out my last CVT change with good results.
Friday is registration, pre-run, and qualifying which made for a long day. The pre-run went very well, while there were no true rock sections, the first 20-ish miles had lots of gotcha’s and very little passing areas. The next 20 miles is all whoops without many dangers, then 10 miles of rally roads and long fast straights. The last 5 miles or so is some of the roughest out there.
The car was perfect after the pre-run, so we took a break and tried to see the qualifying course. The Registration table told us UTVs and stock classes were not qualifying. After asking around the paddock this was the general consensuseven though Ultra4 has qualified ever class at every race for the last 5 years. 90 Minutes before qualifying is supposed to start, the organizers inform all teams that UTVs and Stock classes WILL be qualifying, need to see the course, and get in line. The course is fast and simple, so I know the faster turbo cars will out run me and I will start mid-pack somewhere. Since UTV’s and Stock classes weren’t expecting to qualify, most of us are in the back of the line, the sun is going down as well as the breeze to clear the dust. A car barrel rolls across the finish line, so we lose another 30 minutes for recovery and medical. It’s just about my turn to go, we are waiting 5 minutes between each run to let the dust settle and the sun has set. Luckily I always have a light on my bumper, but once I was headed back towards the sunset, I couldn’t see anything but the contrast of the horizon. Dave Cole still had 45 cars waiting to qualify and had to make a tough call. Anyone in line that thought they could still run a top three time was allowed to do so. The top three times would start each class, followed in order of western series points.
Fortunately, my western series points put me in a great place, 6th off the line. The rest of the evening was spent on logistics with the team and last little things on the car. We were ready and staged by 5:15 am, first Class10 car was off the line at 6am-ish.
We charge off the line into the most stagnant dust I have ever raced in. It just hung in the valleys and didn’t move. My pace was conservative and cars are broken every couple miles. Within 15 miles or so, the series points leader Loren Healy is pulled off and looks badly broken. I continue with my low-risk pace through the first lap, getting fuel and starting my second lap in 5th. Now that the dust is starting to move, I speed up to just under normal race pace, which was about 75% depending on the section. We pass two broken cars from the lead pack and inherit 3rd on the road. The leader is 5 minutes ahead and 4th is 5 minutes behind with half a race left. We get fuel and start our final lap. We had put a few more minutes on 4th and catching the leader wouldn’t change the western championship, so we decide to just maintain our position. That all changed when we were caught by the lead Class 10 car. We quickly got out of the way and two of them went past.At this point the conservative pace became a safety hazard, and we turned on the jets. The car responds very well to maximum attack. This was the best part of the race, throttle to the floor and just steering the car as needed. We caught a couple trucks and jeeps which slowed us down, but Mario noticed the race leader was in the pits with a flat tire! We knew it was very unlikely to catch and pass Jacob Versey, last year’s National champion, in the last 15 miles, but the car felt great so we stayed at 100% through the finish. Finishing just a minute or two behind first.
Backing up my win from last year was never really on my mind until we finished 2nd. I had so many issues leading up to the race, that in a way, this weekend was even more satisfying than last year.
This also means 3rd place in the Ultra4 Western Championship and 5th place going into the Nationals race next month!
The car is still in great shape, I have some work to do before Nationals, but I will be ready to fight for another podium.