I’ve wanted to race a stage rally since I was a kid. I entered last year, but lost a motor on the first stage of the Gorman Ridge Rally. This year, the race would be the first one of the season after a summer break to prepare the car.
After the Ultra4 race in Mexico, the car was slowly overhauled. I had the motor gone through again by Alba. The front differential housing was cracked, so I upgraded to a turbo diff and the RCV axlesto match. I put my short course shock/spring set up on the car, broke in the new motor and I was ready to rally! One thing loomed over me though, I needed to find a co-driver. Both of my usual navigators fell through, so I had to find some one local, available, with safety gear and navigation experience. The rally organizers started calling everyone who had taken the co-drivers training course in the last three years. They found a perfect match just 3 days before the rally, Steven Winnat, an experienced navigator from the American Rally Association.
Day one is Recce (stage reconnaissance), we drove all the stages in the order we would race them and he adjusted the pace notes to our liking. Many of the stages at this rally have tight corners and exposed cliffs, so the notes are critical to staying on the road. Steve was very professional and focused, I was glad to have such an experienced navigator on these technical stages.
Race day. There were about 25 entries and 3 UTVs. The UTVs had to be escorted on the road between certain stages so they had us together in the back. The only Turbo UTV at the event was driven by Stephan Verdier. He holds many stage records set at this rally, so they had to give the last car a 5 minute gap before they sent the UTVs. Finishing the first stage with a confidence building pace was a huge relief for me. Then the second stage went well too, and I was starting to build trust in myself, the notes, and the car. Stage three was a repeat of stage one, so I upped the pace. About mid stage I slid outside on a left 3 off camber and had to correct, steering off the road and bushwhacking to re-enter the course a turn later. That rattled my confidence and the danger of stage rallies became real.The next few stages were fun and fast, and we continued to work on our communication and timing. Calling the notes too late, can surprise the driver and risk a crash. Calling the notes too early can get confusing and you can “loose the notes” if there are similar calls in quick succession. This happened on a fast part of stage 6, with many straights, slight turns and bumps. We lost the notes and I came into a right 3 too hot and went into the bushes again. Luckily it was fast and easy to get back on the road and find the notes again.
During the long lunch time service, we learned we were 4th overall in the rally by just a few seconds! The final 4 stages were the most exposed technical stages of the rally, and a very good opportunity for UTV’s to make up time on the true rally cars. We ran a quick, but conservative pace which I was confident would finish the rally and likely podium until “The Jump”…..
It looked tame during Rece, and I jump the car all the time, but I underestimated how fast I would be going at race pace. The jump LAUNCHED the car about 140 feet. Pitching and rotating slowly in the air, landing, then becoming airborne again as we bounced further down the road. The photographers told me later that they had never seen a car go even half that far. Unfortunately, the compression broke a shock and bent a few other things. I was able to drive out of the stage, but decided to admit defeat and get the trailer instead of trying to limp the car through the rest of the stages risking further damage.
I had a great time and learned so much at my first real rally, I am excited to try again next year and fight for a podium finish.