-The adventure began on clear sunny morning heading south to Mexico
through Mexicali, the capital of Baja California. Also well know for its
Chinese food too. I’ll stick to tacos. The trip to San Felipe is just
a little over 2 hours once south of the border. The first part out of Mexicali
you near the end of the Colorado River, across dry lakebeds, and through
interesting rock formations. Once close enough to see the ocean, you can see
how far the
tidal change is, and how far out the tide can go.
As you continue south, you eventually come to the “Arches of San Felipe”.
This is where the 240 mile race will start on Saturday morning, and finish
Saturday evening within the 10 hour time limit.
First things first, confirmation of accommodations. Always an interesting
adventure in Mex. As we were escorted to the house we were supposed to be renting,
it was evident there was another race team already there. The owners partner
already rented it without her knowing it. The beautiful weather and the record
number of racers caused quite the shortage of accommodations. We eventually
were able to secure a small one bedroom with one bath and a small kitchen with
refrigerator. Only problem was there was no running water, no electricity,
no propane for the water heater (in the event we had water). One bed, one sleeper
couch, and one couch. 9 people. Let’s say it took some open mindedness
and some creative “rigging”, but by the time night came, there
were hot showers with the light on.
Friday started with a “pre run” of the bottom portion of the race
course. The last two years we had not ever made it to the bottom portion, so
we figured we would get a good look at it prior to this race. The pre-runner*(*see
definitions below) can maintain speeds comparable to the race truck in certain
sections of the course, while maintaining some of its practicality for an “everyday
driver” and chase truck**. With its 4 wheel drive, it can compensate
for “discoveries” along the prerun.
We were going to do the bottom loop consisting of Chanate Wash and the famed
Matomi Wash, each over 25 miles long, filled with big rocks and deep sand.
Fortunately, the prerun went great, and we got back to the highway way ahead
Since we finished pre-running, it was time to get our registration papers
so we could take the truck thru contingency and technical inspection. This
has to be one of the best venues in all of Motorsports for contingency to take
place. It is on a small strip of beachfront on the Sea of Cortez, called the
Malecon. The ocean on one side, with the beach and the local fishermens pangas,
and on the other side, all the bars, restaurants and shops that make Baja so
special. Surrounding the race teams as they push the cars down the Malecon
are thousands of race fans literally from around the world.
Everyone at the races has begun to recognize one of the Solar Racing members,
and that would be Picasso, the Harlequin Great Dane of Co-Piloto “Nacho” Sanchez.
No he’s not part horse, no he’s not part dalmation, and no, we
can’t guarantee he won’t fling drool your way. Picasso is only
one of the many unique and interesting sites.
The Solar Racing F-150 makes it thru technical inspection without a hitch.
Time to put the hot-rod away until morning. Our hopes and expectations are
high with the new, bigger, better motor just installed. Time go get mass amounts
of tacos, quesadillas, and quesotacos, and call it a night.
Saturday, Race Day! I still wasn’t sure what to expect with the new
motor. I had only driven down the pavement to tech. No chance to open it
up yet. The chance would come soon enough. The Police have blocked off several
lanes leading to the Arches so racers can stage their vehicles while awaiting
their start times. The faster classes go first, and then computer draw determines
place within class. The race is based on total elapsed time and start vehicles
30 seconds apart. We start 5th out 6 in the class.
The Stock Full class had two Hummer H-1’s, a new Nissan Titan, and three
Ford F-150’s. In addition to the Solar Racing 1995 F-150, there was a
1972 flying the flags of Argentina, Mexico and the United States. The other
F-150 was a beautiful new 2005 4x4.
As we are sitting just a few truck lengths back, we can hear the turbos and
see the smoke as the H-1’s leave the line. The Hummer’s of Eric
Henn and John Griffin were first and second off the line, respectively. Next
it was the ’72, then the ’05, now it was our stageing.
As we get waved into place by the official timer, we anxiously
await the 5 seconds to go and watch the green flag rise. As soon as it drops,
so does the
gas pedal... as we go through the gears, the new power was evident. The
oncoming local traffic makes the wide open run down the graded road that much
more interesting. As we go through the dump, we can see we already have the
taillights of the ’05 in sight. Pre race discussions indicated they would
gladly move out of our way, however our preferred line and greater speed got
us by so quick I don’t know if they ever saw us coming. Next is was pass
the ’72 that just didn’t seem to suck up the bumps like our Bilsteins
did. Much to our surprise, the H-1 of Griffin was on the side with the hood
open. Bad for him, good for us. We were now in 2nd place, both on track and
on time by the 6 mile mark. Now it was time to go after the other H-1.
Our expert spotters from ACE Motorsports along the course indicated we were
maintaining the same pace as the H-1 through the first 30+ miles, regarded
as just brutal rolling bumps that just go on and on and on and on and on and
on. The equivalent of 50 pages of repeating that. Probably worse.
The course finally smoothed out and became much more of a sandy wash. We were
finally in a position to put some power down and close the gap and pass the
Hummer. Finally, at race mile 50 we could tell we were getting close because
their was lingering black smoke. That meant diesel, that meant the Hummer
was close. As soon as the wash opened up a little more, we could see the headlights
ahead. As we came up on it, it was hard to tell if they saw us, until we
to pass. The extra wide Hummer can make it very difficult to get by if they
don’t want you too. Most vehicles we can push out of the way, they
are one of the few exceptions. After a couple of blocks, we decided to fake
the left, out power to the right. It was going to work, only problem we were
side by and there was only one line, his. Mine had a tree in it. Neither
wanted to lift, although the tree was missed, there was an exhange of paint.
we both run steel fender, otherwise the fiberglass would be gone.
The course finally opened up again, and we weren’t waiting around. We
used every bit of the Ford’s power to out accelerate the Hummer. We knew
how fast he was and wanted to start getting a good cushion. It’s off-road
racing and anything can happen to anyone anywhere.
Our lead was only enjoyed for a brief time as the H-1 was able to pass again
through some really bad cross grain rollers. We were determined not to let
go and stayed within 20 yards looking forward to the upcoming high speed road
section to make our move. Suddenly, clanging metal sounds from the rear of
the truck. Without wanting to sacrifice the truck, we backed off the pace.
The crew from ACE was in place for the race just up the course. We decided
to bring it in there to have them look at it. The rear limiting straps had
broke, and the noise was the shocks bottoming out. Quick repairs got the F-150
back on course, still in 2nd place. Travis Walser was going to take over driving
just before the half way point, and if he was going to catch the Hummer, he
had to have a chance.
After the driver change, Travis soon passed the H-1 who was off the side of
the road doing some unknown repair. We were back in first with favorable, fast
course ahead. Too good to be true. Without warning there was a couple huge
backfires, then nothing. The motor was dead. Victim of shredded distributor
gear. We chased the race truck down the course in the prerunner to provide
assistance. On course repairs were attempted, even at the sacrifice of the
prerunner, to no avail. The race truck needed to be towed to the next pit.
To put that in perspective, it was approximately 20 miles to the next pit,
on the other side of the mountains, across the desert terrain. Fortunately,
the aforementioned attributes of the Solar Racing Prerunner were going to be
put to the test. The truck lived up to its requirements and pulled the 6000lb
disabled race truck all the way to next pits. In the meantime, only the H-1
and the ’05 have passed. The ’72 was seen pulling off the track
while we were under tow. We were towing faster than he was able to go under
his own power. I think the entire suspension system was failing. Still no sign
of Griffin or the Titan.
The omnipresent chase crew of ACE had met up with the Solar Racing Pit Crew
to ensure a quick replacement of the faulty parts. At the same time, rear leaf
spring repairs were being made. In the meantime, Griffin comes cruising by
at his normal “tortoise” pace, slow and steady.
The repairs were finally done, and the engine fired up. I jumped back in to
try to make the next checkpoint before we timed out. Unfortunately, only a
couple of miles down the road, big backfire again. The truck was dead again.
It was time to wait for the chase trucks and call it a day.
A third attempt and a third disappointment. Next time...
Special note, the Solar Racing unofficial, but honorary mascot Picasso, suffers
broken skull. After a long weekend in San Felipe, his enthusiasm to get back
to the ranch brought him a little too close to one of his equine family members.
Picasso would probably disagree with the “luck” of the horseshoe.
Fortunately, his prognosis is good. For more info, please see firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Pre-runner – vehicle used for pre-race reconnaissance, or a “pre-run” of
the race course. At some races, the drivers have the opportunity to pre-run
the racecourse. This gives the driver and navigator an opportunity to find
the best lines. A NASCAR, Indy, or Formula One driver get their practice runs,
on a course with as little as 4 turns to at the max 15 turns on a road course.
They usually will concentrate on something like Turn 4 or Turn 15 on to the
final straight away.
The Off-Roader’s focus is a tad broader, i.e. “Watch turn on to
power line road, beware upside down car on left,” or the “left
turn down rocky hill at race mile 122,” or the “high speed sweeping
right, off camber at race mile 760” or “abandoned mine shaft 15
feet off course”. These are the types of things that a pre-run helps
prepare the racer for. With current technology, we are able to use Global Positioning
System to not only mark the course, but also to indicate the preferred lines,
as well as any danger areas (indicated on the GPS by skull and crossbones).
The “Pre-Runner” style truck is a rapidly growing segment of the
aftermarket industry. Pre-runners range anywhere from a little stock mini pickup
with some extra lights and flared fenders to half -million dollar state of
the art high performance works of art.
I have attached a photo of the Solar Racing Pre-Runner for your reference.
** Chase Truck – vehicle used for supporting race truck during the race.
It is called a chase truck because unlike most other type of auto racing, off-road
is not confined to a small lap, which even at the maximum wouldn’t exceed
3 miles. Off Road (other than the short-course races) ranges from a short lap
of 11 miles at Laughlin, to two 500 +/- loops, to a 1000 mile plus Baja Peninsula
run. The crew in the support truck must “chase” the race truck
from pit to pit.
Chase Vehicles range from little dune buggies, to the wide range of pickup
trucks (including pre-runners), to semi trailers equipped just like the stationary
trucks used at the short circuit races.
Solar Racing chase team utilizes a variety of Ford Trucks and Vans, including
4 wheel drive F-150’s, F-250, F-350, Van, and Box Van. Ford is a big
supporter of Off-Road racing and utilizes race proven results to make sure
all of their trucks are “Built Ford Tough”.
“ We race, you win.”