One Wild Ride!
There won't be poker in this blog post, this will be about my other passion, rally. In particular about the first rally I raced this year, Rally Sierra del Tigre in Guadalajara, México.
This was one of the two gravel rallies of the year, the others are on tarmac. My race car is a Renault Clio RS modified for rally on suspension, engine, roll cage and many other things. It's a very light and fast car, unfortunately it's very frail and it gets easily damaged on rough terrains as gravel which makes it relatively likely to not finish a gravel rally successfully.
I'll try to briefly explain how a rally works: First the rally is split in various "SS" (Special Stages), the times of the cars are measured from point A to B, and the one who has the least total time in all the SS wins, cars start 2 minutes apart from each other to try to avoid that they catch up to each other. (but it still happens very often). There's also transit stages, which are not timed. For these races, you just have to cross them to get to the next starting point of the SS. Those exist to travel through towns and parts where the race can't be held.
Before the race, the driver and co-driver pass the stages taking notes of the roads. Every corner is written down so the co-driver will dictate those notes to me as I drive and act as my eyes on the rally, this is called 'recce'.
In this rally, Sierra del Tigre, while doing the recce, we realized that the road was in terrible conditions, full of holes, bumps, cattle grids, big rocks and in general a very rough terrain. We knew it was going to be very challenging for the car, and we didn't want to go back home with the car damaged in the trailer, but we had no choice at that point, we had to race!
The next day as we were just starting the first SS, we see a rally car damaged at the side of the road. Just as we are about to pass him, something breaks on the clutch. My co-driver is quite a resourceful mechanic, so he managed to fix it quickly, but we already lost around six minutes. Six minutes is huge and normally, there would be no hopes of catching up. With such a destructive course however, we knew we still had a chance/hope that others would have problems too, so we decided to continue full throttle and have some fun.
The clutch problem continued and every few minutes we had to stop and fix it quickly. As we progressed in the stages of the race, we started to see more and more cars by the side of the road, either crashed or with mechanical problems. At this point, we knew that we might get a decent place in the race despite being so far behind in time.
A little bit ahead, my co-driver made an uncharacteristic mistake and he skipped a note that almost made me crash into some police and their trucks who were blocking a closed road. I was furious and cursed at him a couple of times since he knows he can't make those mistakes since one wrong note and you could fly into a canyon.
After finishing the third of six stages, we went into service (pit stop), and it was there we realized that there were only 3 Clio cars remaining of the 6 or 7 that started the rally. We were only behind the Clio in 2nd place by a few seconds, so we fixed the clutch again properly this time and chose to drive the next 3 stages carefully and get our third place finish. Of course, this is easier said than done.
We kept going and we saw yet another Clio abandoning the race, which was great news. Now we just had to cross the finish to get second, but lady luck wouldn't let us cruise through that easily. Out of nowhere, our car just wouldn't turn. I thought we had a puncture, my co-driver got out to see what was going on, but everything seemed fine. I kept driving but the problem got worse, the car was barely able to turn. We weren't sure why, but we had no time to find out since there is a rule in rallying that says: if you don't reach the next control in time you are disqualified.
Usually that time is never even considered by us since on normal conditions we arrive several minutes before that time expires. This time however, we were forced to a crawling speed and facing the elimination, time was the only thing that mattered. It was a dangerous ride on a damaged car that wouldn't turn, along with a brutally rough terrain.
Finally we finished the last Special Stage, and to finished the rally, we just had to go through the last transit on asphalt to cross the finish line. As I said before, this is usually done at regular cruising speed, but we were way behind pace. We had to push it to the limit on the open road, going over 112 MPH on a 2 way road, passing cars with upcoming traffic. I remember hearing my co-driver say: We are about 2 kilometers away, and we have 50 seconds before we are disqualified. I went full throttle and managed to reach the finish line seconds before being disqualified. YES!
On the finish line, we saw that only 13 of the 34 starting cars managed to finish the rally and we finished in 2nd place. After a few obligatory celebration beers as the night was approaching, one guy says to me, "Hey, have you looked at your car?" So I walked around the car and I saw that the right tire was totally bent. One of two screws that holds the tire in place had broke, which explained why the car didn't turn properly. The tire was "dancing" all over the place and that little screw held like a champion doing the work of two, and it was the only thing keeping our tire from flying away in the asphalt road at 112 MPH... scary. I guess we got a little bit of luck after all the bad luck we had.
So now the car went back home to be repaired for the next rally. I hope you enjoyed the read. Here are a couple of videos you might like.
This is the mistake of my co-driver who skipped the pace note, it doesn't look that fast but believe me, in-car cameras totally kill any sense of speed, this was far scarier than it looks.