“Whats it going to take to get you guys to come to Baja with us”
Two weeks before the race this is not a question I would normally expect to hear and a difficult question to answer.
Whatever it took it seemed to happen because its 5am and I am climbing into my car in Boulder Colorado on the first leg of the trip to Baja.
Snowmass village to pick up Jason member no. 2 of “Chase 1” Jason has been off work with a broken arm so it was easy for him to get the time off for the trip, he also needs little convincing about a trip to Mexico.
Not only that, but a Ford Raptor makes an excellent chase truck for a Baja campaign and Jason loves to use his for what it was designed to do.
Loaded up and it’s on to the next stop, Grand Junction to the race shop to pick up member 3, Mark, an experienced Class 11 campaigner, he also needs little prodding to make the annual trip south!
Another bag a few more tools and a bunch of VW spares loaded up and we are off, late in the day but that’s pretty much right on time for a race trip! Next stop, Primm Nevada for the overnight bivvy, well a cheap casino hotel at least. But not before the obligatory stop at In and Out in St. George UT.
No road trip west is complete or allowed without that.
Tuesday dawns and the destination is Ensenada Mexico, not too much of a stretch from the state line and we make the trip quickly, cross the border into Tijuana from San Diego pick up our tourist visas at the fresh new office in record time. WAY easier than dealing with the old guy at the port in Ensenada who has been there since the beginning of time. Things are beginning to change in Mexico.
On the road again, headed south and we encounter the first detour of the trip, HWY 1 had a major landslide just after last year’s Baja 1000 and has not yet been put right, no surprises there and a reminder that even with changes, some things still stay the same.
The detour took us through an area that none of us had seen before, an awesome little valley that had been bypassed by time like most of the rest of Baja, a very nice change from the usual toll road fight for your life.
Once in Ensenada traditions must be adhered to so first stop MK Taco on the Melacon a place this crew has been eating at for years. We have a 100% success rate here, something that cannot be said for be said for all dinning in Baja!
Next off to the house that we rented out on the beach, another longtime favorite and a secret location, that we don’t want to give up!
We settle in and are later joined by the four team principals of Project Baja.
This is one of my favorite times, sitting around and sharing stories from many previous Baja campaigns. Calling it a meeting neatly disguises the fact it is just a cover for us to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes! These stories, while self-indulgent are in fact very valuable. It reminds returning folks that being in Mexico is a very serious business, fun yes, but it can be very dangerous down here as well.
Fatigue, other chase drivers forgetting that they are not the ones in the race, difficult road conditions huge amounts of traffic, drunk people, livestock and locals are all part of the challenge of racing and chasing in Mexico.
For the uninitiated it can be a little intimidating, for some downright scary. It needs to be.
You do always see the nod of heads but not the real grasp of what they are about to undertake.
After the meeting we shuffle some gear around between vehicles tinker a little with “Tope” and put her to bed in the garage that this nice little house affords us.
Wednesday arrives with a nice little cloud cover, nice because its Tech and contingency day, typically a long day of waiting in line for tech inspection.Its usually very hot and VERY sunny!
But it is so much more than that,picture this.
A holiday where all the kids are out of school, all their parents are off work to look after them and throw in 3 holidays on top of that with a festival or two thrown in for good measure and you get some idea of the level of chaos that this day involves.
Essentially you line up early, and push your car through contingency row, which is made up of race sponsors booths. The line car be very long depending on the number of entries and how early you line up. At the end of the line is tech inspection.
Simple enough right? Well in between are all the holidays, festivals and side shows mentioned earlier filled with seemingly almost all of Baja’s population screaming out to anyone even remotely attached to a race car for autographs, t-shirts (the one on your back will be just fine) and the unofficial currency of Baja “Steekers!” It is quite a mob scene. watching brand new racers hand out hero cards and stickers and sign autographs on just about anything (and I do mean anything) is just one of the most amazing things you can witness.
Through the mayhem Tech is almost a calming experience and before long we are through and the car and most of the rest of the team are headed back to the Casa on the Playa.
A quick dinner at another local Taqueria and then the all important team meeting, the big one where we all get together and review chase plans and check and double check all the information that will be needed to keep the car moving. Cell and Sat phone numbers, radio frequencies- primary, secondary and tertiary for our team as well as those for all pit support and emergency contacts. Maps, Chase Books GPS Downloads.
The list is long, boring but crucial for safe and successful racing in Baja.
Once all this is done, there is the last minute shuffling of supplies, parts and equipment between our three chase vehicles some last minute tinkering and and adjusting in the race car and its time to tuck Tope up in the garage for the night and get some sleep, the last good sleep for the next who knows how long!
Race day; Its funny. You thrash and thrash on every last detail and race day arrives and there is nothing to do but wait.
With our estimated start time around set for around 2 PM there is not much to do for the morning, pack up the house clean up finish sorting the chase rigs and then sit around and do some more waiting. It is one of the things you get used to down here. Hurry up and wait.
Our first chase assignments are pretty easy. Chase 3 will wait and watch the car off the start, chase 1 and chase 2 will get tacos and head out to RM 14 for our first chance to see the car roll by.
We get the call that they are off the line. Its on, such an exciting time!
We sit out on the course for a while and watch cars start to get closer to our class…. where is the car….. where are they.
It is of course just us being impatient, the car is perfectly on time and before long…. there they are!!! and like that the car whips by and is out of sight. AND in the lead, did I mention that?
Right, on to the next assignment. Not to many more miles on down the course for our next chance to see the car.
Moving quickly we get to the course in time to see other cars pass.
“Have you seen 1137?” we ask a spectator, “Yeah, already through”
Damn, our little car is flying! Seems like moving quickly was not quick enough. The guys in the car are doing a great job, moving fast and banking time.
Jumping ahead chase 1 and 2 split for our next assignment, we get to the next chase road in time to see the car come by with another racer, such a cool thing to see your car really racing another car! Not the most usual thing for a class 11 team, did I mention how cool it was??
With the car through it was time to get on with getting the car serviced, Chase 3 had gone on to KM 77 on Hwy 5, a common stop for the 1000 to set up our pit, now joined by chase 2 we prepare for the car to arrive.
“1137 race to 1137 chase, we are 1 mile out”
Right, go time. Its funny, its a couple of hours since the start and there has been periods of frantic activity followed by lots and lots of waiting.
The car rolls into the pit and is swarmed by the crew, all with jobs to do.
Look the car over, fuel, change out GoPros driver and co-driver change. A flurry of activity at not quite F1 levels of urgency and the car is gone off into the Baja night.
Everyone is feeling good and just pumped that the car is doing great.
By this stage, one of the other Class 11 competitors were out of the race, such is the brutality of Baja.
The course now heads south, first on Hwy 3 and then parallel to the east towards Valle T, the next scheduled pit for the car.
We are looking at just fuel, but it seems we need a lot of it, far more than the car should have used.
So, a re-jet of the carb is decided upon.
Car rolls in and we all once again go to work at our assigned jobs, the car is fueled while the carb work is going on.
“Fuel on the ground” not something you ever want to hear, upon investigation we find that there is a leak on the fuel cell at the sender unit. Tools are sourced and I go to work under Baja work lights. That’s right, headlamps tend to be part of the uniform and an indispensable item.
With the car serviced and repaired we once again send the car off into the night.
After looking at our chase plan, we see problem.
We need “The Matts” our next driver co-driver combo over on the coast for our next change and pit, but to get them there we either have to go all the way back around through Ensenada and down the 1 or we could follow the race car on the cross over road and back to the 1 saving many hours.
Chase 1 and 2 hit the road and cruise across on race course. Not really a problem at this point because, right on schedule, the 11’s are amongst the last cars on the road!
Chase 1, the Raptor , pushes ahead of chase 2 to follow the race car as close as possible.
Even with as capable as the Raptor is the little VW flys ahead of us on the bumpy twisty dusty mountain road and is gone from Check Point 2 AND the BFG Pit by the time we get there and meet up with Chase 3 on Hwy 1 at San Isabel.
We meet up with the crew from Chase 3 to find that the car had come and gone long ago, good news as it put the car well ahead of the time cuts.
From San Isabel the course headed out towards the Pacific coast where the course was reportedly pretty tough, the fact that those reports came from many of the Trophy Truck teams made me a little nervous for our little bug.
For what seemed like an eternity we heard no news from the the, typically we try to think that no news is good news, but after a while no news becomes worrying enough that we get on the sat phone and call through to one of our watchers in the states. Being able to have someone thousands of miles away check the vehicle tracking to find out location and speed is modern technology at its best, a far cry for my first Baja adventures.
“The car is at RM 184.75, 0 miles an hour” “OK thanks” The precision is just amazing.
Time for chase 1 to move, look at the BFG chase book and there it is, a chase road that gets us to with in half a mile of the race car.
Off into the night, following the directions in the BFG Book and resetting the trip meter as directed and before long we are at the race course. In we go and there it is as the tracking said.
The car was at the bottom of a steep ravine in a huge rain ditch, big enough to swallow almost the entire car. The guys were already hard at work trying to extract the car.
With the MaxTracks already in place as ramps we hooked up the Raptor and pulled the car out of the ditch, packed up the car and sent it off again.
Back out to our chase location we stop and wait for the car only to notice that we had a tire going flat. The race car is not the only vehicle you need to try and keep going in a race like this.
The car rips on by in the dark and off we go again to the next pit at the Pariaiso Hotel right on the Hwy.
Waiting, back to waiting. we manage to hear from the car that they are stuck again, off we go again. back out to the course and there is the car stuck at the bottom of a silt hill, not only that but to get there we had to go over 4 similar hills just to get to the car. We hook up again and it takes all the Raptor has to drag the car up the hills to near our pit.
By this stage the car is a little tired, it is having trouble breathing.
The silt, dust sand and just plain Mexico was blocking the air filter badly. Other than that the car was in surprisingly good shape, testament to the amount of prep the guys had put into the car.
The car is fueled and people put eyes on just about every part of the car, while this is happening Mark messes with the tuning and I go to work on the obstructed airway.
The filter was filled with debris, it was small and doing its job, but it was clogged solid. Not great for the way the car runs. Which didn’t bode well for what lay ahead.
Back out into the silt and then along the beach.
Mark and Jason were massively jealous as we waited for the car to hit the sand, both had raced down here for years on courses that missed the beach, and now here the guys hit the beach flat out turned left and headed south along the water.
Funnily enough, in the tunnel of light that you live in at night down here they had NO idea they were on the beach!
For the next several hours the chase crews play a game of sit, wait listen for the radio and rush off to the car to hook up and help keep it moving.
The guys and the car were doing amazingly well but they were starting to get pushed by their biggest adversary. The Clock. to finish within the time limit we had to push an average of 26 miles an hour. Which is way faster than a Trophy Truck has to manage it, their cut off is exactly the same time as ours even though they start hours and hours ahead of us. Not quite fair, but I digress.
The night passes and we help the car several more times.
As the sun comes up we find our selves out in the middle of an enormous silt bed, two miles long and about 3/4’s of a mile wide. And deep, very, very deep.
I could write a whole novel on silt, but maybe another time. In short Silt sucks.
We fuel the car and watch an amazing sunrise. Hook up extract and move on, into the sand again, hook up, extract and move again.
The road smooths and gets fast and the car disappears from sight.
Shortly after the radio buzzes to life.
“1137 Race to Chase 1, — We just lost the back of the car”
“Um” there is a pause, I have seen cars break apart before, entire engines or suspensions falling off.
“Can you let us know what you need” “Just looking now” came the reply.
We continue up the road and see the car stopped at the road side with a wheel and hub missing.
“Ok lets get it going” is the first thing out of my mouth, I have been going for 24 hours and all I can think of is how do we get the car moving, thats Baja for you.
By this stage we are behind the time cut off, check points and pits are closing and that means you are on your own. You could catch up in a fast car but you need to find all your own fuel and emergency support. That can be dangerous down here. Its dangerous enough as it is down here but trying to race under those conditions with a very small determined team can be deadly.
The car is pieced back together and heads off to the meet the rest of the crew.
This is the hardest part. The team meeting to discuss the next move.
Long story short, the decision is made to end our race.
With some of the crew wanting to get some more miles on the car it heads out again to hit some more of the course and push the car down to our finishing point of RM 300.
Slowly we pack up the car onto the trailer and head to a beachside hotel in San Quintin.
We get to our rooms clean up and head out to dinner.
Its a funny time, disappointment that we didn’t finish, excitement over what we had just achieved. Telling of stories, retelling of old ones and talk of, “Next Time”