Vegas to Reno 2014 was the dawn of a new day for Canguro Racing and we couldn’t be happier about the way the day unfolded for us. Was it perfect? No. Was it awesome? Absolutely. As most of you know this was our first race with our new race truck. Our Class 5 is still for sale but her replacement, a 2010 200 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, is an amazing piece of machinery and a well-built, race proven truck that fits the team far better than our beloved Trophy Beetle. We are all friends because of our love of Land Cruisers, as well as our membership in the TLCA and Wasatch Cruisers. With Monica (yes we name our race vehicles) we are getting back to our roots but also taking a huge step forward as a race team.
V2R was not only a test of the new truck but with Kurt out of the country we were racing with new co-drivers as an attempt to learn from each other and understand if there are better ways to communicate/drive/navigate. We settled on a plan of rolling teams. Marc and Dave would start, then Dave would drive with Will co-driving. Then Will driving with Ryan etc. etc.
As this was the first race with the new truck we decided to run Sportsman’s class to not put any pressure on ourselves and ease our way into the race and understanding how Monica performs. Truth be told outside of Marc none of us had more than 20 mins or so behind the wheel. Then a funny thing happened. Everything came very naturally. Because of the high COG and underpowered brakes the truck behaved very much like an 80 series Land Cruiser. A more powerful, capable, awesome version of an 80 but still similar enough that our team of former and current 80 owners could very easily drive Monica quickly down the race course. Running Sportsman meant we were at the back of the pack. And by back of the pack I mean the second to last vehicle off the line. Marc and Dave saw this as an opportunity to pass 299 teams. Within 3 miles they had already caught the first vehicle. A few miles later after plenty of lights and liberal use of the horn they decided it was time to nudge the truck in front of them to get around. They were obviously faster but the driver refused to yield. Normally at the back of the pack nerfing is not needed as we are all privateers that want to preserve our equipment but in this case we were being held up. Marc eased up to the back of the truck, and gave a noticeable but safe bump. They didn’t move. They didn’t speed up. They just stayed put. They held us up for the next 15 miles, while both passing numerous other race vehicles, until we finally had a chance to get around in a silty 90 degree high speed corner. After a few miles we caught up to that truck’s teammate. This time Marc was a little less subtle in his nerf, frustration having got the best of him, and the truck was quick to move over. Marc and Dave ran quickly for the next 75 miles or so, passing a dozen on course vehicles and another 20 broken down in the process. During a 25mph speed/no passing zone they got stuck behind a slower car with a flat tire that allowed the field to catch up to the back of us. Once around the flat tire car Marc made really good time to distance himself from the stack of cars behind him with only a Class 1 and Trophy Truck getting around. He pulled into Pit 3 and hopped out. Dave moved over to the driver’s seat and Will climbed in to co-drive. Lug nuts checked, 5 gallons of gas added (not sure on the race fuel economy yet) and they were back out onto the course.
Dave and Will made really good time (despite some GPS and radio issues) for the first half of their section passing a dozen broken or stuck cars in the process. Then after a noticeable back fire in a 90 degree turn the motor started to stumble. Will communicated to the pits that we had a ‘power issue.’ Somehow this was received as an ‘electrical issue’ by the chase teams. He passed codes to the teams to check out. Intake and exhaust was discussed, bad fuel, elevation, heat, all options. After a quick stop at pit 4 to pass codes, they took off. At Pit 5 the exhaust was checked for damage/restriction. Still they made good time just with a little less low end power. They continued to pass broken and stuck trucks taking the total to about 45 over the first 40% of the race. Then a funny thing happened. About 3 miles from Pit 6 the power all came back. Dave took the opportunity finish off his leg very aggressively with full power at the ready. Pit 6 meant 32 gallons of fuel, Will to Driver, Ryan as Co-driver and GoPro card swaps. Then the truck was back out on course. Awesome work by our chase crews in the pits all race. The motor ran issue free until the end of the race. A text to the former truck owner confirmed he’d had a similar issue at a very hot Baja 500 and we kind of dismissed it at heat related and to look into it after the race.
Will and Ryan found some very good speed over the next 120 miles. They peaked out at an easy 110 mph after coming down out of the mountains. Monica has a significant speed advantage over Mathida. We would have been pushing hard to make 85 through the same area with the old car. Will and Ryan ran incident free and had the pleasure of racing into the sunset. For those who have never raced there is something special about the sunset (or sunrise in the case of the Baja 1000) during the race. All the dust in the air magnifies the color and the whole race course begins to take on a different feel as the powerful HIDs take over the night. Another quick stop at Pit 10 with Will hoping out, Ryan taking the helm and Darren finally getting in the car. At this point our average speed was around 45mph and we were easily 5 hours ahead of where we were the previous year. The chase teams had spent the majority of the race to this point leapfrogging each other and joining together at the pits went off in three separate directions.
As darkness fell Ryan and Darren settled into a rhythm they would follow the next few hours; brutally slow course while playing leap frog with the same 5-6 cars. They’d get us in the twisties, we’d get them back in the straights, whoops and silt. Overall the going was slow but consistent. At pit 13 Ryan and Darren swaps seats, the truck was topped off with fuel and out into the darkness they went to the finish. Then our night took a turn for the worse.
The speeds had picked up and we were 2.5 hours ahead of the next car in class when Darren came over a rise and had to choose the best way around 3 rocks in the middle of the road. It was a lesser of two evils choice as there was no way to get around all 3 cleanly and a rock on the right got him. It was a hard hit but neither thought much about it at first. Unfortunately it was a well-placed hit that broke the lower shock bolt. Not huge deal but the shock then took out the tire. They swapped the tire and limped to Pit 14. At pit 14 a bolt was sourced and the shock reinstalled without the limiting strap. Darren and Ryan took off again but a more controlled speed. They made good time through pit 15 then up into the mountains and the last 30 miles to the finish.
The last 18 miles to the finish are brutal. For anyone who has driven it I don’t need to explain. For those who haven’t just imagine a road full of bowling balls, but they are sharp, now climb the side of a mountain on that road. It’s slow, it’s monotonous and it’s harsh on the vehicle. A finish at Vegas to Reno is well earned to say the least. In the middle of this boulder strewn road the top shock mount broke. It was obviously tweaked earlier and finally succumbed. Even worse it took out the tranny coolant lines in the process. This left Darren and Ryan with only one plan of attack. Drive til the truck got hot. Stop. Let it cool. Dump in some water. Drive some more. Wait to cool. Over and over. It took them an hour to go 6 miles before the long coast down the hill to the finish line. Awesome patience and work by both of them. It’s hard to keep your cool in those situations.
We fell from first to third in class but we were still ecstatic with the finish. We’d raced fast and we’d also overcome some legitimate adversity and still managed a podium with the new truck. Not only that but we finished almost 5 hours faster than the year before. We have high hopes for the Baja 1000.