I’ll do my best to summarize the race but not make this too long. Having raced over 2500 miles in our first two successful attempts at the Baja 1000 we were optimistic headed into the race. We had our sights set on the top of the podium but fell short and suffered our first DNF in Mexico.
We were the third in our class to leave the starting line with Marc behind the wheel and Ryan co-driving. Within 60 miles it was shaping up to be a two horse race between us and the H1 Hummer of off road racing and multi-time overall winner Rod Hall and his son Chad. We swapped places in the lead a few times and by race mile 110, near Erendira, Marc turned the wheel over to Ryan and Adam hopped in to navigate with the 8101 Hummer just 8 mins in front of us.
As the sun sank into the Pacific the course turned into the mountains and Ryan hounded the Hummer keeping up a great average speed through a challenging and technical section of the race course. Around 9:15, near RM249, in the wash just south of El Rosario, Kurt took the helm with Will taking over for Adam.
Kurt and Will were racing through the most remote section of the course and by all reports would be filled with vehicle swallowing holes of silt, steep climbs and more and more silt. Monica and Kurt tore this section apart. Not only did he pass the Hummer but put a huge lead on them. After turning the truck over to Will the lead got even larger. Nearly 2.5 hours now separated us and 2nd place. That is when our race fell apart.
We’re still not exactly sure what happened and probably never will but they ran out of gas about 20 miles before their next fuel stop. Either the truck didn’t get completely full at RM249 or the deep silt destroyed our fuel economy. Best guess is a little bit of both. Regardless the situation wasn’t ideal. If you look at this year’s course and were asked to choose the worst possible spot to have an issue it would have been within about 2 miles of where they ran out of gas. Even worse our chase teams were also in very remote areas.
Kurt made some phone calls with the Sat phone then he and Will went for a walk to see if they could find some gas. Finally they were able to track down Ryan and Chase 1. A plan was set in place to get fuel to them. It would take 4 hours to get gas in the tank and some challenging driving for Chase 1 but it got done. Back moving word spread across the peninsula to the rest of the team and we were all optimistic we could make up the time lost and retake the lead. Sadly things would only get worse.
Our throttle body had taken on too much silt. The butterfly valve would get stuck every now and then. Not the worst thing in the world. Except in our class we have to run a stock motor. A 2010 Toyota 5.7 V8 does not like it when the throttle gets stuck in place so the computer would default to limp mode and we’d lose all power. The solution? stop the truck, unbelt, hop out, pop the hood, kill the truck to clear the codes and tap on the throttle body to unstick the butterfly valve. When working Monica was fast and making good time but rarely would it last long enough to make real progress. Will drove as hard as he could and Kurt was efficient in his efforts to keep the throttle body working and they managed to make it through Check Point 5 just mins before closing. They took on fuel with our new logistics plan in place and turned the truck over to me and Darren at RM515 now about 2 hours behind the class leading Hummer.
The first 70 miles of our section was speed controlled pavement. Monica ran flawlessly. Within a mile of hitting dirt the truck was back in limp mode. Over the next 60 miles of whoops, rocks, silt and the occasional smooth high speed section we battled the throttle body issue. I was still having a blast behind the wheel when were running but the constant stopping was taking it’s toll on our progress and psyche. We were going to keep battling as long as we could.
In the meantime our spare had be located and Chase 3 was headed out to meet us on the course and swap it out. We were too fast for them at the first location and they decided to follow us down course knowing they’d catch us if we kept having issues. The point came where it would be faster to wait for the spare throttle body and swap it out then to keep battling at our stop/start pace. Darren quickly had the damaged part removed and we discovered a much larger issue. The stuck butterfly valve was the result of a cracked intake. Dirt sucking into a motor is a bad thing. We had a quick snack and waited. It was a beautiful afternoon in the desert of Baja but at that point we knew we were done. Chase 4 arrived with Bryson, Micah, Kurt and Will. They quickly installed the new part but their opinion was the same. Finished. RM640. It was far easier for Darren and me to call it quits if the two guys who had battled for 13 hours through the night were of the same opinion. We could have battled and tried to make the finish but more than likely we would blown our motor resulting in a much more expensive repair and much more difficult extraction.
A few miles of high speed access road lead to the highway and we had Monica on the trailer and headed back towards Ensenada. The entire team converged on our favorite taco stand. Smiles, laughter, handshakes, high fives and hugs ensued. Baja had beaten us but it didn’t matter. We fought valiantly and now we know what it feels like to not finish a Baja 1000. It’s not a great feeling but the old cliche applies. It’s about the journey, not the destination. And the journey though Baja with Canguro Racing is about as good as it gets.