Day One of the Sonora Rally Doesn’t Dissapoint
Race Report brought to you by WESTx1000.
SS1 was many things, but above all else, it was hot. Grueling in fact. The sort of heat that engulfs everything and holds it in place. A momentary breeze offered temporary reprieve for bystanders waiting, relatively motionless, under an overbearing sun. Teasing the skin as it brushed past. In much of the stage, vistas were wide, the light was bright, and the shade was nowhere to be found. Birds called to each other from distant branches in short, staccato bursts proving that life is possible in this desert. But only for some. Most of which lay dormant during the daylight hours in sand lairs and stone dens encircled by ancient saguaro, wiry bushes and brambles. A natural security gate keeping out unwanted guests. Visitors not so unlike these unwary rally racers. Pilots with eyes set on only two places: the roadbook and the route. Minor details going unnoticed if not explicitly marked in their notes. A product of necessity, which occasionally sends a rider (more) off-road to tackle a similarly unsuspecting cacti.
What the earth here lacked over the 227 kilometers of Mexican racecourse was complexity. While yes, there are nuances to all landscapes, even the most featureless. But for an event like the 2022 Sonora Rally, presented by Method Race Wheels, this type of void meant exactly that statement. Race Director Darren Skilton wanted to rip the Band-Aid off at the premiere of the race. With his leadership, the ORGA made navigation the key feature of the special and let participants dive head into what is often quite intimidating. Even all-stars like Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Rally #1, can be apprehensive about starting a stage without a single set of tracks to guide him. But he’s a Pro, and despite a few minor mistakes, he made quick of an otherwise demanding special. Nothing technical. But fast. Real fast. Completing the course a touch under three hours, an hour earlier than predicted, Howes surprisingly wasn’t the most impressive competitor on the course in Stage One.
Despite the higher temps, there was no shortage of gumption on the course, especially by the lone competitor close enough to Skyler’s tail to give up any speed. Australian Matt Sutherland #2 was on–point at the very end, finding a spot behind the day’s stage winner, but an 11-minute penalty and a further outstanding show by his rivals didn’t leave him enough of a time to put the factory pro behind him... Today. A prominent figure in the Baja desert scene, Kevin DeJongh wowed the proverbial crowd as he, almost seamlessly, conquered almost half the competitor lineup starting in 17th and finishing at 2nd for stage and the Overall. Howes jokes that he was the reason DeJongh entered this rally. He recalls, proudly, telling his Baja 1000 comrade to leave the confines of a closed course – “to cut the tape” – and join a rally raid already. According to the Sonora 2019 Champion, Kevin is a natural talent: a sleeper rally racer. If his presentation on-course gives us any evidence of his chance at victory, then the quickest of the bunch are in for a five-day brawl.
“The day was good. We started in the back at 17th, possibly, and was Fourth, physically, at the finish. No major mistakes. The speed zones definitely came up fast. There were only two minutes of penalty, so that was good. Had some tracks to follow in the tricky parts towards the end and made it in one piece ready for Day Two.” – Kevin De Jongh, #21 Privateer
Side-by-sides made their own memorable entrance, merely an hour after the first bike. Daniel Gonzalez and co-pilot Jorge Hernandez #55 gave chase to their factory pro counterpart, but Sara Price and navigator Sean Berriman #51 had managed to put a big gap between them early on. It’s likely the only thing that saved their spot at the top when they ultimately suffered a wiring issue, setting them back some minutes before Berriman whipped up a solution. Sara’s win today doesn’t feel like a surprise. But with three UTVs on the board, four more days ahead and a capricious countryside to contend with, the caged class is far from decided. It was, nonetheless, a tricky roadbook, uncomplicated terrain and long stretches of off-piste badlands.
The final kilometers were some of the more competitive between the racers, but that’s not to say the rest of the pack didn’t share their own combat stories. Between a couple of the ARO boys, Freedom Rally Racing’s toughest and a couple strong privateers, little air was left to breath when riding through some obstacles, they were so tightly packed. Others followed suit, albeit several minutes behind the first batch of riders and even more after the leaders.
A few took every opportunity to send it, while the rest chose a steadier approach, unwilling to lose precious time making navigation mistakes over a few moments of pure unadulterated bliss. But well into the course, the fight was still raging between the top four with the Pro podium eventually filled by Howes on First, DeJongh taking the next step and privateer Brendan Crow #35 just below.
In the Enduro category, rookie and dreamer, Patrick De Chastoney #27 was paid back for all his hard work with a triumph. Rounding out the race was Jordan Huibregtse #18 sitting pretty in the Malle Moto category. It should be mentioned that whatever they all endured, now the Malle Moto hopefuls must assess, maintain, and possibly repair anything the bike requires. All before that cold, sweet first cerveza from Aventura in the Polaris bivouac at beautiful Bahia Kino. Slumber will be inevitable for some and a luxury for others. But the next day is due to skim the coastline of Cortez.
“Special Stage One was a fun day filled with a lot of adventure! We were running a great pace, until we had some wiring issues turning off our rally equipment. Sean was quick to require on the go to get us back up and going, and we still ended up being the first car to finish! It was a good day.” – Sara Price, Polaris Factory RZR
The sun set on a perfect mini-celebration after a tough day of nav. Winding up to wind down, drinks were imbibed to warm up the stomach for a fulfilling meal of ceviche tostadas, fillet of fish, paella, carne and frijoles. Polaris provided attendees an epic bivouac with beautiful views of the sea and surrounding islands as team, staff, volunteers and media mingled, ate and were merry before the next collection of challenges would come their way. Race Day One is never so resolute that we know the outcome before it arrives. And with fresh tracks tomorrow, the vibe is sure to set a new pace.
Stay tuned to the 2022 Sonora Rally presented by Method Race Wheels all week long, from October 17th – 22nd, to watch all the excitement south of the border. To learn more, visit: https://sonorarally.com/ Or, follow the fun on Instagram @sonorarally & @aventura.eventos.