SS2 Takes Racers to the Middle of Nowhere, Fast
Race Report brought to you by WESTx1000.
Today was about nothing. The sort of nothing that, from far enough away, looks like a Bob Ross painting of the desert – picturesque, serene, even a little happy. Everything seeming barren and stiff from a distance, surreal from an impersonal vantage point. Beautiful, but empty. Too perfect to be reality. But upon approaching this ostensive depiction of the outdoors, it begins to surround you. The cheetah-spotted mountain ranges from over the horizon are actually saguaro forests plastered across giant mounds of loose quartzite and sand. The flawless shapes you once saw become crooked and oblong up-close, delightfully bizarre and dynamic and anything but lifeless. Vultures perch in alarming numbers watching as you pass (should something happen to you, of course). Miniature reptiles of varying sizes scamper into nearby bushes and the occasional bunny makes an appearance before it too finds cover from the steely eyes of a predator. Come close enough and the desert lights up, it consumes you as it becomes alive. Yet, Sonora’s biosphere is still somehow quiet. No artificial sounds could be heard for miles in some places, so it made the familiar buzz of small displacement combustion engines only that more distinct against the breeze. A nothingness which to its visitors was really something.
”Stage Two of the Sonora Rally was one of my favorites to race because towards the first part of the special, we get into this big cactus and flowing two-track that takes us to the edge of the water. It was a lot of fun to ride through there and the scenery was really beautiful. One of my favorite stages so far. After the refueling, it opened up fast. The navigation wasn’t so difficult today. A couple of tricky notes, but otherwise pretty smooth sailing…It was fun to ride, and we’re excited for the next day!” – Skyler Howes #1, Husqvarna Factory Racing
Stages like this are why people love the Sonora Rally. And rally raid in general. Roadbooks which take people deep into the remotest parts of the planet to uncover virgin territory (at least to many), learn the history of a region, its culture, if any, and engage with the locals. Even the sensory experience can be visceral. The taste of wind and dirt coat your mouth when you pick up speed. Even interesting smells find their way past the helmet, like the scent of asparagus drifting over the tracks from the nearby fields, picked twice a day because their thrive in this environment. Racers could glimpse the Sea of Cortez just over the horizon, although the water was never too close. And being no cooler than yesterday, you could really feel warmth from the sun’s touch – comfortable for only a moment before it became overbearing. Competitors already struggled with multiple elements on-course, and again, also needed to manage their internal temperature. Many jumping on the opportunity to drink a little extra water in the shade before carrying on. While others, like our top contenders, sailed through this fast course with a vengeance.
Few of the pilots are moving slowly enough to look around or fast enough to take a break. Most are buried in road books when they aren’t caught in their tunnel, the line of sight focused solely on the next move. In Modified UTVs, Polaris Factory RZR’s Sara Price, with copilot Sean Berriman, #51 had plenty of time to soak up the scene, if they wanted. Not suffering any mishaps or penalties, there was nothing obstructing their path to victory (for the second time). Sonoran natives Daniel Gonzalez and navigator Jorge Hernandez #55 ran their own race, landing in Second Place today with a 33-minute gap behind the leaders. While there weren’t too many hiccups on-piste, the team did spend some time on minor repairs in their hotel parking lot after their return from the special. All the while, Americans Brock Harper (USA) and Steve Geist #52 have made a steady go of things, which in the end, kept them at the third in the standings. Amongst the other four-wheeled vessels, privateers Luis Perocarpi and partner Clayton Williams #53 endured issues with their Isuzu in the previous round which ultimately ended their efforts. They collected a DNF while opponents Larry Trim and John Koeth #54 made good time in their Jeep Speed Grand Cherokee. You couldn’t say the cars are moving slowly, but the tight passageways and rocky roads didn’t let them stay on the gas.
“The stage today went really well. It was a very fast track, which allowed us to run a really fast pace. Congrats to Sara [Price], again, for winning Stage Two. It’s been great. I’ve been here as a volunteer, helping our Erin and Darren with Sonora rally, but now as a participant for the race, it changes a whole lot of things. Now I see everything that’s been done, and come through, until now with the Sonora Rally; now that it’s going to be part of the World Rally Championship, that means a lot because I’ve been with them since the beginning. I’m really happy for them, and I intend to continue participating in the event – whether it’s to race or as a volunteer – to keep this going.” – Daniel Gonzalez, #55 Privateer
While surely the cars in the Modified and Adventure categories ate up the loose terrain, but the many miles of slippery, soft beach wash were a cruel punishment for some of the riders. Even when those nutty masochists love the pain… Yugi Jasti #26 ventured all the way from South Africa to take on the Sonora Rally after only a year of true off-road experience. But, as he says, “if I’m ever going to race Dakar, I just have to go for it.” A sentiment which seems common in this year’s pack. Plenty of rookies are challenging the Mexican state of Sonora this year, several of them hopefuls to win the Road to Dakar, granting free entry for this January’s edition. Pro class athlete Brendan Crow #35 is currently first in line and finished Second in the Special. However, Malle Moto’s winner today, Matt Sutherland #2, isn’t going to let him have it without a fight. But they it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for. And while David Pearson #3, isn’t shouting his successes, the American Rally Original is a smart, consistent rider who – by the law of rally raid – is just as likely to take this victory as anyone. If nothing else, we’re sure he’ll be glad to nab a podium step in his category.
On the other side of the spectrum, guys like Kevin DeJongh #21 live in the edge of traction. Eating up the arroyos for breakfast. A Baja 1000 veteran – and occasional teammate of Howes – DeJongh felt at home during the second special. This carried on until ASS (the finish of the timed sector), putting him in the third seat today, maintaining Second overall. Howes was also at home over the multifaceted topography between Bahia Kino and Caborca. Most people find intimidating at best and terrifying at worst. Cruising over wide grated roads, soaring across demanding sandy washes and atop rocky outcroppings which he climbs like a Billy goat. Which is why he is victorious for another stage. And, yes, he has a twenty-minute advantage, but this is rally. Anything can happen. And because in a roadbook race, the land, your pace, even your willpower doesn’t replace solid navigation. Diespro rider, Columbian-America Sebastian Olarte #28, felt that pain, and perhaps Murphy’s Law, firsthand:
“It was quite a journey. At the beginning of the stage, a pine post 4-to-5-inch diameter went through the bike, dented the header, broke my radiator and perforated the gas tank. I rode for about 40 miles until I hit the road with that stick hanging on my bike – not being able to turn to the right. On the road I took it out, fixed the radiator and tank with fiberglass and J-B weld, which took me over an hour. I was going without the water in the radiator and cooling, and without the clutch and power to the wheels for 80-to-90 miles. Right at the end, it was tough; I was tired. I broke my RallyComp as well. And two hundred meters before the finish it died completely. I pushed it to the ASS, and then Brett [Fox #34] helped and towed me at the liaison.”
It can’t be said enough, this is rally. If it can happen, it will. And so teams, racers and staff must always be prepared for anything. Trying not to be too enchanted by ethereal allure. As competitors sliced through the narrow passages hidden under a canopy of desert flora, passages which eventually opened up to dry valleys, ledges and the occasional sandbox, knowing that with every type of earth on-course comes some new obstacle. A test of mind, body and machine, indifferent to your dreams and willing to remove you from the equation if you don’t add up. When the stakes are high and money, goals and glory are on the line… When the nothing of Sonora makes you go to battle for something that you love. When the rigors of rally occasionally beckon pilots to use velocity over finesse, it’s best to open up the throttle, step on the gas and take opportunity when it presents itself. Because much like Stage Two, the race and life, when it’s over, there’s no going back.
“Today was a fast, solid stage! Such beautiful sights along the beach and through some of the washes. We had a flawless day!” – Sara Price #51, Polaris Factory RZR
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.