Sonora Rally Surmounts SS4, But Not Without Any Casualties
Race Report brought to you by WESTx1000.
On paper, Special Stage Four was supposed to be fairly straightforward. Low kilometers, only a few topographical transitions… Simple right? The word floating around the bivouac after much of the racers had finally passed Timing & Scoring: carnage. Vehicles scattered the Altar desert – upright, upside-down, sideways – like bugs on flypaper, struggling to free themselves of the sand and buzz away as quickly as possible. An unusual number of mechanical issues, plus the predictable number of incidents and injuries were symptoms of hot conditions, exhausted athletes and a punishing course. Add a bit of tricky notes to the equation and you have the formula for glory. And maybe a bit of pain too. But there were, and always are in rally, multiple factors affecting the circumstances for many competitors. Rookies take the brunt of the daily ass whoopings. They are often their own determinant on the course due to a lack of experience, whether that’s with the landscape, the *roadbook, management of time, machine and well-being. But this can be said for the seasoned racers as well. No one is impervious of heat stroke, fatigue and navigation errors. Even Husqvarna Factory rider Skyler Howes #1 felt challenged by the special.
“Stage Four of Sonora Rally was the big dunes day, and it’s quite physically demanding. There aren’t many places out there to get a breather. It’s either all camel grass or big dunes, which was pretty cool, and good for me for the fitness and seeing where we’re at there. And it was also pretty warm. Up to the refueling, it was a lot of hard work, you had to stay on your toes with the navigation as well, plus the temperature was warm, so it was just a lot going on. After the refueling, we switched directions in the dunes, and it became really, really fun because you could jump over a lot of stuff. Yeah, it was fun. A super fun day, but hot, demanding and physical. But relatively short, so pretty good. And I nailed the navigation today, no guessing, no circles. Just a lot of fun. And we’re looking forward to the final day tomorrow.” – Skyler Howes #1, Husqvarna Factory Racing
If the course was putting Howes to the test, no doubt, it had put most of the group through a bonafide Hero’s Quest. Many of whom lost this battle of attrition. And none by surrender. The fight today was hard. Harder than anything else at times. And while a few ultimately succumb, others reach deep for some inner strength to carry, if not drag, them across the Finish line. Even those who did endure an injury, went back to the bivy with smiles plastered on their faces. Yugi Jasti #28 has only really been riding off-road for a year. A motorcyclist for ages, when he eventually tried dirt, he found that he had a taste for it. And devoured it as often as possible at home in Johannesburg. But still, even with as much seat time he’s had in the last 365 days, the dunes are a whole other level of skill to obtain. Killing his bike just before a crest, his attempted downward turn to try again resulted in a tumble and a broken collar bone.
Meanwhile, just past the first set of dunes, Malle Moto hopeful Matt Sutherland #2 had a serious off-bike moment which left him with a lacerated groin. Compatriot Ace Nilson #5 came upon him and Jordan Huibregte who unfortunately had first aid kit or experience to properly assist. So, Nilson dove right in. After dressing Sutherlands wound, waiting for the extraction team, it was time for Ace to continue his race. Even those who crawled back to the ASS undoubtedly picked up their vessel many times over. From the outside looking in at the bivouac, it looked post-apocalyptic. Zombies with hunched shoulders, limps and dazed look on their faces, wandered around the grounds wearing athletic tape in search of Tecates, and incident forms. But oddly enough, the “undead” still seemed pretty lively, if not excited for what’s to come.
“The day went really well. It went a lot better than I thought it would. After yesterday and even this morning, I didn’t think I would make it through the day. My shoulder was hurt pretty badly [yesterday], and I couldn’t move it at all this morning. Took a bunch of painkillers and warmed up, probably, halfway through the stage. I took the very beginning pretty easy, at this point I figured I was trying to make it to the end. Warmed up, caught a bunch of guys who were stuck on a little bit of a note that was tricky, and that got me excited. I felt like, alright, we’re good. I can do this. So I pushed a little harder from through the gas stop and finished Third today. So, from thinking I wasn’t going to ride to that, I am really happy with how it ended up.” – Brendan Crow, #35, Privateer in Motos
Some pilots actually had an altogether great experience. A flawless ride, in fact. Brendan Crow #35, who’s vying for podium in his class, overall and the Road to Dakar challenge, didn’t think he’d ride today. He’d exacerbated an old injury on SS3, iced it and still found it a bit stiff in the morning. Yet, his instinct told him to continue and see how it goes, which paid off because after warming up his body and brain a bit, Crow was able to steadily work his way to a Second-Place finish. Another promising figure is Edgar Cota #30 who survived food poisoning, which led to heat exhaustion which somehow didn’t stand in the way of a strong conclusion to an arduous special. Making his navigation debut at the Sonora Rally, he plucked the Second seed from the pod.
“Today went really well. The first three stages were really fast, and it took me a little longer than I expected to find a good rhythm and become comfortable. On top of that, I became really sick yesterday and had to fight my way through the day. Towards the end of Stage Three, I became really dizzy and had to get treatment last night in order to be ready for today. I woke up this morning and felt a lot better. I really enjoyed today’s stage in the dunes. The more technical terrain really suited my riding style and I felt great on the bike. Finishing 2nd overall for today is a lot closer to my expectations so I will go to bed a lot happier tonight. I’m looking forward to carrying this momentum into the final stage tomorrow and have another fun day out here with everyone.” – Edgar Cota #30, Privateer in Motos
Parallels were certainly drawn by the four-wheel classes as well. A previous incident damaging their cooling system eventually closed the door on car #51 Sara Price and Sean Berriman’s chances at a victory. Even after a low-key crash, tipping on their side, the pair had lost significant time due to the mechanical problems. So, with a heavy heart, Price pulled out of the running, making UTV #55 the strongest candidate for First. Theirs was another of those perfect races. No mechanical, navigational or personal struggles stepped in the way of their clear path to the day’s podium.
“So, today was a dunes day – that’s what it’s called at the Sonora Rally when we go down the dunes, almost to San Luis [Rio Colorado] and then come back to El Golfo. It was gnarly. It was really difficult, but, I mean, me being a hometown guy, I tried to use that as an advantage. Even though it’s not the same because I have to follow Waypoints; I have to follow rules; I have to follow navigation. But we did really well. Nothing went wrong with the car. Everything went perfectly with our Pro R from Polaris. It’s an awesome car. It handled great. We planned on using different tires for this stage, and it worked perfectly. And we brought the win today for Stage Four, and yesterday, we also got the win for Stage Three, so that puts us at a really good advantage to bring home the Sonora Rally trophy.” – Daniel Gonzalez #55, Privateer in UTVs
It started near the train tracks, everything blanketed in a heavy, wet mist. As if set in a horror film, the racecourse offered a touch of gloom to an already daunting stage. The eerie quiet switches the mood from sleepy to menacing. Just out the gate, competitors endured tens of kilometers of bumpy, inconsistent ripples of sand providing both soft and hard-packed textures. With wiry bushes and camel grass spring up in every direction as yet another test of skill, focus and willpower. The final obstacle before being allowed to enter the dunes.
They evolve and adapt and have a personality, albeit subtle. And to be a part of that, lost in the sea of ever-changing sand, is special. You could have never seen one, maybe never even heard the word “dune” before, but if you find yourself amongst them, something changes. Your soul shifts and the world and your values become something boundless. It’s inevitable. If your heart is in rally, your heart is in the dunes.
This was, without a doubt, snake country. Snake tracks crossed over little critters and coyotes and whatever else left uncomfortably large paw prints in the ground. In the horizon, rocky giants loom over the ethereal dunes like a shadow. There’s just something about the Altar Desert that is so enchanting. The towering piles of enormous dunes, faces on which lives have been gambled. Some hit the jackpot. Most others go home losers, but they can go home. There are few, however, who risk everything and have lost the bet on life. The dunes aren’t to be messed with.
There’s one more opportunity to witness these juggernauts of the desert during Special Stage Five – the finale of the 2022 Sonora Rally presented by Method Race Wheels. To enjoy these incredible experiences for yourself, check out the Sonora Rally Facebook Page for stories, updates and inspirational posts. To learn more about the event, visit: https://sonorarally.com/. Or just follow the fun on Instagram @sonorarally & @aventura.eventos.