Racers Find their Rhythm on the Final Stage of the ’22 Sonora Rally
Race Report brought to you by WESTx1000.
The wind was on today, skimming across the Altar’s sand sheets with unadulterated freedom, not an object in sight large enough to obstruct its path and slow it down. Khaki-colored granules pelted the skin like a thousand needles pricking in unison. But it kept the heat down, and so a gale was welcomed by everyone. Out of five strenuous days of competition, the final day is supposed to be the easiest (they say). But with a wide-ranging pool of talent, the Special ended with mixed reviews. If the dunes are a familiar place, the course felt comfortable, dare we say, enjoyable. But any anxiety someone could experience in the waves, humps or faces can exponentially grow into a taxing escapade if those emotions are put in check. Even so, if a pilot doesn’t know how to read the terrain properly, they would be ill-fated to an exhausting slog through the Sonoran desert.
Sharp ridges are drawn into “S” shapes against the horizon slithered away as racers cut blazing trails across their paths, disturbing the tranquil environment. This was no truer for anyone more than Skyler Howes #1. He flew over these massive ripples in the earth like the all-star he is, proving his worth to the Husqvarna Factory Racing team. A Waypoint waiting at the end of a CAP heading, Howes charged through the HP sections without notes, tracks or even a road to direct his trajectory. Just full speed over peaks and valleys, like the wind, unobstructed and free. He won this day without contest, fulfilling his personal goals of finishing First in every stage and securing the overall victory – fresh on the heels of his Triumph at the Rallye du Maroc.
“Obviously, Sonora [Rally] holds a special place [in my heart]. This was my first rally, kind of my start into the sport and why I was able to go to the Dakar for the first time. Now, we’re here as a factory racer, and I’m happy to have chalked up another win. This is my second win at Sonora, so I’m super happy for this, and I’m glad the team allowed me to be here and race this because it was incredibly good training. And just super fun to be here. I had a great time. I’m happy for my team and for my crew who came down to help out. This was really fun, not easy. It was obviously a tough five days, but we made it through clean so I’m super happy.” – Skyler Howes #1, Husqvarna Factory Racing
While he seemed invincible all week at the 2022 Sonora Rally, presented by Method Race Wheels, Howes wasn’t the only unstoppable athlete in the field from the front of the pack to the back. Success isn’t always determined by the accolades at the end but instead by the gravity of those burdens carried to the finish line on the shoulders of each racer. David Black #31 left the couch and began riding off-road just over a year ago. Inspired by his lifelong love of the Dakar Rally, he chose to turn his sedentary life around and pursue a (seemingly) impossible dream. The first day in the dunes, he dropped his bike “at least 25 times.” At the end of the stage, three blocks from the bivouac, he ran out of gas and had to push his motorbike to Timing & Scoring. And the final special was not any easier. Perhaps his off-bike moments may have reduced, but the obstacles were no less daunting, no less tiring. But if a man’s value should be measured by his heart, over ephemeral accomplishments, then Black left Sonora a champion.
The Rookies took the brunt of it, but they weren’t the only battle-worn soldiers in the field. Veteran to rally raid, passionate enthusiast and former volunteer of this event, Willem Avenant #25 had recovered from a broken leg earlier this year and was eager to jump back in the saddle. Already competing in two other races prior to his arrival in Hermosillo, under the Freedom Rally Racing umbrella. All things were going as planned for the South African (who had invited his friend and countryman Yugandhar Prasad Jasti #26 to join in the fun) this week, when at SS4, he endured some mechanical issues relating to his clutch. With the FRR coming through and managing to bring him to the Starting line for the finale, Avenant was hopeful for a clean break, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what he received. Suffering a crash which ultimately broke his collarbone. An abrupt end to an amazing run, it was a bittersweet goodbye to beloved friends, course and competition. But there wasn’t a grumble or a word of complaint from him at the ceremony. Instead, he was enjoying the little time he had left with a community he cared for and set his focus on the future.
Two days of true Dakar-style dunes in a row, with two fairly different scenes at Timing & Scoring. Back in El Golfo, people staggered and limped through the bivouac – bruised and beaten but content. However, in the closed street just outside of the Araiza Hotel in San Luis Rio Colorado, vehicles pulled into the avenue and settled under the Polaris arch to shake Race Director Darren Skilton’s hand, receive a Finisher medal and sip a specially brewed Sonora Rally cerveza. And while bruises were still present among the group, they were eclipsed by huge bright smiles. Organizers credit their ability to satisfy all the participants’ needs and wants to the many partners involved, like Method Race Wheels, Polaris, Yokohama, Motul and Aventura Travel. But they point to the grassroots racers and resident pros who’ve inadvertently built this competition from the ground up as the key to their recent venture into the World Rally Raid Championship (W2RC) – an FIA/FIM sanctioned series kicking off with the Dakar. At Awards, Skilton was adamant to assure his guests that they are the core of the event. That he had no intention of squeezing them out in favor of the inevitable elite crowd attending this new round in the W2RC on April 22nd – 28th, 2023. And that the Sonora Rally would continue to incubate the budding rally raid community in North America to the best of their ability. And it was those individuals who stood atop each podium Saturday afternoon.
Jordan Huibregtse #18 traveled all the way from Indiana to Sonora for another time hoping only to finish the competition. And what he takes away from his second navigation race (ever) with a First Place Trophy in the Malle Moto class. An undertaking already challenging under normal circumstances. But to win a race in the most difficult class that exists in the roadbook world was an exceptional end to his journey. With limited supplies available to him, no mechanics at his aid, no team to cheer him on, Huibregtse was charged with conquering a Goliath and came out a hero. Positions Two and Three received $500 and $750, but Malle Moto sponsor Motul gifted Jordan with $1,000, further incentive to continue his path to greatness.
“I raced last year, and unfortunately, I blew my engine up on the last day. I was 50km from the end of the last stage, and the engine just locked up, dropping a valve. So, I was determined to come back and get a finish, get a good clean run in. I can’t be happier. This is as much as I could have hoped for. I was in a good spot to conserve my bike, conserve my body, today. Rode a safe race and brought it home, so really, really happy with the results. Something I’ll remember most are the dunes and just pushing through it. I struggle in the dunes, so to me, the beautiful scenery combined with how much suffering that scenery can put you through. But digging deep within yourself, and really finding that strength you need to keep going, keep pushing.” – Jordan Huibregtse #18, Privateer in Motos
Another well-deserved award was given to American Rally Original rider, David Pearson #3, whose free entry to Dakar will likely be a bit of financial relief to the team as a whole. And it was just in time, as the five men – Pearson, Kyle McCoy #8, Mo Hart #9 and two who weren’t present, Jim Pearson and Paul Neff – prepare to leave for Saudi Arabia at the end of December. Their effort isn’t for themselves alone. It’s to represent the US as they attempt to break startling records taking every bike across the last finish in January among the Originals by Motul (Malle Moto) category. A feat not yet achieved by even one American, let alone a band of them. As the last opportunity to train before packing up and shipping off to the Middle East, the guys put their all into the Sonora Rally, and it seems to have paid off.
“Darren does a phenomenal job at these races. He really puts a good organization together and it was awesome this year. We did two big dune days in Stage Four and Five. It was demanding. I’ve been pushing hard all year to get onto the Dakar ticket, and if all goes well, I won the Road to Dakar today. So that’s coming off 16 days of racing between the Qatar** Rally, the Baja Rally and Sonora, so I’m very appreciative. We have a hell of a team, the American Rally Originals; We’re all going to the Dakar. We’re going to break a record being some of the first Americans to ever finish in the Originals by Motul (Malle moto) class in the Dakar in its 45-year run. Let’s go ARO. A huge thanks to KLIM for all my gear, and Giant Loop and Seat Concepts; everybody just put all the and support in so we’re just super excited. My wife has been awesome. ” – David Pearson #3, American Rally Originals
Hard work is a necessary component of a roadbook rally, yes. But to finish strong, especially at your first event, takes talent. Did we mention that Kevin DeJongh #21 rode in on a borrowed 16-year-old Honda CRF450X at the behest of his buddy Skyler? Because this is crucial information considering he nabbed Second Seed behind his “Husky” friend. Comrade of the pair, Brendan Crow #35 also displayed his skills on-track rounding out the podium in Motos. They shared a common goal: to finish. And when it was all said and done, the duo also shared a similar outcome. One which they are interested in repeating in the Spring, no doubt.
“This was my first navigation rally. It was fun; it was long. I’m pretty tired. Just learned that I have a bit of motion sickness in the dunes, which was not ideal the last two days. But other than that, it was a lot of fun – something new and cool to do, and I hope I can do more in the future.” – Kevin DeJongh #21, Privateer in Motos
This win was more of an underdog story. A privateer native to Sonora who is up against a woman at the top of her game – and her sport. Daniel Gonzalez #55 is a figurehead at the Sonora Rally, volunteering and aiding the event since its inception several years ago. He’s always been involved and donated his time generously to help the organizers succeed to the best of their ability. And October 17th – 22nd, he stood up to the plate to bat for an outfield hit and landed a home run. With his partner Jorge Hernandez, the Polaris Mexico crew colored the course red, green and white after a grueling fight for disqualified entrant, Polaris Factory RZR’s Sara Price #51, and a more steadfast one for side-by-side #55. They don’t just bring this win home, they keep the trophy on Sonoran soil.
“We had made our plan just the night before Special Stage Four to run at a medium pace, drive safe and go Waypoint to Waypoint without losing time and ended up winning. So, at the hotel, we scanned our Polaris Turbo R from A to Z to make sure no harm was done and have it ready for Stage Five. After doing a full Inspection the RZR, everything was still in excellent shape, and the only change we did was put the larger tires back on, air them down – even using the same Gates G-Force Redline belt – then wished for a clean day. We did not know if it would be two or three UTVs in the field that next day. If something were to go wrong, we could still easily lose the rally. We decided to make a solid plan to not risk more than needed knowing more dunes were on the way to the finish line. The plan was to take our time, keep a safe pace and keep our eyes open because, this race being in the backyard of my hometown, I’ve seen it all when it comes to Dune Riding. In a blink of an eye, accidents happen. All we had to do was complete the Stage. We arrived at the start line and noticed only two of the three UTVs ready to go. Ours and our great new friends from Pennsylvania, Brock Harper and Steve Geist #52, Sarah Price was not able to get her car running again after the incident the day before.
Jorge, my Navigator said: ‘Daniel, this stage is like the Sunday drives you take all the time. We’ve got this. Then, he started singing “We Are the Champions” by Queen, followed by some rousing Banda music. It was such an amazing experience for both, but in my case, winning this event in my country, my state and, most importantly, my hometown of San Luis Rio Colorado left me speechless. We had so much support, including my good friend Poncho with whom I had started the Geek Racing Team. And a very special guest, my son Dany. He has learned so much about these machines from watching and helping me work on the machines at GR UTV Powersports, plus he has a talent all his own, which makes me proud to watch. Huge thanks to Darren and the team for creating this event. And to Polaris Mexico for giving us this opportunity in the first place!” – Daniel Gonzalez #55, Polaris Mexico
What can you say about an event that’s provided adventure, sport and access to the world of rally to North American communities in a way no one else ever has? For just shy of a decade, the Sonora Rally has served up a platter of killer routes, rally towers, and a gateway to the Dakar, among many (many) other things. As a race approaching the event horizon, it’s important for the event to maintain its soul. To give back what it gets and remember where it started. That is what Darren’s has set his sights on. Much like the racers who attend this intimate, he’s steely-eyed and focused on a very specific outcome. One which honors its past but welcomes a different sort of future. Possibly more refined. Definitely with more international recognition and respect. Soon to have a larger presence of the global circuit in Mexico, with rally aristocracy shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals.
“We appreciate all of the volunteers, the racers and all of our sponsors who have brought us to this point, through a long tiring week. I’m just excited for the future of North American rally raid and just looking forward to having new competitors and an international field come and share the joy that is Sonora to do something unique and special. So, I just wanted to thank everybody, really and just enjoy that this year the rally was great. It was well organized, everything was done on time, the roadbooks were good, and I think the competitors really enjoyed it. We’re getting started on the next one already.” – Darren Skilton, Sonora Rally Race Director
Thank you to everyone who has supported this event by participating, volunteering or even just watching as the Sonora Rally traversed the Mexican state just south of Arizona. It couldn’t be possible without people’s continual friendship. To learn more, visit: https://sonorarally.com/ Or, follow the fun on Instagram @sonorarally & @aventura.eventos.