2008 Baja 1000 Race Report
2008 SCORE International Baja 1000
A la altura del desafio
"To rise to the challenge..." and that's just what the company has been doing for the 2008 year. This year the Baja 1000 started off with almost an strange feeling of calm, compared to last year which felt like a like a claymore mine at a concert. The team was less than half the size from last year which was a huge plus, the Canadian racers from Big Dog Performance brought down truck 807 and 3 people total, leaving our crew to do what it does with little interference. Support plans were drawn up, budgets were set and by the time the truck was getting tested, Mexico didn't seem so far away. One of the tricky things about SCORE racing is all the money that goes into the initiative and some agreements that were still in discussion up in Canada, left the race truck in limbo right up to just a few weeks before heading south for her second date with Baja. We had already planned on completely overhauling the tune on all six shocks and putting on a short list of this year's goodies before testing in Barstow and the team had a miniature renunion in the dirt.
Testing had a couple of issues... last year's rollover tweaked a bit more than initially thought, one of the 3.0's had a bent shaft and the shock reservoir bypassed... but that was all corrected with an hours work. Once the truck was up and ready to rock, the first and immediate difference was in the valving. Sage has been doing his homework and dialed in enough to almost double the speed of the truck in California's biggest bumps. 63 mph down the Barstow main in a straight axle 4x4? Yep. Heck even one of our personal trucks carried the speed of last year's race truck when we were scouting positions to film. Shock tuning and innovation is a hallmark of the Carli brand to to be able to watch it come alive in a purpose built truck is even better. The 4.0s came apart before the truck rolled away from the trailer. Everything we've learned about tuning suspension and bypasses went straight into the project with new bypass valves, check valve springs, valve shims and fluid. The truck was great last year... and the first spin away from camp hailed the difference via PCI. After the install of new internals, all that was left was some tweaks to the tubes to finally dial her in.
Once we got the girl up to speed, she turned into a whoop eater in the bumps. We would leave the easy-up, head up the main, out towards the freeway and back down... each lap Sage was relaying what the truck was doing and suggesting the next tweak. When the truck came in, a turn on a tube here, half turn there and it was back out again for another lap. The first couple rounds the feedback was prominent and as the truck came and went the feedback started to get almost a bit experimental, "let's try backing down a bit here..." and the faster and smoother it got. A nice tight ride through the big bumps, but not harsh.
Watch the testing video
Viva La Mexico
Good ole Ensenada, Mexico... probably the site of our fondest memories, or at least to and from them. When you go to Mexico, you enter with a clear state of mind... that anything can happen and you just make peace with that, or you shouldn't go. And when you open up to anything coming your way, you should know that you're going to get exactly what you have coming... luckily for us, it's been been great times, huge challenges and events that make us better. This year was nothing short of a classic trip to Baja for the Carli crew. Having one or all of the trucks down here, mostly farther south, has been a pretty common event lately and closing out the year with a number of trips, sometimes back to back weekends. Matter of fact, we all headed south with the same feeling, part of us was headed home and cruised into Mex with a comfortable smile.
We arrived and wanted to take off and hit up the Rumarosa section on Wednesday, however a poor ground left the truck stalling going from WOT to full braking... not exactly an issue you want to discover when on the Rumarosa Grade. Not only that, but the transmission didn't get out of 2nd gear. This is when everybody starts getting anxious. It could be electronic, it could be mechanical and it could be somthing as simple as a sensor or a hard part failure. Everyone's got a theory, but nobody had a definite solution. So what are the options? The ground was fixed in a matter of minutes, but that didn't solve the issue with 3rd gear. The story was, the truck came down from Canada with a freshly overhauled trans, so we ruled out mechanical on the benefit of the doubt. This leaves us with a sensor or electronics. This is when things started to get a bit frustrating... We had a spare motor and transmission, we had a spare ECM... so in theory, we could have swapped out everytihng critical and been done with it... but we weren't that fortunate - having spares means they should be ready to throw in, SKIM keys and all. The brighter side of the issue is that the truck will still do over 70 mph in 2nd gear with the setup we were running... and let's all be realistic here, 70 mph is plenty fast for a Mexican desert race. So now it was off to registration and tech inspection.
Friday, November 21st 0900 - Driver team #1 loaded up 807 and headed towards staging, Chase teams #2 and #4 stayed local and #1 and #3 headed through Tecate for the first scheduled stop of the race in La Rumarosa. Once we got out of Ensenda and topped of fuel tanks and dump cans, we were out of radio range of the other chase vehicles and the race truck was in their hands. Having one vehicle stay in town for the start and another depart for Ojos at RM40, we had things covered and confidence was in the air. Being a lead chase vehicle and not having PCI contact with the race truck only sucks when its not at a scheduled pit or observation ontime. When Chase #1 and #3 got into La Rumarosa, we were just ahead of the Trophy Trucks and we had time to dip into Mexicali for a couple of last minute essentials while the race went on.
The race truck departed Ensenada and by RM40 the steering gear box was shot, a brand new box that was installed back in Orange County as a precaution to boot. This was the first delay of the race, but we had a spare on the truck and a chase team onsite to assist with the swap. Shortly up the course from getting going again at RM55 there was a huge pileup that involved several race cars and a local made $60 to put his tractor on the course and help a couple of racers get back on schedule, another unexpected delay. As the chase team waits, our friends back home were glued to IRC tracking with plenty of updates via SMS, so as long as the truck was moving, we just had to sit it out.
As sunlight drew to a close, we had our truck on the PCI and all that was wanted was a splash of fuel, and anytime we stop the truck, we perform a visual and brief tech inspection. All was good and the truck was back on the course and running strong. Chase #1 and #3 went down the toll road out of La Rumarosa and 807 hit the gnarliest grade in northern Baja without incident. We met the truck at the bottom near the road crossing and just as the truck passed us, it blew a tire on a sharp rock and we fed it a little teamwork and she was back on the charge. So far things were fortunate, any incident occurred within reach of a chase vehicle and all of our reports on the go were positive. Things were starting to pick up in tempo and everybody was there to answer the call. Baja racing... a sport where anything can happen and an environment where the "Butterfly Effect" is enumerated, the study of chaos could live in Mexico, theorizes that something as innocuous as the flap of a butterfly's wings could cause a typhoon half way around the world... or an incomplete weld could raise the call on the radio "Chase 1, this is Race... something just broke, over." Sitting in the front seat of my truck in the middle of a silt wash near RM150 I called back to the race truck "807 this is Chase 1, I copy, something broke, are you still moving? Over." Radio silence. Not something you want to receive after a transmission like that. We were only a few miles from the race truck, so we split up... I stayed in the wash and Chase #3 moved their position. In the meantime we were trying to organize a tow for a friend that came across our trucks who had a car stuck in silt a few miles back and now trying to get an update from our race vehicle and describe the situation we're trying to solve from the pit location... perfectly organized chaos with a steady tempo.
Expect everything and you won't be disappointed... but some things shouldn't be expected, so here goes the tale of poor preparation. A weld on the engine cage that supported the upper shock mount for the King Kong wasn't welded completely around. It finally gave up which put all of the forces on a joint of two tubes, which finally fatigued and one of them simply broke clean off. So now it's just after 2100 and 807 Race and Chase #1 and #3 are standing there looking under the hood at a broken tube with the shock pushed all the way to the hood. Well if this didn't start to look like a major problem, I don't know what did. But for the most experienced desert racer, this was a mild delay... but not without the help and presence of Mike from Wicked Creations. Stumbling around in the silt dust and trying to help out a fellow racer, we wound up parked next to Mike's chase rig that was a full blow fab shop, complete with tube, air, tools and a Miller welder. I have never seen anything like it. It wasn't even 2 minutes and people started barking out orders "Get the Sawzall, take that cover off, give me the 24mm, hold the flashlight, we're going to need 12 inches of tube to sleeve this thing"... and it went on like that for a couple of hours.
All of us were in, under and on top of that truck for a couple of hours, sometimes just holding a flashlight or getting ready to pass off a tool... and others, straining with every ounce of energy to perform half of a task while your best friend is 2 feet away with the other half. This is the part of desert racing most people never see. The commitment to stand up to everything that comes your way. A wheel grinder was singing, sparks flying and our crew moving with a purpose. Race cars went by and sprayed silt into the air, spectators came by with a camera... even the Local PD set up shop and just watched the show. All in all, you don't notice everything else that's going on, all you're focused on is trying to get another quarter turn on a 3/8" nut to remove a piece of the dash so we can weld behind it in the next couple of minutes.
A couple intense hours go by and the drivers are suited up again and the truck is stronger than it was when it crossed its first border on the trip down from Canada. Patched, gusseted and sleeved, the team was able to perform CPR on the cage and get it race worthy four feet from the race course. If it wasn't for Mike and Wicked Creations, we would have been scouring the sand wash for a welder and it might be a very different story. A huge shout out to Mike for keeping the race alive for others that weren't his responsibility.
This was the last major issue of the first two driver legs and we made it down to RM270 and hooked up with Chase #4 and set up our pit and got Sage suited up to take 807 through the San Felipe loop. The truck came in and received 20 gallons of fuel, a visual and tech inspection and new drivers. Already this far into the race, being in chase, there was a tempo that had developed and we were never in a hurry to the next stop, although we tend to still operate like we are... but the next few minutes got exciting for Chase #1 and #3. We headed south on the 5 and could hear Jesse on the radio calling out mile markers and at one point I thought to myself "There's no way, did he just say RM295? I think he screwed up". So I got on the radio and asked "807 Race, this is Chase #1, say again, I copy RM295, over." and sure enough, I was the one that wasn't calibrated. Sage was behind the wheel and started driving the truck like it was designed. "Roger 295 and haulin' ass!" came back and I looked out the window and said "We got to go, they're going to beat us to the next pit!" and Chase #1 and #3 left a Pemex around 0300 on a mission to stay ahead of Sage.
San Felipe isn't your average drive in the dirt. Deep sand washes with ruts and whoops that would make for hazards on almost anything are around every corner. Just as we setttled in, another transmission came across the radio "807 Chase, this is Race, be advised we are at RM301 and the transmission has failed." Our stomach dropped and we knew that swapping out a transmission wouldn't be soon enough to make it to the next checkpoint where we would time out of the race. I tried to respond back and we just kept hearing a repeat of the transmission "807 Chase, this is Race, be advised we are at RM301 and the transmission has failed." Well, there's only one thing you can do when your bro's are in a San Felipe sand wash with a dead truck at zero dark thirty in Baja... so it turned into a full blown extraction mission. Access through a chase road and picking our way through trails in the wash, we got to our truck without interfering with any race activity... and where the truck was, there's nothing short of getting gnarly that would change the scenario. I'll just say that the ride out of RM301 in my megacab was the wildest ride of my life... and that of my passengers. half an hour later and one hell of an adventure, we all gathered up and let the adrenaline subside.
Racing in Mexico is one of the best adventures and challenges a man can have, we do it for many reasons and each time we walk away, we're satisfied with the outcome because we stepped up to every challenge on the way. They say that if you simply finish the Baja 1000, it's a victory in itself and for those who have and sometimes haven't, know exactly why. The best part is, we get to sit on everything we learned for a year and our date with Baja will be set again and we can only hope it will be rich in experience.
The Carli Suspension crew in San Felipe, November 2008, we'll be hanging onto that Baja smile for next year.
All video, photo and journalist support provided by Brad Holland