Thursday 8/20 marked the first of three race days for the Participants at the Best in the Desert Vegas 2 Reno off-road race.
The morning started bright and early as teams headed North of Las Vegas to the sleepy little town of Beatty, Nevada.
I tagged along with team Off-Road Design (Ultra 4 K.O.H.) for most of the day...
Vehicle # 4488 is a GM-powered rock buggy. It was piloted by Stephen Watson and I was the co-driver for the first half of the day. I got in the car around the 30-mile mark, it was my first time riding in this particular vehicle. It was also my first opportunity to ride with Stephen. My initial impression was clouded by my Brother-in-law, David Kennedy, who ridden with Stephen in Baja at one of the many SCORE desert races. He told me I would feel comfortable riding with Stephen and that his race program was well put together.
I was assuming the car would feel much like other desert race vehicles I've been it, boy I was in for a surprise.
Right off the bat, I took notice to how much the chassis leaned while going through the corners. It felt like a lifted Jeep without sway bars. The front suspension consisted of King 2.5-inch coilovers and King 2.0 hydraulic bumpstops. The rear suspension used the same setup except for the addition of a pair of King 2.5 3-tube bypass shocks. The car's weight is approximately 5,600-lbs.
The bypass shocks did a wonderful job damping the rear of the car. But the front was a little different story. We bottomed out a number of times where I didn't expect to.
Stephen's driving style was conservative, as the total race mileage would be close to 1000 by the end of day 3. We took it easy for most of day 1. As the ambient air temperature climbed to near triple digits, our issues started to show up. First, the power steering pump started leak around the shaft seal. Next a fuel pump started to run intermittently at inconsistent pressure. Later, we discovered the exhaust system was heating up the fuel in the cell to the point where the car was running very poorly. We spent a lot of time dealing with vapor lock issues, but we still managed to keep up a very competitive pace.
I got out of the car around the 160 mile mark.
Stephen's Brother, Brandon, and dad, James, took over and continued at a very fast pace until discovering the fuel heating problem mentioned above. At one point they called back on the radio and said "the exhaust is boiling the fuel cell". After attempting to remedy the issue the two realized they had to make up some time in order to make the next check point before it closed. Unfortunately, the more aggressive driving style resulted in a missed corner which caused the car to hit a large rock at speed, bending two wheels on the passenger side and flattening one front tire. The two changed the tire and got back in the race. Checkpoint 5 closed at 6:45. Our car arrived at 7:35. This resulted in a DNF for our first day.
We loaded the car up and headed to Tonapha, Nevada where the finish line was along with the B.I.T.D. work area.
Once inside the work area, I was reminded of my visit to the Dakar Rally earlier this year. The bivouac style work zone was awesome. Teams worked frantically to make repairs to their cars before the midnight closing time. Because we DNF'd we were allowed to work as long as needed.
In this particular event, racers are allowed on DNF day out of the three race days. As it turns out, only two Ultra 4 (K.O.H.) cars made it to the checkers for day 1. This meant the race was still anyone's game at that point.
Our team worked until 4:00 AM sorting out the heating issues.
Torchmate was on hand to help racers like us with metal fabrication needs. Here you can see them cutting a new fuel cell bracket for our racecar.
The next morning we woke up with much greater confidence about the day of racing.
Our plan included Brandon Watson and father James taking the car off the line. Then Stephen and I got in @ pit 4.
Amidst rumors of a helicopter crashing nearby, we headed off into the silt beds north of pit 4. The car got super hot and we had to slow down to a crawl to let her cool.
We passed a few KOH rigs that were also having heating issues. Before long, it was just us and car 4461, the Aussie team.
We duked it out in thick dust all afternoon. We had a much larger fuel capacity than car # 4461, so we didn't have to stop as often to fuel up. They were much lighter and powerful than us though. So they would catch us, pass and then we would pass them at the pits. This went on through pits 6 & 7.
Just before Pit 8, car 4461 hit a large rock in a super fast down hill section. The strike flattened their passenger side rear tire and bent their passenger side front beadlock ring.
Then we hit the same rock and flattened our passenger side rear tire. However, we didn't know exactly where the pit 8 location was. So Stephen and I stopped to fix our flat. Car 4461 simply drove up 500-1,000 yards to pit 8 and had their crew change it for them.
It took Stephen and I about 5 min to change the flat tire. We got going and realized the pit was just over a small hill... DOH!!!!
We stopped and got a new spare tire at pit 8, and headed out into the darkness again. We settled into a much slower pace to try to keep the car together. About 40 miles up, track officials had the course blocked while trying to assist a stuck Trophy Truck. Both 4461 and us had to wait, side by side about 10 min (on the side of the road) until BITD track officials had the course cleared. They noted our times and spaced us out about 2 min and we were off again. We only had about 65 miles to the finish line. We knew if we just hung back and didn't make any mistakes we could beat 4461 on corrected time as they started before us at the start of the day.
Once at the finish line we were greeted by Dave Cole and Charline Bower where they informed us that they had received information of at least two additional Ultra 4 rigs getting close to the finish. We proceeded to the work area to wrench on the car and make preparations for the final day of racing.
As I'm writing this Day 3 is almost finished .
Our car # 4488 is about 45 miles from the checkers.
Come back tomorrow to find out the results.