Day 5, SS4: A Penultimate Day to Be a Racer
What are you supposed to do when you encounter giants? Some take them head-on, with full force and high energy. But when you’re fighting an army, this tactic isn’t sustainable. If there’s even a moment to breath, the adrenaline might wear off and fatigue sets in… Fast. Others use brains instead of brawn. One tactic is to flank the enemy, sneak around the side and launch a surprise attack. Or perhaps run zig-zags; juke left and right until there’s a clear path to strike the head or shoulders. Whatever their strategy, the racers faced a formidable battle in Special Stage Four against not only rivaling teams, but the elements and the Gran Desierto de Altar (or the Great Altar Desert), whose juggernauts of sand outnumbered the Sonora Rally warriors exponentially.
Rally elite pilots and navigators made quick work of slaying their desert dragons, building up speed as they approached on a long, flat, shrub-speckled stretch of hardpacked earth ruled by poisonous khaki-colored snakes hiding just under the loose surface. The obstacle here was the temptation to roll off the throttle or soften at the pedal, letting fear or weariness grind down the conviction to focus on the next level in the Hero’s Journey. This wasn’t even a consideration for Monster Energy Honda rider Ricky Brabec [#1] who seemingly never stopped giving it gas. He spent much of his time traversing the desert with Skyler Howes [#2, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna], teammate Jose Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo [#4] and his Honda comrade Kendall Norman [#12, JCR Honda], who has recently put his wrench down to venture into rally raid. In the end, the group of them pulled up to the last leg of the journey in succession: first Brabec, then Howes, Norman and finally Cornejo. However, after an unforeseen ‘kicker,’ Norman went flying over his handlebars, breaking his rally tower, but thankfully, not his computer.
“Started out great. Actually, the whole stage was great; happy about that. I knew I had to make up time, so we decided to push to the best of our ability. To do so, I had to get to the finish, and I’m hoping that’s enough so tomorrow’s not a huge threat to us…We have one more day. Fingers crossed that we finish on the top step.” – Ricky Brabec #1, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA
You could hear old habits from Kendall as he waited through the few precious moments he had until blast off. It was clear when the countdown reached only a couple of seconds because a whine sang out from his motor as he pulled hard on the throttle anticipating his proverbial green light. A common style of takeoff among many head-to-head heats – something quite familiar to the former MX and Enduro contender. And when it was finally time, he popped the clutch and his rear tire pushed away dirt with fervor, as if using the force to propel himself even faster. This was the sign of a great race to come. And as he currently leads the Road to Dakar challenge, this wouldn’t be a time to take it easy. His closest adversaries, Mason Klein [#6] and Enduro’s Justin Morgan [#10], aren’t giving up and they certainly won’t be slowing down between now and the award ceremony, so all the top competitors should keep at least one eye on these navigation rookies. Not to mention keeping the other eye (we’re running out of eyes!) locked on Rottweiler Performance’s Wes VanNieuwenhuise [#5, Rally PanAm] who stunned everyone when he took home 5th last year on an adventure bike. Now, on a Husky 501, fashioned with ICO Racing’s digital roadbook, Wes is a force to be reckoned with – despite his lack of experience in dunes (coming from the Pacific Northwest).
“Today [Stage 4] was definitely a challenging day! The dunes were extremely difficult to navigate through. We had some trouble getting the waypoints at the top of several of the big dunes, some of them taking five and six attempts to make it up. Sam was able to keep us moving forward the whole time and was on point with the notes. All-in-all it was a good day!” – Wayne Matlock #55, Polaris RZR
**These massive, steep waves of sand created equally spectacular bowls, all which could prove to be a struggle for tire riders and overheating UTVs. Tricky navigation kept participants quite busy and involved, but this opened up greater possibilities of mistakes – something most teams can’t afford right now. Kristen Matlock and Terry Madden [#54] led the stage and were primed to finish strong when she high centered the car on a peak, making way for friendly rival Max Eddy Jr. [#57] to pass her by. He himself has been wrung out all week, although he claims to be having a blast on the course. His petite single-seat RZR has surprised even himself on how well it manages the varieties of sand mountains, among other landscapes. However, its fuel-capacity leaves its drivers wanting more. And in the dunes, it only was working at 70% efficiency, which might not be enough to help reclaim First. Running out of gas (therefore pit stopping to refuel), Eddy Jr. lost another five minutes in this important duel between him and the Matlocks. Fate, and mechanical issues, took Casey Currie with co-pilot Sean Berriman [#51] and Sonora Rally vet Dave Sykes and Tony Albano [#53] out of contention a few stages back, but they’ve been testing and making good time all the same. Sykes has been sending it in a borrowed Yamaha-turned “baby Raptor,” but colleagues in the class, Sara Price accompanied by Kellon Walch [#51] proved her worth as pro driver – tearing through the racecourse in her RZR like he stole it. Which is why she landed P4 today, despite a few unplanned stops. Bill Conger and co-driver Amy Feistel have been ripping the dirt in the unlimited class in what seems more appropriate as a SCORE series Baja buggy. Yet, every time they pass, it’s in a fury – thanks to Conger’s accomplished driving.
Ricky was 20 minutes faster than anyone on the racecourse. He drove in the knife, and killed the opposition, placing him 15 minutes ahead of (also) fast-guy Skyler Howes. Wayne kept a seven-minute gap ahead of Eddy Jr. when he crossed the finish line, which also secured him about 12 minutes in the General Standings – position still considered fragile in a rally format. Allstars aside, today was not for the faint of heart. A very tough special on Wednesday ran teams ragged forcing many of the competitors to pull out of the race – at least officially. But the human mind has a funny way of forgetting the bad shit just enough to want to wake up and do it again the next day, even though some of them can’t be part of the running anymore. By Day 5, several bikes and half of the side-by-sides no longer qualified for scoring. And yet, they all put themselves through another arduous day, knowing it would likely be hell. But it’s that kind of resolve which makes legends, if only in their own household. It’s the difference between a lifetime of satisfaction or a lifetime of regret. We need this. People need to fail so they can succeed. They need to doubt so they can overcome. It’s not enough to be complacent, to have steadfast routines. What it took to overcome North America’s largest dunes – today offering the biggest in sheer size of them all – was a combination of whit, endurance, skill and, most of all, perseverance. Because it’s in our nature to hunt, to create and survive… Motorsport, rally raid in particular, is an amazing way to do just that in short bursts. To help us feel relevant. To find ourselves, if only for a little bit.
For up-to-date results, follow Yokohama Sonora Rally’s social media channels or visit: https://rally.center/my/results/2021-Yokohama-Sonora-Rally-overall-raid.htm
Ø At this point in the race, teams start dropping out like flies. Andrew Short threw in the towel when an unknown illness came over him in SS3, despite crossing the finish line. Aussie-Canadian Matthew Sutherland suffered a severe off-bike which left him with a broken clavicle, but worse, a broken heart. He stands by to support his colleagues from the bivouac. Several others have endured electrical issues, mechanical failures or succumb to the elements. Some of them have returned the next day to continue unscored, while others chose to try and recuperate.
Ø Following the speed limits through some of the small towns Thursday must have been quite a challenge because several pilots received penalties for speeding according to Timing & Scoring.
Ø The race for free entry to the 2022 Dakar Rally has been extremely eventful, with Mason Klein and Kendall Norman bouncing in and out of the winner’s circle. Only SS5 will really reveal which of these talented riders – the enduro vet or the rally rookie – will be competing in line with Ricky, Skyler, Nacho and Andrew in Saudi Arabia.
Kristen Matlock #54, POLARIS RZR FACTORY: “I had my first stage win [Stage 3] yesterday and therefore started in P1 today at Stage 4. I was pushing hard and feeling great, but apparently Wayne [Matlock] was pushing harder and was able to pass us around 30km into the special. I maintained my pace keeping the longevity of the car in mind and was able to keep everyone else behind me until I high centered the car on top of one of the massively tall dunes and Max [Eddy Jr.] went by me. Shortly thereafter, we started having overheating issues due to the radiator becoming packed full of brush and wildflowers from the many kilometers of off-piste tracks, making it nearly impossible to climb the steep dunes because the car would go into limp mode. This continued on no less than 50 times for the remainder of the stage, slowing our pace dramatically down. This will go into the books as being one of the toughest days I’ve had of rally racing. But it made crossing the finish line that much greater! We finished P3 and are now P3 in the overall rally as well going into the final stage.”
Max Eddy Jr. #57, UTV: “The pace was great. And I’ve been really trying to make up time, but the dunes were killing my fuel mileage by about 30 percent. I wish I just had a bigger fuel tank because I ran out of gas, and the refill cost me another five minutes.”
Jose Ignacio “Nacho” Cornejo #4, MONSTER ENERGY HONDA: “Stage Four is done – not the best stage for me. I had some issues at some point. I thought it might be a roadbook mistake, but I don’t want to blame others, so I’ll just deal with it. There were some penalties, but I feel good today on the bike. I had a better speed than the other days. But there are so many things that can go wrong and mess with your results. I’m not that happy, but I’ll try to just finish a solid stage tomorrow and say ‘goodbye’ to Sonora Rally in a good way.”
Kendall Norman #12, JCR HONDA: “At kilometer 30, we all joined together. Mistakes were made. I ended up connecting with Ricky [Brabec] for quite a ways. We disconnected from Skyler [Howes] just a little bit, and about kilometer 75, I hit a ‘kicker’ sending me over the handlebars. I got up, Skyler checked to see if I was okay, then he took off. After that, I had to take it east. I hit pretty hard. Other than that… I’m happy to be here.”
Justin W. Coffey & Kyra Sacdalan
“If you get far enough away you’ll be on your way back home.” - Tom Waits