As the team makes their way home from the race, and I've had a chance to catch up on a little rest and reflect on the amazing adventure we've all just experienced, I thought I would take a minute to shore some of the things that are prominent in my mind.
The first is the significance of the accomplishment itself. To have managed to take a newly-built car down to southern Mexico, to an event we've never been to before (and a format - a rally - we've never done before), to a 2000 mile open road race, and finish in the top 10 and podium in our class, is nothing short of amazing. We beat some of the best international rally teams in the world, and some seriously experienced La Carrera veterans in the process. I hesitate to call it surprising, as I know what we as a team are capable of accomplishing, but I will call it an amazing success.
Next are the numerous critical keys to making an initiative such as this succeed, not the least of which is the quality of the machine you take to compete. Clearly we brought the best we could, and that's a testament to the meticulous planning and extensive research that Gary invested in the build of this car. 2 years in the planning, and 15 months of tireless effort created a racing machine to be envied. You did an awesome job! I cannot begin to express what an honor it was to be able to ride along. We also had the best rollcage I've ever has the pleasure of strapping myself into thanks to the engineering expertise of Anthony Vanni and his team over at Impact Engineering (they also created a number of other critical elements of the car like the custom spare tire holder integrated into the fuel cell cage, and the perfect mount for the Terratrip rally computer that was the key to the job I performed).
The car was assembled by a team of dedicated people from the California's Best shop, led by Anthony Trayer, and included Eric, Barry and of course Gary himself, who collectively dedicated hundreds of hours down to the last minute to assure that we brought the absolute best equipment we could. I cannot stress how stunning the quality of the car was - with the exception of a single, relatively minor mechanical issue, we had not the slightest of problems during the grueling 2000 mile event. The result is a testament to the skill and planning Gary applied to the build.
Another element of a successful campaign is the quality of the team, and we surely had one of the best. Gary brings a level of planning unmatched in all the racing I have been involved in, and he assembles the best there is when it comes to skill and dedication. In addition to his skill as a driver and car preparation guru, we had, if I do say so myself, the best navigator in the race :-). We made no mistakes and received not a second of penalty in the entire event, quite an accomplishment for any team, let alone a rookie team. Gary, I want to thank you for including me in this effort, and having faith in my untested abilities as a navigator. I am honored that you would include me, and hope that your faith was rewarded with an acceptable performance.
Steffan Schulz was aboard as our team filmmaker and brought a good sense of humor and an level of dedication to his own craft that just added to the overall quality of the team. He shot over 12 hours of beautiful HD footage and will combine that with the more then 6 hours of in-car footage to build a stellar documentary of the event. We'll have the show ready for international distribution by the end of the year, and the DVD's will be available shortly thereafter for purchase - keep an eye on this blog for more details as we work through the post-production process.
But surely, in my opinion, the MVP of the team, and the one person who is most often overlooked and taken for granted but ultimately deserves the highest praise of us all, is Will Faules. Will not only teamed up with Gary to haul the car down through Mexico to the start in Oaxaca, but single-handedly provided a level of team, car and driver support that I have not had the honor of experiencing anywhere. Will was up with us at the crack of 0'dark:30 each morning, and there at every start - assuring that we had every bolt tight, correct tire pressures, the right amount of fuel, and anything else we needed to compete at the highest level. Then, while we headed off in the race car to enjoy ourselves, Will packed up the trailer by himself and headed off to meet us at the mid-day service stop - an adventure in navigation and braving the unpredictable roads of Mexico all by itself.
Each time we would arrive at a service stop, typically hundreds of miles and a few hours after the start - Will would be there waiting with a fully equipped pit - the canopy set up for shade, water cooled for us to drink, tools and other necessary equipment prepared, fuel for the car, and anything else you can possibly imagine we might need. After waiving us to the correct spot - always in a marquee location - he would, without hesitation, dive into checking tire pressures, assuring that we had adequate refreshment, fueling the car, performing any specific tasks he was asked to perform and all the other small, often overlooked things that a support crew typically provides - all with a professional and positive attitude.
Following the service stops, he would once again, by himself, pack up the entire pit and head off to the city where we would finish for the day. This in itself was a monumental task. He'd find his way to the correct hotel - usually down some ridiculously narrow cobblestone streets, or out in the periphery of town some miles from the final stop, and do his best to put the truck and 21-foot trailer in a good spot for a rendezvous with the car following the welcoming celebration we always received upon arrival in the destination city each day. With few exceptions he'd take care of checking into the hotel for us, and find his way down to the arrival arch to join us in the warm welcome we'd receive at the end of the day's racing. He'd be there with a huge smile and a thumbs up for us, and immediately ask what we needed to do to the car, and prepare himself for any work that needed to be performed that night.
Once we finished enjoying the daily 15 minutes of fame Gary and I had in each arrival city - signing hundreds of autographs, posing for pictures with the locals and the like - Will would direct us to the trailer and assure that we made it where we needed to go. Then he and Gary would begin the process of doing any required maintainance and preparation for the following day. I was privileged to be able to go back to the room and grab a quick shower and begin my studies of the route book for the following day- a monumental task in itself. By this time it was usually around 7pm, and the daily drivers meeting was just around the corner.
These meetings were typically scheduled for 8:30pm, but never actually started before 9:30 - at the earliest (we had one that started at 11pm!). Will would join us at the meetings, often at the expense of being able to shower or do any relaxation at all, to help represent Team CBR, and join in the hope that we had a podium finish each day (we did manage to finish at the top of the podium one day and 3rd another). Along with the rest of us, he'd grit it out until the completion of the meetings, usually after 11pm.
Once back at the hotel, Will and I would spend a little time planning fuel strategy and scheduling for the following day, and finally be done with the day's racing-related activities. Now typically after midnight, we'd all finally head off to get the 4-5 hours of sleep we managed to squeeze in before the whole thing started again. Rinse and repeat for 7 days.
It's not easy being a crew member - especially as a driver - and for someone with the driving experience and skill that Will has, its even harder to defer your own desires and become someone who's role it is to provide support to those who have the honor of piloting the race car. Will not only performed the role of Crew Chief and support team with a level of professionalism I have rarely seen, but did it with enthusiasm and passion, enabling both the Piloto and Co-Piloto to perform a their best, and assuring that we had the machine to accomplish the feat of a lifetime. With very few exceptions, every other team had at least 2 crew members, and some had as many as four or more. We had only one, but when that one is Will Faules you're already way ahead of the competition.
Will, I tip my hat to you my friend. You are without a doubt the key to our success, and without you on board we would have been lost - literally and figuratively. It is because of you that we were able to remain focused on performing our designated roles and strive for the success we ultimately found in the La Carrera Panamericana. Think about it...we've all made a little slice of history, and added our names to a list that includes many of the most famous in the history of racing - Fangio, Moss, Andretti - to name a few. Add Team CBR to that list now. You should nbe very proud of what you helped the team accomplish. I know I'm proud to have been there with you.
Which brings me to the title of this post. I thought of two titles - "The Will to Succeed" or "Where There's a Will, There's a Way". Either one captures the essence of the message. You have to have a strong will to be able to even accomplish something like this, but when you have both the will and THE Will...well...what can I say...the proof's in the result. In our first attempt we finish 9th overall and 3rd in class in the 2007 La Carrera Panamericana. An amazing feat for anyone, and even more amazing for a rookie team with an untested car. We could never have done it without the tireless support of our crew.
I dedicate this success to you, Will. I'd tip a Corona with you but it looks like you've already got a couple of your own :-). Thanks for the effort. I look forward to our next adventure.