I almost threw it all away.
I woke up thinking about what I had heard at the drivers meeting the night before. What I understood was that today we would have speed sections up and down a mountain that were "tighter" than we had seen before and some of the stages had poor pavement with rocks. Jorge said that he did not see this in the route book but I decided to load the fuel tank up with the full 32 gallons. My idea was to get the rear end moving around to help on the tighter corners.
The first two speed sections were loose and fast with some debris on the road. We were back in the lead so I wasn't really pushing it. Then on the 3rd speed section entering a Right 2 Long corner at approx. 100 mph the rear end starts coming around. I tried to stay with it but the corner was about 30 degrees too long. The left rear tire dropped off of the pavement and then "PDDDT" we shaved 3 or 4 concrete posts off of the edge of the road. Then we were sliding sideways down an incline so fast that grasshoppers were strained through my mesh window net. Bug juice covered the side of my helmet and streaked sideways across the windshield. I was thinking "Oh no. I was in the lead and threw it away again". Jorge remembers me telling him "Don't worry, everything will be OK". The vegetation we were sliding through seemed to pile up under the cars belly pan keeping the tires from digging into the ground. We slid into an clearing that must have been a work area when they were building the road. I only saw it for a couple of seconds but it seemed to be covered with waste concrete. We found ourselves rolling forward at about 20 MPH. I put the car into first gear and popped the clutch. The motor fired and we accelerated across the clearing while I looked for a way out. At this point I decided I was going to get back onto the road or wreck the car trying. Through the bushes, I caught a glimpse of sky up toward where I imagined the road to be and steered for it, still accelerating. We hit the slope, powered up through the brush, and suddenly flopped out onto the road again. I glanced to my right half expecting to see Stig about to t-bone us. I dumped the clutch, did a "Bat Turn" and burned out of there. Stig later estimated that it was 150 meters from where he saw skid marks leaving the road to where he saw the tire marks I left as I reent ered the stage. It seemed like a lifetime to me but Jorge figures we lost just 12 seconds. Only a miraculous set of circunstances allowed us to continue.
Photo Courtesy Of Coop
The cockpit was full of stickers and bugs. I picked a stunned grasshopper off of my knee and handed to the timing official at the end of the stage. We didn't have time to check the car, but buy swerving around it seemed OK. The left rear tire had grass in the bead and was slowly going down. We had one more stage to run before the service stop so I took it easy. It was lucky we did. There was a bad corner and 3 of my competitors crashed there. CLICK HERE see the video you'll agree that it was lucky no one was killed.
The first car to crash was driven by Stewart and Linda Robertson. Linda suffered the only injuries with two compressed disks in her neck. She emailed me a couple of days ago and said that, with some physical therapy, she expects to fully recover. Amazingly she is looking forward to competing in the 2009 Chihuahua Express. Her husband, Stewart, is taking her to Hawaii for some R & R. You also have probably heard race drivers say that "the safest place to run is up front". It's true.
We got to the service stop with no further driver errors. Tony and Kent got the car in the air and checked it over for damage. Nothing was damaged other than a bashed in door jamb and two ruined tires. They changed all four tires, taped the drivers door shut, and replaced a cracked front brake rotor while I dug handfuls of vegetation out of the car. With our previous heat problems, I was particularly worried about all the dry grass that was under the seats. The last two stages turned out to be the ones that were spoke of at the drivers meeting. I tried to take it easy, just glad to still be in the race.
I do have to say that the "turn around" at La Congoja was particularly enjoyable. The food spread that was put out for us was "over the top". I spent most of the time nursing a cup of coffee and worrying about the drive down. Shortly after we left the service stop I noticed a strange noise emanating from the left front wheel. When I stopped to check, I discovered that the bolts attaching the brake mount to the upright had loosened. One bolt had already fallen out and the last one was about halfway out. We didn't have any time to do anything but get the tool kit out and retighten the one remaining bolt as tight as I could get it. If that last bolt fell out, nothing good was going to happen. I started to tell Jorge but stopped, figuring he had already been tortured enough that day. We made it up/down the hill safely and almost made it to the hotel before I had to stop and tighten the bolt again. The guys replaced the lost bolt that night and swore to recheck them at every stop. After that, I was more worried about them stripping the threads than the bolts coming loose again.
We all worked hard but the only thing that got us through this day was luck.