The following consist of several updates between Rob Curry of Team Ricky-Bobby and Paul Frame describing their La Carrera experience this year. It's quite a good read. Thank you Rob and Paul for sharing this with us.
In a message dated 10/27/2010 5:04:37 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time,:
Things have been going well and overall much smoother than last year. However, this race is more than just about speed and driving fast, it has just as much to do with not getting lost, staying calm in high pressure situations (like a mule walking onto a race coarse while you are doing 120 MPH), not crashing, avoiding unmarked topes (speed bumps that exist in every town ) and etc. Even with great preparation and driving well, it comes down to a lot of luck. In a 2,000 mile race across a country with third world conditions, anyone's situation and ranking can turn at any time.
Accidents have been heavy with at least 20 cars crashing and probably another 20 cars in and out of the race due to mechanical failures. So far we have avoided both and at this point, we are one of the few cars to have completed all speed stages. Yesterday the race experienced one of the worse crashes of 2010 with a Studebaker's brakes failing on a speed section in the mountains. The brake failure resulted in the car rolling five times down a small cliff. They were lucky and walked away. The safety equipment in most accidents saves the lives of the driver and navigator. Another accident occurred yesterday in a transit section and the driver was taken to the hospital. Most of the time the accidents in the non-speed sections are more dangerous since safety equipment has been removed due to the heat.
Here is a recap so far:
Tech Inspection - very easy this year. We are very well known by the officials and they knew that we were the guys who were crazy enough to fly a windshield in a surf board box hand carried by my Dad to qualify for last year's race.
Qualification Race, Day 0: The race was on the track at Tuxtla Gutierrez and the condition of the track was horrible with gravel and unmarked corners. We were running well but dropped a tire off of the track which forced the car into the grass infield. Hitting the grass was like ice. I was able to keep the car from spinning but took out a good portion of their grass/weeds. I recently did some training at the Spring Mountain race track on a wet skid pad that saved us - Thanks Brad! Instead of spinning, we "fish-tailed" for a couple hundred feet and got back on the track.
Due to the off track excursion, it cost us some time and we qualified 4th in our class and 70 overall out of 120. Still better than last year's ranking 104 overall and 8th or 9th in our class. We are still confused about the actual cars in our class, it changes daily but we think we started with 6.
Day 1 Tuxtla to Oxaca:
We placed first in our class. Based on our learning curve being so step in the 2009 race, things went fairly smooth (based on La Carrera criteria). Other teams are actually asking us for advice and Rick has become the "godfather" of navigation. I may actually need to retire his nickname of "ever-lost Shaw". So far we have only received five seconds in penalties and last year we received at least five minutes during the race. Even with the five seconds, we think it is a mistake. Rules, time keeping, schedules are all flexible in Mexico. This year two brothers of the president of Mexico are in the race. The actual benefit to us is that one of the brothers drives a Porsche so we are able to stick close to the Mexican secret service and were guided quickly through the towns during the transit sections.
Day 2 To Puebla: We placed first in our class. Two cars in our class dropped out of the race due to mechanical issues and one lost a wheel one a speed section. Five major accidents with one of the German cars catching fire on a speed stage. This is the team that last year fought with each other on the side of the road and smoked constantly. We have a feeling that the fire was a result of trying to smoke during a race. While being escorted by a Federale into town, he took a wrong turn and asked us to reverse our car back to the missed corner, unfortunately, we did not see the drainage ditch and reversed into it. We hit our tailpipe while dropping into the ditch which damaged our exhaust manifold. John has attempted to re-weld it twice but we are still having problems, hopefully it will hold. Currently with the exhaust leaks, our Porsche sounds like a NASCAR race car which makes us sound a little faster. It really surprises the guys with the V-8s to hear us approaching and then realize that it is a four cylinder.
Day 3 To Queretaro: We placed second but remained on the first page of the overall cars. We got lost but we were able to correct quickly without losing too much time or receive a penalty.
Day 4 To Morelia: We placed second. Very tough day, as I mentioned, things can change quickly in this race. This race is really not decided until the last day and teams have a shot to either win or lose up until the very end. We started the day with a carburetor problem that would not allow our engine to drop below 4,000 RPMs, which makes it tough to stop the car. We got lost coming out of the city with five cars trying to follow us. Following other cars during transit sections on the way to speed sections (races) is always risky. We make it a rule only to follow Mexicans and typically Mexicans in Porsches. This time, following us did not help our competitors. While lost, I drove into a one way tunnel the wrong way and scared a couple of drivers going through the tunnel to death. Driving in Mexico is difficult but add the time pressure, the confusion of being lost while having a helmet on and it becomes a mess. We were able to get Rick to jump in a taxi that led us to our first race of the day. However when Rick jumped out our car to stop a cab, the timing chip (calculates our transit and speed sections) fell out of the car. Although we were able to call ahead and have John Benton (our crew chief) obtain a new timing chip, our times were confused by the officials and I think they are still not correct for the day. Although the morning was disaster, John met us during the service break to fix the carburetor problem and we were issued a new timing chip (after paying a $200 fine but at least it was not a time penalty). During the afternoon the speed sections were tight high speed corners on mountain roads which were perfect for a Porsche and we made up significant time.
My Dad arrived into town to travel with the crew through the end of the race. My Dad proved to be good luck in 2009 after saving us by transporting the new windshield to Hualtulco in a surfboard box.
Day 5 - To Guadalajara. We won our class and the main competitor in our class, the Volkswagen with the large engine broke down. Although the day went well, it was termed "the day of one thousand topes". We hit a tope doing 45 mph, thankfully it missed our engine case. So far at least three cars having been taken out of the race due to topes.
Great town and third largest in the country. This is the largest city that we will visit this year which is great after the disasters of Mexico City last year. The police escort picked us up 30 kilometers before the city and blocked the freeway during rush hour to bring us into downtown. I always miss racing in Mexico on days that I am sitting on traffic on the 405. Police escorts through the middle of a major city are pretty cool. The finishing arch was at a very modern shopping mall and it was nice to have dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Although all the other races end in the plazas of great colonial cities with thousands of people cheering us, it was nice to have a mellow finish. The food has been great throughout Mexico but it was nice to get an Americano meal.
Today we start at 9 AM which is amazing since we have been starting a 7 AM which means getting up at 4 AM. The La Carrera schedule is tough. Based on the nightly driver's meetings that are scheduled at 8 PM that typically start at 10 or 11 PM (welcome to Mexican racing) and driving 10 hours a day, it makes for a very short night. Last year I slept for two days after returning home.
Although we have complaints about how the race in run and the delayed schedules, there is no place in the world that has a race like the La Carrera. Where else could we race 2,000 miles at high speeds across a country while under police and army protection and escort, all at the same time being treated like rock stars. Viva Mexico!
Off to Aguascalientes today. Five days down and two to go!
See you soon,
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless handheld.
Re: Mexican Cliff Diving - Day 6 - La Carrera Panamericana
Regardless of the rumors we have heard that are on some of the racing blogs, we did not go over a 400 foot cliff and I did not sell Rick to drug cartels in order to bribe myself back into race after our crash. However the cliff rumor is partially true (but selling Rick to the cartel would have also made sense).
Day 5 leaving Guadalajara went smoothly, in fact a picture of our car crossing the finish line the previous day was on the cover of the local paper, El Informador. The car was running well and the engine had been tuned for leaving the higher elevations. During our first race of the day, we entered a series of corners and by the time we reach the final corner, that was supposed to lead to a straight away, the log book failed to mention that the straight away had a step downhill grade. Once in the corner, I realized that we had too much speed to make the corner and had a choice to put the car into the side of the mountain or lift slightly on the accelerator. I should have decided to put the car into the mountain. Knowing that a Porsche will spin if acceleration is dropped in a downhill corner, I tried to take it very easy. It didn’t work and resulted in a spin. It actually was a smooth spin and we finally rested backwards looking at the road. I knew that we went into a ditch and would need to be towed since the nose of the car was facing up at nearly a 45 degree angle. I turned off the power to the car, we took off our safety gear and started to climb out but as soon as I took my foot off of the brake, I started to roll backwards. Rick got out and cautioned me not to move since he nearly rolled down the top of the hill leading to a 400 foot drop. The good news was that it was a dangerous curve so 10 to 12 reporters ran to the car (they hang out after all the tough corners to catch crashes and they must have been happy about our spin). Half of the reporters put down their cameras and held the front of the car to stabilize us while the others continued to take photos (you have to love the press). Rick ran up to the corner to wave off the 50 race cars we knew would be passing the corner within the next twenty minutes. If another car crashed on the corner, they would surely hit us and force us down the mountain.
Initially I had to negotiate with the reporters not to rip me out of the car. I had to argue with them for a couple of minutes to leave me in the car. They saw blood on my face caused by a nose bleed I had just prior to the race and they thought that I had hit my head and that I was in either in shock or delirious. I was able to convince them after threatening their lives that I was OK and that if I removed my foot from the pedal, the car would go down the mountain. I told them that it was not about losing the car but I did not think that I would have enough time to get out once I released the brake. Also, I did not think that the five reporters could hold the car. I also knew that if we had a tow vehicle, they would be able to pull us out. I agreed to put on my safety gear and the reporters removed their belts and tied them in a chain and around my arm just in case they needed to pull me out.
I waited for twenty minutes for the remaining race cars to pass during which time I was interviewed by two European news crews (pretty ironic) all while needing to continue to press on the brakes. They finally brought up a Federale cruiser and connected the tow rope but as he was trying to pull us, he was positioned on the soft shoulder and was starting to slide backwards. The Federale probably would have pushed us both down the hill if Rick did not stop them. For those of you who know Rick, he does not worry about too much but the look on his face and when he told me to get ready to jump, I became concerned for the first time. The chase ambulance/medical crew in a Tahoe arrived and they pull us up. The Federale asked me to start the car to see if I could follow him down to the bottom of the speed section. I was amazed but the car started and we followed. As we were driving down, I was able to look at where we had been positioned and I finally comprehended the full scope of the situation. Since I never was out of the car and from my angle, I was not able see the size of the drop.
The car drove fine on the road and when we arrived at the end of the section, the time keeper was just packing up, we turned in our time card and they waved us on. The Federale gave us a “thumbs up” and we were off.
As we approached the next race, the 50 cars that passed us were shocked. We heard a lot of “Ricky Bobby” and “Shake and Bake” – We picked up the nickname “Ricky Bobby” in last year’s race. All were happy to see us and more amazed that the car was still running. On of the time keepers poured a bottle of tequila on the hood of the car for good luck.
John, Ian and my Dad were able to meet us at the service stop for lunch. Since we were now one of the last cars in the race, they had to hear all the stories as the other teams came into town. They were all happy to see us in one piece especially based on the various stories that they had heard. My Dad asked me to start looking for a new hobby such as golf. Surprisingly, after checking the car, John was able to find very little damage from our off road excursion.
We ran well the rest of the day but we received a 40 minute time on the section due to our rest break on the side of the mountain and a penalty for running late to the next race. The section should have taken around 10 minutes.
At the driver’s meeting and awards ceremony, the president of the race gave me the opportunity to speak to all the drivers and crews about the accident and to also thank the reporters, Federales and medical crew. Due to the number of reporters, they had put together to slide show of the accident.
As I mentioned in my previous message, in a 2,000 mile race, your luck can change at any time. Although we significantly dropped in position, we are obviously were very happy to be off the side of the mountain.
Day 7 & Final La Carrera Panamericana Results
Aguascalientes to Zacatecas
Day 7 & Final La Carrera Panamericana Results
Due to our spin on Day 6, we knew that we had to drive hard to make up time. At this point there were only three cars left in our class since the other five had either crashed or left the race for mechanical issues. At the beginning of the day we were ranked last due to the 40 minute time on the section where we had the spin. We successfully argued that the section where we crashed should be handled as missed section in the rule book as opposed to the actual time that we had to wait to re-enter the race course. Based on the rules, we hurt ourselves by finishing the section and turning in our time card. The officials gave us the slowest time of our class plus a 10% penalty which dropped our time from 40 minutes down to 13 minutes for the section. It still hurt us but much better than 40 minutes.
Day 7 went smooth and we did not have the issues that we experienced in Day 7 of 2009. We kept the shiny side up and stayed on the road.
We arrived into Zacatecas on time and we were met by my Dad and our crew (John and Ian Benton). The streets were packed with people watching the race. It took us 30 minutes after receiving our time to drive through the arch. Zacatecas is a colonial city with a section with cobble stone roads so it was a great place to end the race.
The officials greeted our car and asked us to drive to the city’s Nissan dealer to have our car inspected. This year we knew that it was a good sign since they “tech” the first and second car of each class. Our “tech” took an hour and we thankfully did not need to take apart the engine. Some of the other teams had to remove the engine heads and other parts to take measurements.
The day ended at the awards ceremony that did not start until 11:30 PM and went to 1:30 AM. Rick and I came in first place for the day and also first place for the entire race in our class beating the VW and the Porsche 912. During the race, we lost over 30 cars and five in our class. I think we were only one of the 25 cars that completed every section of the race out of the starting group of around 120. Based on the overall race, it was better that we completed the speed section where we had the spin and continued to race.
We leave this afternoon and hopefully will be back to LAX by 9 PM tonight.
“Shake & Bake”