The Yokohama Sonora Rally Serves Up Hearty Portions of Sun, Sand and Satisfaction
Dakar is a spicy dish best served cold. Ice cold. In a sweltering desert, one sip can chill the tongue and quench a parched pair of lips causing instant reprieve, even delight. Then suddenly, a spark within. Sizzling in the gut sending tremors through the body and fire rises from the belly, erupting from the mouth. And like an addict in withdrawal, there’s nothing left to do but gulp down more drink for another moment of satisfaction. That’s Dakar. Love and hate. Joy and suffering. A split-second of cool, refreshing accomplishment– for being selected, beginning the stage, surviving – before harsh terrain, extreme temperatures and exhaustion throw an uppercut to the jaw once more. And if it wasn’t a K.O., this sequence will keep repeating over 12 to 15 volatile days.
This banquet might be a bit too intense for some. Others aren’t sure yet if they can stomach it all. So instead, why not nibble on something less painful? Same flavor but with a smooth finish. Similar bite but not as lasting. High class but won’t hurt the wallet like fine dining. This warm, comforting repast is North America’s Yokohama Sonora Rally. A sampling of Dakar divvied up onto small plates – shorter routes, less days, reduced pressure.
It’s mid-March. Days are becoming warmer on the southern side of the continent. A constant flow of heavy winds through Sonora offers the only solace from an unrelenting sun, keeping temps on the racecourse tolerable. Media, who’d been perched in the dunes long before racers crossed the starting line, scatter across the sand, one or two hiking to the tallest peaks for the best vantages. They wait. And when the first bike finally appears over the ridge, a photographer moves into the middle of its path, startling the pilot briefly, until he sees the shutter and points his front tire directly towards the willing target, grabbing a handful of the throttle in the process. Action shots. The two are familiar with each other, since the last Dakar. And in some ways, this race is familiar too. Familiar faces aside, these landscapes and circumstances in Mexico easily mimic those seen at past events in Peru or Morocco and what could be coming in Saudi Arabia. Compared to other rallies of this kind, the topography in Sonora may lack a rich diversity, but at times, so do the stages at Dakar. It’s this type of similarity which makes the little event so desirable. Aside from the sheer joy of competing under such a great establishment, in North America’s backyard no less, if a rider needs to be sure they’re ready to tackle the World’s most infamous off-road race, Sonora Rally is the litmus test.
So, in knowing the likenesses between the Sonora and Dakar rallies, what is it which makes them different? For one, the predominantly American, Canadian and Mexican entrants didn’t have to ship their bikes across continents or big bodies of water. Another (two or three): they didn’t need to take nearly a month off work, plan for over a year, hire a team or a service to ensure a best possible outcome. Nor did they pay a small fortune just to roll into the first bivouac for Tech Inspection. But the quality which really stands out, is intimacy. In comparison, Sonora’s 60-plus participants seem quite a humble group next to Dakar’s which has been upwards of 500 deep. Yet, the qualities of Sonora Rally – demanding roadbooks, sensational countryside, the Road to Dakar, Morocco Challengeand little things like high values in safety, dining and efficiency – draw in a certain pedigree to the starting lines alongside rookies and grassroots racers. Legends like Johnny Campbell are within reaching distance at the dinner table, chatting with a contemporary breed of podium toppers who are currently carving their names into the record books. There aren’t so many faces here, the young stars can get lost amongst a crowd. And the atmosphere at the bivouac is low-key, allowing teams from the bottom to the top to interact casually.
What’s also quite welcoming about this event is the organization itself. The founders of the rally are known by name and can be seen daily fulfilling the duties of their formidable roles: Race Director and Event Coordinator. Volunteers have been so happy with their experiences over the years, they are becoming recognized by participants as key components of this well-oiled machine. And though there are definitely some expected shortcomings, what teams know for certain is the event is for them. They are the central focus of every decision made by the establishment. A weight the pilots won’t need to bear when indulging on what they’d come there to do: battle it out.
The greatest sight is at the middle of the pack, where the fastest cars have caught up to the contending bikes. Like a chase scene from Mad Max, they charge through the terrain, sometimes in line, zig-zagging sharply to avoid obstructions or just break free of the pack. One by one, even two by two, the vessels are launched into the atmosphere as they ascend the waves at full.
Distant sounds from a race-spec rally bike hum a rhythm, a beacon bouncing in and out of earshot, announcing their arrival. Add a few more bikes and a couple of UTVs – lord help you if there’s a V8 in the mix – and the noise becomes a cacophony of angry growls heard from miles away. In the middle of the dunes, it can take a while before the machines catch up with their harmonies, which bounce around the sandy peaks like a pinball racking up points. But when they finally arrive, when the bikes and cars fly with the wheels spinning over the mountain’s crest, it’s as if a tsunami of roars spills over the horizon and consume everything in its path. At that moment, so many sounds are crammed into the eat, they bottleneck at the canal and the only thing truly audible is silence.
If Dakar is the pinnacle in fine dining – a race for honor and prestige – then Sonora is a race whipped up for the racer, serving the best all-around experience possible. Their cravings for Dakar satiated by smaller portions and attentive hosts. With just a tasteof Motorsport’s Michelin Star meal, flavored in the signature Dakar spices, cooked by a desert sun set on high and served in North America’s very own kitchen, it can sharpen skills without leaving too many scars. Reduce the pressure without removing the competitive edge. A catalyst for bonding, lifelong friends and fond memories. When hunger emerges for rallying, Sonora Rally is a course in this grand prix-fixed feast which can help one truly decide if either they are, or they aren’t, ready to have their fill of theultimate World Class race.
Visit the Sonora Rally website at www.sonorarally.com
2019 Sonora Rally Photos:
2019 Dakar Rally Photos: