Lady Luck was not particularly on our side for the Baja 1000 (18/19 November). After 900 kilometres, I handed our AGM Buggy over to my friend and teammate Martin Christensen ranking third in our class. But, despite all his experience, Martin’s race ended abruptly with a “G-Out”. Basically, a “G-Out” is an ‘off’, but that doesn’t adequately portray the whole drama: The rear suspension bottoms out on a steep rock ledge, the Buggy kicks up its rear like a wild Mustang, which usually ends in a roll. Martin managed to avoid the worst, the crew and the Buggy were luckily not seriously hurt.
But, despite our bad luck the Baja is still my passion. It’s one of the last great adventures that you can experience in a race car. I wrote down my memories of two days during the pre-run. Let me give you a little idea of the desert’s fascination, and the adventures and of Baja California.
Have fun reading,
Wednesday, 10 November: Last night arrival in Los Angeles, drive south to Escondido. The team briefing was already in full swing. By 23.00 hours we had finished that and loaded eight service trucks, before heading out to grab some pizza. I fell into bed at 00.45 hours.
I spend this morning planning for 2011, above all the Powerdays in Germany. I talk with my friend Matt Martelli about video productions, lunch in an unpretentious but fabulous Sushi restaurant. I then organise the final touches, including two GoPro cameras for the pre-run. In the afternoon I go back to Martin’s and check my emails. At 19.00 hours we all drive to our headquarters in Escondido, prepare for our departure and wait for Andi Aigner who is driving down from Los Angeles with a rental car. USA custom procedures had taken three hours due to the terrorist warnings. Andi arrives at 22.30 hours, we stow his luggage. At 22.40 we head off: Andi Aigner and his navigator Pete Ostrana, Armin Kremer’s navigator Sam Osman, my navigator Bryan Lyttle and me. We cram ourselves into a service truck, with our Prerunner Buggy on a trailer. Armin Kremer comes later. We will write his pace notes for the race. The only shut-eye we get, if any, is in the truck.
We’re off, the Pre-runner on the trailer, five men in a transporter
Thursday, 11 November: We stop to refuel at 00:45 hours in Plaster City. This is a real ghost town: Two houses, one service station. But still, a coffee! Shortly afterwards we cross the border into Mexico in the town of Mexicali. At the beginning of the year this town was hit by an earthquake and there are a couple of deviations because of damaged streets. At three in the morning I take the wheel, everyone’s asleep. At four we come across a military checkpoint near San Felipe. The soldiers are looking for drug smugglers. But they know that many drivers are out and about for the pre-run. Everyone’s relaxed, the men ask for a sticker – every race team sticker is like gold here.
Great atmosphere: A new day starts, more adventures ahead
At 05:45 hours we’re on the highway to San Felipe. This is part of the route: Race Mile 243, directly at the beach. We stop and wait for sunrise. We deserve it. In spite of our tiredness, the mood is great. At 06.30 we reach Race Mile 248. This is where Armin Kremer und Andi Aigner swap. From here Andi will be driving the same stint as me to Race Mile 563.
At 06:40 hours we unload the pre-runner. It’s cold and windy, but the sun is shining. The final preparations: GPS data upload, water, stow headphones and equipment in pre-runner. Ten minutes later we’re on our way: Andi, Pete, Bryan and me. The first 35 miles are ultra fast, lots of long straights with crests, several G-Outs and huge rocks. Only at this time of the morning are we able to see the track this clearly. During the race it will get dark and very, very dusty. 08.15 hours: The Gonzago Bay section runs along the beach. We stop at a little place and have breakfast.
Ultra-fast and ultra tricky: the long straights of the Baja
10:00 hrs: We reach Cocos Corner. At the junction lives a man in a wheel chair. He’s famous in Baja California. His place (he sells drinks and cigarettes) is plastered with photos of Baja legends, with stickers and dedications (here is the Col de Turini of the Baja California). He has decorated the crossroads with beer, cola and huge monster energy cans. All hung up like a chain of piñatas. They sparkle and shine in the early morning sun. Slowly the temperatures start to rise.
11:45 hrs: The Car Wash: a canyon full of water holes. We plough through with spraying water everywhere, and the navigators hoping that their pace notes survive. The canyon narrows and narrows and then opens out again. We then come out on a high plain with endless cacti bushes. It looks like in a John Wayne Western, unbelievably beautiful and endless. We drive and drive with no end in sight. It’s 15.30 hours by the time we reach the Bay de Los Angeles and find a good place to refuel during the race. 40 minutes later we hit the road again. Another 140 kilometres of gravel. Endless straights, sometimes five, sometimes seven, sometimes three kilometres flat tack. But I have to watch like hawk because the route is full of G-Outs. It’s the full programme: large stones, fine gravel, deep sand. All at full tilt.
The landscape here is stunning and you get glimpses of the deep blue ocean. We’re now in the middle of the Peninsula, breathtaking scenery, especially the coastline. At 17.40 hours we reach State Highway 1, the main route from south to north, Race Mile 505. We look for Sam who is waiting for us at a service station with the truck and trailer. We load the pre-runner and head north as there is nowhere to stay the night here. But we’re all starving. So we stop at a tobacco shop. At 20.00 hours we’re all back in the car. By this time we’ve been on our feet – or butts – for a good 35 hours, and we’re having trouble keeping our eyes open. Every 20 minutes we change drivers and go like a bat out of hell.
After about three hours we’re in Catalina only to find that all the beds are occupied. We hadn’t booked any accommodation, because in the pre-run you never know where you’re going to end up. Two years ago we spent the entire night digging our vehicle out of mud. Around midnight we find a little place, a “Mini Hotel in Pink”. Very Spartan but who cares. With luck we can get four hours sleep. We’re all exhausted but pleased. Here we are in the middle of the Baja in this unbelievable atmosphere that makes it so special.
The day ends here: Mini Hotel in Pink, and we sleep like stones