Memories of the Baja 1000: Whoops, G-Outs and a cactus in the cockpit!

“Rev up! Rev up!,” I hear Bryan Little’s voice in the intercom. Our eight cylinder grunts and screams, the trophy truck tanks its way through the groundless, deep dust. It’s a pitch black night black and whenever we shoot down a dune we shovel this powder fine dust into our cockpit. I can’t see a thing. Not even the dashboard. “Revs,” I hear Bryan’s imploring voice. I shift down. Revs up but we don’t gain any speed. We are slowing down. Bryan can see on his monitor how the temperature of our torque converter shoots up. When I increase the revs the mighty torque of our engine drops a little bit, this takes some load from the torque converter. But we are losing speed. Our trophy truck rolls and pitches through the deep stuff like a ship in a storm on the high seas. Slower and slower. Then we stand still. Race Mile 580. It’s half past ten and we are stranded in the desert. Six miles to go to reach firm surface, seven miles to our service point. There’s that strong smell of hydraulic fluid in the air and the cactus spikes in our overalls don’t make the situation any more comfortable. It has taken us eleven hours to get here since we set off in the late morning from Ensenada on the Pacific coast up in the north of Baja California.

The start from Ensenada is a great motorsports party
The start from Ensenada is a great motorsports party

We’ve probably never been as well prepared for the Baja 1000 as we are now. My co-driver Bryan Little and I did an eleven day pre-run. We tried all thinkable lines and put them into our GPS. So for my 615 race miles to the point where I will hand the car over to Martin Christensen we practiced a good 3500 miles.

We and our Trophy Truck are in top form. Blindfolded, we could find all important things in the car. We divided our astronaut food into handy portions and taped them up on inside of the roof. Each tool has its place. The cleaning cloths for the helmet visors are stored. When we come to the start on race day everything has to be done. Our team members are on their way to the pit stop points somewhere in the desert along the 1000 mile route.

Ok, all is in place. We climb into our seats, buckle up. A perfect seating position is crucial. For the next ten hours I’m going to be pinned down in this position into the seat. My very personal waste water pipeline had better not be squeezed by the harness. You just can’t sit in the car for hours and hours, drink litres of water not knowing how to get rid of the excess liquid. You know what I’m talking about. And you sure have to drink. Once you start dehydrating it’s too late to reverse this process. If you dehydrate the race of done for you. Anyway, the personal pipeline ends just above the floor of the car. We’ll eat and drink on the highway sections where we are only allowed to do 60 mph: Just grab a packet of astronaut food from under the roof and push it in under the helmet.

All good, here we go! We are the 33rd Trophy Truck. All cars are still running close together, there’s a lot of adrenalin. They all storm away like crazy. No viz but lots of surprises for the first miles. Farmland, lots of stuff on the track. Somebody hit a fence. There are boards with nails in the way. After roughly six miles Bryan can see on his monitor that our left rear tyre is losing air. After 12 miles we find a place to stop and change the wheel. A piece of the tyre has cut the brake pipe. No problem, from now on we’ve got brakes only on three wheels. After a little more than 30 miles we enter a narrow gorge, maybe 30 yards across. The surface is nothing but silt … it is like hitting a wall of dust and like driving through a Turkish sauna. I can’t even see the rev counter. But I stay on the throttle. We come off our line … no orientation at all. We hit bushes. Hell, where are we? We are getting too slow. We hit the bump in the middle between the deep ruts. Our bottom is on the ground. There’s no more load on the wheels. 700 hp whisk the desert air. Bryan shoots out of the car, has a look at the mess. Using our hydraulic jack we lift the car, run around and push rocks under the wheels. Sweating, swearing, wordless toil. Then the wheels find grip. We go on and are now maybe 45th on the road. But now it’s all go. On the way to our pit stop at race mile 130 we overtake a lot of competitors. Our pit crew works perfectly and fast: new spare wheel in, check all crucial stuff, refuel over 300 litres. All in less than 30 seconds. 485 miles to go to the driver change at San Ignacio.

Straight line, flat out - but always with an eye on the rev counter
Straight line, flat out – but always with an eye on the rev counter

We are heading south east across the Baja California from the Pacific to the Gulf of California. Approaching San Felipe the track gets wider and faster, but then we hit them: the San Felipe Whoops. These bumps are between two and five feet high. Between the bumps it’s sometimes five yards, sometimes 10, 20. Our Trophy Truck handles it beautifully with the full fuel tank. We are doing maybe 100 mph. We could go faster, but our tests with Schaeffler and Liqui Moly showed that this speed is the best for our car over the San Felipe Whoops. When a competitor turns up in front of us we just swap to another of the many lines we tried out and overtake six trucks without problem.

From San Felipe we turn south on the Puertecitos Road. Dead straight, flat, and we go full bore: 130 mph. We hit bumps. More bumps … and we run into serious gravel. Rocks the size of soccer balls for a good 30 miles. We slow down to maybe 60 mph. This is tough stuff for the car and us men inside it. Clanking, banging, stones fly into the car. When the hell does this stop? But even this has an end after a while and the next 40 mile highway section is paradise. We are at race mile 280 and the 16th car on route – we have overtaken almost 30 competitors.

The following gravel down to Coco’s Corner at race mile 300 is sometimes ultra fast. Wide, full blast. Fast corners for long drifts plus some slow, technical twisty stuff. Great fun to drive. Coco lent his name to the place. He lives here, a keen off-road nut. Everybody knows the guy who has no legs but still zooms around on his ATV and celebrates the Baja 1000 with us.

Desert dusk
Desert dusk

Five o’clock in the afternoon, the sun is low. Lights on: the tiny military LEDs give incredibly strong light. We enter the Car Wash: a canyon with vertical walls. You always hit water here somewhere, and things can change within the blink of an eye. If there’s rain up the ravine a flood will rush down the valley and you might run into deep trouble. We get through and overtake two other cars.

At race mile 335 we affix the night face on our car – very strong beam lights. Then we continue south. Down to the bay of angels – bahia de los angeles – where some devilish Baja specialties await us: the G-Outs. These are four, five yards wide gullies, five feet deep. If you hit such a gully at maybe 120mph you might fly across the washout. But then you hit the opposite bank and your rear axle bottoms out and you get a severe kick that catapults you into a forward somersault. Very dangerous thing, but we’ve got the G-Outs in our pace notes. We could go flat out. But we are not able to because we’ve caught up with the slower competitors that started earlier: ATVs, bikes. All hidden in trails of dust behind them. On approaching we never know who’s struggling there in front of us. So we have to be very cautious. Some bike riders are so exhausted they can hardly stay in the saddle. So we have to be patient, 50 mph. But suddenly we come to a detour around a G-Out that only we seem to have in our pace notes. We are alone! Pedal to the metal! And in the next second we hit a giant cactus. Squashed debris and needles rain into the cockpit and within no time we turn into speeding hedgehogs.

Early evening, the nightface is not yet on the car. But the LEDs give great light
Early evening, the nightface is not yet on the car. But the LEDs give great light

Finally from race mile 525 the terrain opens up. Only 90 miles to the driver change. The sandy track is 20 yards wide, almost 30 miles straight. We give the trophy truck a free run but I have to lift the throttle every now and then to keep the temperatures healthy. We do 7,200 revs, that has to be enough for a long race like the Baja 1000. The slow puncture front right doesn’t bother us. It’s not far to the pit stop at the highway crossing. We reach it and we are seventh! Bryan and I are very optimistic. All the hardship seems to have been worth it in the end. Our next stop will be San Ignacio, where Martin waits. What a prospect!

Ten miles after the pit stop there’s a surprise waiting for us. During the pre-run all was fine here. But now the twisty road disappeared under very deep sand. Then dust and siltbeds – for almost 40 miles. Viz back to zero. There’s no way we can avoid the deep dust, too many cacti left and right of the route. The torque converter temperature goes up. Fourth gear impossible, I shift to third gear. And I hear Bryan on the intercom: “Rev up! Rev up!” …

And here we grind to a standstill at race mile 580 at dead of night. We grab our headlamps, I run in the direction where I hear another car coming to warn them. Bryan takes off our sump guard. There’s a lot of oil but in the mess we don’t find a leak. Whenever I hear a car come I run to warn them (and to keep our car safe). We radio our team. Matt O’Melly is a brilliant technician and a genius when it comes to making his way through the toughest stuff. It takes him two hours to reach us. Then Matt tows us back through the deepest sh**… Just unbelievable how he does this.

Nightshift for our pit crew in the desert
Nightshift for our pit crew in the desert

After an hour we reach our pitstop point. Our team has everything ready: gearbox out, change the torque converter. I lie down in the truck for an hour. The compressor and generator make a hell of a noise. But it is so good to stretch out. When the repairs are done Bryan and I jump back into the car. Press the starter button: oil leaks out again! An oil pipe is leaking. Not only a seal was broken but also this oil pipe was perforated. Ok, out of the car, our team change the complete pipe. At six in the morning we can continue. Only 20 miles now to the changing point! We get caught in the slow traffic again. Everybody seems to be dead tired.

Get ready for touchdown - no problem with a suspension like ours
Get ready for touchdown – no problem with a suspension like ours

Eight in the morning: San Ignacio! Finally! We are running nine hours behind our plan. The technicians check the trophy truck. They are all super professional, super calm. Not a word of disappointment to us. Those guys have done a lot of Baja work. And after all: we are still racing! Martin will do the next 650 miles to the finish in exactly the time of the overall winner. This means: Martin once again did a brilliant, fabulous job. And it means that our car is good and fast. Our concept is right. Our All German Motorsports trophy truck arrives at the finish in La Paz after 31 hours. Our dream of a top 10 finish and our hope for a podium spot have not come true this time. But we brought our rather revolutionary car to the finish. This is a super motivation for 2013.

If I remember it right the shower in San Ignacia was the best of my life. Now I’m back at my desk here in Germany and when I think back to this night in the desert there is one thing I know for sure: I have a dream job. But if you had asked out there in the dust I would have very probably answered: “Who in the world is insane enough to choose such a crazy job?”

On top of the dashboard you can still see that we just came out of a water crossing
On top of the dashboard you can still see that we just came out of a water crossing

Well, dear friends, that was my Baja 1000 of 2012. I say “THANK YOU” to all our partners, helpers, fans and to all our families for the wonderful support. You have all pitched in impressively and helped to bring our new developments forward. Many thanks to you, the engineers, technicians, logistics people and everybody who helped to make this such a great racing season.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas with your friends and families and a happy and healthy 2013. I’m already looking forward to the coming motorsports year.

Enjoy the holidays with your loved ones!

We keep Racing – All the best, Armin

 

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