Baja 2014 – How I Saw It…
By Chris Western
Wow Wow Wow.
I am sitting here reading through the Facebook page and its giving me goose bumps, knowing all you guys out there were following the race minute by minute, some of you going without much sleep, some working night shift, some just getting on the turps.
That’s just pretty cool.
I have read all the comments and thank you very much for the positive energy you were all putting out to help get the team across the line, there is some funny stuff in there.
On the start line it hit me. I am sitting there next to my hero, my best mate, my dad Rhyce. I said, “Let’s go Rhycee, and have some fun.”
We hit the red bull jump tapped. I have been dreaming of that moment for ever. We bottomed out and I said to myself “right o’”, let’s get on the pace I wanted to sit on and finish this race. Rhyce’s section was technical getting out of Ensenada. As soon as another car caught us, we pulled over, let them go and ran at my pace. Adjusting to driving on a GPS took some time but it is the coolest as I didn’t have to guess or read which direction the track was going. The boys told me left so then it was a matter of sharp or long and keep the momentum up. Rhyce has a cool head and kept me on the right pace, helped me to not get caught up in it. We tracked down some massive mountains with just a sheer drop-off that was cool, called up the boys on the radio and told them were coming into our fist navi stop.
After Aaron inspected the car, he found one of the outer leather boots’ clamp had come off so we replaced it with a new one. He jumped in, all pumped up: “Boogeedi boogeedi boogeedi, let’s go racing!” he said. That section had it all, rough rocky mountain trails, down on the beach, long straight fence lines and bloody silt beds. Man, was this an experience. It was like water coming in over the bonnet and you just can’t get off the throttle. Driving by the GPS, when we could see for a split second there were 4 buggies buried in a row. Aaron yells “go left” and we ran over some bushes and ended right next to them on hard ground. We let the dust settle to work out a way around and next thing you know, an old mate has hooked on his tow rope to my back bar, so we just held her flat and pulled him out. Next silt beds, 2 buggies and 2 trophy trucks were bogged so we turned left and just sat her up on the rev limiter and made it through.
This is where the Mickey Thompsons came into play. 2 drivers actually came up to me at the start of the race and said, “Oh buddy, you won’t have any problems in the silt traps because you’re on Mickeys.” I thought that was pretty cool!
We ran 20 psi all round, due to the strong sidewalls we could run lower pressures. This really helped me in the silt beds, which was like nothing I have ever seen before: it’s like driving through water 4 feet deep and sometimes complete black out as the silt flowed in over the entire car and did they pull through!!! I even pulled one bloke out as he was bogged. When we hit rocks, man they were massive but we slid through them no probs. There were ripped-up tyre carcasses spread along the race track, it just made me smile that I had complete confidence in my Mickeys. The front set went the full distance and I changed the rears halfway, even though they were still in good nick. No flats for the race, and these are Mickey Thompson 35×12.5R15 MTZ’s straight off the shelf!!
The Lightforce lights came into play as the top lights actually pierced through the dust so we left them on the whole time. We tried turning them off in dust but it was better leaving them all on. I could feel the car changing throughout the race, riding nice like on marshmallows, then sometimes chattery on little stuff. Aaron pointed out when the Foxes were hot the car was a lounge chair then when driving on the road, which was way cool, the shocks went cold and felt a little chattery. I haven’t felt that before in a car. The Fox shocks were just awesome.
Next was Stewy. He was like a sheepdog that had been on the chain for 2 weeks. We replaced the air cleaner. Aaron inspected the car. It’s in great shape and how the boys found this pit was awesome with help from Garry directing via Google Earth and sat phones and trackers. It was cool to see Marty, Nige, Rhycee, Aaron. This was in the middle of the night. Stewy kept me fired up but kept me on the pace we wanted to set. Different terrain again, a lot of fast stuff and to be honest I can’t remember a lot of this section but this was where I started to really have to push myself. The road sections were cool as I could relax and sit below 60mph and Stewy and I could talk some. One of the road sections was 40km long. I was feeling different things and noises in the car. I pulled into a Mag7 pit and asked them to check my front wheel bearings and wheel nuts. They jack up the front, wobbled the front wheels, gave the OK, so we were off about 5ish in the morning. That’s 18 hours driving as the sun was about to come up. I was really hurting, mainly my shoulders from the HANS device. I could feel every bump. I said, “That’s it Stewy, I have to sleep”, as I just saw a pair of gorilla hands come out of the shape of the lights on the ground and try and grab me. We pulled over and I had 15 minutes. Then Stewy says, “Come on brother, are we racing or what?” I was fired up after that nap and then even more fired up when we hit the whoops. Wow man, 4th gear skimming across the top for 100 miles – just awesome!
Next stop to pick up Mick.
This pit was to replace the air filter, add more grease to inner and outer CVs, and inspect the car. Still in awesome shape! I lay on the back of someone’s trailer and laid out flat on my back. I couldn’t sleep but it was good to close my eyes. It was great to see Nige, Boothy, Rhycee and Aaron as they were pumped and it only helped me to take some of their energy to keep me going. This section was cool, easy on the car and fast. We came over a mountain and looked straight out over the ocean and a massive cruise ship was cruising down the coast. It was beautiful. Then we had some salt flats just like Sea Lake. The GPS file took us straight into the middle of it. The car was starting to bog down, then Mick yelled, “Dude, go right now!” I went back a gear, on the gas and headed for the edge .We drove off the line sticking to the outside. (Lucky, as we saw cars bogged down to the floor pan. I think the salt pans caught over 10 cars.) Onto the road for a rest. Mick grabbed the wheel so I could shut my eyes. One was bloodshot and both were weeping down my face. This helped me out and I was good to go again. Went through a mini oasis, massive palm trees with lagoons all around, really nice spot.
Next was Troy.
This stop was tough. I was just about stuffed but when I pulled in and saw Kevvy, Troy and Rowey, the joy in seeing each other fired me up and they told me I am nearly there. Again this section was cool, driving through little villages with all the locals lining the streets. Rocks! OMG bloody rocks! No dirt, just driving on rocks that was harsh on the tyres. Real technical stuff in the valley and side of mountains, 2nd and 3rd gear stuff and bloody rough. Then we cross this river, it seemed like a 100 times we went across and drove up it. I was over this bloody river! In the end, every crossing, I just held her flat and water was going everywhere. Troy and I were soaked, my intercom plug got wet, so we went back to the hand signals for a while. It came good after half an hour back on track, then I started feeling tired, real tired again. After all the technical stuff I remember thinking at the time, if I was back in my office at the Gold Coast I would be working so, I said to myself, stop being a pussy and fire up! Now I was on fire! Next was the whoops.
WOW they went on and on and on and got bigger and bigger, 4th gear sitting on 110km/hr cruising over the top. Troy yells out, can I put another 20 cents in the little red car to keep the ride going. We were buzzing! Now I was awake the adrenalin was really flowing.
This car I was in was unbelievable!
I had that much faith in the Element Prodigy, I just kept pushing it the whole way. At one point I said “Look at this Troy” and I let go off the steering wheel across the whoops and there is ZERO and I mean zero feedback through the steering wheel. I had no arm pump or sore wrists, nothing. All I had to do was guide the Element though all the worst terrain I have ever seen. 50 miles to go to get to the last pit the clutch starts slipping. Holy sh*t!
It’s night time, lights are on, and we hit some smooth roads. All good, then more whoops and they are massive! I couldn’t get up on top so we rode every one of them, just squeezing the throttle in 3rd gear. Now I was struggling. I hit the brakes real hard on a straight amongst some trees as I thought I saw a boat in the middle of the track! Troy yells out, “I will tell you if there is a f***ing boat on the track. Now keep going!” So I am on the radio. The boys meet me on the road to pull out the engine and fit a new clutch but the closer we got the better I could drive it. I remember back in the old Volksy days driving with stuffed clutches and just squeezed the throttle each gear. Troy was in my ear. “Nice and steady mate, we can go the whole way,” so I found a big open patch, went back to first gear to see how much grip she had. We could get it on the limiter in first as I knew there were real bad silt beds coming up, so called the boys and said scrap the clutch, will meet you at Rhycee’s pit, the last one now. “I have to drive different just keep momentum” is what I kept saying and man, did I smash the Element into some massive drop offs and sandy holes. Had a massive bottom-out and Troy and I were stunned, I just said “We are still moving.” Now I am buzzing! It’s like I had 5 Red Bulls.
The last pit. Man was I relieved to see all the boys in one place! I had a tear up driving into the pit, bumped it into neutral and left the motor running. The team made a decision and put Stewy back in to navigate me through the silt beds and could dig me out if needed. This was the longest part of the race for me. It felt like all night. Marty was strapping me back into the car and I had a deja vu moment. What he was doing and saying? I looked up at him and said, “Mate, I will see you at the finish line.” I knew we would make it all the way.
I don’t think I spoke to Stewy at all, I was concentrating that much. I couldn’t break momentum or take a wrong turn or that’s it, car over. We were going good, then onto the beach and bloody silt beds! I just put it in first, sat on the limiter and smashed the car through anything. Stuff was going everywhere. Stewy guided me, all spot-on, then a misfire. What more can this race throw at us? The fuel pressure was getting low. I flick the secondary fuel system. Up comes the pressure but still a miss, 4 – 5 cylinders now. It was tough. When we got to the bitumen road and saw all the boys waiting, I remember just crying because I knew we could push it from here to the finish line. The boys were so pumped I had goose bumps. Rhycee jumped in and the boys pushed me off. Clicked through the gears and Rhycee and I were talking about the most awesome team of people who put in to get the team to the finish line. Setting little goals throughout the race got me to the finish. By not caring about what position I am in and each time I pulled in for a navi change and to see the chase boys, it gave me shot of hope that we could make it across the line and we bloody well did!!!!!!!
Up on the finish podium I was a blubbering mess. I couldn’t even talk to Dad. We just looked at each other and held hands, got out the car and saw Kait, Mum and the kids and the rest of our awesome team all cheering. Kait came up and we cried together. I didn’t call her throughout the race as she was riding with me the whole way and I knew she had my back no matter what. Kait is an amazing woman and I wouldn’t have even started the race without her support. Thanks sweet.
Now it’s time to party with the rest of the crew, Suzy and the kids, Liz and Chelsea, Dave and Tracey, Annette, Tan back home, Garry, Rach and Hayley holding the fort back home. I am very grateful to be surrounded by awesome people and I have the best Mum and Dad in the world who have never stopped believing in me and encouraging me to go after my dreams.
P.S. Rowan has magical powers that come out of his hands when he built my Element Prodigy. 2000km, 3 air filters, 1 CV clamp, 2 new rear tyres changed halfway with no flats, add some grease to CVs, no rattles, nothing broken…thanks mate.
I would like to post up next all the sponsors and people that helped this team have the time of our lives. Thanks again for following our team in the Baja 1000 2014. It means a lot.
Now the road trip back up the Baja Peninsula with the boys. Put the buggy in a container, then off to Hawaii drinking Jimmy Black and over 80 hours of Go-Pro footage to watch, thinking, “What’s next?”
Thank you all,