I have to say I am pretty happy with how things went on my first rally. I was 4th out of the 8 bikes. I should have been 3rd (more on that later) and all of the riders ahead of me were on the bigger bikes, I was first out of the “Dakar Class” bikes (i.e. 450cc and under).
All new drivers and riders are required to attend a “Novice Competitor Orientation” which I found to be pretty useful. It certainly helped me understand how a rally is run. After that I had a couple of hours to get ready for the start.
In a rally they start riders with 1 minute intervals. About a 1/2 hour before the start they post the starting order. Just as I expected they had me starting dead last which is not surprising since I was the only first time rider. I was starting just behind Anders Green who is an experienced rally car driver (and race organizer for many events) but this was his first rally on a bike.
Just before the 4:00 start we all got lined up and ready to go. At 4:00 Aaron “Crankshaft” Gibson (who was my pick for the overall win) was off on the first transit. One by one we headed out and at 4:07 I started my first rally!
A rally race is broken up into 2 different types of riding. There are “transits” which is just getting from point A to B and “special stages” which is the actual racing. This first bit was just a transit to get us from the ski area parking lot where the start was to the actual race start. You are given a specific amount of time which is more than enough to get there without breaking any speed limits. Essentially all you need to do is don’t break down and don’t get lost. When you get to the end of the transit you need to calculate what time you should check in (i.e. the time you started + however long they specify for the transit) and wait until that minute to hand in your timecard. If you check in early or late you get a penalty which is time added to your time from the special stages.
So, we all get to the start in plenty of time, then when his minute comes up Aaron goes to check in but finds out that they organizers are not ready yet. So, essentially we all just sat around and didn’t check in until they were ready. Since they knew we were all there in plenty of time they just wrote down what time we asked for. We ended up waiting for around 40 minutes until they had the course ready. It takes a lot of people (who are all volunteers) to make a race like this happen so it is certainly understandable it took a little while to get everybody in place and ensure they know what to do.
After the delay we were off. It was the same sort of start procedure as earlier but this time there were no speed limits! This was the “special stage” where the real racing happens. My goal for the entire rally was just to gain some experience, I honestly expected to finish last. After about 3.5 miles I was somewhat shocked to see Anders in front of me. I later learned that he had gone wide on one corner and had a small crash. I thought about following him and just matching his pace but the dust was getting a little bad. I picked up the speed and caught up to him. After a few horn beeps to let him know I was about to pass he pulled over to the side and waved me by.
I finished the stage (a little over 13 miles) in 17:11. I didn’t realize it at the time but turns out that was the 3rd fastest time (however Aaron’s time isn’t listed on the results so I probably was actuall 4th fastest). It probably is best that I didn’t know where I stood, otherwise I probably would have gotten overly competitive and started riding over my head.
We had another short transit stage of about 5 miles which brought us back to the same special stage start. We would run the same course again for stage 2. This one didn’t go quite as well for me. About a mile in I came into a corner a little hot and ran into a thick cloud of dust. That along with the evening angle of the sun made me nearly completely blind. I was on the breaks to make the corner but I couldn’t even see enough to know if I was upright, and soon I wasn’t upright. The bike came out from under me and the bike and I slid.
I had to lay there for a few seconds just to take inventory of my senses to make sure I was OK. Both hips hurt (one from hitting the road, the other from hitting the bike as it was stopped by the trees on the side of the road) but otherwise I felt like I was OK. It took me a little while to just figure out why I was unable to get up before I realized the bike was laying on top of me (glad I don’t ride a big heavy bike!). I managed to push it off of me and get up. It took a little cranking on the bike to get it to run again but I was off.
At the end of the rally I had a chance to talk to a photographer who was near the site of the crash. He didn’t see it but could hear me go down. It turns out that David Jansen had also gone off on this same corner. His crash was a little faster and he ended up going straight on through the trees and down a hill. It took him a few minutes to get back out of there and got back on the road just after Anders had passed by. So, of course he was on the gas and probably spinning up the rear tire. I figure that explains the sudden and unexpected cloud of dust. I still figure I was riding a little above my level and having a crash like this which made me slow down probably wasn’t that bad of a thing.
About 75% of the way through the stage I saw Aaron on the side of the road by his bike holding the “OK” sign (all riders must carry a sign with a big “OK” on one side and a red cross on the other which is used to inform other riders if they need to stop to give assistance or can keep going). I later found out his bike had developed a problem with either the fuel pump or the voltage regulator, it would get hot and loose power, eventually it died on the side of the road. I was sorry to hear this as I was pretty sure Aaron was the fastest rider of the race.
With the crash (and slowing down afterward) I finished the stage in a time of 18:12 (1:01 slower than my first stage on the same course). This was still 5th fastest and only 1 sec behind 4th. So, I figure I didn’t loose too much time on the crash itself. David, who crashed on the same corner, had a time of 22:37, considering on his first he had the fastest time of 15:40 he lost around 7 minutes!
After stage 2 we had another 20 mile or so transit back to Snowshoe Ski Area for a 1 hour service break. Then it would be on to the night stages…..