There are Rally events, and there are life events. WRC Corona Rally Mexico Rally America was both.
Bill Caswell and I received word in January that a Rally America legal car would be eligible to compete in Rally America, a Mexican national rally run concurrently with WRC Corona Rally Mexico.
Some teams would dream about competing; Bill and I said screw it, we’re going.
I was with a new driver in a new car. This time adding a new event at a completely new competitive level with a major language barrier added other major challenges to my job. Roberto Mendoza, the president of the event, was more than helpful in answering questions and getting us prepared for the event.
I spent weeks emailing Roberto and Bill, translating sup regs into English and building movement plans for the week. To add extra stress to the situation I had to drop all work on Mexico a week before the event due to competing with Team 600 and Dillon Van Way at the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood.
Plans were set; I had to let everything fall into place.
Sunday, February 28-
The plan was to leave Rolla, MO, only 30 minutes north of the Rally in the 100 Acre Wood, by 7:00 a.m. in order to hit the border in Laredo, TX by Monday morning in a bid to complete Recce. Bill was running into motor problems due to an S14 M3 swap, preventing him from leaving Chicago. I spent the entire day loafing around Ron Erickson’s house in Rolla.
Monday, March 1-
Again, I loafed around all day. I surfed the net, watched some TV and napped all day with a cat in my lap.
Tuesday, March 2-
Bill was finally able to reach Rolla at one a.m. We immediately hit the road. We took shifts driving and made Laredo by 5 p.m. We heard nightmare stories about crossing the border from teams that went south for Rally of the Nations in ’09. Surprisingly things didn’t seem so bad.
We went through the border; the Mexican customs agents asked us to open the trailer. I know rudimentary Spanish, but nowhere near enough to communicate what we were doing. Luckily I had the logo for WRC Mexico on the front page of my movement plan; when the Mexican border agent saw it he knew what we were doing and just let us pass through.
We made it a few miles into Mexico when we were informed that we couldn’t proceed any further with our current service vehicle (this is a long story that I won’t be able to go into for a few years due to various “issues.” Buying me a beer at a Rally could easily draw it out though…). We were turned around at 9 p.m. and sent back to the U.S. This is where things got scary.
Between bridge one and bridge two between Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) and Laredo (USA) there is a one mile road, two lanes wide with a concrete barrier about two feet tall preventing you from going in any other direction. This is the point where some Mexican cartels decided to begin a war. A car blocked the road in front of us and people started streaming down into the bushes with machine guns. We couldn’t turn around due to our trailer, so we spent a frantic ten minutes backing up a half mile to the sounds of automatic gun fire and police who just turned around and fled when presented with the situation.
Our brokers, who were there to protect us and guide us through the procedures, had one simple explanation, “Mexico, she has problems.”
We finally crossed back into the U.S. while the Mexican military guarded the bridges. We took shelter in the Days Inn Laredo where I spent a day last year after transporting other team’s vehicles south.
Wednesday, March 3-
We woke up, transferred our gear to another service vehicle (again, I can’t say the full story yet) and attempted the border again. We were able to safely cross at 4 p.m. after an hour of paper work and proceeded to the inner border. As long as it’s light out Nuevo Laredo is a pleasant town, once it’s dark it’s scary as hell.
We drove through the night south towards Leon.
Thursday, March 4-
We arrived at our hotel at 5 a.m. and were asleep within a half hour.
We woke around 8 and took the service rig across the street to the Poliforum service park. They guided us through the building and down a ramp into our service area. The truck, once down the ramp, lifted the back of the trailer and scrapped the entry way into the Poliforum. Luckily I was driving and luckily all eyes were on us. It was a great way to introduce ourselves to the Rally world.
We unpacked, Bill set to work on final details for the car, and I got deep into the paperwork for the weekend.
Both Bill and I were nervous that we wouldn’t pass tech. There wasn’t anything wrong with the car; it’s just that being faced with a WRC level tech inspection with a 20 year old car is a bit intimidating. All of the tech inspectors were more than friendly and soon our fears were assuaged. We were cleared to start.
Around 4 p.m. we left the service park for the beginnings of the ceremonial start. No description I can give will be adequate enough to explain how the night went. The transit to Siloa was simple enough, but when we arrived at the holding area we were greeted by tens of thousands of screaming fans.
Bill and I were heroes. We were in an attainable car on the world stage and everyone loved us. As soon as all of the cars were parked the fans streamed past the barriers for autographs and photos. Someone was setting fireworks off on the roof tops, girls kept asking for photos and kisses on the cheeks and everyone, including local police, wanted autographs. Bill and I were happy to oblige.
We were released at one minute intervals from Siloa, starting off of a ceremonial ramp, into the streets. For the next 30km we transited down city streets and freeways lined with people. Police blocked every entrance and two officers, lights and sirens blaring, followed us to Guanajuato. We were free to drive as fast as we wanted, through toll booths with no charge, feeling like banditos fleeing from the police.
When we arrived in Guanajuato we were thrust into a scene that made Silao look tame. The crowds built to over one hindered thousand screaming Rally fans. It was stop and go traffic for three miles while people parted for us to inch forward, then swallow us from behind after we passed. Several girls blew kisses which I grabbed with a wink and smile only to watch them swoon. It was an odd feeling.
The official start ramp, after three other false ramps, was a spinning platform surrounded by banners, grandstands and spot lights. The crowd went nuts when we pulled up. After driving down we immediately transited back to Leon, wondering the whole way if we were dreaming about the previous four hours of our lives.
Friday, March 5-
The day started oddly like any Rally day despite the previous night’s festivities. We set to work in the service park. Bill on the car, myself on route books.
Since we missed recce we were going to be forced to do the whole weekend on very thin tulips. Luckily for us we met Nicolas Fuchs, a PWRC competitor and current Peruvian national champion. His co-driver, Juan Pedro Cilloniz, allowed me to photo copy his pace notes.
They were in Spanish and in a method neither Bill nor I had used before, but they were something. I wrote at the beginning of every stage that I=Left and D=Right and was forced to call that good. Other symbols I had to learn at speed were “L”= crest, “l”= long, “sc”=tightens, “sa”=opens and “boda”=off camber just to name a few. Our in car video can attest that I wasn’t perfect at translating Spanish to English at speed, but I was at least 95% accurate.
The first stage loop went alright. We bashed the rear left corner enough to rip the strut mount from the car, but not damage the shock. Bill took out the Bilstein to prevent it from banging around and we ran the last loop without any left rear suspension. Surprisingly we were sitting in third, but we were soon faced with a DNF due to a fuel pump failure on the transit to stage 7.
The next story involves high speeds, GPS tracking, a Policía Federal road block and chase and other bits of James Bond level international intrigue. Like the previous story about our service vehicle, I can’t get into this one for a few years unless coerced by a cold brew.
After some “issues” we returned to the service park and set to repairing the car under Super Rally regulations. I received some bad news from home and spent the night on the phone to Michigan leaving Bill to work on the car. He was able to wrap up all of our issues to allow us to start on Saturday.
Saturday, March 6-
We started the day third on the road. With our Super Rally penalties we were sitting in last, but that didn’t stick. We attacked the stages in anger, quickly climbing back up the order to fourth.
On stage one we entered a tight yet fast downhill section with a little too much gusto. The back of the car slid off the road on the right and went off a bridge. My first reaction was, “well, we’re done.” Bill just kept on the gas and a well placed BMW trailing link caught the edge of the concrete bridge before the tire and somehow bounced us back on the road. According to the laws of physics it shouldn’t have been possible, yet we found ourselves on still on the road and still pushing hard. I love those moments.
On stage three we approached what my notes said was a dip. It wasn’t a dip. I said it wasn’t a dip when we could clearly see what it was. Bill gunned it. It was a massive jump. Massive. We landed hard and broke the right motor mount, but instead of slowing down Bill just kept pushing. We entered the final Superspecials sitting back in third.
Of note was a young lady, maybe 20 or so, at the beginning of the Superspecial in the VIP area. She held a sign that said “I love Slocum.” I’ve gone international. I called her over but the security guards wouldn’t let her pass. I scolded them out and they let her approach the car. I asked for her hand and gave it a kiss, feeling like an American lothario. She giggled and the security guard forced her back as we moved up to the start line. It was reported to me later that she spent the remainder of the Superspecial bragging to the crowd around her that I kissed her. I am an American lothario.
Once back to the service park Bill again set to working on the car. He was able to fabricate a new motor mount using a piece of tubing and angle iron. Unfortunately we went over our allotted service time and pulled 4:20 in penalties, moving us to fourth, but we were still in it.
Sunday, March 7-
We were solidly in fourth to start the day. There were only four stages so we decided to play it smart and drive for the finish. We had no issues, the car was even better than when we started on Friday. I was comfortable with the notes; Bill was comfortable with the car and the stages.
After 22 stages, several severe mechanical issues, border delays and dozens of other reasons why it shouldn’t have happened we finished WRC Corona Rally Mexico Rally America. The final verdict came down that another car had been disqualified resulting in us moving up to third. The event that should never have occurred ended better than either of us could have anticipated.
The ceremonial finish was just as insane as the other spectator events. Thousands of people, thousands of photos and autographs, kisses all around. I burned out two sharpies over the weekend on autographs alone. The only thing left was to party.
Bill got trashed inside with other drivers, doing shots with Petter and Henning Solberg; I hung around with other co-drivers outside drinking water and talking about how hard it is to get drivers to listen. Event workers hung out in between both groups trying to look natural. I went back to the hotel around 2, Bill stumbled in with a passed out Scandinavian crew guy over his shoulder around 5:30.
Nothing can do justice in describing what it’s like to compete at a WRC event. If the opportunity is offered in the future I highly suggest going. I know I will.