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Sonora Rally 2016: Day Four

Dakar Challenge Finale

© by John Rettie

The Sonora Rally came to a successful close in the resort town of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico.  There were two specials on Day 4 that sent the competitors into a wide variety of terrain. The rally started just outside of town and ran down the beach for about 54 kilometers.  Riders and drivers had to be careful not to get stuck in the tidewater saturated sand and “mushy” mud bogs as they picked off waypoints.  It wasn’t just a race between the competitors, they also had to keep an eye on Mother Nature and the tide coming in. From there it transitioned to long sweeping ranch roads in heavily vegetated dunes to twisty sandy tracks, changing elevation and rocky trails.  Both stages were designed to be fast and give the riders and drivers yet more samplings of the varied terrain in Sonora.

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
e of those soggy timecards. (Photo: John Rettie)

Once again, the top running motorcycles, No. 1, Quinn Cody, No. 2, Ivan Ramirez, and No. 4, Mark Samuels, checked in within minutes of each other at the finish of the stages. But today, No. 3, Steve Hengeveld was out of the running due to a mechanical early in the stage.  It was a nail-biting wait for the final results for the riders.  An impressive accomplishment for a new race event.

Truck No. 53, Todd Jergensen, and UTV No. 50, Dave Skyes, had been battling for the overall four-wheel top position with only five minutes separating them as they started Day 4.  The beach proved to favor the UTV and they took the lead.  The tide coming in meant some soggy timecards at the checkpoint.

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
No. 58, Jason Walmsley, on a mission at the end of special stage 1. (Photo: John Rettie)

Jeremy Swallow, No. 20, came into the end of the first special, later than most of the motorcycles, but still had the biggest grin, as he said he enjoyed the first stage’s terrain, but, “I don’t want to see sand for a very long time. Unless it’s with a cocktail and a chair at the beach.”  He chose to retire after the first stage because he felt he’d asked a bit too much of his motorcycle today and didn’t want to take any chances.

The awards dinner took place poolside at the rally hotel, Peñasco Del Sol, including the announcement of the Dakar Challenge winner, Ivan Ramirez.  As a newcomer to Rally Raid, he was learning and racing at the same time (as were many of the competitors).

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
Erin-Lee Skilton, Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton get ready for the awards celebration. (Photo: John Rettie)
Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
Unique trophies to match the uniqueness of the event.

At the end of the dinner, the final competitor in the T2 FIA Rally 4WD, No. 55, James Opel in his G-Wagen, finished the race and joined the celebration.  Once again, stories of their struggles, were juxtaposed with happy (and still gritty), smiles and lots of laughter.

James Opel said, “It [the Sonora Rally] is like the X Ticket at Disneyland, if they had it.”  He jokingly shared with the group and his wife in attendance, “I was going to apologize to my wife of 26 years for spending four times what I said I would. [on the build of the G-Wagen] But I’m not… This is something everybody should do.” Despite the damage their vehicle sustained, he said, “It’s Rally Raid. It’s not supposed to be all nice and sh*t.”

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
James Opel, No. 55. enjoyes a well-deserved beer.

Here’s what some riders, drivers, and teams, said, when asked about their overall thoughts about the Sonora Rally:

“It’s the best, most intimate gathering of rally kooks and the craziest terrain, ever. From the madman Scott Whitney.”

“Awesome adventure, great food, fantastic people.”

“Great event. Really close to Merzouga Rally. Variety. Big sand dunes. Good pistes. [Gestured two thumbs up.]”

“Sonora Rally – tons of sand; sand, sand, and more sand. Lots of dunes.  A lot of fun.  Best rally ever.”

“Beautiful people. Great terrain. Fantastic promoters. And an awesome team.”

“Unbelievable challenge and wild environment that is both intellectual and technical.”

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
Darren, Erin, and Scott pose with most, but not all of, the volunteers. (Photo: someone holding John Rettie’s camera, as he is in the photo!)

Observation:

As this is only the second year of the rally, budgets are tight, thus the organizers relied heavily on volunteers to make it happen.  The list of volunteers’ resumes included, veteran desert racers, journalists, photographers, videographers, race event producers, 4×4 clubs – local and USA based, mechanics, EMTs, and many more – professionals in the sport with a passion to bring Rally Raid to North America and share their love of Mexico. It was a lean staff, with most taking on multiple roles throughout the week.  As one of them, it was a pleasure and honor to work with them all.  And we’re all especially proud of Darren Skilton and Scott Whitney for embarking on this adventure.  Nothing this new is perfect, and no off-road race can predict all the variables to plan against, but Scott and Darren took them on with humility and grace.

Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4 Results
Sonora Rally 2016: Day 4
Sonora Rally 2016: Overall Results

Written by Melissa Eickhoff

Melissa Eickhoff – self-described “Editor-at-Play,” travels the world of motorsports through her connections and work with unique people, finding herself behind the scenes and part of amazingly epic races and projects. She’s even taken a shot at off-road racing. Currently, she's in deep with Dempsey Racing, Race of Champions Team USA, Zero One Odysseys and their off-road adventure tours and racing, and Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans, the Velocity/Discovery Documentary. You never know where she’ll turn up next…

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