Josh Chang has spent his entire adult life chasing his dreams. With the encouragement of his family and a deep desire to live a life in racing, he found himself on the eve of his College graduation with a choice: Take one of the many opportunities he had been offered with his shiny new engineering degree, such as designing air conditioners or cardboard box making machines, or keep chasing his rally racing dream. Knowing the former would not satisfy him, he recalled an ad he saw while flipping through “Racecar Engineering” for Cranfield University in England. The ad read something like this:
Candidates must possess, or be expected to achieve, a 1st or 2nd class UK Honours degree in a relevant science, engineering or related discipline, or the international equivalent of these UK qualifications. Other relevant qualifications together with considerable industrial experience may be considered.
So Josh applied, and was awarded one of only twenty or so spots available. He was confident enough, that he didn’t even apply anywhere else.
All the photos you see here were shot by Josh on his iPhone leading up to and during the race. It’s the adventure through his eyes, and it’s pretty fun. Here’s my conversation with Rally racer, Josh Chang:
ML@S: How did you get your first rally car?
JC: My rally career began as a senior in high school. I watched vhs season reviews of rally religiously. I worked at the Kitchen Collection selling KitchenAid mixers to unhappy housewives. It sucked but I calculated that it was enough to make the payments on the newly released WRX, off course only if my father cosigned for it. That was a difficult task for me to accomplish. Eventually I convinced my mom to test drive one. She fell in love with the car and convinced my father it was her next daily driver. Of course I “borrowed” her car whenever I got the chance. I even blew my paychecks on some nice rally wheels since someone on a forum was giving away rally tires. Naturally my mom was not happy to find her car had “very noisy” tires. So the rally set stayed in the garage except on late nights when I could swap them onto the car and sneak out for some test runs on the country roads. That didn’t go so well one Thanksgiving weekend night. I had the car on its side in a ditch much like how Mexico ended. My friend’s and I flipped it over and hammered it into a drivable state. I took it and stored it at my friend’s grandmother’s house until I came up with a plan to present to my parents, one where I had a chance to rally and not get beaten to death. My dad’s a mathematician so I knew he liked numbers. I spent a couple nights on the net and excel creating a spreadsheet of the costs and various options. Of course it was displayed that making the car into a rally car was the cheapest and best option. It showed how I planned to pay for it, and how much I needed to borrow from him. I presented it to him and somehow he agreed. I think he liked the idea of his child chasing his dreams.
ML@S: What was your first job out of school?
Josh Chang: My first job initially was supposed to be a data engineer on the team I did my thesis with, Champion Racing/AudiSport, in the ALMS series. They pulled the plug on racing in the US due to the rough times the automotive industry was sustaining.
ML@S: Where did you meet your co-driver?
JC: I met my co-driver online on the rally forum, specialstage.com, back in the day. Since we were similar age in a sport run by “adults”, we always chatted on AOL instant messenger.
ML@S: Tell me about the class you run at WRC. Allot of people not familiar might think you’re running against the factory teams they see on TV.
JC: It’s Rally GTO, the smaller national event run with the WRC. It is designed for North and South American competitors to run the WRC at a much lower cost. I run the 4WD group which is similar to the Production Group N category in the WRC. Some of the competitors from the Production WRC category, that had issues the first day, re-entered into our race.
ML@S: You’ve been out of the drivers seat for some time now. What prompted you to make a comeback now, particularly at a WRC event?
JC: Being in the driver’s seat has always been my passion. Since I was 14 and saw Colin McRae going sideways, motorsport has been my life. But life and lack of money has always gotten in the way. I finally managed to not sleep on my dad’s couch and bought my own house. My co-driver suggested I run Mexico and said if I drove at 60% I could win it. He’s done a lot of rallying around the world with top drivers and that ego stroke was enough to get me searching for a car. I mentioned the action to my dad, and he said yeah, you only live once. It was pretty mental for me to hear that from my father. So I went for it. Also, Mexico WRC is one of the closest rally events to TX. It also has an amazingly affordable entry fee that includes hotel. Who doesn’t want to go race with the big boys? I’m also a bit crazy about traveling. I’ve been to 10 countries so far this year. Combining traveling with my passion of rallying is an amazing idea.
ML@S: Tell us a little bit about the car and where you found it.
JC: The car is a podium finisher at US rally events. I found it by simply searching the Rally Classifieds of specialstage.com, which is a US forum for rallying. George Plsek owned it and Lauchlin O’Sullivan drove it. He won the 2012 SP Class with it.
It was out of my budget, but I figured it was worth offering everything I had for the chance to go racing in another country. After a bit of time, and George testing some new replacement cars for it, the deal finally happened. To further talk myself out of the idea, I said I couldn’t drive out to Cali to pick it up. Granted I was in Sweden at the time. So it would have been: drive from Sweden to Norway, fly to UK, fly to TX drive to Cali all at once. Was a bit much to tackle, but I’ve done crazier, it didn’t faze me in the slightest. George mentioned he knew of a team towing to Rally in the 100 Acre Wood to pick up a car and could easily tow the car out to Oklahoma City for me. Everything just kept falling into place for me to actually go racing again.
ML@S: So, you pick up the car in OKC and drag it back to TX, was it ready to go, or did you have to do some work before going off to Mexico?
JC: I picked the car up less than a week before the event. It was tuned for a specific fuel that I had no idea how to get in Mexico. After further reading the Mexican rulebook, it stated pump gas was to be used??? So I spoke to Brice at Alamo Autosports and we attempted to retune the car on pump gas the day before I left.
ML@S: Tell us about your crew. Who came down to Mexico to crew for you?
JC: Wes Aylor and Collin Oelkers. Wes called me before I even decided to buy the car. He wanted to go racing in Mexico. He overheard from someone else that I was debating on running the event. Collin simply posted “Take me with you” on a fb photo I posted when I picked up the car in OKC. He even had a truck that could tow the vehicle. Solving the issue about a person not being able to bring more than one vehicle across the border.
**Wes Aylor is certainly an interesting cat. After you’re done reading the article, go watch “The Rednecks Guide to Rally Racing”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taPVPshJ5Nk
ML@S: I understand that getting to Mexico can be a challenge in iteself. Tell us about getting across the border and down to the race in Mexico
JC: I have done the drive twice before and never had an issue. But I have had police hold guns against me in Mexico City on other trips. So I was skeptical. Bill Caswell even told me horror stories of being robbed at gun point. I figured crossing as soon as it was daylight, 6 AM, was best. That way we would arrive at our destination around 6PM. I assumed getting held at gunpoint during the day was less likely. It worked out exactly as planned…other than in the rush of things I forgot my passport and we had to turn around, which cost us an hour. The border gave me a bit of hell for the Title to the race car not being in my name. I bought it less than a week before we had to head down. So I didn’t think I could transfer it over to my name in time. It just took me sweet talking the senoritas working the immigration desk. Everyone loves a Piloto!
ML@S: When you made it down, what was your first reaction to the atmosphere surrounding the race?
JC: I knew the spectator crowd at Mexico would be huge and they are in love with rallying. As a driver it was a bit crazy to get asked, by name, for my signature. These fans don’t speak English, but they definitely knew how to say JOSH! Something I wasn’t used to. I mean, I quit racing because I was too poor. And now, my first race back, I’m a star???
ML@S: Tell me what was going through your head as you pulled to the line for your first stage.
JC: Well before the start, I drove through a sea of people, signed a million autographs, had a million girls kiss me, and had a rose thrown into the car. So I was pretty nervous, especially after pulling onto a turntable with lights and cameras flashing like crazy as the announcer says JOSH CHANG. I watch the car in front of me go and he doesn’t launch it. I thought, yeah, its just a short street stage better take it easy. So I try to just go easy. Granted a race car doesn’t like to go easy. And with the crowd cheering and my adrenaline pumping, I stall it on the start. Even with that stall I finish only 9 seconds off the leader.
ML@S: How difficult was it to get back into your driver/co-driver rhythm?
JC: Well I had never made my own stage notes before. Luckily Alex was a pro at this. The difficulty came from the inability to make it to all the stages for Recce. The petrol station filled our rental/recce car with diesel. Problem was, it’s not a diesel. I ended up driving the stages with our F250 tow vehicle. A bit different to judge a corner when you are in a massive truck as opposed to a small Rally Car. For the stages we didn’t get to recce, we just borrowed notes from Ken Block. I trusted them enough to only be 3 seconds off first.
ML@S: You were a bit behind at the end of the first day. When you looked at your times, were they what you expected or did you feel like you had done better?
JC: I had killed it at the start and ran the stages having never seen them before using someone elses notes. We were in 2nd place overall if you ignore the time penalty we got for getting lost on transit. Yes the mexican transits even caught my WRC ACADEMY codriver off guard. The times made me a bit cocky to know that we could at least put down some stage times that would impress.
ML@S: Tell us about when it all went wrong
JC: Basically…I was driving a bit too aggressive for how well I knew the road. My notes didn’t note the sides of the road at this corner. I drove the corner using all of the road. It was a fast turn downhill. The car was in 5th gear so she was scooting pretty well. I went wide and the rear of the car drifted into an area where the road started to wash away on the edges. This sent the car into an oscillating dance. I tried to correct it, but on a narrow downhill road at high speed, you don’t have much room for such errors. The car went into the ditch and it was Game Over.
Onboard Video of he crash:
ML@S: When you knew there was no recovering, what was going through your mind?
JC: I thought I managed to recover it, but then the car snapped to the right. At that point, I was like “Oh, shit”…I knew the car would need more space to correct for such a drastic change in direction. A million things went on in my head during that time.
ML@S: When the car came to a rest what was your first thought?
JC: What happened? — Better get out in case this thing catches on fire — At least the stress of pulling off this ridiculous idea of going to race in Mexico is over — I need tequila. Those thoughts all pretty much happened at the same time.
ML@S: When you got out of the car and looked around at the damage, did you straight away think you could repair the damage enough to continue?
JC: I killed the engine during the flip so I knew we could continue if we could find the necessary glass.
ML@S: What was it going to take to repair the car?
JC: It needed all the glass and new belts. It was doable, but I could see in the teams eyes that they would rather throw in the towel and go get drunk. Given I didn’t have the parts, I would have to go to other teams and bargain. Since I essentially dropped my life savings into this race, I had no money. I didn’t want to gamble any more money on this race. I’d rather pack it up and return next year being better prepared. I viewed this year as Recce for next year.
ML@S: The trip wasn’t a total loss, though, was it?
JC: It wasn’t a loss at all, the car drove on the trailer. It’s going to cost a couple grand to get the car looking pretty again. But such is life. If it was always easy, it wouldn’t be interesting. The after party was awesome. Have you ever partied with your heroes before? And since I work in motorsport, I chatted with all the directors and team bosses. I lined up some leads on future work.
When I returned home I received a Facebook message from a fan in mexico:
“hello: i admire you for the courage you have although i am a 15 year old girl, i love to watch you run in this rally leon guanajuato, did not win the victory but you won this fan of yours luck and success in your upcoming races, i admire and respect you. your friend: monny”
That made me know I made the right choice. I chased my dreams and have no regrets. I’ll be back next year for the victory.
The story doesn’t end there. Josh is in the process of re-building the rally car and hopes to make more dreams into reality. We’ll keep you all updated on his progress and plans for Future Rallies as he gets prepared to return to WRC competition.