High Desert Trails Rally 2016 – Zero Car Duty

HDT 2016 Weather Coming in between stages

HDT 2016 Weather Coming in between stages

Back at it again, at the High Desert Trails Rally 2016. Our closest to home rally. Also one we’re particularly fond of, having won our class in 2011. A fairly high speed event, often >100mph,  and some technical sections and exposures as well. We weren’t there as a competitor though, this year we got the call. As a volunteer as I was given the privilege as being the Zero Car. 

So you think it’s going to be fun, right? Get to drive the Stages, at speed, ahead of the pack and clear of any dust!! All sounds great, until you are hit with the information overload that is rally zero car and fighting the competitive mindset of the rally driver inside me. It was tough, but I loved it. And yes, I would hopefully get the opportunity again one day…..

There was a whirlwind of prep, not just in car prep, but to become a HAM operator to be able to do this position. Luckily, I was given a few weeks notice. As I got to studying I found I had to take the test within a week so they would have time to process and get my license and call sign. As most things rally, just a few days before the event I received my call sign KM6CJD. However it wasn’t until the day of the event I was even able to press a button on an actual radio. So it was trial by fire, and it was awesome…

Just another beautiful day in the desert, rally racing! HDT2016

Just another beautiful day in the desert, rally racing! HDT2016

Though I’ve been competing since 2003 and even volunteered a couple times in the past, until you really pay attention to it, you have no idea how much information is being passed on radio during a stage.

The HAM operators at a rally race provide a necessary communications backbone, and as that suggests, there are several roles at multiple locations along each stage. All of them carry every car through multiple points along a stage to make sure everyone gets from start to finish, and if not that they are attended to quickly.

New Radio Equipment

New Radio Equipment

As Zero car you get to listen to all this real time, listen to your co-driver navigate and read pace notes, try to drive at a slightly reduced competitive speed, confirm all road blocks, cautions and road markings are in place, look for new hazards that may have happened and be attentive to breaks in communications or direct communications with special instructions. It’s really quite intense and different kind of rush…

As a competitor there is a certain amount of stress you put on yourself to be as competitive as you can. Zero car reduces this (a little), and adds a new layer of responsibility to the mix. I took this very seriously, as something I had influence on could likely effect all that would follow. I think this is under-appreciated except by those that have attempted it, and also took it seriously. Not that I didn’t get appreciation, but as a driver without this experience, you have now idea what is involved in an attempt to make things go as smooth and as safe as possible. Not to mention a line of communication, EMT, and road blockages that are all triple checked (and then some) before a competitor is allowed on stage.

Well that was my experience, thanks to a few of you that pushed me into HAM, adding another hobby, I probably didn’t need, but I know I will enjoy…

“73”  –  KM6CJD

High Desert Trails Rally 2016

High Desert Trails Rally 2016

Photo May 06, 6 47 07 PM

Out with the old (terratrip) in with the New (Monit Rally Computer Q-10 + 12v power center.

Out with the old (terratrip) in with the New (Monit Rally Computer Q-10 + 12v power center.

A little "Off" occurred at HDT2016

A little “Off” occurred at HDT2016



Gorman Ridge Rally 2012

Gorman Rige Rally was an event we have been trying to do since we started rallying in 2003. Our rally budget in the beginning went mostly to repairs and our favorite rally at the time, Rim of the World Rally. In 2011 I volunteered to work Gorman Rally, and finally got some first hand experience. I vowed to compete in 2012 and this is how it went down…

Mendocino Rally, a month prior, was something I really wanted to do. I couldn’t put it together financially and logistically. However we had been gearing up for it so the car was ready, just had to wait a little. In the mean time I had to scramble to find a co-driver as my regular co-driver would be away on vacation. Luckily I remembered a fellow dirtyimpreza.com member Zachary Dickinson had co-drove previous with other teams. I was lucky he was available. He had run Gorman the previous year, and still had his notes, this made recce a breeze and we could concentrate more on getting used to each others style.

The day of the event: I think there is always first stage jitters. Mine, from not being behind the wheel for a while, new co-driver, recent repairs and in the back of my mind in our rollover in North Nevada Rally. I informed Zach, we would be taking it easy and for the most part we did. Driving always separates me from my anxieties, once we’re rolling. More so at speed. With full concentration on the road, car and Zach’s note reading, an occasional straight section is the only time left to go through your mental checklists. I was pushing hard in certain areas, we had an “off” or brush excursion, and a spin out. Luckily nothing serious. The off nearly high-sided us but I was able to back out of it, not light the desert on fire, and get back on stage in a couple seconds. Still we pressed on through a hot & dusty day into the evening. As the sun starts to set, it shines right in your eyes in certain directions and visibility becomes about nil. Even with sunglasses I was able to see just a few feet further than nil. Luckily there weren’t any long straights into the sun, just a few tricky turns. Muscle memory from running them previous had to pay off here. Luckily that was short lived and the sun quickly fell into the night. I hadn’t done a night stage since Rim of the World, so this added to the jitters along with some new lights from DDM Tuning I hadn’t yet tested. Driving the stages at night, changes things a bit. It’s almost a bit more comfortable with less distraction, however it does come with it’s added risk. Luckily the new 55watt HID set up in the PIAA lamps and pods worked flawlessly. The last few stages under our belts I think we came into the finish time control somewhere are 10:30pm. From starting at 11am, that makes for a long day!

Each stage had it’s own challenges in Gorman. Tall brush w/ narrow roads driving what you saw would only slow you down, the notes had to be spot on. Lots of crest and short turns as well. Jumps galore if you had the juevos to hit them, you could have seen some detrimental hang time. Surface was really inconstant on certain stages, ranging from gravel like, to sand, silt, deep ruts, hard pack, short hard high banks from cyclists, etc.. really kept you on your toes. But this is what we live for, if it was all left turns on dry asphalt I would have already changed the channel.

Our goals were to run a good safe pace, have fun, and adjust to one another and see where we ended up. Secondary goal was to save the car for Prescott, only a month away. All goals accomplished, at the end of the day we stopped asking for our times (in relationship to others) at time controls, as I didn’t need that kind of motivation. Upon reaching the final time control, taking a deep breathe we realized we had accomplished some respectable times and finished 1st in Class CRS GT, 2nd in Class USRC Production AWD, and 5th Overall.

I can’t speak of the event without mentioning my crew, which for this Rally was my long time friend, collaborator on the build and maintenance of this car, Frank Ansbro. I new him and I together could pull it off, however Zach was also a wealth of help in service and a few members from dirtyimpreza.com were around to offer help. Our mid-day big service and lunch break was at the host hotel. I parked, spoke to Frank for a minute and jumped in the pool to get the dust out of my system. Frank got the car all checked out and just as we were about to put it back on the ground, Kyle Jackson from Jackson Rally happened to walk by. He, for some reason grabbed and shook only my RR wheel, he said out of force of habit, and it happened to have some play. We all thought it was a loose wheel bearing, but after closer inspection a lower coil-over (shock) bolt had come loose. Simple fix and check the rest, we were good to go for the rest of the day & evening. The car worked out flawlessly, which was good, because a DNF earlier this year at High Desert trails Rally from a failed Turbo “Y” pipe was one of the new repairs we hadn’t tested. That along with a new Heat Shield / Chimney I got from Marvin, and new motor / transmission mounts. This was also the first rally we really got to use the RS&SP suspension. This stuff is awesome. It took the bumps and jumps and made for a very comfortable drive. I was really impressed.

Lastly, hats off to Hoche, for Giving Bill a run for his money. VW up against a huge 500+hp Ford Raptor Truck, seemed an unlikely battle, but it was definitely the hot topic of the rally.

Always, much thanks to the event organizers and especially volunteers that make it possible for us to have this level of fun. They orchestrate what I am guessing to be 5+ volunteers for every car entered in this rally. Between the Radio people, Emergency Medical and the Parks and local law enforcement and fire persons, THANK YOU!!!
Here is a great video really showing the conditions described above of the rally, from the guy that took me in USRC Production AWD, Alvin Fong & Black Box Rally Team.

Please observe respective photo & video credits and post them along with the media if you are sharing.