A classic Toyota FJ40
On paper, the ideal way to win would be to plow right over everything between you and the checkpoints, whether a huge mountain or a rock-filled valley. But the vehicle has to survive the eight days. The smart strategy is to aim for the straightest line that won't break your race truck, and makes the most sense for the day's events.
That strategy was why Miller (a veteran off-road racer, part of Rod Hall's race team) was frustrated when she and French co-driver Armelle Medard pulled into CP 5 and heard about Stage 7. They had spent the entire day going fast, covering more kilometers on flatter ground, all in anticipation of being among the few to reach CP 7. With the news that the stage was canceled, Miller knew she would be penalized for the added kilometers without the payoff of reaching CP 7. The entire day's strategy had been for nothing.
We had been following Miller (number 109) and the other American team -- driver Amy Lerner and her sister, navigator Tricia Reina (number 107), also in an H3 -- since the day before. Lerner and Reina were true rookies here; neither one had driven off-road before, let alone raced. But there is an extensive training program for participants, so even first-timers can give the rally a try.
For the first part of the rally, we rode along with Alberto Goncales, who has provided support for the Gazelles rally for nearly 10 years, raced in Dakar, and will help determine and prerun the route for Dakar this year, as he has in the past. Like everyone on the support crew, he owns the vehicle he drives -- a 1995 80 Series Land Cruiser, powered by a 4.2-liter turbodiesel inline-six with a five-speed manual transmission. It's certainly stout enough for an event like this. Goncales explained that this event is about management -- managing yourself, your vehicle, and the mood inside the vehicle. We saw few examples of vehicle damage, illness, and bad moods. The upside is that every night provides a chance to recover and reorganize for the next day.