The course hits the pavement briefly after leaving the wash, allowing us to scrub the mud off of our tires and hit 100 mph on the GPS, then winds through dirt roads and hillside trails on the outskirts of town. Spectators line the course for virtually all of the first 35 miles. The Tacoma was running great, we started passing cars in faster classes, including Rod Hall's Stock Full Hummer, several Class 3 Broncos, and a Tacoma that was registered in class 2 for supercharged vehicles. Our crew relayed a message that we were 6 minutes ahead of second place as we approached the town of Ojos Negros, race mile 35 on the outbound course. The course went through a rock garden then merged into hard-packed dirt roads with giant mud holes every quarter mile or so. We skirted the edge of the holes at speed when possible, and were having a good time when disaster struck. We swerved left to miss a big mud bog and dropped the right front tire into a deep square edged hole, resulting in a pop from the front end. This happened right before the course hit the pavement where LBR chase trucks were standing by so we pulled in and asked them to take a look at the front end.
It turned out that we had broken a shock shaft. The broken shaft had damaged the outboard CV boot as well. We relayed a call to our chase crew at the BFG pit to bring a spare shock, and repaired the CV boot with some plastic from a case of water bottles and duct tape. Meanwhile our competition passed us, and, once the spare shock was installed, we got back on the race course about 45 minutes behind the leader. The truck was still running great, though, and the hours spent prerunning paid off. By the time we got to the first pit at RM 82, we were down only 11 minutes. We took on 16 gallons of fuel, made some more repairs, cleaned mud off of the lights, then Andy and Zach took off into the black Baja night.
Andy put his foot in it and made great time, once again starting to narrow the gap with the leader when Zach noticed a thumping noise from the rear of the truck. Initially he thought it was a driveshaft, perhaps having been dented on a rock, but the noise got progressively worse, eventually shaking the entire truck with each revolution of the rear tires. They got on the radio and called for a chase truck to assess the damage and see if it could be fixed. The chase crew was only a few miles away, so they arrived and promptly went to work swapping driveshafts between the race truck and the chase truck, another Tacoma.
Unfortunately this didn't help, and further driving revealed the problem to be inside the differential. Our two-hour reserve for repairs had been used up earlier with the suspension work, so there was no way we were going to finish the race in the allotted time, even if we stole the differential out of the chase truck, which had different gear ratios in any case. Bitterly we threw in the towel. Baja is tough, and no one in the Stock Mini class finished this year. Subsequent investigation showed that the shop that installed the lower gears had failed to torque the adjuster bolts, and one had vibrated out and fallen into the ring gear, breaking off several teeth.
Although it was a heartbreaking loss, the truck acquitted itself quite well for a stock Tacoma with glass and air conditioning, not to mention a vehicle built in three months of nights and weekends by an all-volunteer crew. When it was running properly, it passed a lot of purpose-built race cars. We're now in the process of rebuilding the differential and convincing our wives that there's unfinished business in Baja that requires our attention in 2012.