Even though there were three stages today, for the most part, the winners of each class were essentially already decided. Suffice it to say that something major would've needed to happen for the outcome to change dramatically.
Because of that, because each stage was relatively short, and because today was the last day of a long, action-packed week of endurance rallying, the atmosphere was both relaxed and somewhat conservative. No one wanted to have that "something major" happen. Not now. Not on the last day.
Even though the podium finishers were basically set, we still had plenty of questions that we hoped would be answered before the day was over, that surrounded the #104 Jeep we had been following all week. Would Team Lerner Reina finish their first attempt at this grueling race? Which team would win the Dakar Challenge? What would be next for the team from New Jersey?
As we mentioned on Day Seven, the rally course was heading south, and there were some spots the drivers had seen before. However, just as was the case yesterday, that certainly didn't mean there weren't any new challenges. Drivers may have been in the same basic area as in earlier stages, but the routes went a slightly different way. We drove along the coast south of Kalbarri until we reached the start point of today's first stage, which was a mix of rocky spots and a fast beach blast. We were planted on a sand dune as the ralliers sped by, some taking a route where they zipped across the beach as waves crashed behind them, others zigging and zagging through plant life and reaching the beach later.
The next stage was similar to one we'd watched a few days earlier, where they ran alongside the Bowes River, ending on another stretch of beach. Airing down was recommended for both the first and second stages. The finishes were just as dramatic as they had been earlier.
The third stage represented a first for the rally: it gave spectators the opportunity to see racers pass them twice. That stage was almost entirely at the same place: Glengarry Station. (A station is like a ranch.) The route took drivers through gates, along fencelines, and over open meadows. Picture an autocross course, but instead of cones on an open parking lot, there is a dirt trail in a meadow that follows a similar shape, only larger than a typical autocross course. That's where the competitors drove past the spectators twice.
By the end of the day, Team Lerner Reina had finished the Australasian Safari rally. Less than half of the autos finished this year, and they completed it in their first attempt. They had heard how tough this rally was, and were incredibly proud of the achievement, and were grateful to have such a good team supporting them throughout.
Adding to the sense of accomplishment, Lerner and Reina won the Dakar Challenge. That's an honor that doesn't cover any costs for the world-class rally, but people can't just pay a fee and get in. This is a huge opportunity for Lerner and Reina, and it'll be interesting to see what they do. The timing is tough, as teams have already begun shipping their race vehicles in preparation for the rally. But they would love to be able to take advantage of that opportunity.
As far as what's next for the team, they don't know yet. They've been talking to other teams that did the Safari, hearing what else they've done. The guys offered advice and guidance, and Lerner and Reina have a whole list of potential events to look into when they get home.
The Jeep fared really well through it all, despite not being a race truck. And the team put it through a lot. The only issues were minor things: shocks, tires, one windscreen, it lost its side mirrors, and little bits and pieces got knocked about.
Lerner and Reina felt the rally was great fun. They had an amazing adventure, enjoyed beautiful scenery, and loved the format. What they especially liked was that the rally is a good balance for the driver and navigator. It's not just a driver's rally or a navigator's rally. It is a great chance to test the skills of teams that work together.
For more information on Australasian Safari and the latest results visit www.australasiansafari.com.au. Updates are available on Facebook.