When we arrived at the bivouac at the end of day five of the Australasian Safari Rally, we heard that the #104 Jeep had blown its engine. This was a huge surprise to us, because when we had seen them earlier in the day, everything looked and sounded fine. Yet because of the layout of the day’s stages, there were many parts where we had to rely on what we heard over the radio and what we heard from others along the route to know what was going on.
When we started, it was at a crossing of the Gascoyne River. We’d heard about this ahead of time, and presumed it would be a water crossing. However, this was a dry riverbed, and the motos and autos ran fast through soft, silty dirt to get through the first stage. It was a strange place to watch a race: when we arrived, there were eucalyptus trees lining the track, and local birds chirped merrily at the start of the morning. Then, in the distance, we heard the loud race engine and exhaust of the first auto, Olholm and Trigg in their purpose-built Hilux powered by a 4.6-liter Lexus V-8. They approached quickly and sped through the stretch across the river, dirt clouds kicking up behind them, and the rest of the autos followed suit every two minutes.
Yet the high-speed stretch across the river was not indicative of this stage. To get through those, Lerner and Reina explained when going through the sandy spots early on, the best thing to do was to keep up momentum. Reina also explained that the first stage was more of a navigator’s stage, with fast, frequent instructions for the driver, and the second stage was more of a driver’s stage, where there were fewer instructions and a lot more straight-line stretches.
In the first stage, there were a high number of creeks and gutters (drainage ditches), holes, eroded runoff ditches, and several extreme cautions. The description of the stage covered a variety of “diversions” designed to challenge the drivers. Lerner said that the Jeep went through these with no trouble; she and Reina simply focused on the next 500 meters, then the next 500, then the next.
The day’s second stage was more wide open than the first stage had been. There were many more stretches where the team could enjoy straight-line driving and sweeping trails. There were dry riverbeds, and river pans (which are like mini dry lakebeds). River pans are hard and flat, and gave the team the chance to go fast. That proved to be a lot of fun. The terrain was generally the same as in previous days, with some bulldust, some sand, and hard packed ground. There were some moving obstacles as well: #104 encountered some emu (they didn’t run in front of the Jeep, fortunately), and some longhorn cattle that were in front of them. However, the livestock got out of the way quickly and team Lerner Reina finished the stage.
When they reached the bivouac in Carnarvon, we asked them about why they had decided to do the Australasian Safari Rally. The team started their off-road racing career at the Gazelle rally, and enjoy doing it, but wanted to find something else that would allow them to use their skill set in a different format. They found the ASR on the Internet, and liked that its format is similar to that of Dakar. They started looking into it about a year ahead of the rally. What also appealed to them about it was they could face new challenges, in a new, friendly part of the world, and could still do what they wanted to do.
As we mentioned at the beginning, we’d heard a rumor about #104. Fortunately, it turned out to be untrue. However, the other stories we’d heard throughout the day -- that more vehicles didn’t complete the day’s stages, that one rider was taken to the hospital, that vehicles continued to be battered by the tough terrain -- were true. The numbers of vehicles starting each day continues to shrink, but Lerner and Reina and their orange Jeep Wrangler Rubicon continue on, with one flat and the need to replace one broken shock as the only issues.