Today's stages in the Australasian Safari Rally did a fine job of highlighting the fact that this is a rally designed around long-term off-roading, rather than going flat-out and risking damage to the vehicle. Sisters Lerner and Reina in the #104 Wrangler sensed it too. There were two stages today, and as they noted, the first stage gave them a preview, showing them what they needed to see for the day. The second stage was the endurance part. They really felt it today; it took them more than four hours to get through the second stage.
Today continued the process of elimination that happens with every endurance race, whether it is with marathon runners, off-road, or in a racecar. It is all about how the racers are prepared for the event. Do they have the right equipment? The right training? Enough stamina to get to the finish?
We followed #104 as the team began what ended up being a very long day of fast bursts followed by several kilometers of rocky dry creek crossings, then back to short fast bursts. We began our day driving through the bush, trying to find the right tracks to follow to get us to the racecourse without putting us on it. We found a good spot to see the motos and autos pass by, then moved on to see the rest of the day's driving.
As we drove, we listened for updates on the rally radio. We had heard earlier this morning that the Colorado that barrel-rolled three times yesterday was done. We presume they have withdrawn from the rally, as the driver was injured in the crash. As we drove on to the next good spot to see #104 during the second stage, we heard that quite a few motos needed help from the recovery team. One of the autos (#103 in a Patrol) went into a creek crossing and badly crunched the vehicle's nose against the rocks. Even one of the recovery team's trucks lost its transmission. It was that kind of day.
Fortunately, those problems didn't affect Lerner and Reina today, as they continued to chug along. The rally officials provide all the teams with an estimated time of how long each stage should take. It's based on, in part, the first competitor on the road. Based on those estimates, the duo was ahead of their pace -- and were ahead of the pace they had established on previous days.
They finished the first stage only 14 minutes over the rally estimate, and moved onto the second, which was similar terrain, but lot longer. As they described it, there were sandy bits, bulldust, some nasty rock sections, gutters, and creek crossings, alternating between all of the above for hours at a time. They'd only had to deal with a flat tire after the first stage, and something they drove near popped off a fender. There were no mechanical issues, and the team hasn't aired down tires too much as of yet, because they have to keep the happy medium of ideal air pressure based on the variety of terrain. That and it can take a long time to air back up when needed.
It took a few teams so long to get through the day's stages that they were penalized for it. Even though Lerner and Reina were the last to finish the stages today, they finished -- without penalties. That's something not everyone can say after today's slog. Those teams that didn't finish today, for whatever reason, can come back tomorrow to get going again, yet they will have accrued penalties, and those will stick around for the entirety of the rally.
Lerner and Reina were in good spirits after today's stages near Gascoyne. To them, the best part is that this is simply fun. There are no expectations put on them, no pressure. Yet what people don't take into consideration is that the team has more than 1000 hours of intense off-road rallying experience. That is truly unique.
While the team may be interested in driving at a faster pace, they're happy that they've found their groove, but would be happy with a class win. They could do it, too.