We have been given a truly unique opportunity: to follow the only American team and the only all-female team, in the only American vehicle (the truck and SUV category) at the Australasian Safari Rally in Western Australia. Not only is this the toughest, most grueling off-road endurance rally in the region, but doing well here can mean a shot at entry into the Dakar Rally. So there's a lot more at stake.
While this race isn't as well-known as some of the other off-road events around the world -- such as Dakar and the Baja 500 and 1000 -- this rally has been a major part of Australian motorsports for more than 25 years. Through hard work, its growing reputation around the world, and the sheer difficulty of the varied terrain, this rally is turning heads.
For the 2013 rally, we will be in a chase vehicle following Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina in the #104 vehicle, a 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon worked on by American Expedition Vehicles. Originally, two additional American vehicles were going to be a part of the rally this year (an H2 and H3), but plans changed. With no other American entrants in the Autos category, it's Amy and Tricia against the world.
We first met this team of sisters a couple years ago at the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, an all-women's off-road rally in Morocco. That was Amy and Tricia's first foray into off-road racing (or any off-roading, really). They had such a great experience there that they were hooked, and have since participated in the Gazelles rally again, did well there, and have decided to try their hand at the Australasian Safari Rally.
We arrived in Perth, then drove up to Wanneroo, where all of the competitors met before the rally. All the race vehicles went through inspection at the showground yesterday, and yesterday night the public had a chance to look at all of the competitors' vehicles -- 43 motorcycles, 5 quads, 3 side-by-sides, and 21 autos (trucks and SUVs) -- before they get covered in dirt and mud. It was also our opportunity to check out the other trucks competing this year, and we would love to see many of them sold in the U.S.: Toyota Hilux, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Patrol, Volkswagen Amarok, Mitsubishi Triton, and the Holden Colorado, although a version of the Holden is coming to America soon. We also saw a motorcycle team that's competing with a sidecar. Off-road. That should be interesting.
Today was the first day the teams got to do any driving. We packed up our gear and drove north 195 km to Jurien Bay, the site of the ceremonial start of the rally and the Prologue, a time trial that determined the starting order for all of the race vehicles. Each competitor started one minute apart, beginning with the motorcycles and finishing with the autos. The Prologue was only 7 km, but it included beach driving, plus a stretch on loose dirt. It was tough enough that a few vehicles had mechanical trouble and had to be towed out. But #104 finished, and used today to get a feel for some of the terrain and get a decent time. (The route is kept secret, so there is no recce work ahead of time.) All went well for Team Lerner/Reina, and it is ready to go for Leg One tomorrow. So are we.