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  • Baja Bound: Using North America's Toughest Truck Race To Test the Toyota 4Runner

Baja Bound: Using North America's Toughest Truck Race To Test the Toyota 4Runner

Paul Williamsen
Jan 30, 2010
Photographers: Ken Pamatat
The Background
Akio Nishimura is a real off-roader: He enjoys shedding his corporate navy blue suit and getting out in the dirt. This made him an ideal chief engineer to develop and launch the 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser, and a natural to step up to engineering the new 2010 Toyota 4Runner.
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In August 2009, in an effort to uncover any potential weak spots in the new 4Runner, CE Nishimura and a team of engineers from the Toyota Arizona Proving Ground (TAPG) took two prototype "Trail" edition 4Runners to run the Rubicon Trail in northern California.
After three days on the trail, they came out with nothing to report: no problems, no drama, nothing broken, just a few desert racing stripes. Before the TAPG team drove back to the Phoenix test track in the dusty 4Runners, Nishimura said he was "disappointed." They hadn't found any opportunities for kaizen (improvement) of his design, and he was still looking for a more extreme durability test.
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Nishimura had heard a story about Joe Bacal, a cancer survivor and former TAPG test driver who entered a Lexus LX 570 in the Baja 500 in July 2009 and won his class. This may have been the first-ever Lexus entry in international off-road racing and was certainly the world's first victory for a Lexus in off-road racing.
Putting this together with his experiences in working with desert racer Rod Millen during the launch of the FJ Cruiser, Nishimura determined to put the prototype 4Runner to a similar test and began planning for a "high-speed accelerated durability test" in November in Mexico—he wanted to enter the 42nd Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, the famous race across the peninsula of Baja California, Mexico, in which barely half the starters are running at the finish. And to clear up the numbers, the Baja 500 race course is designed to be close to 500 miles in length, whereas the Baja 1000 is 1000 kilometers (621 miles), except in the first year of each decade, when it really is 1000 miles. The Baja 1000 race course for the 42nd running in November 2009 was based on the July 2009 Baja 500 course, but with a big loop added around San Felipe and a short extension down to Mike's Sky Ranch, for a total distance of 1082.85 kilometers (672.85 miles).
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The Build
With chief engineer Nishimura's persistence, the project was greenlighted, and in late September, preparations for the campaign began at a number of different Toyota locations. The dusty, slightly creased silver Trail Edition 4Runner prototype arrived at TMS' Motorsports Technical Center in Torrance, California. After hosing off the Rubicon dust and mud, they began sizing it up to build it into a race truck for SCORE's Stock Mini class. For the stock classes, the original engine, transmission, transfer case, axles, suspension, chassis, and bodywork had to be fully retained, while typical wear items like springs, shocks, and tires could be replaced with alternates.
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Mandatory safety equipment required a heavy-gauge steel-tube rollcage, seatbelt systems, and window safety nets, fuel cell, safety lighting, tracking GPS, and fire extinguisher. Chuck Wade and Marty Schwerter of the Motorsports Technical Center used to build the indomitable unlimited Toyota HiLux, T 100, and Tundra off-road race trucks for Baja mega-champion Ivan "Ironman" Stewart at Cal Well's Precision Preparation Inc., so they had some clear ideas on what the 4Runner needed to survive in Baja.
Master technician Rich Garver and fabricator Sam Puleri stripped out and saved the essential items and recycled the non-critical interior bits. In keeping with Nishimura's concept for a durability test, Rich carefully inspected and retained as many of the Rubicon-tested prototype parts as possible. Sam cut, mitered, bent, and welded over 100 feet of two-inch-thick-wall drawn-over-mandrel (DOM) chrome-moly tubing into a massive safety rollcage for the 4Runner, extending from the push bar ahead of the front bumper all the way through the truck to the rear tire rack. Sam's rollcage included relocated upper shock mounts in the front and rear to fit massive Bilstein remote-reservoir shocks.
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The team incorporated brackets for the new fuel cell, the relocated transmission oil cooler, projection beam halogen desert lights, GPS navigation system, radios, and "Parker Pumper" helmet ventilator system into the rollcage. Sam fabricated some over-the-top sheetmetal panels for switchgear and to cover the hole where the passenger airbag was. Hooks were added behind the seats to make it easy to change out Camelbak hydration packs during driver changes. Special fittings were designed and welded on for the Hi-Lift jack, spare driveshaft, spare tire, and to secure bags of tools, recovery equipment, and emergency trail supplies. Sam even put a hand-crank inside the roof so the co-driver could adjust the aim of the driving lights at night. After smoothing out the Rubicon creases and reattaching a few shredded parts, a show-truck finish in Toyota Red was applied, with a matte-black hood to reduce glare for the crew that gets the driving shift into the sunset.
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In the end, the 4Runner ran all the same suspension and driveline components from its previous life as a prototype test mule through both the Rubicon and the Baja 1000 durability tests: The same stock 4.0-liter V-6, exhaust and emission control system, five-speed transmission, 4WD transfer case, driveshaft, axles, uprights, A-arms, ball joints, steering gear—even the 4Runner's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) with automatically adjusting anti-roll bars—everything was high-mileage except the new springs and shocks, and the lower rear trailing arms, which were pretty chewed up from rock-crawling on the Rubicon.
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In a few short weeks of really long hours, the team reassembled all the original parts into the newly painted truck, connected all the hoses, installed the fire suppression system, finished the new wiring for the lights and communications, added the foot rest and grab handles for the co-driver, topped off the fluids, cleared all the trouble codes in the computers, and checked every system in the truck.
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As the truck was being completed in California, other race preparations were underway at TAPG. Drivers and co-drivers had to be selected, drivers' suits, helmets, and supplies ordered. Four drivers would take turns muscling the 4Runner around the desert and mountain racecourse. Since this was an official durability test, primary drivers needed to be approved Toyota-trained test drivers. Each driver would be paired with a co-driver who had previous Baja experience, mostly engineers from Toyota Motor Sales, USA (TMS).
To help the drivers familiarize themselves with the terrain and get used to working with the radios and the GPS navigation system, TAPG chartered a Baja run with Wide Open Baja, a tour service that operates open-wheel race cars for prerace training. And drawing on decades of experience driving Toyota trucks on some of the toughest, most rugged, and remote terrain, Ivan "Ironman" Stewart was asked to provide some Baja-specific coaching for the drivers from TAPG.
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As they heard Ivan's stories recalling specific trail conditions and Baja experiences in vivid detail, the drivers were joking that he'd be an ideal co-driver. Ivan disagreed, saying he'd love to drive a section, though. The final driving roster featured Bob Ditner, Ken Ziesemer, and Joe Nolan of TAPG paired with co-drivers Zach Zwillinger, Mark Sasaki, and Paul Williamsen of TMS; ringer Ivan Stewart was to bat cleanup with Bob Ditner and Ken Ziesemer co-driving in turn.
Ivan was also able to tap sponsors of his ProTruck off-road spec racing series to help out. Fuel Wheels forged and machined custom wheels for the 4Runner and General Tire contributed enough "Grabber" Baja race tires to get around the course.
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Back in Torrance, Ted Moncure of TRD was organizing the all-volunteer, all-Toyota, Long Beach Racers off-road race team as a 40-person support team. Sam and Rich from TMS' Motorsports Technical Center and engineers and racers from TMS, TRD, and TAPG were paired up into two-man teams in trail-ready trucks with GPS systems, radios, tools, recovery equipment, emergency supplies, and spare parts to support the race vehicle across the vast distances of Baja California.
The objective was to have at least one chase truck near the race truck every 20 or 30 miles over the entire race distance, and two or more trucks at planned pit stops. About half the chase trucks were equipped so they could drive in on the racecourse if necessary to provide support to the 4Runner. Based on our best-guess fuel burn rate, Ted planned to fill the 36-gallon fuel cell six times, dumping 25 to 30 gallons each time: These would also be the opportunities to give the 4Runner any other needed mechanical service.
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At 6 a.m. on Monday, November 2, barely two months after construction began, the race truck rolled out of the motorsports shop at predawn for the first time in its new guise, converted from prototype test truck to Stock Mini desert racer. The big Toyota Motorsports race-car transporter and a small convoy of Tundras and FJ Cruisers headed north from Los Angeles on I¬ 15 toward Barstow to test the newly built truck at the Stoddard Wells off-road vehicle area.
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When we got to the exit we could see that Joel Ward of Bilstein had already parked his race support trailer, basically a complete shock absorber shop in a fifth-wheeler. Additional Toyota trucks arrived until the entire team of seven drivers and co-drivers was present. Everyone tried on their driver's suit for the first time, and we got some glamour photos before they got all dirty.
Each driver took a turn driving the 4Runner on a small evaluation loop in the desert, and after a few runs, Joel had seen enough to recommend changes to the gas pressure in the remote reservoirs for the rear shocks. Additional runs were made, and after lunch Joel asked the team to take the front shocks out of the truck so he could revalve them in his trailer. After this change, Ivan pronounced the 4Runner 20 percent better than the initial setup. As the sun sank toward the mountains, the co-drivers each got some laps in with Ivan at the wheel.
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Pre-Race
The desert course is mapped by SCORE and opened for prerunning during the three weeks prior to the race. Two weeks before the race, Zach and Mark drove from Torrance to Ensenada in Zach's heavily modified short-wheelbase Tacoma to prerun the course. They were able to drive the course from 30 miles past the start all the way to San Felipe. In deference to the local populace, the mapping for the first 30 miles of the race is not distributed, and that portion of the course is not open for prerunning until two days before the race.
During race week, each team establishes their own pits in the parking lot of their hotel. Team are scattered all over Ensenada: Our team of over 40 people shared rooms in two adjacent hotels just a block from the starting line, with the race truck, tow vehicles, and many of our support trucks in the lot at the Hotel Mission Santa Ysabel. As Toyota 4WD trucks streamed into the Santa Ysabel parking lot from Southern California and Phoenix, Bob and Zach preran the starting section in Zach's Tacoma, and Ivan got out to prerun in his own long-bed Tundra.
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Based on Nishimura's original evaluation request, the team's strategy was clear: To finish with a running truck. This same strategy, also executed with the help of the Long Beach Racers support crew, had brought victory to Joe Bacal's LX 570 at the Baja 500 in July 2009. Crew chief Ted Moncure had run the numbers: In order to finish within the regulated maximum of 31 hours, our race truck would need to average at least 22 mph. At the same time, previous class winners over similar terrain had averaged 28 to 30 mph, so our target range was a fairly narrow 25 to 28 mph.
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Strong Start
Early on the morning of Friday, November 20, Sam, Rich, and other team members left town right after breakfast, before our truck started the race, to get their chase trucks to their assigned spots to support the race truck. Bob Ditner and Zach Zwillinger idled the 4Runner to the dirt ramp that had been built overnight on Costero Boulevard in front of the Riviera Convention Center in the heart of downtown Ensenada. Zach reviewed the list of on-board safety and emergency equipment: He couldn't see a shovel on the list. I ran to my LX 570 in the nearby hotel parking lot to get my FJ Cruiser folding camp shovel. We strapped it down on top of the other tools and equipment in the race truck. Significantly, I failed to mention this to Mark Sasaki, the only co-driver not present at that moment.
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Pastor Steve, a Long Beach Racers team member, checked on Bob and Zach just before they rolled in to final staging. Thirty seconds after noon, Bob and Zach drove off the ramp to take the start of the 2009 Baja 1000, the first Baja entry by Toyota since 2000. I watched the start with Joe Nolan and some other team members, sent my Tweet of the start, then trooped back to the hotel lot to get our LX 570 chase truck on the road. On the Long Beach Racers' radio frequency we heard Zach call in their progress, reporting every five-mile marker they passed on the race course.
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Mexican National Highway 3 crosses the Baja California peninsula from Ensenada on the Pacific coast southeast to San Felipe on the Gulf of Coronado. By using Highway 3 and local access roads, Joe and I planned to see the race truck as it crossed Highway 3 at race mile 36 (RM36), but the line for fuel at the PEMEX in Ensenada was long, and we were still looking for a parking space along the highway when we heard Zach's radio call that they were sailing across the highway headed south into the desert.
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Joe and I did make it to our next planned stop on time, where 30 gallons of fuel was dumped into the 4Runner at RM80 as the course turned to run on Highway 3. During transit sections on public highways, race vehicle speed is strictly limited to 60 mph, enforced by stiff penalties from SCORE based on data from the GPS transmitters in each race vehicle.
We also saw the 4Runner as it flew past us at the Santa Caterina road crossing at RM91 east of Highway 3. Other team members saw the truck in between our sightings of it. Ted saw the 4Runner pass RM101 and Bob and Zach began the ascent over the 5000-foot Sierra de Juarez mountain range. As Zach called out the miles, we could hear that the 4Runner was making steady progress over the rocky summit, then through the silt beds leading down to the dry lake. While nothing in a Baja race can ever be treated as "predictable," Bob and Zach were driving a completely predictable run, hitting every planned mark right on schedule. Our team didn't expect to see the race truck until RM190 after the Laguna Salada dry lakebed, and we could access them at RM160 only in an emergency. We hoped they'd have light traffic on the lakebed and could hit 80 or 90 mph.
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At kilometer 173 on Highway 3, in the shadow of 4300-foot Cerro El Borrego, the largest common pit area of this year's course covers race mile 205 to 206, and serves double-duty hours later when the same trail is marked as RM394—395 after racers have completed the San Felipe loop. The big Trophy Truck teams and largest sponsors set up semi-trailers along the course at the Borrego junction to service multiple race vehicles; motorcycle teams and single-truck teams each erect a small pop-up to support their bike or truck twice.
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Through Ivan's help in bringing General Tires into the team, they arranged for us to use the services of Baja Pits, an independent service supporting racers with a network of 15 staffed and equipped pits for the Baja 1000. The Baja Pits area at RM206/395 enabled us to fuel and service our truck and make driver changes twice in the same spot: Sam and Rich would stay in the location continuously to service the 4Runner on each pass, maybe getting some rest in the Motorsports Technical Center Tundra between stops.
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After checking out the pit area and finding the Baja Pits just before the sun set hard and cold, Joe and I rolled down to San Felipe an hour away for a hot meal and a couple of hours of rest before our driving shift at a hotel our team had arranged. With a smooth drive Ken and Mark would be back in the same pit stop, this time as race mile 395, to hand off to Joe and me between 1 and 2:30 a.m.: At the slowest possible finishing speed, they'd be there at 3:53. We laid out our driving suits, set the alarms on our cell-phones for midnight, and tucked in for nearly four hours of solid sleep.
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Based on Ted's calculations, if the 4Runner were running in our target speed range, it would pull into the Baja Pits at the Borrego junction on its first lap between 7:55 and 8:35 p.m. Bob and Zach slid into the Baja Pits right on target at 8:26 p.m., having covered 202 miles at an average speed of 24.5 mph.
Into the Long Night
While the 4Runner was gassed and inspected, Bob and Zach got out after a long day in the seat and helped Ken Ziesemer of TAPG and Mark Sasaki of TMS strap in, swap out the Camelbak hydration packs, connect the Parker Pumper helmet ventilator hoses, and plug in the helmet intercom wires. After a brief 14-minute stop, Ken and Mark headed off into the dark while Bob and Zach took a support truck down to San Felipe to get some sleep in another room at the hotel where Joe and I were already.
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Mark's familiar with the San Felipe loop from having raced in SCORE's early-season San Felipe 250 event, so he was the ideal candidate to guide the truck in the night on the loop along the west side of the Sierra San Felipe range, down the wash of the Matomi River, and up the coast of the Gulf of Coronado, back to the Borrego pits.
When the alarms went off at midnight to wake us up, I looked at the most recent text message and was horrified to read "778 still stuck at RM260." Ken and Mark should have cleared 260 an hour ago! I frantically scrolled down to previous messages to see that, according to the GPS, the 4Runner had been stationary at RM260 since 11:10 p.m. Looking in my route book, I could see that they were in a part of the race course one mountain range to the west, where three rivers come together. There are no easy access routes for support vehicles.
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It was also apparent that our LX 570 might be the closest support vehicle to an access road to that part of the course. Joe and I put on our drivers' suits, but kept our jeans, boots, and work gloves handy. As we got underway, I saw a fresh text message from Ted indicating he couldn't raise our nearest chase vehicle by radio and looking for any chase vehicle near Zoo Road. We were a few miles south of there; I sent a text message to Ted asking if he needed us to go in, but by then he'd made radio contact with a support truck that was going to drive in on the course to RM260, so he told us to continue on to the Borrego pits.
When Joe and I got to the Borrego pits for our driving shift right on schedule around 1 a.m., the GPS reports indicated that #778 was moving again, although we could see their progress was slow. Mark told me later that a half-dozen race trucks had become stuck in silt moguls in the dry river beds at RM260. In clouds of dust illuminated by blinding halogen driving lights, someone had indicated a possible route around the melee, but in the dust and confusion, the 4Runner ended up taking a hit into a rut, then became high-centered in the moguls of soft silt.
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Mark radioed in on the Long Beach Racers' frequency but couldn't find a support vehicle within reasonable distance to pull out their disabled truck, so Mark and Ken had to shovel and muscle it out of the silt themselves with the Hi-Lift jack and recovery equipment they had, borrowing a shovel from another team since they didn't know to look for the one I had strapped into the truck before the start at Zach's request. Using their own spare tire and a spare tire borrowed from another race truck, they were able to lift and drag the 4Runner across the worst of the silt inch by inch and eventually drive on.
At 3 a.m., Ken and Mark cleared SCORE's checkpoint three south of San Felipe at RM310, a full hour behind the slowest possible time for us to make a finish. We were able to receive Mark's radio transmissions now, and heard that Ken was concerned about the 4Runner's right front suspension. Text messages from our GPS watchers showed that the race truck continued to make slow progress.
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As more of our team's support trucks arrived at the Borrego junction pits, we did rough calculations and realized we should get some more sleep. We curled up in our trucks and tried to get some more shut-eye with generators blaring, halogen lights glaring, and race vehicles tearing through the center of the pits every half-hour or so.
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Around 4 a.m. we started to pile out of our trucks, then went back in for more hats, gloves, and heavier coats as we realized the temperature was near freezing. Recent GPS data showed the 4Runner was still nearly 30 miles away—almost two hours at its current pace.
While we still had no clue about the struggle Ken and Mark were having, we could see from the GPS tracking that they hadn't given up on finishing, and we re-affirmed our strategy to finish with a running truck. No matter what the position, we resolved to keep it running.
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A little before 6 a.m., a suddenly clear radio transmission from Mark indicated they were approaching Borrego junction. The team jumped into action, getting fuel, tires, and tools ready while Joe and I grabbed our packs, helmets, gloves, maps, and Camelbaks. Around 6:05, the 4Runner pulled into the Baja Pits, and Joe and I helped Ken and Mark climb out after over 10 hours of tough night work.
As they helped us buckle in and connect our air, water, and comm lines, I could see a huge crowd outside swarming around the red 4Runner. I could feel and hear a rear tire being changed, and was surprised to see under the edge of the open hood that Ted appeared to be standing on the radiator. Ted's a big guy, and wouldn't be your first choice to stand on a radiator. Hammers—big ones!—started swinging, and an arc welder was dragged over to the truck. We were told a tube on the rollcage had cracked and dislocated above the right upper shock mount, and it was being bent back into shape, welded, and reinforced as we sat in the truck. Sam had a pained look on his face as the weld spatter stained the engine bay.
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As the sun started to rise the temperature came up quickly, and it was apparent we weren't going to need jackets over our drivers' suits. Since we wouldn't be able to get out of them once we started driving, we asked Ken and Mark to help us unbuckle, shed the jackets, and reconnect everything. After a painfully long 40-minute stop the arc welder switched off, the hood closed, and the hammers dropped. Joe finally got to drive his first Baja race as the sun rose above the foothills to our left.
Third Shift—After Sunrise
As the co-driver of the Baja-winning LX 570 in July 2009, we completed the race "ironman" style: without relief. That meant that I'd been up close and personal with the entire length of the 16-hour, 433 miles (696 kilometers) Baja 500 course. I knew just over two-thirds of this Baja 1000 racecourse. That's why I was asked to drive the third shift in the middle of the night.
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Joe and I had planned, studied, and trained and equipped ourselves for an all-dark drive. We had extra gloves, double-redundant flashlights, and extreme weather protection; we only threw sunglasses into our gear bags by coincidence. Now I had to remember how to change the GPS display to a dimmer, daytime setting while Joe was feeling out the tender suspension.
Ted had suggested going easy on the right front, so when the trail turned rough Joe made sure that my side enjoyed a soft ride. We cleared checkpoint 2/4 at RM213/402 then kept right to leave the San Felipe loop and follow the power lines into the west. In an easy riverbed trail along Highway 3, Joe continued to favor the right side for about 20 miles, after which we stopped worrying whether the weld would hold.
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Cresting the San Mathias Pass along with the highway at 3000 feet, at RM420 the race course turned hard south away from the highway onto the broad, hard-packed sand road called "Mike's driveway," the trail to Mike's Sky Rancho, 4000 feet up in the Sierra San Pedro Martir range. It felt great to call in the five-mile markers fast and regular as Joe kept the 4Runner floating along.
Right in front of the entrance to Mike's there was a big crowd at the crossing of the headwaters of the Rio San Rafael, and we recalled Ivan's advice that where you see a crowd there's something they expect to see: Sure enough, the river crossing was confusing, with close trees and sharp dropoffs threatening us on the sides for 100 yards. The trail turned very tight and technical as we continued to climb south around the remote southern tip of the race course.
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In the mountains we made some passes on trucks from other classes. At another Rio San Rafael crossing, a stuck 2WD buggy blocked the climb out of the water. With no room to go around, Joe had to push him out of the river to get across. It took several attempts, finally working only when Joe rammed him, hard, just as the buggy driver let the clutch out. On the final, successful push, a rooster-tail of mud off the buggy's left rear tire spayed Joe's side of the 4Runner.
Soon we were thrilled to see not one, but two support trucks for one of our strongest competitors on the trail ahead of us. We thought this was a really good sign, but as we passed them on the rough, narrow single-track, our team radioed back that repairs had already been made to their team's race truck, and the only way out for these support trucks was to follow the race course. We were encouraged to hear that their race truck was only a few miles ahead of us, and Joe worked to keep the margin close.
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Back in the night we had heard of a big, multi-truck jam at a stream crossing at RM472, just before the Simpson Hill. By the time we got there at mid-morning, there was just one truck stuck in the absolute bottom of the streambed and its co-driver was spotting to prevent race traffic from driving over its roof. From the crest of Simpson Hill we could see trails of dust in the distance below us, with the Pacific Ocean visible in the distance. Joe kept a good pace on the descent towards Valle de Trinidad while I occasionally reminded him that we really wanted to hand off a running truck to Ivan.
Joe delivered the 4Runner to the Baja Pits at Valle de Trinidad, RM502, after just over four hours of driving with no stops and no problems. We'd done our duty, handing a running truck to Ivan Stewart and bringing the 4Runner's average speed back up to our target of 25 mph. Of course, that meant we were still last in class, more than three hours behind our planned schedule, and on the ragged edge of not being able to finish within regulation time.
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Bringing It Home
When it comes to Baja, there's Ivan Stewart, and then there's everybody else. Ivan's the guy to whom you can hand an injured truck and know he's either to going to get it to finish well, or break trying. A little after 11 a.m., Joe and I buckled Ivan and Bob in for the final leg of the race as the crew looked over the truck and dumped more fuel. We took off our helmets for the first time since 5 a.m. and shared some granola bars before heading off to different assignments before the finish. Mark Sasaki met me with my LX 570 and we headed back to Highway 3 so I could be available as an emergency relief driver during the final hours of the race.
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Just after we made it to the highway, I was stunned to hear the race mile markers Bob was calling in on the radio: Ivan's pace was just unbelievable, covering 48 miles of extremely technical trails from Valle de Trinidad to the Pacific coast in an hour and 20 minutes. I remembered covering that same distance in almost two hours during the night in the Baja 500.
As Mark and I cruised north on Highway 3, I heard Bob call in from RM570 just about 40 minutes later, where the course turns inland from the coast at La Calavera. It didn't seem possible, but Ivan wasn't only making up time—he was just plain stealing time. We got text messages from the States indicating that the 4Runner was passing for position in our class.
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About 70 miles from the finish in Ensenada, Ted planned a last fuel stop. As the crew splashed in 20 gallons, Ken Ziesemer jumped in with Ivan to take the finish for TAPG. The support team didn't like the looks of the front right tire, which had an unusual amount of negative camber and was rubbing on the undercarriage, but Ted was confident in the team's ability to support them from there to the end and didn't want to risk losing the lead by changing the tire unnecessarily so close to the finish.
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Ivan soon passed the season points leader to take the class lead, flying across Highway 3 toward the village of Ojos Negros. On a steep ascent before the crawl down the riverbed to Ensenada, the 4Runner's 4WD system wouldn't engage, leaving Ivan struggling to find traction. Sam and Rich took their Tundra in to help, but couldn't get the 4Runner going up the hill, so Ted sent a second truck. As the 4Runner started climbing up the hill, Josh Hall's Hummer retook the class lead.
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With only two wheels driving and the right front suspension not feeling very solid, Ivan and Ken motored into Ensenada to find an enthusiastic crowd welcoming Ivan to his first Baja finish of this century. In the successful completion of the first major race for the fifth-generation 4Runner, it earned second in the Stock Mini class by just eight minutes, and beat last-year's class winner in the process. It had certainly passed the "high-speed accelerated durability test" that Nishimura wanted.
Incredibly, Ivan averaged 29 mph during his long 170-mile stint at the wheel. When he took the checkered flag at 5:02 p.m. on Saturday, he had brought the 4Runner up to 23.2 mph over the entire race distance, including the time stuck in the silt and spent on repairs.
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As the truck was mobbed by film crews just after sunset, nearly the entire team joined the celebration at the finish line: We didn't leave until a finisher in another class rolled in over half an hour later.

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