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Scrutineering Finds Problems With Darkcyd Racing’s Rally Car

Word on the street from WRC/FIA scrutineering inspectors that if all safety equipment was in order, the Rally America teams competing in WRC Rally Mexico would pass inspection quickly and without hassle. But for the more than six teams that were sent back due to bad welds, the story was much different.

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Ken Block and Henning Solberg exiting the pit area before shakedown stage at WRC Rally Mexico

Darkcyd Racing’s roll cage had 10 weld spots that were not up to the standards demanded by WRC officials. At about 8pm last night we learn that the Subaru to be piloted by Robb Rill and Ben Slocum would require new welds for its roll cage. Problem is, that to get to the weld spots would require either lowering the cage through the bottom of the car, or cutting through the roof so the welder could access those problem areas. To be sure, this is a safety issue. Without a securely welded roll cage any accident could compromise the safety of the driver and co-driver.

Where do you find a a tic welder and someone who knows how to operate it at 10pm in León Mexico. The welding would have to be redone before 9am and completely enough to satisfy the inspectors in scrutineering. Fortunately, a few teams within the outside pit area also were sent back due to questionable welds. The Darkcyd Team worked fast and thanks to another Rally America team, Recon Racing, a tic welder and operator were found and by 2AM this morning the welds were complete.

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Scrutinnering inspectors check to make sure Darkcyd’s roll cage is welded sufficiently to the frame.

But would this late night welding job satisfy the WRC inspectors? After a tentative and stressful run through inspection at 9:30 am this morning, the Darkcyd Team passed. The scrutineering inspectors crawled into every crevice of the cockpit of the Subaru, and armed with mirrors that reminded me of going to a dentist, they painfully inspect each joint. The late night work by co-operating teams paid off. Darkcyd was ready to run.

With a few loose items to handle on the car and what would turn out to be a monumental task to find spare parts for the Subaru, Darkcyd would be ready for opening ceremonies at the 8th Annual WRC Rally Mexico. Technician Ed Stockline and I spent some three hours sourcing new axles, tie-rod ends, ball joints, a radiator and other consumables, we were able to arrange to have parts shipped in from no less than 3 Mexican cities by 2pm Friday. For the previous two days the team was repeatedly told that it would take a minimum of 5 days to get these parts. With tenacity and perseverance I was unable to accept such information. Sure. It took time, but we’ll have the parts tomorrow. Ideally we hope we won’t need them. But with the rough terrain, intense heat and harsh conditions, the team will rest easier knowing that in the event of a problem, we’ll have the parts we need.

While I was sourcing spare parts, Robb and Ben took the rally car through a shakedown stage. This is run just like a normal race stage except that the times are only used to establish the starting order for the official opening ceremonies. it also lets’ the teams run their vehicles on the closest thing they can to a real stage.

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Locals working three phones to find spare parts for Darkcyd’s rally car — anywhere in Mexico!

Darkcyd performed exceptionally during the shake down stage by logging the fastest score in its class. While this is impressive for a first time international rally by the team, it does have its drawback: the fastest car runs last.

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Darkcyd Racing Team with all systems go awaits the ceremonial open of the 8th Annual WRC Rally Mexico.

Meanwhile the streets of nearby cities of Silao and Guanajuato filled with eager fans, excited locals and hundreds of police and federal officers with guns. As the rally cars winded through León and Silao fans crammed the roads, thrusted rally programs into the windows of the cars hoping for an autograph. Still others offered babies for signing, kisses and huge smiles. This is the day the racers get their glory. Like rockstars, thousands try just to get a glimpse, perchance touch a driver or co-driver.

But the drivers must remain focused. While the first “street stage” is ceremonial in purpose and only 1.5km in length, it can set the tempo for the 3 harsh days ahead.

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Ken & Tara Rill celebrating a moment before the start of WRC Rally Mexico on Thursday night. And Robb signs autographs for young fans eager to meet and talk to a rally race car driver.

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Darkcyd Racing Team taking the Subaru out on the shakedown stage here at WRC Rally Mexico.

Last might be a drawback, but Robb and Ben performed fantastic for the first real “street stage” of the WRC Rally Mexico by once again logging the fastest time. However, there is a question that they might have jumped the gun at the start by a second. If so, this could mean a serious time penalty. But as it sits now, the leader board shows Darkcyd Racing in the lead. Let’s hope it stay that way.

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Night driving during the first opening street stage of WRC Rally Mexico. Rill and Slocum pilot the 2005 Subaru around the cermonial circle under the lights in Guanajuato Mexico. Darkcyd logged the fastest time in its class, but questions loom regarding a possible quick start.

Heading To Mexico – World Rally Championship

Sitting at gate 27 in the San Diego International Airport, I will soon board a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth where I’ll connect with a small jet aircraft and head to Guanajuato/Leon airport in the Guanajuato state of Mexico. Yes. I’m flying and Doc, my fabled bike sits home alone.

With more time, I’d make the trip on two-wheels. But this trip to Mexico is for a special reason. My friend Robb Rill is racing in the World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally Guanajuato Mexico – a three day rally made up of multiple stages that runs through the historic city of Guanajuato and through both the Sierra de Lobos and Sierra de Guanajuato mountains including a number high-altitude tests with a mixture of mountain peaks and flat open valleys. The altitude has its downside, however, as the engines struggle to breathe in the thin air and suffer a drop in power of approximately 20 per cent. The road surface is dry and sandy, but with rocks getting pulled onto the road the race can be very dangerous.

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Darkcyd Racing’s 2005 Subaru WRX STi – driven by Robb Rill, co-driver Ben Slocum.

Robb and co-driver Ben Slocum are driving Darkcyd Racing’s 2005 Subaru WRX STi. I’ve been asked to join the 5-person crew to support as needed, serve as the team photographer, translator and blogger. For the last several month’s Robb and his team have been coordinating and managing the painstaking details of not only preparing a race car for a Rally, but dealing with the logistics necessary to transport a vehicle to a foreign country. Co-driver Ben Slocum has consolidated the details of this event into a 20-page ‘movement’ plan.

While I have been a fan of motorsports my entire life, I’ve never been to a true European-style road rally race. I’ve always dreamed of one day perhaps racing in the infamous Dakar, but like most Americans, my understanding of the actual rally format, rules and scoring is very basic. Helping Robb by participating on his crew in Mexico will change that.

For those of you interested, Rally Racing involves using street-legal cars on both normal streets and roads in towns, cities and country as well as off-road on gravel, mud, dirt and such. So there is no set track, instead, there is a course. The course may change from year-to-year, and it is usually done in stages. Often these stages take place over several days. The Mexico WRC rally takes place in 13 stages over 3 days. All but one of the stages are on dirt and gravel roads. Of course, during the actual stages, the roads are closed to the public.

These stage rally races are huge in Europe, perhaps in teh top 2 sports. In the USA, there are rally circuits, but they don’t get much visiblity beyond the local communities where they are staged, or in the close-knit group of fans, racers and crew. The Mexico Rally will be broadcast live throughout Europe. In the USA it will be broadcast slightly delayed on the HD Theater channel, so if you’re interested in seeing the action, tune in.

I will bring more information on the Rally, the rules and stages and how our team, Darkcyd Racing is faring over the next week. There are two days of preparation and pre-running and more logistics that I’m just beginning to understand. Many Rallys feature different classes of vehicles, and sometimes motorcycles—think Baja 1,000 and Dakar.

More to follow.