Darkcyd Deserves A Brake: Day 2 WRC Rally Mexico

By the time the second day of WRC Rally Mexico started, only 5 Rally America group cars were still in the race. The rough roads, intense heat and constant beating of cars had whittled the pack in half. The Darkcyd Racing Team strategy was simple: finish the race.

Around the pit there was apprehension about the brakes. Yesterday the calipers had seized. Lead technician Ken Anctil had exhausted every possible angle to find suitable replacements for brake rotors, pads and lines. But it was useless. This is Mexico, so we have to work with what we’ve got. If the brakes seize on a competitive stage or in transit to one of the stages, Robb and Ben would be stuck in the high desert and the car would have to be towed back to the pit area at the Poliforum. If this happened, the crew and Robb would be devastated.IMG_0437 - Version 2.jpg

Darkcyd has made two previous attempts in competitive Rally Races in Mexico—both the Baja 1,000. Though Robb competed using different vehicles, due to a number of difficulties, the team never finished those races. Bring the team deep into Mexico for this WRC event is a big risk. We’re days from a US border, and this race is much different.

After last nights second place finish in the Super Special, Robb was feeling okay with the brakes. The technicians weren’t so sure, especially since Day two is the longest of the rally where Darkcyd would take on nearly 160km (96miles) of competitive racing over nine stages. These include repeats for the Leon Street Stage and last night’s Super Stages at the Leon Autodrome.

As we climbed the scrubby landscape to the first stage of the day at Ibarilla, we hiked up the dirt road to the first hairpin turn, I thought this would be perfect for photography. With the sun behind me and a long straight away the launches into a tight hairpin, but the local police and WRC officials wouldn’t let us stay: safety reasons. So we continued hiking and found a spot on a ledge about 4 feet above the road surface.

Ibarilla is a 30km run that loops from Ibarrilla to Mesa de Reyes, just north of Leon. The road is narrow and riddled with a number of gate posts and culverts, so drivers must be careful. Seven-time winner Loeb and teammate Olgier blasted by us in blazing speed spewing dust, rocks and spitting gravel and those on the road surface. Fearless, José Fredo stood by the side of the run and in true racing fan form, twirled his arm around like a windmill each time a car blasted by us.IMG_0555 - Version 2.jpg

Though several Rally America cars fell out yesterday, Bill Caswell managed to get his car running and rejoined the pack. By the time Darkcyd’s Rill and Slocum fired up the gravel road, pedestrians had already started to make their way down. Hearing the sound of the cars, one young boy dove between two fence posts under sharp barbed wire, only later trying to rub his wounds but couldn’t reach his back with his short limbs.

Several of the pros took their toll on Ibarilla this morning. The Citroen team’s Dani Sordo went off the road and broke the wishbone part of his suspension taking him out of the race. He will fix the car, but the service will take more than the time allocated and he will miss several stages and therefore he will finish the race in what is called “SuperRally” status. SuperRally simply means that only driver/teams that complete each stage of the rally can appear in the final classification. This means that they can still race, but their results will not be counted.

What happened on Ibarrilla stage this morning is a testament to focusing on strategy: to finish, is to win. Not only did Sordo have problems but both Matthew Wilson and Ken Block faced doom on one of the longest stages of the rally. Wilson slipped on loose gravel while braking and went off the road and beached his Ford on some big rocks where he couldn’t get off. And American hopeful and GYMKHANA legend, Ken Block lost traction under braking and went into a rock face which busted his suspension and broke a wheel. Both drivers will fix their cars and compete again tomorrow under SuperRally.

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The rough twisting and loose rocks of the Duarte stage took Ken Block out for the day after he ran off the road.

A bit tepid due to the brake issue and follow the strategy “to finish” Robb and Ben took it easy on the first stage, placing fourth out of five cars running the stage in 28:18.1, nearly a minute behind the winner in the Rally America group, Rally Team for Dreams. To put this into perspective, the winner of the WRC group, Sebastien Loeb ran the 29km same stage in 18:25.8.

Back in Service Anctil, Grahn, Thorstenson and Stockline were busy trying to do the impossible. Figuring that while replacing the rotors was out of the question and finding brake pads to fit the custom aftermarket brakes was impossible, they set out to do the impossible: make new brake pads. Kenny was able to download a schematic of the brake pads from the manufacturers website. With basic specs in hand they found pads that were as close to the specs as possible and proceeded to grind, cut and drill holes to match the aftermarket pads. They spent the whole morning pulling this together so that when Robb rolled into service, it would be an easy swap.

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It’s a team effort. Ken Anctil, Gary Grahn, Ed Stockline and Tara Rill work to turn lemons into lemonade by using schematic diagrams from the aftermarket brake manufacturer to convert standard off-the-shelf brake pads into pads that will fit Robb Rill’s Darkcyd Racing Team’s rally car.

After Ibarrilla Robb and Ben still had another 50km of racing in two stages, Duarte and Derrmadero. These stages were so far out in the mountains, we’d never make it before the pros would start and the road would close. So we headed back to the Poliforum so we could watch the teams second run at the León Street stage and then meet them for the 30 minute afternoon service break. By the time the cars showed up for the short 1.5km run on asphalt, only three Rally America cars remained in the competition, Caswell and Campos both were saddled with mechanical problems. On the street stage, and without the baggage of a broken power steering belt and a loose battery flopping around the Rally Car, Robb and Ben jammed through the stage in 1:38.2, just .8 seconds behind Andrew Frick and his Rally Team for Dreams Ford Focus.

The team had the brakes ready when Robb pulled into the pits. “The brakes feel fine,” Robb insisted to Gary, who felt they should use the service time to fit the brakes. “They’re fine,” Robb repeated, “I don’t think we should change them. I haven’t had a problem all day.” After some of the most grueling stages of the rally, Robb’s attitude was simple, if it isn’t broken, let’s not try to fix it. So the team cleaned and lubricated the rotors and inspected the vehicle before sending it out for the afternoon stages, which would be a repeat of those run in the morning.

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Kenny Thorstenson, Ken Anctil and Gary Grahn shove Rill and Slocum out of the pit and on time so they can continue Day 2 of the WRC Rally Mexico in León, Mexico.

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Petter Solberg passes me in heavy Saturday traffic on his way to the Pemex gas station up the road where we meet him and other WRC pros (below) who take a minute, even in the heat of the race, to sign fan autographs.

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Up the road a bit we run into Solberg again, where Darkcyd Racing Team boss, Tara Rill, tries to convince Petter to step out of the race, insisting that Rill/Slocum got it covered. In the end, Solberg convinces Tara to accept his autograph on the Team pit pass before heading to the tough Duarte stage here at WRC Rally Mexico.
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Solberg puts the pedal through the floorboards as he jams out of the starting gate at Duarte stage in WRC Rally Mexico.

While racing through traffic to get to Duarte 2, one of the stages we couldn’t make as spectators this morning, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw WRC pro racer Petter Solberg. He was on my ass, so I pulled over and let him pass. He jumped onto the shoulder and starting passing other cars. Without hesitation I cranked the wheel of my VW Jetta to the right and followed him. Cars started splitting away and Tara pulled out her camera and started to video the chase. Obviously in a transit stage, but Solberg was trying to make it his next fuel stop. By the time we rolled into the Pemex station crowds were jammed and two other WRC cars were already there. Petter was fueling. We find Petter and Argentinian Villagra pulled over up the road checking their vehicles before proceeding to the Duarte start gate.

We raced with WRC cars ahead and behind to the Duarte 2 stage, parked and hiked to the best vantage point looking down on the cars. Duarte is about 23km and probably the twistiest stage of the event, though has a long straight in the middle where the cars can get up to speeds of 100+ mph. But there are a number of steep climbs, and hairpins, so it’s one of the more dangerous, too. The end of the stage, the course climbs to nearly 8,000 feet in elevation. Thankfully, Robb and Ben faced no problems and the brakes held out, finishing where several pros didn’t.

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Robb Rill and Ben Slocum power up a steep incline on the twisty and tough Duarte stage.

Local Rally Race Fans Cheer on Darkcyd Racing

Locals join in and cheer for Darkcyd Racing as Robb and Ben twist through another hairpin.

Darkcyd Racing Robb Rill and Ben Slocum powering up Duarte Stage at WRC Rally Mexico 2011

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Fans of all age turn out here in León, Mexico to cheer Darkcyd Racing and the others who just hope to finish one of the most grueling races in the WRC Rally Racing series in 2011.

The day ended with the 2.2km Super Special stage which each team must run twice and head to head with the closest competitor. Tonight we faced Frick and Rally Team for Dreams, and going over one of the jumps we watched a piece fly off the Darkcyd Subaru. Yet that didn’t impact our performance, as we beat Frick in both runs.

With only three Rally America cars left competing in our group, we ended the day in 2nd place, and 6:23.3 behind Frick, this includes a two-minutes in penalties due to the longer service from yesterdays near disatarous brake seizure.

Feeling much better the crew crashed knowing that if we can just complete all the stages tomorrow, in the finally day of the rally, we will place and celebrate by being on the winner’s podium tomorrow afternoon.

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Before jamming out of the pits, fans convince Robb to sign more autographs. Don’t have any paper? Don’t worry, Robb is happy to sign a shirt–or whatever!

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Darkcyd cruises to a first place finish in both Super Special 1 and 2 on Saturday night at WRC Rally Mexico. A beautiful end to a hard day of Rally here in León, Mexico.

From Reconnaissance to Scrutineering—Final Countdown to Racing.

WRC_rally_mexico  1222.jpgThe preparation, logistics and communication required to participate in a professional world class rally competition is enormous. The task is compounded when importing a vehicle, spare parts, tools and additional equipment into a foreign country, in this case Mexico.

DarkCyd Racing has compiled a competent technical team, most arriving late yesterday, including lead technician, Ken Anctil from Rochester, New Hampshire, and technicians Gary Grahan from Seattle, Ed Stockline from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and, of course, Kenny Thorstenson from Muskegon, Michigan.

Today Robb and Ben took another ‘recce’ (pronounced ‘wreck key’ and meaning reconnaissance) tour of most of the 13 stages. With only the first stage on pavement, the 3-day rally will take them from the cities of Silao and Guanajuato to high in the mountains. Most of the terrain is dirt, sand and loose gravelly rock. With a number of switchbacks and very rural road conditions, the teams pacenotes must be detailed and during the actual race stage, Ben and Robb must be in sync so that there are no problems or mistakes.

While Robb and Ben were on “recce” the technicians prepared the car for the first stage of the rally which starts tomorrow evening in the town of Guanajuato. In addition to checking all the mechanical functions of the vehicle, the team ensures the car is fitted with the safety equipment required by the event organizers, WRC.

Darksyd Racing Team – WRC Rally Mexico – 2011

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Robb Rill, driver; Ben Slocum, co-driver; Ken Anctil, lead technicial

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Gary Grahan, technician; Ed Stockline, technician; Kenny Thorstenson, technician

With the temperatures pushing 90° and the sun beating down on the car, it was clear that the pit area needed additional shade and the technicians clamoring for cold beverages and snacks. Also, the hydraulic lift the technicians were using wasn’t sufficient for working on the car—especially for later in the week when pit stops need to be efficient and quick. We needed a heavier duty lift. So Tara and I headed into town looking for provisions.

Now I’m sure many reading this blog, and who have not been to this part of Mexico may think that such provisioning might be difficult. Not to worry. At times I feel like I’m in the states. The main road through town, Boulevard Lopez Mateos, is linked with retailers one would likely fine in big box America, including Office Depot, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, WalMart, Costco and even a Starbux. So Tara and I stocked up on supplies at Costco, including a 3.5 ton hydraulic lift for the technicians, and a pop-up canopy to keep tools and refreshments ready and cool. In doing so, we feel we might have broken the record for packing a Mexican-built chevy Malibu.

Make no mistake, León has its charm. And it doesn’t come from the nearly 200 shoes stores that seem to be on every corner of the city. True, León IS the shoe capital of Mexico—and maybe North America, but beneath the veneer of retail and US-based big-box brands there’s a charming and historical feel to the city. Though nearby Guanajuato may get all the attention do to its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, but León also contributed to the start of the Mexican revolution in 1810.

As we walk the streets of the central historic district we’re treated to the neo-classical cathedral with baroque influence build in 1765, it features four secondary chapels, one dedicated to Saint Joseph includes eight domes and one central cupola through which natural sunlight passes during the day. A large arch marks the entrance to the city, built in 1910 to celebrate the centennial of the Mexican revolution, atop there is the symbol of the city—a golden lion.

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The people of León take pride in their city. We noticed many renovation and maintenace projects on classic and historical buildings and sites.

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However odd, there is something endearing about the sculpted ficus trees on Plaza Principal in Historic Downtown León.

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While neighboring Guanajuato gets the attention for historic sites, León has its charm.

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New concept in promotion and marketing — public bathrooms and walking billboards. Wow!

The people of León take price in their city. The Plaza Principal is lined with benches that sit under ficus trees meticulously groomed in geometric shapes. We spot scaffolding around many historic buildings including the post office, churches around the plaza and religious statues outside the cathedral. And the people of the city, like most in Latin America, are genuinely interested to help foreigners and will go out of their way to do so.

By the time Robb and Ben return to the pit after their day of “recce”, all that’s left is do on the car is to fit the WRC-suppied GPS unit to the car. This allows the judges and timekeepers to track each car, ensuring it follows all the rules. Once this is fitted, the car is ready to complete a final inspection by the organizers. This inspection, called “scrutineering” is the final phase before the car is approved to compete and drive on the rally course. Failure to successfully complete “scrutineering” means modifications, repairs or otherwise must be made to the car or else it is disqualified from competition.

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Kenny and Gary making final adjustments to get the car ready for scrutineering and racing!

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Final touches before scrutineering — the official race logo and assigned car number.

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Gary, Ed and Ken go over technical details and specifications for Darkcyd’s Subaru before scrutineering.

The technicians assure Robb and Ben that all will pass the inspection, scheduled for 8PM tonight. So the two return to the hotel for much-needed showers and a good meal before the start of the intense 3-day competition.

Friends & Family: Ludlow, Vermont in the Shadows of Okemo

With the temperature dropping and skies threatening, I only hoped that I would make Ludlow before nightfall and, ideally, dry. Per my standard riding practice (SRP), I do whatever I can to avoid interestates and multilane highways, I found myself skirting around and then riding through Concord, the capital of New Hampshire.

Sporting a glistening gold dome like the capitol buildings of its neighbors in Massachusetts, Vermont and other New EIMG_0079 - Version 2.jpgngland states including Connecticut, the New Hampshire Capitol building was completed in 1819, seven years before the the first dome, made of copper, was set on our nation’s capitol building in Washington, DC.

For the first time on this journey, I wondered why I was riding. As cars passed me on the slick roads, young children pressed their nose against the cold windows or their parents’ cars seemingly giggling at me in my bright yellow rainsuit. Perhaps they thought I was Big Bird riding away on some wet adventure. Hunched over and and in a rhythm like that of a metronome gone haywire, I wiped the drops of sheeting rain from my face-shield wishing I was in a warm car.

I did arrive in Ludlow just as the sun dipped behind Okemo Mountain. While the rain-suit did I good job keeping me dry, my numb toes and soggy cover to my AirHawk seat cushion provided the evidence that today’s ride was the most physically challenging of the trip, so far.

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Ludlow Vermont was chartered as a city just 15 years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1761 and is also the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States. Though it wasn’t the rich history, notable historic village nor the ski resort which brings hordes of New Englanders here in the winter that brought me to Ludlow. No I rode through whipping rain, nasty wind and biting cold to visit The Timber Inn Motel.

Well, even that’s not entirely true. Actually, I came to visit a friend who not only attended my high school, but also my college, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Glenn Heitsmith and I also served the Syracuse University Ski Club, organizing weekend trips to Vermont ski resorts. Yet like others I’ve encountered on my east coast tour, I haven’t seen Glenn in more than 20 years — perhaps longer. But he, his family and the infamous Inn he owns were sponsors and supporters of my WorldRider journey and for this trip, he graciously offered accommodations.

While familiar with Ludlow and Okemo Mountain, I’d never skied or visited. And until Glenn brought it to my attention, I had no idea that I had family living and working in Ludlow. I guess because I come from a fairly large extended family, there are many relatives I’d never met. While I’d heard of Joe Karl and his family, and my father had met him on a few occasions, I’d never met. So with a warm motel room and my friend Glenn in Boston for the weekend visiting his son, I arranged to meet Joe and his family–his wife Kathleen and their three lovely daughters.WorldRider 2010 cut.JPG

Glenn not only arranged me to meet long lost relatives, so to speak, but also to deliver my WorldRider presentation to the local community Rotary Club. An article in the local paper as well as a broadcast to other Rotary Clubs, the room was packed at one of Ludlow’s finest restaurants, D.J.’s — even three Rotarian motorcyclists from elsewhere in Vermont showed up to be inspired by my adventures.

Before making tracks toward Syracuse and Rochester New York, Glenn took me on a hiking tour over the Healdville Trail which winds through Okemo State Forest and to an historic fire tower which offers vast views of Okemo Mountain and the surrounding forests and mountains. Glenn is working to gain support to maintain the old fire tower which was built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s. We then worked out way to the summit of the mountain and the ski area before making a muddy trek down a few grassy and muddy ski runs. We noticed hoses and other plumbing fittings indicating that the ski area was preparing to make snow very soon.

With more foul weather and rain on the forecast, I packed up Doc and after an excellent lunch in nearby Proctorsville at Singleton’s General Store, where not only can one find a fresh and tasty sandwich, but all the whiskey, guns and ammo you could ever desire.

I only rode as far as Saratoga Springs the day I bid my friends and family farewell in Ludlow. Next stop? Syracuse New York where I’m hoping to connect with former professors and walk in the shadows of my younger self.

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My cousin Joe Karl — after all these years, I finally meet him and catch up in Ludlow, Vermont


Joe’s beautiful twins, Brigid and Paige sporting fresh vegetables from the family garden. A great homemade dinner at the Karl residence — everybody helped!


Joe’s eldest, Riley had to work on a little homework before dinner.

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View from Timber Inn Motel in Ludlow, VT toward Okemo Mountain

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Climbing the historic fire tower in the Okemo National Forest. Glenn is hoping to bring it to full restoration.

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Historic village and town of Ludlow Vermont from atop Okemo Mountain’s historic fire tower.

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Rushing waters and plenty of fallen leaves as Glenn tours me through the state forest.

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Hiking the Healdville Trail with an ad hoc snowball fight thrown in.


Glenn’s wife Donna holds her cards tightly after a wonderful meal and fun with the kids.

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Erik was the ringleader of the evenings card game. Seems the rules changed either to suit his hand or extend bedtime just a few minutes later. I couldn’t argue!

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Patrick Chadburn prepared my last meal in Vermont, but with the bike loaded enough, I passed on any whiskey, guns or ammo. Maybe next time!

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Hoping both the temperature and rains hold off until I get to Syracuse.