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.

Duarte Stage León Mexico WRC Rally Mexico 2011 Darkcyd Racing Team

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.

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