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Breslau Rallye updates finally - Medulla @ 10:59 am

We're on day 5 of the rally and things could have gone better so far. I've been doing some writing, but what's interesting to read as it's happening is less exciting to post days later. The Rallye has not been able to provide internet until today and still the press is disappointed because it's not enough to upload photographs. I've sent a memory stick into town and hopefully will have a few photos to share soon. In the mean time, here's what's up:

We arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday morning, a week ago today. We had an interesting time connecting with the service team arranged by the co-driver who wasn't to arrive until later that day. Once we found them we immediately got down to business. We picked up the truck and totes at Lufthansa Air Cargo and headed to a nearby city where we loaded everything, including Bam Bam for the 8 hour drive to Breslau, actually Wroclaw, Poland. Breslau is an old name for the same town, as of 15 years ago. The crew arrived at different times; we were split up handling different aspects of business before leaving Frankfurt.

Our crew consisted of Alois (a co-worker from Jay's previous work with Spiderplow/Fokersburger) and Josh, the mechanics. Gus, the co-driver. Sabrina, Jay's intern. Maura, our sponsor, Magpul's representative. Four from the film crew hired by Magpul to document the adventure. And of course Jay and myself. Jay and Josh rode out with the service team, who had a stop on the way and a lot more to haul, so they didn't arrive in Breslau until 5:30 am. They went strait to camp, while the rest of us spent the night in a nearby hotel. Since the sun was already coming up, the guys decided to just start their work. The new tires had to go on Bam Bam as it was shipped with smaller ones for clearance. There was work on the cooling system still to be done hydraulics, and a million other odds and ends (I'm sure I'll leave out a lot of wonderful gearhead details as I'm just the girlfriend, but look for updates later after Couch gets his eyes on this).

After only a few hours of sleep for the crew, the work continued the next day and included a parts run that me and a couple other ladies were sent off to do. Finding specialized parts in a foreign country was a challenge that began only after spending 3 hours looking for the first auto parts store. Maura was our leader these first few days, keeping everyone on task and bringing a bit of order to the chaos.

The race began on Saturday morning. The rig was outfitted with five tiny cameras, helmets were wired for audio, fluids and belts were checked and it was time to start, ready or not.

Day 1

Went well, probably the best day so far. I'm not certain on where we placed exactly, but it was respectable and was somewhere just above average in the list of 180 or so cars and trucks. I spent the day with the most of the film crew tracking down viewing locations, but only found one and only after Bam Bam had passed. It was interesting, however to watch some of the other competitors on moguls, steep hill climbs, and a steep decent, on the dusty terrain. Another member of the film crew had gone with the press that morning and was able to get some good footage, sending reports to us by text. It was an eventful day for some. A photographer's leg was broken by a jeep. Some of the motorcyclsts were supposedly arrested when they were caught doing 100KMH in a 30 zone. We learned a lot that day. We've often struggled getting our information ahead of time, as most of it is given in German with an abbreviated version in English. Among what we learned was about the format of the race, road driving vs off-road. The road driving portions of the race are timed, but the speed limit must be followed. Too slow and you loose points, too fast and you are also penalized.

After the race we headed back to camp to greet Jay when he returned, and to find out how it all went. Reports were mostly positive however there were a few concerns. Jay's co-driver lacked experience. Jay also lacked race experience, but is definitely adept to handling a Unimog in varying terrain. However, some of the issues that Jay was running into early on suggested that Gus was not doing a job that was worthy of the investment that he and his sponsors had dedicated to this venture. Another concern was with the shocks. King Shocks were among the most lofty expenses in making Bam Bam the best race rig it could be, however in the rush to prepare everything at once in the three months leading up to the race, we were not able to make sure that they were calibrated to perform up to their full potential. At dinner that night, Jay and I were speaking to an impressive individual from West Africa, named Robert who is working as press and a press driver during this event. He had participated in the Breslau in many capacities over the years and was very well connected. Upon hearing Jay's issues with the shocks, he connected us with a British team (Australian co-driver, I think, which confuses my clarity on the team's nationality) who came to the rescue. As soon as dinner was finished they were getting their hands dirty helping with the truck. This is their first Breslau Rallye as well, but were still so generous with their help to us.

Let me take a moment to comment on just how much the European off-road community has been supportive of us. I don't think that there's a single one of them that wasn't both shocked and impressed that these crazy Americans FLEW a Unimog in, all of the way from the states. In response, we explain that races like this do not exist in the US. This is funny to me, as I've never realized how many people are as crazy as Jay (and likely most of you readers!), putting themselves in a stressful man/machine vs. nature environment for fun! Without the help of our neighbors who are able to haul more tools and, some of them, their mobile shops, to the camps, Jay and the mechanics might not have survived this far.

Day 2

Started with more pressure in the shocks, although not perfectly calibrated which takes a lot more time, adjusting, testing, adjusting, video testing (suggested) and repeat, than we have. Couch and the team were up until the wee hours, again, and the day began just after 6am. Over the next few hours, the camp quickly went from a cluttered mess, collected over 3 days from us all, a mix of Germans who had joined us and our jovial, beer-loving service team (who were really mostly our transport team) to being packed and ready to go. We had breakfast and learned a little bit about what the day had in store for us. It would begin with 140 K to the start, again, still part of the race, although on the road. 120 K from start to finish in the off-road portion of the race and then another 160 K to our new campground at a Polish military base just outside of Recz, further north in Poland.

During the off-road portion of the race, the rest of us were on our main-road route to the race's finish line when we got a call from Couch and Gus that they had bent a tie rod. We got his coordinates, and using our GPS we were able to drive two rental cars a short distance off-road and find them working under the truck, pulled off to the side of the course. They had a jack on the tie rod, with their front and rear winches wrapped under the truck and attached to it. They said that things were going well when they hit a water hole, inside of which was a "wall" that was not visible from the surface and when they hit it with speed the damage was done. Alois and Josh quickly jumped in to help, and after about 30 more minutes of jacking and winching, the tie rod was unbent, although still slightly compromised and needing additional reinforcement later. Bam Bam tore off to make up for lost time, with a cheer from us. It was the most exciting thing we'd seen all day.

When we met up with them later, after they crossed the finish line, but before we returned to camp, Jay was exhausted from a long day of being bounced around in the cab. The race consisted of more baha style racing than he had expected, moguls and bumps that violently rocked the U1700 all day long reeked havoc on the truck and the crew. Jay was also becoming increasingly frustrated with his co-pilot for his lack of skill in navigation, which had failed them too many times up to this point. He indicated that Gus' lack of understanding of the GPS and clarity on the road book cost them a good amount of time and added to Jay's load in this stressful race. The job of the Navigator in a race like this is a hard one. They have to be knowledgeable, fast, calm and collected and take responsibility for not only their direction, but an understanding of the capability of the vehicle in choosing the best route. The driver, in most team arrangements, says very little all day, focusing only on executing the navigator's direction.

Jay told the story of nearly running over a nice French photographer. He felt bad, but the photographer, Didier takes responsibility. He's been right in the action every time I see him and that can't come without risks. See it on youtube at 8:51

We arrived at camp at about 2:30 am and were all completely exhausted. We were able to get a little more sleep that night as Jay's departure time was not until later in the morning, one of the benefits of loosing place in day 2. Early that morning, Alois donned his welding suit and got to work reinforcing the tie rod. Accustomed to working at least 60 hours a week for Fokersburger, he's a natural at getting busy early and staying busy, even on vacation. Jay says that he's a machine.

Day 3

Was somewhat short. I stayed back at camp ready for a brake from driving around seeking a view point and to set up camp. Many of the other teams made the same choice that day. That night, when they returned to camp, we learned that Jay would start the race with a new co-driver. We found a German competitor named Tobius, one of the service from another well known team, who had 3 years of experience as a co-driver in the Breslau Rallye behind him, and was enthusiastic about helping out. Josh, one of the mechanics was considered for a moment as the co-pilot replacement, as he's definitely capable, but the decision was made to go with Tobius because of his experience and the need we had for Josh's talent and readiness to service Bam Bam each night and morning.

Day 4

Began fresh at 11am. The day's course consisted of close to 135 K of a variety of terrain, including some of the more technical swamps, mud holes and water crossings during the race. Jay started 150th among the car and truck classes. It was the first day that I was able to see a good bit of the race. I was able to ride with some of the press, thanks to help from our film crew who could spare their seat in their hired press driver's car, after they had chosen to plant themselves at one specific obstacle for the day. They hoped to capture footage of Bam Bam in the race, rather than ride with the press who tend to move along from point to point in time to catch the top 50 competitors.

Despite the fact that I was not able to see Bam Bam race that day, it was the most epic day for me as a spectator and my role as a journalist! We left at 7:40 am and drove very fast, baha-style, off road to the first view point. I held on tight and admit that I let out a couple of "woot"s. When we arrived at this beautiful first location, it was so peaceful. The organizers who were with us set up yellow tape boundaries to prevent competitors from avoiding one of the obstacles, a very small, muddy crossing just before an uphill drive. But this was the second of two obstacles at this point. Just before they would need to pass a large marshy field which seemed almost the length of a football field, with a steep 4 foot embankment at the end, up to where we stood and where the yellow checkpoint umbrella was placed as their target.

The first few motorcycles arrived about an hour and a half after the start at 8am. Some of them dismounted their bikes to scout out the turf. I imagined that none of them wanted to be the first to lay a path through the grass covered marsh. But the first one bravely managed to blaze his trail all of the way across and when he hit the embankment it launched him into the air and awkwardly onto the ground where a dozen photographers took his pictures. I wasn't wearing a safety vest and realized pretty quickly that I needed to get the hell out of the way, so I climbed up onto the back of the huge 8X8 rescue truck to spectate. Little by little chaos ensued. It was awesomely thrilling, dramatic, and impressive.

Once the cars and trucks arrived, it confirmed for me that these people are completely nuts. I had an amazing perspective for all kinds of adrenaline driven action, competitors mud-covered struggles with bikes and winches, asking photographers for help, running to assist other vehicles, tying winch lines, a tree going down when a Axor nosed into it just next to me and before I knew it, it was time to move on. I didn't want to leave. I must admit, I looked over my shoulder all of the way to the car hoping to catch a glimpse of Bam Bam coming through the woods across the way. No such luck.

The next obstacle was a swamp amidst the trees. There were more spectators there, as it was much closer to the road than the first view point. By the time we arrived it was already cluttered with mud covered competitors, in the process of winching, sinking, wheels spinning spattering mud behind them. The film crew was there getting a ton of footage but were a long way from seeing Bam Bam pass. Some would be stuck here for hours and for others, at least a few, it would mean the end of their race day. One of the Unimogs I'd seen earlier who had been one of the top five amongst the cars and trucks this year, had made it across the length of swamp, tree routes and planted competitors only to have its front end sink, smack up against the earth wall that would have carried them out and on to the check point just ahead. I watched them secure their winch and snap their rope line at least 4 times.

It was futile. They kept pushing the belt up the tree, but they just couldn't get enough lift and the winch just pulled their rig forward into the wall and neither the truck or the wall was going anywhere. I saw another tree go down there, pulled by a winch line. Cars and trucks were turned sideways, sinking, with co-drivers working hard to right them and move them forward.

At the usual mark, it was time to move on. The next obstacle was a deep water crossing. Along the embankment at either side of the five foot deep -at its deepest point- crossing, and along the bridge that paralleled it, there were a ton of spectators and photographers. Some of the photographers were waste deep in the cold water for hours. At this point, five or more hours in, the competitors were looking fairly stressed out. For the really big trucks, this crossing was no problem. They would take a massive amount of water with them up the far bank when they emerged which would rush back toward the the main body, like a big wave retreating from the beach. 

The smaller vehicles had more trouble and it was impressive if one of them made it across without winching. Many of them would prepare their winch line while waiting for the competitor before them to finish, a smart tactical move, as doing it underwater is much more time consuming. Without any trees at the far side of the crossing here, a big Unimog sat as the winch point or as an assist for anyone that needed it, for a small penalty. I saw a French competitor completely freaking out, screaming as he secured the winch to the Unimog's winch line. I couldn't understand a single thing he said, but I think that he didn't want an assist.

After it was time for the press to return, I came back again with the driver to the second and third points to continue spectating and was hoping to see Jay. By then, the film crew had moved on to the third point, thinking that Jay might have chosen to go around. At this point it was Bam Bam's 8th hour in the race. We expected him at any moment and stayed until it started to get dark. We headed back in time before dinner service ended. Jay came in around midnight and wasn't exactly sure why they were so late, but did know that his severely bent axel didn't help. Both of his front wheels were kicking off in opposite directions. As for check points, it turned out that although five or six hours behind, they managed to hit all of them. This moved them up in the race by five spots, probably because some of the competitors took a four hour penalty for skipping one of them.

Today, Bam Bam could drive, but with wheels that are off canter, so they wouldn't take on even a small tree stump without throwing the rig off course. There was no way that they could do the whole race, but we learned that if they started the race and hit just one checkpoint, it would mean 2 hours better time, than not starting at all. So they gave it a shot. Because of a navigation mishap they turned back without achieving that goal; the race's start and finish were located in the same place, so starting and then exiting without any points, still meant crossing the finish line.
The swamp, post invasion

We spent the morning looking for options for a new front axel. We managed to find a new one, 500 K away at Hellgeth and a used one that was closer by but would take longer to arrive. It's been ordered and is to arrive at 3 or 4am (originally 1am). This doesn't give the team hardly any time for the 6 hour job in order to start a race leg that has the potential of lasting 36 hours. Not to mention, sleep, eating and packing the camp for our new destination tomorrow, Dresden, Germany. It's going to be a long night. We're now scheming for the 1,500 lb axel when it arrives in the wee hours of the morning. The delivery truck will never make it back to the nook where the truck nests, so talking to the gracious and excessively prepared Dutch team across the camp street about invading just before dawn for our project, is among our plans.

However, not racing today has allowed us more time for other work to be done on the rig. They adjusted the suspension with help by phone from the owner of King Shocks and Jay's good friend at Spidertracks, Eddie Casanueva. Josh, Alois and Jay took Bam Bam out for a two hour test run and it's now riding 200% better across the "whoopdies". It was the full compression of the shocks to the point of slamming the bump stops, due to the bumps and the weight of the truck, that was causing so much stress on the axel, the truck and the passengers for that matter.

That's it for now. From Recz Polland, Denise Dambrackas of Medulla.