For the fourth race of the season the Rally Innovations Factory Team took on the vast deserts of Blythe, CA for the Desert Storm rally. Teams and their service crews were graciously hosted by Palo Verde College and were given access to their automotive shop fully stocked with tools, lifts, and machine shop. Desert Storm is part of the Rally America Southwest Rally Series and the California Rally Series. Precious championship points were up for grabs over the punishing 118 stage miles. The first dayís stages were in and around the Yuma Proving Grounds just across the Colorado River in Arizona. Driver Kevin Welker and Co-driver Nolan Sambrano started out strong on Saturday by putting in consistent times and keeping up with their large displacement and turbo-charged competitors.
The teamís new design scheme made its debut with graphics representing their newest sponsor, Craftech Corporation. Craftech specializes in the development and production of high-quality plastic parts for industry-leading medical, automotive, electronic and consumer manufacturers. http://www.craftechcorp.com Throughout Saturday, Kevin and Nolan cautiously worked up speed and stayed competitive with their main opponents including the well prepared WRX driven by Marco Zapata and a turbo-charged Alltrac Celica driven by Christopher Weleff. Night stages helped make the difference after Zapata set two fastest stage times in the afternoon to take a commanding lead in the class. Kevin and Nolan battled closely with Weleff until the Celica suffered a flat tire on each of the night stages, effectively ending their threat. Zapata suffered a flat on one night stage and dropped close to the Rally Innovations team but still held on to take the dayís victory.
Sunday dawned with a marathon of a stage, literally. At 26 miles the “Chocolate Mountain” stage is one of the longest in North American rally and certainly was a challenge for all teams. The stage was a combination of extremely fast (80-90 mph plus) sections with some large jumps and some tricky tight turns with rough sections. Shortly into the stage the RI team caught the Zapata WRX which had suffered a gearbox failure. This moved the Rally Innovations team up a spot in the class and overall. That would not be the only casualty from this stage, however. One particularly rough section left the RI team thinking they had a flat tire. After losing about one and a half minutes to stop and check the car over, the team carried on. The issue was likely due to an imbalance caused by loose rocks stuck in the wheels. A couple more “close calls” further on the stage left the team pumped up to attack the final stage of the day knowing they had lost time to their competitors in the Toyota. Caution prevailed as this last stage in the desert was also the roughest one. The Weleff team once again got a flat tire and lost time, however it was not enough and the RI team once again took second place in CRS-GT class while securing first place in the brand new Rally America Open Light class for both the Saturday and Sunday competitions. The margin of victory in CRS-GT was less than the time it took to check for the flat tire - bad luck, but such is rally! The team returned home on Sunday evening and will be preparing for their next event in Reno, Nevada. In the mean time however, service members will get their chance to have some fun at local CRS and Formula Rally-x rally crosses including Johnson Valley on April 11th and Glen Helen II on April 25th. Stay tuned race fans and see you at the next rally! Pictures from the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/17646301@N02/sets/72157615725975375/
Videos from the event: http://www.vimeo.com/user832762/videos