Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 5: Morelia to Aguascalientes

Mil Cumbres wasn't as bad the second day. I guess 96 cars zooming through the day before swept away a lot of the gravel. The cow and horse victims had been removed, as had most of the fallen trees.

BUT...the rest of the day was not to be as easy.

To start with - the gravel knocked our rally computer's sensor off of our back wheel. So we couldn't track mileage that well. The car's computer can show kilometers, but unlike the rally computer, I couldn't calibrate the car to the route book. The route book wasn't very accurate, so we really had a poor idea of distance from then on.

During the transit section before the service stop, we were following some Studebakers, cooking along at about 200kph, when we came upon some slower traffic. We all started to pass the slow cars by moving into the empty oncoming lane. Suddenly, the Studebaker in front of us merged back into the correct lane - practically cutting off a truck. We saw why - a median of raised metal bumps had appeared with no warning. We tried to break and get back over, but it was too late. We merged through the metal bumps, which made a weird metallic clink somewhere underneath the car.

I have no photos for what happened next - so I hope illustrations will suffice.

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Our wheel had bent and the tire popped about 50km from the service stop. We were able to drive slowly off the freeway and get to a gas station that was in the route book. Kevin and Bret located our original wheel (and blistered tire) and they got an employee from the service stop to drive it over to us.

In the meantime, I realized that due to the inconsistency between our odometer and the route book, we were at the wrong gas station. And there was no way to get in touch with the employee. Our lifeline wheel was in a stranger's car heading towards the wrong gas station!

We limped to the correct gas station - which was closed and on a road under construction. Some police officers spotted us and waited with us for our wheel.

Soon, a very excited man waved to us as he drove by - and then he turned around. Our wheel had arrived!

Manuel jumped out of the car, grabbed our wheel from his trunk, and proceeded to jack up the car and change the tire - out of breath from trying to be quick. I couldn't decide if he had to get back to work or if Kevin told him he was solely responsible for us finishing the race. Either way, I didn't care - we needed to get on the road! Emil gave him his Piloto badge and the bent wheel (which he was thrilled to keep), I gave him $140 and a signed postcard with "Thanks for getting us back into the race! Muchas Gracias!".

Right now, there is a gold 4-door sedan driving around Mexico with 1 white GT3 wheel.

We missed the afternoon's race sections, which we hear were incredible. We did manage to roll into town and make it to the arrival arch before the other cars in our class.

What were we going to do? A blistered tire was ok in an emergency, but we couldn't race on it! Emil and the very kind Filippe (another co-piloto) called around to all 3 Porsche dealers in the country, to see who had the right tire. No one did. (Lesson #21: don't bring obscure tires to La Carrera unless you have 3 full sets of spares.)

We noticed a black Porsche Boxter parked nearby. Hm...

Colin Herrick and I walked over to find the owner. A group of guys were standing near it and one proudly claimed ownership. "Say...where do you get tires for that thing?" I asked. We explained the situation and all of the guys started to brainstorm about where we could get tires. They made several phone calls, found suitable replacements (not exact - but 4 of the same kind at least), checked the store hours and gave us directions. It was about 1/2 km from where we were standing.

The most expensive tires we have ever purchased - but they know desperation when they see it.

Getting new tires (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

Getting new tires (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

Emil doing work on the car (Day 5 - Aguascalientes)

The awards ceremony that night was at the same place as the arrival arch, and there was a big parking area for all the service trucks. A lot of people missed the ceremony due to repairs they had to make - our flat tire was really nothing to moan about compared to cars that needed new clutches and transmissions.

We would like to thank EVERYONE who generously helped us through this situation - everyone from other drivers to complete strangers pitched in. When we were on the side of the road, many teams either pulled over or called us to check if there was anything they could do. Kevin and Mark lent us fix-a-flat, Eddie and Marshall pulled over to check on us and everyone from their support crew offered help at the arrival arch. While at the wrong Pemex, Che and Cairenn called their friend to find out how to say "tire and jack" in Spanish. Bret and Kevin found our tire. Colin and Eric called when they drove by on the freeway and later helped us talk to the Boxter owners. Filippe found a tire at a Porsche dealer and arranged delivery to our hotel that night. Bruce and Steve offered advice about tires. Dr. Sam - who had much worse mechanical problems than we did that day - offered up a "that sucks" to help us feel better. Tom, from 7s only, offered to drive hours to get back to us if we were still stuck on the freeway. Countless drivers, co-drivers, and support teams asked how we were doing, if we were able to get tires, offered help. And as we drove through the arrival arch, even Lalo asked what happened and if we were ok.

La Carrera is a race and people are competitive. But it seems that in this race, more than others we've been involved with, people remember that the true goal is to be safe and have fun. The support between teams is really remarkable.

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