Idakar:/I Gordon Back On Track
January 4, 2006 | 4:10 P.M. EST
After three days in the Dakar, Gordon and navigator Darren Skilton had moved their specially built Hummer H3 from a 35th starting position to fifth. On Day 4, Gordon had the Hummer in contention for the overall win when a small bolt in the transmission failed, almost putting the Hummer completely out of the race.
Gordon's skill as a mechanic saved the moment as he had to repeatedly climb under the car and disassemble one of the transmission's halfshafts to reattach the failing component. He did this six times in the desert, finally completing the timed stage just 2 minutes from being disqualified for being past the allowed time. He then had to limp more than 100 miles back to the liaison finish line to officially complete the fourth day of competition.
Gordon arrived at 10:30 p.m. -- and his six-man crew went into action. The transmission was replaced with a new one, but the failing part had to be "re-engineered" so it wouldn't fail again. The solution was simply to weld the suspect bolt into position so it couldn't move. After an all-night thrash the Hummer was ready to run just as dawn was breaking over the Atlas Mountains in the far distance.
Gordon's last finishing place from the night before relegated the team to 120th on the morning's starting grid.
"Through no fault of our own we went from the lead to so far back we could barely see the lead cars when they left the starting line. This was a real set back as this was the stage [from Quarzazate to Tan Tan] that Robby and I really felt we could win," Skilton said after the finish.
Nevertheless Gordon moved from 120th to 45th.
"There was incredible dust on this leg, as we were far enough into the race where the cars are now combined with the trucks in overall finishing order, so that determines the start order for the next day," Skliton said. "If we'd started in front we could have made excellent time but we had to drive smart, taking no chances. We know this race has just begun. There are thousands of miles yet to cover across the roughest part of Africa.
"Robby passed some 70 cars before we began smelling oil. Not knowing the cause we had to stop and try to solve the problem but we could only determine the reservoir was low, so we topped up and cruised in to Tan Tan. The Hummer seems to be running fine, but we won't know the source of the leak for sure until the crew gets on it."
To make things even more interesting, officials have determined Day 6 will be a "marathon leg" so the morning's start time will come before dawn. The crew, having had to drive from Quarzazate -- leaving just as the car was finished -- has had little sleep and is now working on the car to get it ready for the early morning start.
Gordon's good finish Wednesday has moved the Hummer team back up the starting order, into contention for a top-10 overall finish.