Idakar:/I Problems For Gordon

American racer Robby Gordon’s attempt to win the famed Dakar Rally in his first try as a team owner/driver came within half an hour of becoming a reality before a large clump of camel grass hidden behind a huge sand dune ended his chances. Gordon was making the treacherous Special Stage run over open desert, in fading light, between Zouerat and Atar, Mauritania when he came over a dune and found the sandy crest breaking away under him. Instead of landing in soft sand on the other side the Hummer impacted a large patch of native grass filled with hard sand known as “camel grass.” The otherwise minor impact pushed the front bumper bar through the grill of the Hummer which punctured the radiator.
Given that these set-backs are not uncommon in the Dakar, and even expected, Gordon his navigator Darren Skilton were not deterred and immediately began repairing the H3. All the water had drained from the system, so Gordon used on-board tools to saw the six-square-inch damaged section out of the radiator. He then pinched off the torn coolant tubes and sealed off the remaining damage with epoxy. Amazingly, the system held water so the only remaining problem was extricating the Hummer from the deep bowl of sand. The heat generated fro the effort blew the epoxy sealant from the radiator, again stopping the H3. In the meantime, Skilton had contacted the chase team via radio and gave them their GPS coordinates, but it was now dark and the car was so far off any known road there was no way to easily reach them. As fate would have it, the team’s T4 race truck, a race entry with spare parts for the Hummer, was stuck in the sand as well, thus it could not reach Gordon and Skilton. At this point Gordon radioed his main support crew for assistance. This assistance would automatically eliminate the team’s time from the race, but it was the only alternative if the crew was to start the next day.

Using special information from the race organizers the team’s main chase crew in a Hummer H1 carefully made its way to the last Check Point on the stage where they met up with a helpful Mauritanian military patrol which offered assistance in locating the race car. Even knowing the GPS coordinates nothing could be done until dawn, as the dunes are so difficult to navigate in the dark that the team would have risked stranding its only hope for extraction. By this time, of course, the Hummer’s official race time had expired so the only hope was to take the maximum time loss for the Special Stage and restart the race the next day in Atar. At dawn the crew finally located the H3 team and replaced the radiator but it was now another race against time to make it to Atar to restart the next stage between Atar and Nouakchot, some 170 kilometers away.

The official closing time for the restart was 1 p.m., but officials graciously allowed the H3 team a half-hour grace period to make the start. It wasn’t enough. The Hummer arrived one hour beyond the official allotted time and the Hummer was disqualified.

Gordon’s team still didn’t give up. After a few hours of sleep, Gordon and Skilton, driving the still damaged car with support trucks in tow, took off for Nouakchot hoping to convince race officials they would be willing to accept full-time penalties if they could reenter the race in Nouakchot. Gordon was not only trying to give his sponsors Hummer, Jim Beam and Toyo Tires as much exposure as possible but also to give his team more open desert racing experience with an eye toward next year’s event. The decision of the race officials, after much careful consideration, was still negative but they did grant the team the right to run the next day’s Nouakchot-Kiffa stage for experience. Since Nouakchot is a day’s layover for rest and repairs the Hummer crew is again working round the clock to ready the car for its final appearance in North Africa. After completing the 9th Stage the Hummer will drive directly to Dakar for shipment home. Once back at the team’s headquarters in Anaheim, Calif., Gordon’s off-road crew will completely disassemble the H3 and begin preparations for the Baja 500 in June.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2006, Robby Gordon

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