Now the team for the Desert Challenge is starting to come together. One of my engineers at Al Thika, Cesar Marquez, has agreed to join our support crew as the truck driver, Carwise’s mechanic Maurice is with us, and I’ve hijacked the company’s VW Transporter for the duration. Gip Kemp, an American friend of ours and long-time off-roading buddy, is going to help set up our camp and provide an additional ‘safety net’ while we’re racing. Finally, neighbour and long-time friend Ian Cooper has agreed to help alongside Gip. We have a team!
The rollcage mods are finished and we were itching to have another practice in the race car, so we decided to run a stage of last year’s Challenge under something close to race conditions. We’d have had 3 hours to complete the 160km stage, but most important was for Sheila to practice using the Terratrip (high-tech odometer) and the road book. She’d be using the ERTF GPS for the rally, but you can’t get hold of one of those in advance, so we’d use our trusty Garmin 278. And with Gip bringing up the rear in his FJ Cruiser, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, plenty, actually. Large parts of the route were virgin sand – completely unlike what we could expect in the event proper, when the leading vehicles would for sure give us a hand by leaving some tracks – hopefully in the right direction. And yes, we made a few navigational errors, which I compounded by getting stuck once in soft sand and having a completely unnecessary puncture. All in all we had a thorough workout, digging ourselves out and then jacking up the car to change a wheel – good practice for the event. Had we avoided these stoppages, we’d have been pretty much on target for a finish within the 3 hour limit time. And that’s important – go over limit time by a minute and you get a 2-hour penalty, which will put a big dent in your chances. Overall we felt pretty pleased with the result.
One of the things I decided during the trip would be useful was a digital compass. the rally road-book provides compass headings on each tulip diagram, and often it's a whole lot easier just to follow that heading. With help from a friend in USA I was able to source one, and have fitted that on a bracket. The two spare tyres are secured with heavy duty ratchet straps which are cumbersome to handle. Now the straps are permanently secured at one end, making them much easier to deal with. The mandatory high level brake light had disintegrated, so that has also been replaced by a more robust unit.
Things are gradually being ticked off the 'to-do' list.