La Carrera 2018 - Stage 6 - Zacatecas

Our Volvo Amazon 122S racing over La Bufa on stage 6 of La Carrera Panamericana | Photo by  Godet Studio

Our Volvo Amazon 122S racing over La Bufa on stage 6 of La Carrera Panamericana | Photo by Godet Studio


Stage 6: San Miguel Allende - Zacatecas

Finish: 4th in Historic A+ / 44th Overall


Day 6 to Zacatecas had an early 7:30am start for what would be the third longest day in La Carrera with a total stage distance of 541km. We rose at 5:30am to shower, eat, gather our gear, meet the crew at the car, discuss our plan for the day, and get to the starting arch. 

Rhythm and routine are important in a rally. They help you normalize a situation which is anything but normal. It also helps your body recover each day. Unfortunately, Chris and I were both beginning to have some stomach issues. Five days and 2,000km in a rally car will do that to you. Eating right is an important part of staying fit on a rally. Below I share our advice on what to eat on La Carrera.

It was still dark at the start time. The starting arch was just in front of the hotel on a two lane road running out of San Miguel. The road had not been closed so everyone had to contend with the local traffic, which was significant despite the early hour. 

It was difficult to find a place to position our car, be in the correct start order, and be able to get through the arch at the correct time. Fortunately the organizers realized the problem and waved everyone through, automatically giving each us our assigned start time. It was a hectic situation and a stressful start to the day.

The Stage

Map of Stage 6 San Miguel Allende to Zacatecas.

The stage to Zacatecas began with a short 61 km transit to the start of the first speed section. Weather for the day was mixed.

The first speed section, Los Quiotes, started in fog with wet road and ended in sun and dry pavement. The next section, Sierra de Lobos, started dry and sunny and ended in wet and fog. 

The morning speed sections were a mix of open, flowing curves and tight, muscular curves which made it difficult for Chris to find a rhythm. Our inconsistent times showed the difficulties we had over the different sections. 

Piloto y Copiloto

The Carrera-provided route book is excellent, but not all turns marked with the same number can be driven at the same speed. Flat out in one Right-1 may not be possible in the next Right-1. This uncertainty, combined with the morning’s limited visibility, and variable grip left us searching for the confidence to push the car to its limit. 

This is where a good working relationship between driver and co-driver is essential. While the route and road conditions change, the co-driver is a constant for the driver. Trust in the co-driver’s communication is what helps the driver consistently drive their best in any conditions. 

To complete the morning we had a long 200km transit then the sixth and last speed section before service. The transit was a fun highway blast that let us regain some mojo. On the run up La Congja on our way to service we were fast. On the run back down after service we were not. The weather became more overcast, the road temperature cooled, and the grip we had going up, we didn’t have coming down. 

As we came nearer to the end of the day our willingness to take risks lessened. Our primary goal of finishing the Carrera was getting closer and closer. It was more important to us to finish, than to finish on the podium. 

That left us with 115km transit to the day’s last speed section, the famous La Bufa. 

La Bufa

Teams with experience had advised us to be careful on the La Bufa section. It’s not like any other speed section in the rally. It’s an open, mountain top landscape with no trees and a noticeable absence of guardrails. This gives the driver very few reference points to gauge the entry speed of a corner.

Nearing the top of the famous La Bufa speed section. Many a Carrera team has raced over this mountain.

Nearing the top of the famous La Bufa speed section. Many a Carrera team has raced over this mountain.

I remember approaching a fast Right-3 at the crest of a long uphill section. The road was wide and clean but hillside on our left shielded the road ahead from view until you reached the turn-in. From the co-driver’s seat it looked as if the road would end and off we would fly into the blue sky and clouds. The view couldn’t have been any different from the driver’s side. Like magic the apex appeared, Chris turned-in, and around we went. Fifty meters on we were barreling down hill and spotting the next turn, too busy to contemplate the abyss we had both stared into. 

We finished the day in the beautiful city of Zacatecas with a wonderful crowd of fans gathered around the parked-up cars. The party continued that night with an awards dinner for stage 5 and stage 6 in the old city bull ring. To get there all you had to do was follow the sound of mariachi music to find the donkey with the barrel of tequila on his back and join the dancing and singing crowd as they made their way through the old city to the bull ring. 

Today we were up and down, fast and slow. Seconds lost to a lift off the throttle add up quickly and are hard to win back. Because of this we could not repeat our third place from the day before, though we got the chance to stand on the podium during the stage 5 awards. 

Our primary goal for our first Carrera Panamericana was to finish. It would be a great achievement for us and now we were just one stage away. 

Zacatecas at night.

Zacatecas at night.

Eating on La Carrera

Carrera days start early and end late. The rally requires a huge amount of physical and mental energy. If you fail to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day you’re inviting disaster. One lapse of concentration can send you down the wrong road or rolling over a cliff. 

Be Careful

No matter where you are from you’ve got to be careful about what you eat throughout the rally, including the 2-3 days before stage 1. We need to focus on eating simple, nutritious foods that don’t stress your body or risk traveler’s diarrhea.

The food in Mexico is wonderful wherever you go. But unless you want to rally race wearing adult diapers, most of it is off limits until you reach the finish.  

Breakfast

With the early starts you won’t always have time to get breakfast in the hotel restaurant and doing so adds time-stress you don’t need. We made our breakfast in our room so we knew would never go without. Concerning food, this was the single best choice we made.  

  • Instant coffee with sugar. 

  • Instant oatmeal made with hot water from an electric tea kettle we brought with us. 

  • Protein shake which we would drink either after the first transit or after the first speed section. These shakes really helped us maintain energy and focus.

Lunch at Service

As with all meals, keep lunch simple and familiar. Our two favorite options were:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by the crew

  • Scrambled eggs and tortillas which can be found in any restaurant near a service. They are easy on your stomach and the extra protein really helps.

  • Water, sports drinks, or a Coke depending on the day.

Dinner

The dinners at the nightly award banquets are very good and you can trust all the food. In all situations stick to simple things, avoid fresh vegetables and anything spicy. 

  • Grilled flank steak is almost universally available in Mexico

  • Rice and tortillas

  • Tortilla soup is delicious almost everywhere

  • Pasta when it’s available

  • Mezcal, of course. : )

In the Car

In the car, driver and co-driver need to work together to stay fed and hydrated. Your life depends on each other. Avoid too much sugar. Go for things with protein and carbs. 

  • Water

  • Nut bars: we ate the Kind Bar brand

  • Beef jerky

  • Oat bars: we ate the Bobo’s brand

I really can’t stress enough how important food is on the Carrera. The race will put your body under tremendous stress, which on its own will create digestive issues for you, as it did for us. Carefully plan your breakfasts, lunches, and in-car snacks. At dinner you will always have plenty of choices, just choose wisely.