La Carrera 2018 - Stage 1 - Oaxaca

Our Volvo Amazon stage at La Carrera Panamericana 2018 | Photo by  Alvaro Pinzo Rincon

Our Volvo Amazon stage at La Carrera Panamericana 2018 | Photo by Alvaro Pinzo Rincon

Stage 1: Oaxaca - Oaxaca

Finish: 5th in Historic A+ / 64 Overall

Today was the day the race began. After all the preparation and practice we were finding out if we really could compete in La Carrera. Nearly every part of this experience has been new to us, since we’ve never rallied or raced a car before. While La Carrera might seem like a crazy place to start your rallying career, Chris and I were excited and ready, thrilled at the chance to challenge ourselves in such a storied event. 

It’s a cool feeling to put on your racing suit and helmet, and settle into your car, ready to race the stage. When Carrera fans ask for your autograph and cheer as you pass you feel, at that moment, like a world-famous driver. When the police escort you through the city streets at 120kph, lights flashing and sirens wailing, you laugh and shout out at the pure joy of it and say to yourself, “Only in Mexico. Only in La Carrera.”

The Stage

Map of Stage 1 of La Carrera 2018 in Oaxaca

Stage 1 of La Carrera Panamericana 2018 was an out-and-back run up and down the mountain road from Oaxaca to Tuxtepec, beginning at the Plaza de Santo Domino. The stage included thirteen sections totaling 171.5 km, with six speed sections and two service sections. It was a tight, twisting two lane road through densely wooded mountain villages. The lower sections were dry and fast, while the upper sections were slick, polished asphalt dampened by mist and light rain. 

After the Section 7 turn around at the top of the stage, the Section 9 speed stage was canceled. On the Section 6 speed stage up from Ixtlan several cars crashed out in the misty, wet conditions. Racing back downhill from Llano de las Flores would have been too dangerous so Section 9 became a transit back down to the second service. After service we raced the final two speed sections down the dry portion of the road back into the finishing arch at the Plaza de Santo Domingo in old-town Oaxaca. 

Things are Getting Hot

It’s common at the first speed section of the day for the start to take a long time. All 70 cars are there, starting at 30 second intervals, and with us starting in 65th position we sat there for long time. After 20 minutes of idling we noticed the engine temps rising quickly. Within minutes smoke was coming from under the hood. This is our very first speed section start. Buckled into the car with helmets on we felt helpless as our car and Carrera dreams were going up in smoke. 

Our crew was there to help. The engine and radiator were overheated, but fine. A faulty cooling fan was the problem. With the engine off the car cooled as the crew pushed us forward to keep our position in the starting order. We nursed the car into the time control and through the start control knowing we couldn’t idle for more than a couple minutes without the temps rising again. Once we were racing at speed air flow cooled the engine and we were fine. 

At service the cooling fan was replaced and the car ran strong all day. The rich mix of our carburetor was still causing the car to stall at idle which created a few tense moments in transits and time controls. It would be another day before the carb jets got dialed in for good. 

Road Made from Glassphalt

Stage Section 6 from Ixtlan to Llano de las Flores was 20.7km of tight, off-camber turns on asphalt so polished it seemed to made from glass. Drivers sweet-talked their cars though the dark corners wetted by the clouds and rain blowing over the mountain. Cold-tires, early ambition, and mechanical failures all claimed their share of cars, sending them into hillside. Unfortunately car #122, our friend Angelica Fuentes, was one that was claimed early by La Carrera. 

Racing up this section tested of the limits of grip and commitment. Racing back down the wet, slimy glassphalt seemed un-thinkable and we were happy the stewards canceled Section 9, the return run downhill. 

A Police Escort to the Finish

Carrera stages always end with a transit to the finishing arch. Crowds line the roads and cheer the cars into the city. Though the road is open to local traffic, the Federal police block all the intersections so the Carrera cars aren’t stopped by traffic or red lights.

As we drove back into Oaxaca a policeman on a motorcycle signaled us to follow him. With his lights and sirens blazing he wove through the city traffic clearing our way. We fought to keep his pace as we flew to our first Carrera finish. It was a wild and joyful experience to speed through the city like bank robbers. Despite it being the common ending to every stage to come, it never got old. 

Proud to Be There

Lots teams start La Carrera, many of them don’t finish. The rally had already proven that. Standing in Plaza Santo Domingo after a tough day of racing, wearing our finisher’s medals, taking pictures with fans, signing autographs, and sharing beers with the other teams, we were proud to be there, proud to be a Carrera team. 

We finished 4th in our class and 60th overall on the day. We had held our own on stage 1 and we knew we were up to the challenge of driving La Carrera.