La Carrera 2018 - Stage 5 - San Miguel Allende

Our 1965 Volvo Amazon rally car finding speed on the open opens to San Miguel Allende, La Carrera Panamericana 2018. | Photo by  Godet Studio

Our 1965 Volvo Amazon rally car finding speed on the open opens to San Miguel Allende, La Carrera Panamericana 2018. | Photo by Godet Studio

Stage 5: Morelia - San Miguel Allende

Finish: 3rd in Historic A+ / 44th Overall

Stage 5 of La Carrera Panamericana 2018 promised to be a good one. Our Volvo Amazon rally car was running well and so was our team. After fighting our way through mechanical issues on stage 4 we had begun to find some speed and we thought today, on the road to San Miguel Allende, we could put it all together. 

The start, in the central square beneath the Catedral de Morelia was the prettiest of the rally so far. We’d learned it’s essential to get to the starting arch early. The start order and stage routes change and you don’t want to be caught without the time to adapt. Today there was a major change to the location of service and the transit to the first afternoon stage. While I updated my stage notes, Chris had time to step into one of the coffee bars on the square to get us a fortifying espresso. It was a welcome comfort amongst the smells of race cars and the stresses of rallying. 

The Stage

It was a short 31km transit out of Morelia and back into the hills for three morning speed sections. Two speed sections from the previous stage, Mil Cumbres and Huajumbaro, would be raced in the opposite direction this morning. 

Racing With Confidence

Map of Stage 5 Morelia to San Miguel Allende

The Mil Cumbres road was constructed in the 1950’s and is considered to be the capital of Mexican road rallying. It is a narrow road winding through the forest with extremely tight turns. Familiarity breeds confidence and like the day before we felt at home on roads like this and our Volvo did, too.

One of the greatest challenges for a team, especially the driver, is speeding into the unknown. Only the top teams have the time and budget to recce the stages before the race. Most of us are driving the road for the first time. Having raced these roads the day before gave us the confidence to push.  

For a driver it takes great trust in the copilot and the car when approaching blind corners at high speeds. Though the morning was complicated by wet road and foggy conditions we were unfazed. We set our sights on third place and performed well all morning. 

The transit to service was a flat-out 215km blast through the Valle de Santiago past wide marshy lakes and broad vistas. Ahead we could see the hills of Guanajuato where we would race the afternoon speed sections. 

The Spirit of La Carrera

At service I met up with my friend Rene Ranachilanga. Rene is a photographer and race mechanic. We met online when I was looking for photos of our Volvo from the 2011 Carrera when the previous owners raced it. Rene did indeed have photos of our car which he was gracious enough to let us use on our website. 

Rene was a head mechanic for another Carrera team. This service, five days into the rally, was our first chance to meet in person. Racing is just racing. It’s the friendships you make along the way that give it meaning. Check out the awesome t-shirts Rene designed for our team. Veterans would say that’s the Spirit of La Carrera.

A Dangerous Transit to Guanajuato

The transit out of service to the first afternoon speed section, La Valenciana, was among the most difficult of the rally. It wove through the streets of Guanajuato and up through the villages in the hills. The probability of getting lost and loosing time was very high. Many teams did loose time. 

Coming into the Guanajuato transit we got behind a local Mexican team and stayed on their bumper, hoping they knew the way. The turns came fast and thick, almost like a speed stage, as we drove as fast as safety allowed. Typically we’d have no chance of keeping up with their V8 Mustang, but on the tight, narrow streets Chris could keep our Volvo right on their tail. You can’t win a rally on a transit, but you can certainly loose one. If we had not stayed alert to the danger of that section we would not have finished as well as we did on the day. 

The city of Guanajuato below the start of the afternoon speed sections on stage 5 of La Carrera Panamericana.

The city of Guanajuato below the start of the afternoon speed sections on stage 5 of La Carrera Panamericana.

Open All Afternoon

The three afternoon speed section were open and dry, an extreme contrast to the morning. Our Volvo is a momentum car and Chris focused on carrying our speed on the open roads. We drove hard and felt fast. 

The cruise into the town of San Miguel de Allende in the late afternoon light made for a beautiful finish. We parked up in the middle of town and let the party engulf us. As the morning had predicted, it had been a good day for our team. For the first time we had put it all together. 

3rd in Our Class

Later that evening we found out we finished 3rd in our class on the day’s stage, only 1:30 behind 1st place! As a Carrera team, it felt as if we had finally arrived. There were no award ceremonies that night so our whole team had the chance to celebrate together. 

Capturing Time & Managing Time Cards

During the transit to the finish arch, after the final speed section is complete, is when co-drivers total the team’s race times for the day on the time card. The time card is turned in as you pass through the finish. If an official time was recorded incorrectly this is the first, and maybe only, chance you get to file a challenge. To do so, you must write your challenge at the bottom of the time card in the observations section.

Experienced co-drivers do not rely on the event officials to capture the team’s times. They run their own stopwatches on every section. At the time controls they’re checking to make sure the official time matches the time they recorded.

On the La Valenciana speed section I recorded our time as 4:04, but the official wrote our time as 4:36. The officials make mistakes, so you have to ask them to go back and check the time recorded on your timing chip. In this case our stopwatch time was correct and our time card amended. Had I not caught the mistake we would not have received the third place we earned.

One more tip. Always take a photograph of all pages of your time card before you turn it in at the finish. If there is a dispute, you will have a copy of all your recorded times and challenges. Be prepared.