Believe it or not, the Road to Dakar lies in the massive dunes of Mexico’s Sonora Desert. The challenge, as with any rally race, is finding the way. America’s best rally and desert racers are currently attempting to do just that at the 2016 Sonora Rally, formerly known as the Cortez Rally. As they battle for victory in the only cross-country rally of its kind in North America, many are also vying for the coveted entry to the 2017 Dakar Rally.
Dakar Rally veterans Darren Skilton and Scott Whitney, in their dedication to creating a world-class cross-country rally challenge, laid out an all-new course for the 2016 Sonora Rally, which requires competitors to use true Dakar-style “HP Navigation” through the daunting sand dunes of northern Mexico. America’s best rally and desert racers including Steve Hengeveld, Quinn Cody, Mark Samuels and Ivan Ramirez just wrapped up Day 3 of their excursion from San Luis Colorado (just south of Yuma, Arizona) to Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.
At the close of Day 3, it is Steve Hengeveld leading the way by less than 30 seconds over returning event champion, Cody. Ramirez, Samuels and Lyndon Poskitt rounded out the top-five.
Mark Samuels of the Ox Motorsports Honda team started the event off with a win on Day 1, and had another dominant performance on today’s Day 3, but his Day 2 score is holding him down to third in the standings.
“We battled all day again,” Mark Samuels said. “The lead changed about four or five times. Quinn [Cody] kicked our butts off the line but we all caught up.”
The start on Day 3 was a bit unconventional – in terms of rally racing. The riders lined up for a “surprise” bomb-run-style start, which gave way to some very close racing.
“We wanted a mass start to get the riders going in a straight line for about 10 miles,” said event co-founder Scott Whitney. “It’s an easy line to hold because the landmark is a huge dune. It was a strategic decision. We placed the waypoint in an inconvenient spot, directly on the opposite side of the dune as they come up to it. That meant the riders had a big decision to make—go over the top of the dune or around it. So as the group approached the dune they would scatter left, right and straight ahead.”
Ivan Ramirez sits fourth overall after three of four days, with Mike Johnson rounding out the top five.
Steve Hengeveld’s consistency has paid off thus far, though his race hasn’t been without its challenges.
“We [Samuels, Ramirez and Cody] did a gas stop together, then going through the bushes, man, I did a big ol’ flying W,” said Steve Hengeveld of his Day 2 effort. “I don’t know how fast we were going. I had to pick it up and catch back up to the group. Lucky I came out of that with just a big charley horse. So I’m happy. It could have been worse. Sounds like everyone here had at least one little thing that got ‘em behind the group. Then we were all like back and forth, back and forth.”
While the top four are putting on quite a show, the true star of the rally is the landscape itself.
“The dunes of San Luis Colorado are truly unique,” said co-founder of the Sonora Rally, Darren Skilton. “They are a part of a desert erg. And erg is a sea of sand dunes, and they only exist in five places in the world: North Africa, Australia, Arabia, Mexico and China. Their ever-changing nature and fine grain have created a variety of textures—hard pack, slippery peaks and more. It keeps competitors on alert at all times. That’s the beauty of bringing a Rally Raid to the Sonora Desert.”
Overall Results – Through Day 3