DirtFish Instructor, Sam Albert and Motorsports Team Manager and DirtFish Instructor, Michelle Miller have had a great 2017 rally season competing all over North America from the west coast to the mid-west and everywhere in-between. Their final race of the season, Tri-State Rally recently took place in the American southwest.
The 2017 Tri-State Rally held in Mesquite, Nevada marked the final event of the year for the American Rally Association. The event took competitors across the three states of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah with typical back roads found in the American southwest. With red rock bluffs setting the backdrop, the stages were a great mixture of fast, wide open desert roads and tight technical rock strew, single lane roads with zero margins for error. There were exposures (cliffs/drop-offs) down the sides as the roads ascended and descended through the valleys.
The DirtFish team of Sam Albert and Michelle Miller with Crew Chief, Vincent Trudel arrived Wednesday night and began the two-day recce early Thursday morning. The first leg of stages consisted of three night stages that began late Friday night following Parc Expose at the Rising Star Sport Ranch.
Sam and Michelle happened to be the first car on the road at the start of the first stage. They found little grip on the roads due to a layer of un-swept gravel on the surface, which was an added challenge. Towards the end of the first stage, the car impacted a large rock that had fallen into the racing line, damaging the right rear of the car. Luckily the Hoosier Racing gravel tire was still able to hold air, but the damage caused the alignment to go off which made the car more difficult to drive. The team had no choice but to continue! On the final stage of the day, a significant coolant leak began to fog up the windshield and engine temperatures began to rise. As Sam and Michelle finished the final stage of the day, they discovered that a coolant line to the turbo had burst. Over the 25-mile transit, they repeatedly turned the engine off and coasted as much as they possibly could. The coolant temperatures reached as high as 285F. As they neared the final half-mile of transit, the motor refused to start. However, thanks to fellow competitors, Alejandro Perusina and Andres Bautista, they were towed the remaining distance.
At service, the team went to work fearing the worst. The right rear suspension and linkages were fixed to allow for a proper alignment while the coolant hose and all engine fluids were replaced. Vincent worked through the night to have the car together so the team was able to mount an attack and make up lost time the following day.
Saturday morning, the team was more than ready. The car seemed in working order despite reaching such high temperatures the previous night. On the first stage of the day, they encountered the team of Ed McNelly and Preston Osborne with their car partially blocking the road. After briefly checking-in with the two to ensure they were not injured, they continued on their way. The second stage of the day was uneventful, despite a flat tire. As they returned to service, Sam and Michelle found out that they had won the second stage! While they were preparing for the next leg, the organizers informed the teams that the two tarmac stages were canceled due to spectators not being clear of the course and that racing would resume with the four remaining gravel stages of the day.
After leaving service, Sam and Michelle were ready to push and take full advantage of the fast roads they were about to encounter. They won the next stage and were slowly closing the gap to first place. Unfortunately, two of the remaining four stages were again canceled. This meant that they only had one more eight-mile stage to make up the difference and finish on top of the podium. As the night fell, they turned their rally lights on and pushed hard one last time. Despite winning the final stage, it wasn’t enough to claim the overall win, falling just three seconds short of Perusina and Bautista who drove a clean and consistent rally all weekend.
In the end, the team finished 3rd Overall for day one, 1st overall on day two and 2nd overall for the weekend. The rally was extremely challenging, yet the roads were some of the best in the country. Get ready for some in-car video from the event to get an idea of what rally in the southwest is all about!
Sam and Michelle would like to thank DirtFish, Innovative Tuning, Honeywell Garrett, Cusco USA, Hoosier Racing Tire, 425 Motorsports and their devoted crew for their support throughout the weekend!