In baseball you don’t always swing for the fences. If the count is 3-0 you may take a walk, or if you want to advance a runner you may bunt. Rally raid is no different. Rather than swinging for the fences in his first foray into the Dakar Rally, Fastball Racing’s Bobby Patton has been taking a more conservative approach. Patton and teammate Robbie Pierce have finished the first two stages of the twelve-stage rally, something that has already alluded seasoned wheelmen like Formula One champion Fernando Alonso and three-time 24 Hour of LeMan winner Romain Dumas; both out due to mechanic failure.
Juan Manuel Fangio is credited with first saying “To finish first, first you must finish” and it applies nowhere as much as the grueling Dakar Rally. Fastball Racing suffered two punctures in the rocky first stage from Jeddah to Al-Wajh. Stage One featured a 319-kilometer Special Stage, which was quite a departure from the short prequels found in the South American editions of the rally. While the past few years have seen teams separated by a matter of seconds after the initial stage, the 2020 edition of the Dakar Rally has minutes, and even hours, separating the field. “I have a new appreciation for professional navigators like Kellon Walch, they are the unsung heroes of this event,” Robbie Pierce confessed after his first day of navigating from a road book.
The second stage had a much shorter liaison, but the 367-kilometer Special Stage was full of technical challenges straight off the starting line from Al-Wajh to Neom along the coast of the Red Sea. Fastball Racing applied what they learned from Stage One and moved up to mid-pack when a broken rear A-arm at KM229.5 cost them valuable time. Patton and Pierce removed the damaged A-arm and were able to install a new suspension component from their Overdrive T4 support truck and continue on, but a missed waypoint at the end of the stage pushed them back to 72nd in the car standings. “Terrain is what I imagine San Felipe was like the very first time it was run, before it was whooped out,” Bobby Patton explained.
Saudi Arabia is proving itself a worthy host for the grueling Dakar Rally, with not only sand dunes but mountains and technical terrain as well. Stage Three will climb to over 4,000 feet in elevation near the border with Jordan, the highest altitude reached on the Dakar Rally in 2020. Look for Fastball Racing to reach new heights as well on this 489-kilometer loop that will allow support teams to enjoy a well-deserved reprieve.
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