Sherpa Takes 2nd Place at 2023 Ultra4 Nationals
Legends of Havasu was a total blast for the Sherpa Motorsports Team. We knew coming into this one we would have fun being we LOVE the desert and Lake Havasu is in the heart of it. That and we were going from sub-50 degrees at home to high 80 degrees in Arizona!
With only two races under our belt so far this year the car was still in relatively good shape going into this race, but some major changes were made in preperation. The first being a complete fuel system overhaul after King of the Hammers and The Big Sky 200 being plagued with fuel starvation issues due to quickly clogging fuel filters. The source of the contamination was very hard to pinpoint and with some upgrades we were all ready wanting to make we started fresh. New fuel cell, baffles, switched to intake pumps, new filter and finally fuel mat. We found very last minute that our fuel mat was the source of all of our problems as the ethanol in our pump gas was completely breaking it down. So with a new fuel mat and the whole system function it definitely needed some testing.The next big thing we did was new billet upper links in hopes to solve our upper link strength issue after bending 2 steel tube upper links over the last few years. Outside of that, it was routine maintenance and prep replacing anything with play/a few too many miles.
With prep behind us, we loaded the car up and headed for Havasu with a fresh car. We gave ourselves 3 days before the official course was open to test and tune in the local desert. We ran some trails to allow some solid testing on the new fuel system and find any loose hardware or fittings. This proved very beneficial because by the time prerunnig was open the car was dialed. On Thursday we were able to get two solid laps in the day before the race with minimal issues. Taking detailed notes and studying the course the first lap and applying those notes on a mock run the second lap. With a few small things to fix up and notes to change we were stoked for a great day of racing.
Friday rolled around and we had qualifying in the morning and our race in the evening. This course being as dusty as it is we knew qualifying order was very important as clean air was vital for a good run. That and traffic at the main waterfall obstacle was inevitable. With that, we pushed as hard as we could on our qualifying lap without risking the car too much. This qualifier was a blind run as the course wasn't released until the morning of and that excited us. We had a killer qualifying run with minimal mistakes and the car handled it well. It put us in a P2 position for race day. They also mixed the entire EMC class and that allowed us to start in front of the 4500 and 4800 cars we had a better time then. This meant one 4600 car in front spaced by only a few other cars and quite a few other cars behind before any other 4600 cars.
The strategy for race day was to push hard the first lap and commit to the right side line on the waterfall which was pretty big in person. Most cars in our class were dropping to the left side and fighting the large boulder at the bottom to exit. The right was a bigger commitment but a smooth clean exit. Once we figured out were we staked up after the first lap we could adjust the pace from there.
The race rolled around and we were lined up and ready to go. The race was delayed an hour which meant we only had about 40 minutes of daylight before the rest of the 3-hour race was run in the dark. So huge thank you to our Baja Designs lighting for this one. The green flag dropped and we took off into the sunset. The car was feeling amazing and within the first 5 minutes, it was clear attrition was going to be a big factor in this race. By the time we made it to the waterfall we had passed about 8-10 cars pulled over changing tires, fixing something, or just out right out of the race. We dropped our line on the waterfall and made quick work of what we expected to be a line of cars when we arrived there and took off to finish the lap. The hardest thing was every tight, slow, and windy section we had clean air but every time we hit fast wide-open sections the dust was nearly impossible to see more than 20 feet in. So many of the fast sections were driven through co-driver calls and anticipation to make quick corrections as things became visible. Cars in front of us were blowing through corners and we continued to see more and more cars with issues. I believe at one point we were in physical 8th place in all of the EMC class after starting 22nd overall. We were also jumping back and forth with our teammate Greg Neff in his 4800 car which was an absolute blast sharing dust with him during a race. It sadly meant that things were not going his way causing him a few stops to be running with us but fun nonetheless.
After the first lap, we got confirmation there had been a hold-up in the waterfall behind. This meant Loren Healy and us had quite a good gap on the rest of the class. The car was feeling great and our pace felt safe so we kept it into the second lap. By this point, it was pitch black outside and a full moon illuminated the desert. It was by far the most fun experience we have had in the car. Low visibility, light beams shooting from the car, and dust, bushes, and trees flying past the car as you focus on the little bit of visibility chasing the car in front of you just hoping to see their chase lights. Our trans was getting really warm so were strategically using 4 low as much as possible in the slow and windy section, so there was a lot of stopping and shifting. Despite all the shifting we still managed to be fast with almost the same lap time as our first lap. We shot across the finish line 8 minutes behind Loren Healy and cemented our second-place finish after a long dusty battle with the Havasu desert.
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