Legendary Veteran Racers Mix It Up In Mexico For The 7th Annual Race
Story By: Kyra Sacdalan
Photos By: WESTx1000
The pandemic has closed doors on a lot of international rally enthusiasts over the past calendar year. And although many friends were missed at the 7th annual Yokohama Sonora Rally, the event did not lose much of its brilliance, with a competitor roster that glimmered in the Mexican sunlight.
Leading the pack of factory athletes was legend Casey Currie (#51) with co-Driver Sean Berriman for the UTVs. Kristen (#55) and Wayne (#54) Matlock were not strangers to this region either, they drove across this ocean of sand while prepping for a rally raid premiere in Saudi. Max Eddy Jr. (#57) slid into a race suit again, but instead, he took the helm of a single-seat RZR RS1 which he drove and maintained in the paddock, solo, throughout the Sonora Rally. Eddy Jr. came to Sonora to prove his worth is just as valuable at the wheel as it is behind handlebars. It seemed Polaris RZR arrived in Sonora in full force because not only did they bring the Matlocks, Currie, and supporting Eddy, but they’ve tapped Sara Price (#52) to try and better her 2nd Place finish at the 6th iteration of this event. Four factory pilots, and two of them also represent the toughest of the “fairer” sex in off-road motorsports, Polaris pulled out all the stops!
Adding zest to this already spicy stew, ICO Racing offered teams the opportunity to utilize their innovative, purpose-built digital roadbooks, which have been in on-going testing since 2019. Their intention with creating this technology seems to be leveling the playing field while offering participants and organizers efficient means of initiating, editing and verifying data for the day’s route. The language and notation remain the same, but delivery of the roadbooks right before each stage could be handled in a smaller window, giving more prestigious teams less time to use their resources to find their pilots shortcuts and other such advantages. “Map Men” – who, in layman’s terms, are tasked to survey the regions as the event moves onward – have been a topic of contention for years. And it’s this invention, the road-tablet of sorts, which might put them out of business. Some are hip to it, while others are apprehensive. But we’ll never know their true significance until the motorsports community puts the products to the test.
The UTVs surprised fans with their own unexpected outcome. 2020 Dakar winner, Casey Currie and Sean Berriman endured the same onboard errors together as some of the other contests, which placed him further down the ranks than usual.
Polaris RZR teammates Kristen Matlock/Terry Madden took second with husband Wayne Matlock/Sam Hayes settling for third. The real excitement came with former navigator Max Eddy Jr. taking their reins and a roadbook for himself in an independent effort to win the favor, officially, of Polaris winning the daily stage.
Even Casey Currie and Sara Price found the end of their respective ropes, both teams suffering mechanical issues. Currie’s was a blown turbo charger which he managed to crawl to the main road before officially accepting a DNF. They’ll continue to drive through the desert this week in one of Currie’s two backup cars for some training. Price and Kellon Walch were confronted again with another smattering of electronic errors since race Day One. Even their overnight trek to El Cajon, CA and back couldn’t save the RZR duo from dropping to the bottom of the ranks. A few more hiccups among the UTVs left the Matlocks and Max Eddy Jr., the last men (and woman) standing.
“Today was an awesome day!,” said Wayne Matlock. “Started the day in P3 and finished P1, and now we are only 48 seconds out of the Overall. Had a great time battling with my buddy Max Eddy Jr. for the last 60 kilometers. Can’t wait for tomorrow.”
Sand still played a big role in Stage Three, but it was less an ocean and more a lake, in most places. It gave racers an opportunity to switch the scene, pin the throttle or push the pedal and test new skills. But it wasn’t all fun and games. A particularly ferocious sun beamed down by early morning. A blinding khaki sheet of dust and silt divided the competitors everywhere but the dunes.
The fight for the top steps has been a battle among the side-by-sides with old teammates becoming new rivalries. Kristen and Wayne Matlock, with Terry Madden and Sam Hayes as their co-drivers, have been neck and neck with Max Eddy Jr. every day of the race. His solo effort in a single-seat RZR is a brazen effort to earn Polaris’ respect as a driver, and maybe even their support. Having finished in the top two spots the first couple of stages, and, due to a few mistakes out the gate, taking 4th today, he’s still primed to pull victory from the Baja-racing-duo-turned-rally-raiders.
Casey Currie and navigator Sean Berriman have kept everyone on their toes all week, but a number of mechanical issues knocked his Monster Energy Polaris team out of the running on Day 3.
“It was a great day,” said Currie. “Fast roads. Some nasty, hard, difficult sand dunes. But all in all, we won the stage with 9 minutes against four vehicles. So overall, fantastic, tough, difficult, but we loved it; we’re in Mexico!”
In a surprise, Sonora Rally veteran, Dave Sykes and his partner Tony Albano, who climbed back into contention and secured 4th in SS3. Sara Price hasn’t had as much luck. It seems daily, she has suffered electrical gremlins, rendering even a proficient navigator like Kellon Walch almost useless. Like colleague Currie, Price is now just playing the game to sharpen her skills and test her machines.
During stage 4, tricky navigation kept participants quite busy and involved, but this opened up greater possibilities of mistakes, something most teams couldn’t afford.
Kristen Matlock and Terry Madden led the stage and were primed to finish strong when she high centered the car on a peak, making way for friendly rival Max Eddy Jr. to pass her by. He himself has been wrung out all week, although he claims to be having a blast on the course. His petite single-seat RZR surprised even himself on how well it manages the varieties of sand mountains, among other landscapes. However, the RS1’s fuel-capacity left its drivers wanting more.
In the dunes, it only was working at 70% efficiency, which might not be enough to help reclaim First. Running out of gas (therefore pit stopping to refuel), Eddy Jr. lost another five minutes in this important duel between him and the Matlocks.
“I had my first stage win [Stage 3] yesterday and therefore started in P1 today at Stage 4,” said Kristen Matlock. “I was pushing hard and feeling great, but apparently Wayne [Matlock] was pushing harder and was able to pass us around 30km into the special. I maintained my pace keeping the longevity of the car in mind and was able to keep everyone else behind me until I high centered the car on top of one of the massively tall dunes and Max [Eddy Jr.] went by me. Shortly thereafter, we started having overheating issues due to the radiator becoming packed full of brush and wildflowers from the many kilometers of off-piste tracks, making it nearly impossible to climb the steep dunes because the car would go into limp mode. This continued on no less than 50 times for the remainder of the stage, slowing our pace dramatically down. This will go into the books as being one of the toughest days I’ve had of rally racing. But it made crossing the finish line that much greater! We finished P3 and are now P3 in the overall rally as well going into the final stage.”
Had you blinked, you would have missed the whole thing. After a week-long battle among the UTVs, old colleagues turned on-course rivals. But most of the teams contended with themselves. Bill Conger and Amy Feistel (#61) broke a CV Axle…Twice. Price and Walch suffered mysterious electrical issues on a daily basis.
By mid-week, only four of eight remained in contention, a lot which could be blamed in part by the weather. Underdog and former moto pro Max Eddy Jr. stunned everyone, even himself perhaps, when his single-seat RZR won a stage, with promise to continue the pattern. His performance this year is sure to acquire the right attention, and there’s much faith he’ll achieve all of his goals quite soon.
Even with an official DNF after Stage 2, Currie decided to continue along for experience and made it to the finish line. “It was a brutal race, but we had a great time,” said Currie. “Excited already to come back and just do it again. Overall it was a total blast. I give it up to Sonora and all the guys who came down and put this show on the road. We’ll be back next year to try to conquer it. We took some stage wins but not the overall this year.”