Dramatic Recovery at Laughlin Int'l Rally
Waples Runs Strong After Codriver Injury
Laughlin, NV. John Dillon (Thousand Oaks, CA), codriver for the Widget Rally Team, was injured in a dramatic jump at the Laughlin International Rally, on 8 Nov 2007. Fortunately, the car (a Subaru Impreza prepared by Phoenix Autosport of Colorado Springs) was not damaged, nor was the driver hurt (Jason Waples of Colorado Springs). Waples was able to secure the codriving services of Jen Imai for the rest of the weekend and together they set fastest time on the Diamond Creek stage climbing out of the Grand Canyon. Todd and Ray Moberly, also with Phoenix Autosport, won the event overall, the first team ever to claim back-to-back victories at the Laughlin International Rally. Laughlin is sanctioned by NASA and is FIA-listed through USAC.
Though Dillon was unable to compete for the rest of the weekend, he still finished second in the California Rally Series season-long championship, thanks to strong performances earlier in the year with regular driver Brian Scott. Scott and guest codriver Michael Taylor had planned to compete at the Laughlin Rally as well, but a last-minute business crisis prevented Scott from attending.
"John and I did recce [reconaissance] before the race started, but neither one of us realized just how bad that jump was going to be," explained Waples. "As soon as the rally started I felt like we had the rhythm and cadence perfect. I was hearing the instructions with just the right level of detail and distance to negotiate every corner. I felt really bad that he hurt his back when we landed."
"We were really hooked up from the very start," reported Dillon. "Jason nailed every corner perfectly and I think we could have challenged Todd and Ray for the overall win. Unfortunately, about a mile and a half into the second stage, we took a jump a bit too aggressively. When we landed, I felt like my back was compressed about two inches and it took my breath away." (The in-car video for the stage, including the big jump, has been posted on the team's web site.)
While Dillon was being driven out of the stage by event medical staff, he asked them to call race headquarters to get permission for Jason to drive with a substitute codriver. Thus, by the time Waples arrived in Wikieup to meet with the service crew, all the necessary permissions had been secured to allow Jen Imai to substitute for Dillon for the rest of the weekend.
"I felt bad for Jason that we couldn't complete the national event," added Dillon, "but at least he was able to 'fun run' the rest of the rally with Jen in the car. I'm really proud of her too--she immediately rose to the task even though she'd never been in a car that quick."
She jumped in, saying "Since I had never been in an open class car before I really had to adjust the pace and level of detail of my notes to suit Jason's driving style and speed. We were really in sync by the 2nd day and were able to win the last stage and finish 3rd overall." She laughed about the change of plans that put her in the hot seat. "I thought I would spend most of Laughlin asleep in the service truck. Instead I was sliding through turns and flying over crests at well over 100 MPH!"
A good part of the team's success came from their equipment. Both Subarus (for Waples and for Moberly) were built with safety and performance in mind. The substitute codriver observed "There were no mechanical problems with the car during the entire rally. It was solidly built, well prepped and Jason consistently picked clean lines through even the nastiest sections of road."
"We believe strongly that a car must be solid and reliable to survive in this sport," explained the driver. "You can build a car that's super-fast, but unless it's built with enough strength to take the harshest of road conditions, you'll be stuck on the side of the road instead of on the victory podium."
Imai added one more comment about Dillon's commitment to the team. "John reviewed his notes with me at service to ensure that I was fully prepared. He also taught at my first rally school so I can honestly say that I've learned most of my codriving knowledge from him." Only after Jason and Jen left service did Dillon ask to be taken to an emergency room in Bullhead City. There the doctors performed a CAT scan and confirmed that nothing was fractured.
"Although my rally was short-lived because of my back injury, it was a joy to codrive for Jason," Dillon explained. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose." He even talked about getting "poured into the car for Saturday" to run again, but neither the doctor nor the event organizers felt that would be a good idea.
Laughlin is the final event for the Widget Rally Team in 2007, but they're already working out details for the upcoming season.