Andy Aigner's Baja 1000: Hot race, cold night
The desert rumbles -- our eight-cylinder chevy roars into the pits! Armin Kremer did a brilliant first stint and hands over the car to me ranking second in the class behind Armin Schwarz and Martin Christensen -- a promising one-two for our AGM team. On his approach, Armin called on the radio: "Take a look at the seat brackets, all the rest is fine." Now he stops, leaps out through the Buggy's roof. It's about 6pm and already dark.
Andy before the start: no dust, no ice and very much awake
Our mechanics quickly fix the seat, my navigator Greg and I pour into the cockpit. Buckle up, connect air hose and helmet, check GPS and we're off! ... Damn! A rival gets away five seconds ahead of us. His dust hangs in the air, it's totally windless. I turn the lights on, then off. What's better? It doesn't matter because after the first 300 full tilt miles through the bushes, the powerful headlamps are totally skewed. Their white beams either poke up to the skies or down to the ground. Anywhere except where we desperately need the light. Driving in fog is more pleasant than through this dust cloud.
Off we go, big adventure waiting
Fans and their fires along the track
The first 40 miles: A non-stop mega washboard, only four corners, otherwise straight ahead, flat out -- as flat out as it goes on this murder track. This is not a warm-up, this is pure torture, and there is no way past the guy in front. But everything's running smoothly.
Until after about 120 miles -- at race mile 450 -- the belt tensioner gives up the ghost. That's the end of the power steering, goodbye to the water pump and the alternator. We grind to a halt in the middle of the night. More precisely, we are stranded more than 20 miles away from the next settlement. We'd never make it without totally losing the battery and hence radio contact. Greg radios through our position and problem. Then we turn off the radio to conserve the battery.
It's 8.30pm, very dark and very still.
One hour later we ask: "How's it looking?" Answer: "We've got the part, we'll be with you in 90 minutes." So we have some time to kill. I wonder how our boys are going to get the service truck out here through the toughest Baja territory, where normally only the chopper or the race car moves.
We prepare things as well as we can, take out the faulty part. Our mechanics will only need to screw in the spare -- and that goes ultra fast. But in the meantime, the clock's ticking and two hours have passed. We radio again: "Where are you?" In the reply we hear that our chase crew is working really hard: "We're on our way but the going is tough. Give us 30 minutes."
The stars twinkle in the night sky like a myriad of gemstones. And that means it's freezing cold in the desert. Under zero degrees Celsius. We collect the dust dry bushes and twigs and light a fire. It burns brightly and fiercely, and after five minutes the stuff has turned to ashes, time to get some more. So we forget about sleep and remain optimistic. The boys should be here any minute.
The hours drag by. At one in the morning Greg tries to take a sip from our camel bag of water. Nothing. It's frozen solid.
At two in the morning a motorbike stops and the driver tells us our chase crew are bogged down and they are trying to dig themselves out. Greg hears this and says it might take another little while. But they sure to reach us by sunrise.
My motivation takes a slight dive. My body gets this signal, and I start to feel the cold more intensely. I get closer to the fire and feel the heat, but my back feels really cold. Like a well done steak in front, and a drink on the rocks at the back. Actually a great atmosphere, but I can't get rid of the thought that we still have 200 race miles ahead of us. My mood plays ping pong between "forget it" and "let's do this!"
It's 5.15am when the crew arrives. They have their own Baja behind them and don't look too fresh. But they are in great spirits. In less than 15 minutes the spare part is in. We wipe the ice off from our visors and jump in. Ignition on. As the engine roars into life I think -- "We will do this! Ensenada, here we come!"
At around one in the afternoon we cross the finish line. Our chase crew who got us flying again at dawn are still in the desert fighting their way home. I want to say to them all, right here and now, THANK YOU!
Many spectators are still here to applaud the finishers. Our team membershave comeand even my fan club came to say hello! We were on the way for 18 hours. Our Buggy's total driving time is around 25 hours. We did it and we are 13th in class. What an adventure! I'm proud that we made it. Not many get this privilege at the Baja 1000.
Andin the same second the excitement about next year's Baja 1000 kicks in. It willl be 1,400 miles non-stop to the southern tip of the Baja California. That's double of what we have just behind us. And I simply can't wait to go!