A Monstrous Journey, Concluded by Destruction
There is little to blame for this year’s performance at the 2021 King of the Hammers. The race, for us, ended long before we could have ever anticipated. In the following article, we’ll discuss exactly how this car was destroyed and how we fell short of our goals at the Ultra4 KOH.
The Calm Before the Storm
Unlike last year, the events leading up to our race went extremely well (for the most part). We had ample time for prerunning, except that we broke the prerunner very early on, had plenty of time to take in the event as a whole, and did not experience any component failures with the race vehicle prior to the race. Last year, KOH was a total blur: we arrived 3 days prior to the race, experienced a major component failure in prerunning, and devoured the rest of the time leading up to the event trying to fix such issue. Generally speaking, we may even suggest that this year’s KOH was slightly TOO long.
‘Not all storms come to disrupt… Some come to clear the path ahead’-Unknown
At first, there was the qualifying course…
In Ultra4, we’ve come to learn that every race is a fresh surprise. Just when you though that you’ve seen the toughest of the tough and the gnarliest of all obstacles, the team at Ultra4 decides to turn things up a notch. This was our thoughts exactly when we saw the 2021 qualifying course. Generally speaking, the course flow is reversed between years- as an example, the race course and qualifying course were run backwards order compared to last year. Whereas last year we qualified going DOWN ‘Rockwall’ in front of Hammertown, this year we qualified by going UP ‘Rockwall’. This obstacle was both steep and slick: it presented a fresh challenge for the field of competitors. In fact, during the qualifying day nearly 20% of vehicles in the UTV field couldn’t make it up or simply rolled over backwards attempting it. To make matters worse, many of the individuals who preran a leftmost portion of this obstacle were unpleasantly surprised the night before qualifying when the course directors closed it off. This resulted in a late-night prerunning frenzy where nearly 40 race vehicles attempted to redefine their lines, illuminated only by headlights, for the next morning’s event.
What We Did, How We Did, and Breaking the Prerunner
There’s a very different strategy for King of the Hammers versus the Ultra4 regional races- being conservative, depending on KOH goals, is often well rewarded at this specific event. Risk taking can have huge gains but given our goal of finishing, we decided to play the safe route and qualify on 35″ tires. Obviously we sacrificed some maneuverability and acceleration but we mitigated the risk of getting hung up on the qualifying course obstacles. We ran a pretty mid-pack pace at 2:16 and ended up with a starting order of 63 out of 115 vehicles or so. As we had planned, this would give us the ability to pick other racers off during the event without starting at an unsustainable pace.
As things always go, something eventually breaks. Well, in our case, this was our other race vehicle and KOH prerunner- the RZR. We won’t go into the specifics here but arguably the single greatest reason we love our Can Am and will continue to be a Can Am team is based on the powertrain’s reliability. We were anxious about running a Polaris and, as we thoroughly expected, are well disappointed. We had hoped to have a foundational grasp on this course by using this vehicle to prerun- it was intended to be used for plotting waypoints and danger-zones on our Lowrance GPS for the race vehicle. Instead, we managed to break this vehicle by merely scouting the qualifying course. Awesome, right?
Gearing Up for the Race- Some Setbacks, but Overall Well Prepared
Leading up to race day we felt absolutely incredible, shy of our inability to prerun. The X3 was running awesome, the weather was beautiful, and we had ample time to pack/load/prep/inspect the race vehicle. Our shocks, unfortunately, were not performing nearly as well as we had hoped. The course was significantly rougher than expected given the multiple race events preceding our own. Many of the whoops on the course were over 3 to 4′ in height and presented a monumental obstruction to going fast. Knowing this danger, we had planned to play it safe in the desert to prevent the unfortunate series of events that ultimately played out.
And Then We Took a Hike…
With no prerunner, no desire to risk the race vehicle, and a little eagerness to see the dangers ahead, we set out on a 6-mile roundtrip hike (on foot) about 3 days ahead of race day to build waypoints/routing information for navigating the treacherous rock obstacles during raceday. We footed up Idle Issues, trekked across the sandy valley to Bender Alley, climbed our way up and over to Wrecking Ball, down the monstrously steep chute ahead of Jack North, and concluded with a final quest up to the top of Jackhammer. At each trail, we manually input the waypoints- essentially instructions for how to drive through these obstacles- on to our cellphones on the Cartotracks map. Later that day, we spent about an hour inputting each of the 50 waypoints onto the Lowrance map in the race car. We were determined and we were 100% ready to conquer this course on race day… or so we thought.
Lets Talk Rocks.
(The Very Steep Trail Right After Chocolate Thunder)
This trail isn’t terribly difficult, as far as rock-crawling goes, but it is INSANELY steep and extremely slick due to the dusting of sand. There’s really two ways to enter this trail- you have your first immediate left following Chocolate Thunder (fastest but hardest) and then you have a second left which is slower but less likely to get you stuck. The third left that you can take is not at all worth it. Anyhow, keep that speed up once you get halfway up! There is literally no where to pull a winch so if you start spinning tires, you have to back down and try again.
(Can you say Boulder Garden?)
This trail requires some serious agility as it will requires some very tight lines and very tight turns. There’s a pretty well defined line that zig-zags through the trail but once a vehicle gets stuck on this path, goodluck making a new way to the top. This is a strong bottleneck for the race course. Lots of boulders, lots of bowling-ball sized rocks, lots of ‘far left’ ‘far right’ type of driving.
(The Trail that May Just Stop You in Your Tracks)
Jackhammer, at least going up, is the most difficult of all the trails. Once you get to the middle, there are three viable lines- only one of which can be traversed without a winch. During the actual race, something new for this year, the Ultra4 team had a team of winch-vehicles on the trail ready to pull people up. This makes things exponentially easier and likely was enacted to prevent the possibility of pileups and injury.
Well we know that this is a race report but unfortunately we really don’t have much to say to this end. Our day was painfully short, making it a mere 28.9 miles until the accident. We came into a whoop section, following Cougar Buttes, much too fast (at least for the way that our suspension was acting) and found ourselves in a rear-high buck. This sent the car taking off of the next whoop only on the front two wheels, at about 70 degrees. From here, we lost control of the vehicle and were sent into a violent barrel roll. The GoPro got ripped off of the car after the first 2 rolls: we proceeded to roll about 4 total times before finally landing on our side. We managed to sever, physically tearing, every single one of the frame tubes on the front of the vehicle, effectively twisting the front frame portion of the vehicle 40 degrees to the passenger side. At this point, the vehicle could hardly move as the tire was pressed all the way into the nerf bar on the passenger side.
Some Quick Tips (and Things We Need to Work On)
- More Power Isn’t Always Your Friend- We upped the horsepower and resultantly ended up with horrible gas mileage. This necessitated (or would have, had we not rolled) a pit stop at Pit 1, Pit 1 again, Pit 2 for gas. As you may imagine, all of these stops would have horribly offset any of the gains that more horsepower would have offered.
- Spend Time Cruising the Course, Every Ounce- We INTENDED to prerun the course but, as things worked out, this didn’t end up being the case. Had we prerun, we would have been able to identify these dangerous whoop zones on our Lowrance ahead of time.
- Big Tires Do Help- Bumps, Whoops, Chop, You Name It. Large tires, we ran 35″, will cruise over nasty terrain much easier than smaller tires. Yes this is more strain on the drive components, but food for thought nonetheless.
Driver of the #428 Draco Motorsports Polaris RZR. Co-Driver for the #804 Can-Am X3 during King of the Hammers. Ultra4!!