Five Extreme Off-Road Races That Push Man and Machine To The Limit
by Mike Satterfield, for Club LT
When it comes to auto racing, virtually anywhere you can go on wheels has someone trying to go there faster. Most Americans are familiar with NASCAR, IndyCar, and even Formula One. I enjoy those races and certainly they are spectacles illustrating the power of peak physical performance, human endurance, and engineering. However, these races are all on pavement where, with a few exceptions, the road surface is designed to be flawless. That’s not like real life though! Real life has mud, rocks, bumps, and other obstacles.
That’s why I love off-road racing. Races like the Mint 400, Baja 500, and Baja 1,000 are amazing challenges, but these pale in comparison to other more extreme off-road races you can find throughout the world.
While the more famous Mexican dirt races uses maps to tell teams exactly where the road is, the Sonora Rally uses Dakar-style rally roadbooks for navigation instead. In other words, you’ll have guidance telling you to turn to a specific heading at a specific mile point and the navigator must bring his a-game to ensure that the team never misses a nav point. This adds extra drama to the experience beyond the extreme engineering and endurance. Sonora Rally races change from year to year but it is generally five days and teams travel nearly 1,000 miles across the Sonoran desert from Mexicali to Hermosillo.
In 2019 the organizers introduced the ability for those with capable vehicles to join in the fun with a guided experience traveling the actual route and staying in the same camps as the actual race competitors.
If you thought off-road racing was limited to Mexico and Africa (Dakar rally) then you’d be wrong. Central Asia loves racing too and the Silk Way Rally is one of the most grueling examples. Like similar races, the route changes from year to year though it always starts in Russia and ends in China. This year, it was a 10-day, 5,000 km race going from Irkutsk near Lake Baikal to Dunhuang in Western China, historically one of the most important stops along the Silk Road because it was situated on an oasis surrounded by miles of barren land in the Gobi Desert.
While plowing through deserts might be challenging, racing down muddy jungle roads in the Malaysian rain during the Rainforest Challenge takes things to a whole different level. This race is without a doubt one of the most dangerous races on earth when you factor in the deep mud, dense jungle vegetation, and intermittent landslides that might close the road to traffic indefinitely. Oh yeah … and there’s deadly snakes too!
Generally speaking, the races we’ve already looked at were all a similar type of race – multi-day rally style endurance races. King of the Hammers set in Southern California, though, combines high-speed desert racing with rock crawling for the ultimate challenge, all in one day of hardcore racing. Imagine one route where you might be going at high speed across a dry lakebed one moment and then driving over boulders trying to climb a mountain the next. That’s why this race has earned such a world-wide notoriety among drivers and a passionate following among fans.
The Dakar Rally was once the king of extreme off-road racing where obstacles came not just in the form of rough roads but geo-political violence including terrorist threats and land mines. That race has now moved to South America, but the East African Safari Rally endures. This race takes teams across 4,100 kilometers of diverse African terrain starting and ending in Mombasa, Kenya. The route includes dense jungles and sandy deserts where the temperatures can sometimes exceed 120 degrees. That’s not what makes this race extreme, though!
Unlike other extreme off-road races around the world, the East African Safari Classic Rally is limited to two-wheel drive, naturally aspirated, FIA rally cars built before 1986! You aren’t going to see those brutish desert buggies with cutting edge suspension on this race. Instead, you’ll find a bizarre mixture of classics that for 2019 includes: several Porsche 911, Datsun SSS 1600, Ford Escort MK1, Datsun 260Z, and even a Mazda RX7.
No matter where you want to race or what you have at your disposal to race with, there’s probably someone out there ready to take you on. Automotive rally races are the ultimate test of man’s ability. Just like in life and business, to succeed here you need to focus on working together as a team; innovation, practice, and a bit of luck goes a long way towards achieving success, too!
About Mike Satterfield
Mike Satterfield is an entrepreneur who loves cars, travel, fashion, and building businesses. In addition to running The Gentleman Racer, he also manages multiple fashion companies and is renovating a historic building in Texas that will soon serve as his photography studio and automotive shop for restoring classic cars.
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