The rally is held so far out in the trackless desert of Sonora State in northern Mexico that there are very few people and hardly any bugs flying around, let alone viruses. And everybody’s spread out so thin across hundreds of miles of empty space that maintaining the recommended 6 feet of social isolation is no problem at all. Heck, 6 miles wouldn’t be a problem out there.
This was the sixth running of the Yokohama Sonora Rally presented by Method Race Wheels, a multi-day cross-country off-road rally using Dakar-style rally roadbooks for navigation. Actually, they’re not so much road books as scrolls, at least on the motorcycles. Each moto entrant gets the scroll the night before the stage, studies it, makes notes on it, then feeds it into a sort of handlebar-mounted teleprompter that rolls the scroll down as each point of navigation is cleared. There’s a little electric switch that operates the scroller. Using this, the teams go from point to point out in the desert, trying to hit each point but also trying to go as fast as they can getting there.
The rally ran for five days — six if you count tech inspection. They’d ride or drive all day, then retire to fairly comfortable bivouacs each night, with delicious steak dinners waiting for them. The route ran from the Sonoran capitol of Hermosillo to Puerto Peñasco on the Sea of Cortez and beyond.
“Competitors will traverse everything from rocky mountains, washes, kilometers of flat-out beaches, open deserts and the largest remote sand dunes in the Americas,” the rally’s website promised. “If you’re familiar with Baja, Nevada, and similar traditional desert racing, kick those silly whooped-out habits because this is completely different! Nearly all of Sonora Rally is on roads and terrain completely unknown to off-road racing.”
(I myself first saw it 25 years ago, while wandering down the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez. We stopped somewhere, I climbed on top of an abandoned railroad station like Ozymandias and there, stretching far over the horizon as far as my wimpy eyeballs could see, were dunes laid out like carpet that God’s dog had stacked up against some distant, towering front door. It wasn’t until I saw The English Patient that I even had anything to compare it to. Yeesh.)
Across all of this — and mountains over 5500 feet high, and long, empty beaches — is where they raced. There were classes for trucks, side-by-sides and motorcycles. Each entrant had to be just as good at math as driving or riding. The winners spend most of the year practicing. The winner this year was none other than Dakar 2021 winner Ricky Brabec, who rode a Honda CRF450 Rally. It was a close finish, though. On corrected time in the final stage Brabec had to notch a one-minute lead on his closest competitor, motorcycle racer Skyler Howes, who piloted a Husqvarna 450 Rally.
The conditions the last day were good, the sand was what Skilton called “chocolate fondue.” The rain that came the day or two before had made the surface of the sand just the right amount of tacky, and the racers were saying it was perfect. Then, one by one at timed intervals, the two front runners disappeared into the desert. Hours later, Brebec was the first one to pop out on the other side.
Indeed he had.
“Yes! Wooooooo!” he said.
When Skyler came in, once a little more math was done, it turned out Brebec had won by just 40 seconds after five days of rallying.
“It was a good day,” Brebec said. “A fun day in the dunes.”
Then the two talked like old friends.
“Nice!” said Howes when he arrived at the finish line. “Did you get me?”
“Yeah. Nice dude.”
Someone pointed out that it was by less than a minute.
“Nice, dude! Ya ha! That’s sick!” said Howes.
“Nice work buddy!”
And then they fist bumped.
So is that it for global motorsports for a while? No one knows. That’s it for the next month or two, for sure. After that? Who knows? But if this was the last bit of racing for a while, it was a nice way to say goodbye to it. Or at least hasta la vista. See you next year, Sonora Rally, for sure.