JP Gomez won his second straight Rampage in Ridgecrest Ultra4 race in Ridgecrest, California. The race was a hot, dusty and very rough race which included pure desert racing cars from the SNORE and MORE race series. The expanded field saw over 100 cars taking the green flag on Saturday. The race was broken up into two heats.
The limited classes ran in the morning, and unlimited classes left the line around 1:00 pm. Gomez won the 4400 Ultra4 class and finished 2nd overall in the unlimited race behind local Ridgecrest boys Tom Koch and Joe David in their unlimited desert car.
Because the race also included the 2 desert racing organizations, there were no rock crawling sections, but plenty of rocks littered the course. The Ridgecrest course is in an open ORV area that gets used all year long. Through recreational use, the races held there, and the constant punishment dished out by Mother Nature, the terrain is constantly moving, and is very challenging.
In addition to the small to medium-sized rocks that stick out of the sand waiting to slash a tire, or rip the entire corner off a car, Ridgecrest has formations of huge, randomly shaped boulders that give the place a look that is otherworldly. The formations can resemble Stonehenge, but humankind had nothing to do with it. As striking as it is, racers had to forego the scenery and concentrate on driving.
Prerunning on Friday was the bomb, literally. An unexploded bomb was discovered just off the racecourse which prompted the suspension of prerunning so that Navy Ordinance Specialists from nearby Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake could deal with it. Unable to safely remove it, they blew it up where it sat. Add one more crater to the course.
Every year at the Ultra4, King of the Hammers race in Johnson Valley, CA. the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center located next door does live-fire exercises, so it made the Ultra4 racers feel right at home. The second thing to get blown up on Friday was qualifying. It wasn’t shrapnel that filled the air; instead, it was thick dust that hung on the course. An unusual lack of wind created stifling heat, and hanging dust that shut down qualifying for long spells. The air just wasn’t moving.
The conditions continued during the race on Saturday with even the slightest puff of breeze bringing temporary relief from the heat and dust. The sporadic lack of vision created bottlenecks on the course. Cars were bunched up in packs which caused extra pressure to make passes and many took risks to get it done.
Flat tires are common in offroad racing, but several were simply annihilated by the rocks; along with the wheel they were mounted on. It’s one thing to strike a rock sitting on the surface. It’s entirely different hitting the top of a boulder that is poking out of the ground like an iceberg in the ocean. Those protruding rocks are actually immovable objects.
Precision, and patience were rewarded. One of the racers who successfully balanced finesse with aggression was Paul Horschel. Horschel was in a tight points battle in the Western series with 3 times King of the Hammers winner Shannon Campbell. Horschel was coming off a prestigious short course win at the 50th-anniversary race in Crandon, Wisconsin, and the first-ever Ultra4 race in Baja.
Crandon is the birthplace of short course racing so everyone wanted a coveted World Championship at the 50th anniversary. Paul Horschel was the driver who pulled it off, and he was looking to ride that momentum into the winner’s circle in Ridgecrest. He was leading late in the race but then had an issue.
In order to fuel the car faster, they were employing a fuel tower. A fuel tower is just what it sounds like. It lifts the fuel tank high in the air so gravity pushes the fuel through the filler hose faster. Gasoline weighs around six pounds a gallon. It was the first time they had used the fuel tower because most of their courses are short enough that a dump can is sufficient.
That’s when another bit of fuel filling technology bit them; the discriminator valve. The discriminator valve prevents fuel from coming out the vent line after the tank is full as well as preventing a spill if the car turns over. During the fuel stop, the air rushing out of the vent tube at such a high rate closed the discriminator valve causing the crew to think the tank was full. Instead of taking on 35 gallons, Horschel only got 11.
They were leading by a couple of minutes with only 5 miles to go when the car started to sputter. As the co-driver ran to the pits, Paul switched fuel pumps and was able to limp into the pit. They dumped a can of fuel in and took off for the finish. They missed the win, but still managed a podium finish in third, earned enough points to take the western series title.
Bailey Campbell was the first across the line. All-day long she was in the lead pack of cars. She had pushed to the front and held the lead on corrected time in the late going. After crossing through the timing lights, she had to sit there waiting for the clock to tick away enough time to win it. JP Gomez was charging and crossed the line fast enough to take the win on corrected time. Each racer at a desert race is timed. Since they have a staggered start, the driver with the fastest time wins, not the first to cross the line.
“The racing was great,” said Dave Cole of Ultra4. “The course was brutal, and it got dusty, but it was cool to see the Ultra4 cars race with the desert cars. For JP to come close to the overall was impressive. He finished to some guys who really know the dirt in their own back yard. I like the concept of teaming up with other race organizations. SNORE, and MORE are easy to work with and we ended up with more spectators. Even with the larger turnout clean-up after the race was quick and easy.
I like Ridgecrest because the roads here are rough; it’s as close to Mexico as can be. We are racing in San Felipe now as well as in 6 other countries. I will end up flying over 800,000 miles this year. We just got back from New Zealand; the racers there are great. Things are taking off in Europe too. When BF Goodrich sponsored the series there, people really started to notice that something was happening. The Rampage in Ridgecrest is always a great time. We are looking forward to coming back next year.”
It was great to see the public in attendance watching the race. They were a mix of desert racing, and Ultra4 fans. One gentleman I spoke to had never been to a race, but had seen King of the Hammers online so he drove to Ridgecrest to check it out. I gave him a quick rundown on staying safe, and where the action would likely be taking place.
It’s great to see someone new get hooked on offroad racing. It only took one race for me to get hooked, how about you? If you have never been to race, you have to go and see it first-hand; there is nothing like it.