PORT ANGELES — Andy Audette and Nason Beckett of Port Angeles are taking a journey of epic proportions — and what better vehicle to take it in than a stripped-down 2000 Chevy Metro.
Audette and Beckett are taking their little sedan on the Baja 4000, a brutal race through the dangerous wilderness of the Southern California Sonoran Desert and down the entire length of the Baja Peninsula.
The Baja 4000 is literally 4,000 kilometers long (roughly 2,500 miles), though Audette said some legs have been added to the race to make it closer to 3,000 miles. Participants must bring everything with them — food, water, tools, maps, emergency gasoline and GPS units — all with zero support vehicles.
The “race” in Audette and Beckett’s class is an untimed event more to celebrate the endurance and ingenuity of the drivers and vehicles.
“It’s really a ’60s to ’80s style of rally race,” said Audette.
Audette said he and Beckett got the idea to go on the Baja 4000 from watching an even more brutal race on television — the Budapest to Bamako Race. Bamako is in Mali on the southwestern edge of the Sahara Desert, so this race goes thousands of miles through dangerous Sahara backcountry.
After watching the Budapest-Bamako race, Audette and Beckett said, “we gotta do this.”
Audette and Beckett, who have previously done some long-distance motorcycle touring through Idaho and Montana but nothing quite like this, formed a team called Team Team Top Formula Romulus Team 2. Yes, that is the name of their team.
One reason chose the Chevy Metro because it’s easy to work on.
“Everything is easy to get to. It’s lightweight, simple, easy to fix,” said Audette.
Pepito is on the case
The Baja 4000 takes nine days and begins on Friday. Audette and Beckett left Port Angeles Sunday, driving their Chevy Metro, which they named, “Pepito” (Spanish for Little Joe), down to Los Angeles for the beginning of the race. Poor Pepito and doesn’t even get a tow to the beginning of the race.
Audette, Beckett and Pepito were one of 10 teams accepted into the race’s Spirit Category. The Spirit Category has no entry fee, but it requires a vehicle that is worth less than $1,000. “For us, it race touring,” said Audette. The point is to simply make it to the waypoints and finish lines each day and finish the race.
Pepito has no turbos, still has its original three-cylinder engine with 235,000 miles (as Beckett said, “what’s 5,000 more?”) and just a two-wheel drive, which has to go over dirt roads and four-wheel drive tracks in soft sand, rock and rugged mountains. They’ve bolstered the vehicle a bit, with wider tires than normal and a nice strong plate in the front to protect the oil pan from rocks.
Teams all on their own
Their main back-up system? A satellite phone to call for help in case they break down or get hopelessly stuck.
“You’re on your own. You have to be skilled in so many ways,” said Audette. Not only do participants have to be good drivers, they have to be good at fixing their vehicles and at reading maps and finding routes between waypoints.
“It celebrates a culture to encourage people to help others who are broken down. It’s a beautiful culture that we need more of,” said Emma Jones, who is coordinating the public relations for the team.
Indeed, teams are expected to help each other or get help from locals. In fact, there is no gasoline supplied to the drivers. They literally have to stop at gas stations and get gas. In fact, one of the reasons they picked the Chevy Metro is because it gets excellent gas mileage around 45 miles to the gallon.
“They really want you to interact with the locals,” Audette said, though he admitted that their Spanish isn’t very good.
“I’m sure our Spanish will be better when we get back,” he said.
The Baja 4000 attracts a lot of European drivers accustomed to long-distance road rallies like Dakar and Budapest-Bamako. It purposely tours gorgeous areas where drivers can take in sights like Joshua trees and whales lounging in the Sea of Cortez.
Hollywood and Vine
The race starts at the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles, then it goes through the rugged desert wilderness east of Los Angeles and San Diego. The team will drive through the Joshua Tree National Monument area, the Imperial Valley and past the Salton Sea before entering Mexico’s Baja California.
Then the route turns south through the 775-mile-long Baja Peninsula along the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), crossing into mountain ranges that get up to 10,000 feet high all the way down to Cabo San Lucas. Then, the race returns back north to Southern California via a Pacific Ocean route.
Much of the work that goes into the race is reading maps, using GPS and plotting a course to get from waypoint to waypoint. Participants are allowed to make their own routes. Map-reading is very important.
“I’ve always been a map guy,” said Audette.
The team will have to carry all their food, tools, water and camping gear in the vehicle. They removed the back seats to create a huge storage area in the back. They even have a couple of plugs in the floorboard to drain the back if water gets into the vehicle.
Baths or showers? The Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean will be available through much of the race for that.
While January is usually a very dry month in Baja California, there has been some rain there recently, and in fact, California is getting pounded with torrential rain this past week. One concern in the race could be mud. In fact, one of the days calls for driving across a dry lake bed, which could get interesting if it’s wet at all.
Audette said if this works out, they would like to try and take on other road rallies, such as the Pan American, an even more difficult 5,000-kilometer rally that goes the entire length of Mexico.
The Baja 4000 is actually a charity event that benefits Carazon De Vida, which aids orphaned and abandoned children in Baja.
Audette and Beckett got a lot of help from local businesses and individuals such as Discount Tire, Mystery Decals, Cana Organics, Moss boutique, Fringe Hair Studio, Jones, Steven Cobb, Michael Audette, Jeremy Cornelison, Brian Cavanaugh, James Robert, Amanda Dubois, Julian LaMarche and Jack Havoc.
To follow the team’s progress on Facebook, you can go to https://www.facebook.com/topformularomulus/.