Alcan 5000 Winter Rally With WAFL Racing Team
In the world of racing, the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally is possibly one of the more challenging and difficult motorsports in North America. At 4,700 miles this endurance rally tests both the car and its driving team to their limits. The Alcan 5000 began in the summer of 1984 and has been held every four years since that time. It wasn't until 1988 that the rally was first held during the winter months. Since that time the rally has alternated every two years between the Alcan 5000 Summer Rally and the Alcan 5000 Winter Rally. The rally consists of stages, transitions and slaloms. It is often compared to the Monte Carlo Rally and has been dubbed North America's longest and coldest winter rally event.
Average temperatures can dip anywhere from -5F to -30F below zero and with drivers reaching high speeds during the transitions the temperatures hitting the car could, with the windchill factor, drop even lower.
The race began in Kirkland, WA with cars leaving in one minute intervals. The drivers had nine days to reach their goal of crossing the finish line in Anchorage, AK. This season there were 27 teams converging into the Kirkland area from all corners of the world.
Rallycross360 caught up with one of those teams. WAFL Racing is a local Seattle team and seasoned Alcan 5000 team who competed in the winter rally back in 2012 and competed again this season. The team consist of two longtime friends and rally enthusiasts, Troy Jorgensen from Kirkland, WA and John Simpson from St. Petersburg, FL. The two have known each other since preschool and have been building and racing their cars since before they were sixteen years of age. The team set off toward Anchorage from Kirkland at 8:08AM February 25, 2016 in a Subaru WRX Limited and made their way to the first overnight stop north of the boarder in Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada.
Tell us about the Alcon 5000 Rally and what it is like to actually participate in this time-honored event.
"It's not a flat out race, it's an endurance rally. It's a Monte Carlo TSD [time, speed, distance] style which is kind of how rally originally got started. You're penalized for every second your early or late at hidden checkpoints. When your doing a point section, which could be a mile to twenty miles long, and your given route instructions you have to be dead-on precise. There are people hiding that you don't see when you're driving by. They know the exact second that you're supposed to be there. So, if you're early or late your penalized. When they actually run [prepare] the course, they do it during summer speed and conditions. But, we are actually running the race during the winter months in snow and ice.
"We did this rally back in 2012. We came in fourth in our class and 12th overall. We ran into a major problem. We had a radiator blow on us in the middle of the Yukon Territory. When we arrived in Whitehorse we had to literally do wrecking yard repairs. We found a local who knew the owner of a wrecking yard that was closed for the winter. The owner opened up and let us buy a radiator that was not for a vehicle but it was the closest thing we could find. We spent approximately the next 24 hours modifying the radiator and getting it to work for our vehicle. By that point we had missed a number of rallies and a hotel checkpoint so we maxed timed out on those events. Once we were up and out on the road again we put the pedal to the metal and caught up with everybody which kept us in the competition but kept us out of the point standings for overall championship."
Troy told us a little bit about the schedule they keep during the event saying that they will do a rally in the morning and one in the evening before setting off on a 300 to 600 mile transition section to get from the end of one rally point to the beginning of the next rally point. They then receive their next set of instructions. "All the roads are mapped out", said Jorgensen. "We will have a rough idea where we are going but we don't know the specific roads until we get the particular route instructions. That way you can't plug them into your GPS and know exactly where you are going."
What type of preparations needed to happen this season in order to be able to deal with the conditions and challenges of this rally?
"We had to prep the vehicle to be able to withstand those temperatures. We lifted the car for better ground clearance and put skid plates underneath the vehicles. It's been fully prepped for the winter. We had to put a new clutch in and do a full tune by our sponsors and we have the coolant prepped at a 65/35 split to be able to handle the temperatures. We mounted high mount brake lights and turn signals because as we are driving our tail lights get completely covered in snow. We had to pack gear just in case we break down. They prefer to have us in teams in case we break down. At times the rally will be spread out over 30 to 50 miles especially during the transition period. You could fall behind and you should always be in radio contact with your teammates just in case you have a problem.
"In 2012 one team blew their engine, one blew their clutch, one car went off the highway and totaled a Mini Cooper and ended up renting a pickup truck to finish the race. Another guy during the ice races went too far out on a snowbank and flipped on his roof. He got it back on all four wheels and finished with a shattered windshield and caved-in roof."
Another danger would be elk, moose, deer....
"Yeah, the bison are bigger than our vehicle and they are in the hundreds up in the Yukon area. And the closer you get to Anchorage there are moose everywhere."
When did you begin your prep work for this rally?
"Ideally (we would prep) months and months before. The typical train of thought is that the last thing you modify is the first thing that breaks. You want to be done at least a month before the event so you can shakedown and test and that way if anything occurs on that you modified and built you will have time to address the issue before you start because once you start your out of cell reception on day one and driving 600 miles through towns that may not have a parts store or one that is open and it may take four days for parts to get to you. So you pretty much have to have your tools and cardinal knowledge of your vehicle and hope for the best."
The day before the final day of the rally, the team left Fairbanks and headed north on Dalton highway toward the Arctic Circle. After crossing the Arctic Circle they headed another 60 miles north to Coldfoot, AK to refuel before turning back toward Fairbanks where they spent their last evening of the nine-day event. The final day consisted of one final TSD and on March 4th WAFL Racing team pulled into Anchorage. Their journey was over. The team had reached their goal with a fantastic outcome, finishing first in their class and seventh overall.
If you're interested in entering the Alcan 5000 you can check it out at https://www.alcan5000.com.
Troy made it a point to say that their sponsors have truly been a huge part in helping to make this rally possible for he and John.
"It's an enormous financial toll to be able to do this. I bought a vehicle for $20 grand, the entry fee is $3000, lights on the car are $6000, plus wheels and tires and about another $6000 of prep of clutch work, skid plates, bumper bars, lights, safety equipment, and about $3000 in fuel, and a couple thousand more in food and hotels. It is an extremely expensive endeavor."
One example of how generous these sponsors are comes from Tomar Off-Road Lighting. After building for police and border patrol for 40 years, Tomar Off-Road Lighting entered into the private sector and sent WAFL Racing team a $6000 police light package with police circuit boards and sirens.
WAFL Racing sponsors include:
Nordic Media Group
Method Race Wheels
Tomar Off-Road Lighting
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