With the imminent launch of NEMO Racing USA, we deployed our drivers Darren Bloomfield and Jerome Sartel along with the US driver Jeremy Kortz to the 15th Annual Dirt Nitro Challenge in Arizona, to add some presence and visibility to the new company on the other side of the Atlantic. The race has moved location over the years, and is currently resident at the fabulous Fear Farm Facility outside Phoenix and as previously would provide a supreme challenge for cars and drivers.
Due to our time constraints after the Montpellier GP the previous weekend we were only able to fly out the day before the event started and with the scheduled flights landing late in the day it left no time to get to the track and take in what we were facing. Jeremy and Charlie Love had done a great job of getting the NEMO USA gazebo situated and set up ready for Wednesdays practice action.
This event is a race on a different scale to anything we have in Europe, with 3 tracks and over 700 total entries it's a totally different experience. The pitting area is vast, and so are some of the RV's parked in the camping area…
Despite very little sleep and jet lag we set off for the practice day and what despite the huge race programme would be the first of 5 intensely busy days. All 3 classes in which Darren and Jerome were entered (Buggy/Truggy/E-Buggy) all ran on this day, and with Darren having had no time to run either the Truggy or E-Buggy before we arrived due to our less than ideal weather, it proved a relentless day and we finished just after midnight. The runs themselves were difficult as not only did the drivers have to learn a very complicated track, especially the '9 pack' section, they were trying to analyse the cars performance and then cope with the vastly changing temperature which went from over 30 deg C in the middle of the day to around 12 deg C under the floodlights in the middle of the night. All this added up to the drivers feeling a little overwhelmed and the sleep deprivation would only add to the challenge as the long days didn't allow for much sleep even for those who didn't have jet lag.
Qualifying for Truggy and E-Buggy took place on Thursday and Jerome was having a bit of tough run throughout the day as he couldn't get any clear runs to use the decent pace he had. Jeremy was running well with times good enough to make the A main, but a few errors here and there put him back into the B final, but with the pace to make the bump. Darren was having a fraught day and was struggling for steering with his Truggy, at first we thought it was a servo saver issue but it turned out to be a servo that wasn't pulling had enough and giving up mid corner. This put him on the back foot with 2 rounds not as they should have been and the last round was a scrappy one that did nothing to improve his day.
The E-buggy qualifying also was hampered by a few mistakes as the guys learned both their cars and the track, but Darren in particular looked like if he could get it together he would be able to challenge the faster guys as his clear laps were pretty quick.
With the Truggies and E-buggy put away for a day, it was the turn of Nitro Buggy Qualifying on Friday. Both Darren and Jerome struggled to get the set up adapted for the track, and we were constantly feeling like we were a run behind the track conditions, which made making changes a difficult to implement as they would come off and know what they wanted to improve, but then had the knowledge that the conditions were likely to be very different when they were next on. Another variable that was being thrown into the mix was the track watering, or lack of it. For some reason unknown to me the organisers did not water the track for most of Friday which polished the surface and made it incredibly slippery, indeed lap times were as much as 2 seconds slower until the watering restarted later in the day. The fatigue was also setting in and Jerome in particular was suffering from tiredness, which probably contributed to the mistakes in round 2 that cost him a top 5 time. Jeremy would end the day in the B final, Jerome pole in the C and Darren in the D so plenty of work to be done all round.
The finals days would at least offer an opportunity to catch a little sleep as we didn't need to be at the track so early, and both Jerome and Darren felt quite confident of having a good day. Unfortunately in Truggy both were the victim of some atrocious driving that smashed them off the track, indeed the driving standards in general were laughable and with no referee in place to punish the offenders, it was allowed to take place without fear of recrimination.
In E-Buggy Darren easily bumped up from the C final with fellow brit Elliott Boots, both cruised away to finish 1-2 by a huge margin, and they would join Jerome in the B. Jerome suffered a poor start and was to the back almost immediately and with only 8 minute races, very little chance of a comeback. Darren got a great start and was quickly up into the bump up positions and looking safe for a place in the main final. A mistake in the 9 pack dropped him back in the pack and he was unable to recover back into the top 3 and that was that.
The 5th and final day was the Nitro Buggy finals day, and all the guys had some work to do if they were to make good of their meetings. Darren was first up in the D final, and despite a set up that was way too soft he drove carefully and without error to stay clear at the front ensure he bumped easily in to the C where he would join Jerome. The dreadful driving standards would rear their head again here and Jerome was fired off into the weeds before the end of lap 1 after starting on pole by Martin Bayer, and left a massive amount of work to get back in the mix. Darren got really unlucky on lap 1 after doing exceptionally to miss the first lap pile up, he sneaked inside the cluster of tangled cars and would have been up into the top 5 straight away until the last second when a tangled car speared out of the pack and clobbered him onto his lid, and dead last. Both guys battled gamely to get back into it, but finally neither were able to get to the top 3 who had made a break early and were away and clear.
Jeremy had a similar tale in the B final and he was denied a place in the A main after not quite getting in contention throughout the 20 minutes. This wasn't the only main for Jeremy however as he was also entered in the legends class alongside fellow top guys Mark Pavidis, Chad Bradley and many others who have been at the top of the 1/8th Buggy scene for many years. in this final he was on fire, straight to the front at the start he streaked away at a fantastic pace to win by over 20 seconds and take a fantastic victory, the first for NEMO Racing USA at our very first event..big congratulations from all the NEMO crew.
And that marked the end of our first meeting in the USA, which after 5 gruelling days was certainly an education and when we return next year, I'm sure we will use all the knowledge gained to achieve far better results.
I would like to personally thank, Jeremy, Charlie Love, Chris Nunez, Victor Pintado, Frank Gallo and James Allara for their help throughout the week, and we look forward greatly to returning in a few weeks to attend the Silverstate race in Boulder City, just outside Las Vegas….let the adventure continue!