Check out Jim Marsden of Gigglepin Racing’s, trials and tribulations at this years event. Jim and Helder managed a podium finish in 3rd place, but 1st position still is illusive for the Men in Black.
Here it is in their words …
The Maxxis King of Portugal 2017- The Cursed Event …
Some events just don’t work out and King of Portugal is our nemesis, some say it is our cursed event? But everything is running smooth, the car feels great and the crew are happy, what could go wrong? We roll out towards the prologue and our new alternator seizes solid as we drive down the road. No problem and we change it for a new one, but find the new unit is not working! We strip down and change again. This time all the gauges jump to life and we head off to the prologue, but we feel the curse already starting to bite.
Night has cast its spell, skies are black and dust hangs heavy on the start line of the prologue.
5, 4, 3, 2 ,1! The flag drops and we have charge off the line, the first corner comes and goes and then the second, but the car is not responding, I cannot steer!
“Helder we have lost the drive belt” I scream as we come to a halt on the track. We dive from the car and tear the off bonnet. We have practised this belt change in the workshop and can replace a belt in under a minute. But the more I fight the worse it gets, precious seconds oozing away. The belt refitted we are hammer down once again. But two hundred metres later it’s all over as the belt jumps off yet again. Our run is over and we are escorted of the course. Our hearts are heavy as we know we will have to start at the back of the field in a race we know will be fought in thick heavy dust. It’s the very worst situation and the curse is digging in its nails.
Back at the pit we spring into action to try to find the problem, Matt Weeks, James Ayre help as Helder and Staci look after the radios and cameras. The source of the problem is not obvious and we work till gone 3am to find a solution.
The next morning, we wake to the perfect Portuguese sun rise and clear blue skies. Its only 8 am and its already nearly 85 degrees as the crew checks and rechecks the car. You can feel the excitement as the cars line up ready for the short drive to the race course. Our Maxxis team mate Rob Butler smashed the prologue and has the honour of leading out with American legend Casey Currie only just behind him. With racers from Israel, USA and from all over Europe there is a buzz of expectation as the engines rumble and roll out of the bivouac.
A car leaves the line every 30 seconds and we are the last car in 4400 class to leave the line, right down in 24th position. All to soon we are caught up in heavy traffic and we make the most of it, passing more than 10 cars in the quarry section.
Out on the track and we are loving it! The car is epic as dominates the fast terrain with our #MaxxisTyres finding grip on the seemingly impossible. With six 34-kilometre laps (204 km) to complete its going to be a long day in the office. We cross the line after lap one and get radio conformation that we have made up 18 places to 6th position. Two hundred metres later our upper rear link snaps apart causing the rear axle to break away! We pull over to the side and dive from the car “Can we fix it Jim?” asks our co-driving ace Helder da Rocha as I take in the damage. The sway bar links and Bailey Morris Limited prop shaft have been destroyed as has the upper link. “We’ve got this Helder, run back to the pit and I’ll radio through what we need”. I want to scream as I know It’s my own welding that has let us down. But we are not about to let the KOP curse win again. Less than an hour later we are back on track and thundering through the Portuguese countryside our LSX 454 engine roaring hard.
Big horsepower means loads of fuel and we have to make two planned stops, one at the end of lap 2 and one at the end of lap 4. Matt and James nail the refuelling while Staci provides us with drinks and race info. Less than a minute after arriving we are heading back out again, simply amazing!
We keep up the high tempo and cross the line completing all our laps having fought back to 6th place! We are an hour behind the leaders but that’s ok, because tomorrow is going to be heavy with the track changing and the crews heading into the massive dinosaur eggs rock stages. Tough was about to become insane!
The race bivouac is based at Vimioso football stadium and the crews all mingle and help each other. Our Italian friends Ferdinando Bartolucci and Gabriele Biaggi are camped next to us and they provide us with a superb Italian meal of 4 kg Florentina steaks, wild boar pasta and cheeky drop of Tuscan red wine. With the team refuelled it was back to work, fixing and checking the race car. Helder and I bailed at 3am knowing we had a long day ahead but Matt and James worked throughout the whole night to be sure the car was ready for battle. I woke at 7am and got straight on it helping the boys with a wheel that was still causing problems. We managed to fix it only 2 minutes before we rolled out of the stadium heading for the start.
Jorge Araújo from TUFF4x4 was leading out followed by Casey Currie, Luis Filipe Fracing Guimaraes, Iñaki Lanzagorta Egia, Bruno Nunes and ourselves in sixth position. With Rob Butler, Bailey Cole and a heap of other talented drivers behind us it was set for a battle royal!
The flag dropped and we took to the track coming up behind Filipe winching on the rocks! “What is he doing?!” The traffic is backing up and Bruno barges past Inaki and we close the door following them both over the gate keeper rocks. Then it’s out the back of the quarry section and into heavy dust. We get completely whited out and go off course collecting a rock for troubles. We power on passing Inaki but all to soon the car starts to vibrate badly and it’s impossible to continue. We pull over and jump from the car, I look underneath to see that we have bent the rear propshaft! The curse raises its head once again…
“Jim what are we going to do? We used our spare propshaft yesterday?” asks a concerned Helder. “Run back to the pit and I’ll radio through, I think I have an idea”. I get on the radio to Matt and ask him to drag out the bit of the old shaft and replace the rear universal joint and send out Helder with the parts. 40 minutes later Helder arrives back and we manage to build one good prop shaft from the parts. But it was heart breaking watching all the cars passing and knowing that our slender chance was seeping through our fingers. To add to our worries, I have slashed a tyre and a Tire-ball is hanging out the side. The odds of that lasting the 144km course were not good. The curse was taking a strangle hold.
This is where you dig deep, claw into the depths of your experience and understand the task in hand, you have a team to think about, fans and sponsors. But you also don’t want that curse to beat you.
“Jim the plan is the same, drive like we did yesterday and we can still win” says Helder as we tighten our harnesses. “We’ve got this my friend. Let’s go have some fun passing cars!”
Nothing feels so good as a race car hitting the dirt and dancing in your hands, engine roaring as the kilometres fly by. Our FOX shocks soak up the jumps, as our EBC Brakes keep us in control never fading or failing. Our team know the drill and at the end of lap 4 we come in for our planned stop. Once again, they nail it, this time with help from our Italian friends who had sadly retired.
Back on track and we find all kinds of carnage including Casey Currie rolling twice! We come across Rob Butler winching and saw many vehicles parked, their race finished. But little lady powered on clearing JT rocks and clearing the dinosaur eggs with effortless ease. We kept up the high tempo, pushing, but never too hard and hitting speeds over 100 mph on tracks not much wider than the car. The finish line came into sight and Nuno flagged us home. As we park up we are amazed to find we are the first car to finish?! Now it was a waiting game to see who would finish next and what adjusted time would do for the scores.
Portuguese hospitality is first class and the prize giving is amazing. The town opens its heart and provides food for the hundreds involved in organising, marshalling and racing this event, with prize giving going on past midnight. The rumour is that the scores are tight and that there is very little dividing the top three cars. We are not sure if we are 3rd or 4th and the suspense is killing us.
“And in third place is car #69! Jim Marsden and Helder da Rocha!”
We can hardly believe our ears and its smiles from all the team as we head on stage to collect our trophy. Filipe Guimaraes is 2nd and Casey Currie had done enough after a blistering first day to secure 1st place. But it was close…. Our curse had kept us from the top spot but we had the final laugh.
A massive thank you to our amazing team here and at home, Helder da Rocha, Matt Weeks, James Ayre, Staci Reeson, Sam Briggss, Ben Webb, Karen Major, Iain Cherry, James Beale, Ben Ryan and little Sam.
To our sponsors who allow us to race at the highest level with the best kit a team could wish for and to our fans and followers that always drive us on.
It’s now a race to get the car rebuilt into full winch challenge mode and head to the GRAF Adventure Series in Lamego, central Portugal to defend our 2016 title. It’s going to be epic!
Image credits; Paolo Baraldi.