Rough, Remote Desert Motor Race
The Baja 1000 is an annual desert race, now in its 45th year, down more than 1100 miles of the Baja peninsula of Western Mexico. Drivers of ATVs, motorcycles, sportsman’s vehicles, and pro cars and trucks converge on the sleepy coastal town of Ensenada every year to participate in this grueling off-road race. The course is only released three weeks prior to the race so drivers rush to Mexico at that point to get a glimpse of what the course will demand.
Up to 400 teams participate in the Baja 1000 ranging from supported, sponsored teams including Red Bull and Monster, of more than 150 people to unsupported sportsmen teams. Some vehicles represent more than a $3 million investment. The Becker Brothers race team vehicle was a Class 1600 Desert Racing Car. Teams are limited to only what supplies, spare parts, and communications equipment can be carried by the race vehicle and chase team. The demanding course crosses mountain ranges along the Baja peninsula where drivers must contend with undeveloped tracks along rocky cliffs. It continues along beaches strewn with large rocks and boulders. Sections of the course require fording rivers or driving along river beds through several feet of water. One section features miles and miles of hard earth pitted with three foot deep potholes known colloquially as “Whoops.” This very rugged course demands durable equipment.
Every team anticipates that their race vehicle will break down at some point in the race: flat tires, blown gaskets and broken axles are part of the race. Communication with chase vehicles and support teams is essential for getting back on course. Drivers on the course are out of range of cell phones. The Becker Brothers’ team chase vehicle that had the Safari Vehicular BGAN installed on during the race was a four wheel drive F450 van with a one ton suspension specifically modified for extreme off road conditions. Since the chase van was capable of off road conditions the owner decided to run it on the race course under the same conditions the practice race vehicles.
The Becker Brothers team was sponsored by Addvalue for a Safari satellite unit and by Inmarsat for airtime. The Safari unit arrived in two boxes. Installation on the chase truck was simple and efficient. It took only 10 minutes to activate the satellite phone and make a test call. Once in Ensenada, the unit was transferred to the top of the chase van in less than 10 minutes and the team began practice runs. Ultimately, the unit was installed on three vehicles.
During the race, the Becker Brothers race vehicle encountered mechanical problems that ready Inmarsat satellite communication was vital in repairing. At 200 miles on the first day, the engine case cracked. The drivers communicated via Inmarsat satellite phone with the chase team, who were able to meet the team and improvise a solution to support the engine using the skid plate and tie downs so the team could get back in the race.
Further along the race course, the race vehicle flipped as it emerged from a steep ravine. The car landed and remained upside-down. Because of bulky equipment, including firesuits, the racers were stuck upside down in the vehicle until the chase team could assist. Thanks to the ability to contact the chase team, the drivers of the race vehicle were assisted by the chase team and some local men who arrived and flipped the vehicle over within 15 minutes of the event.
Fast communications in remote locations
The Safari unit gave team members reliable, speedy access to send and receive emails as well as maintain business communications. During a practice run prior to the race, 100 miles from the nearest town with access to electricity, team members were able to instantly send and receive emails. Activation of the service was simple, requiring only a WIFI password to initiate the connection.
Charles Riley, President of ShipTracks, an international maritime vessel tracking and management company, and race team member, was able to productively keep in contact with his company operations in New Orleans throughout the entire race. “I have worked with and applied all types of communication, including both satellite and terrestrial based. In all my experience, the Safari unit was easier to install, activate, and use than any product I have had the opportunity to work with,” according to Riley.
The team never experienced a signal dropped call or connection interruption while using voice and data functions. Team members agreed they could not imagine participating in another race without a Safari and the reliability of Inmarsat.
After returning to Ensenada, just finishing five days of brutal practice racing, we quickly moved the Safari to another chase vehicle. This chase vehicle, a Ford F150 Predator, endured another 1000 miles of chase support efforts.