6100 Spec Trophy truck driver Andre Laurin and navigator Kerry King took Team OTSFF/MOTUL to a respectable 11th place finish this past weekend in the Mint 400. The event held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the world’s largest – both in entries and spectator turnout – and one of the most challenging off-road races on the calendar. Like last year, Laurin did not participate in the timed qualifying runs, due to other commitments, and thus started at the back of the pack in Saturday’s main race for the unlimited trucks. With the Mint 400 being a ‘one-off’ event – and not a Best In The Dessert Racing Association points race – it was decided to enter the team’s 6100 truck in the Baja Truck Class. This was done in order to take advantage of the live streaming and an upcoming NBC Sports television broadcast of the race, to provide broader exposure for the team’s sponsors.
Despite his poor starting position, Laurin managed to push the explosive Adam Fitza-built OTSFF/MOTUL truck into the top 20 of a 40-vehicle Baja Truck field within a few problem-free laps. A quick pit stop was called for on Lap 2 of the 4 x 107-mile laps to refuel the truck’s 110- gallon tank, do a rear shock adjustment and driver support, in just under one minute. With speed in excess of 120 mph on the dry lake beds section of the track, Laurin and King were flying and manoeuvring in the top-10 on Lap 3. Unfortunately, an alternator issue saw Laurin pull into the Main Pit to have a new one installed. With darkness enveloping the race course, it was crucial to have the alternator in full function mode to run the truck’s Rigid Lights, which light up the night sky like a ski- resort. Fitza, who was stationed at Pit A, had to dash to the Main Pit in order to assist in the installation of the new alternator. While replacing the alternator it was noticed that the belt tensioner was damaged. It was decided to change the belt. Upon further inspection one of the crew members noticed the drive shaft had a significant dent, so the shaft was swapped out as well. All of this was time consuming, but it was agreed by everyone that it was best not to take any chances that could jeopardise the OTSFF/MOTUL truck not finishing the race on the final lap.
For Laurin the downtime, waiting for repairs, took him out of the groove and left him feeling exhausted. He knew he had lost his edge and wouldn’t be able to just get back into the truck and pick up where he had left off. He decided that Fitza – a seasoned off-road driver in his own right and team back-up driver – needed to put on his race face and get behind the wheel of the OTSFF/MOTUL truck and bring her home. Fitza did not disappoint. He put in a blistering lap time to make up for the close to 11⁄2 hours spent in the pit, dealing with the alternator and drive shaft issues. With an 11th place final result, the aimed for top-five finish eluded the team, but the season is still young and there’s always the next race to go for the brass ring.
Team OTSFF/MOTUL’s Director of Marketing, Brad Ewen, was on hand in the Main Pit on Saturday, helping out Fitza and his crew. For a guy who usually takes care of the team’s media relations, it was an exhilarating experience, getting his hands dirty and helping the crew when called upon. Read his comments below in the From the horses’ mouths section.
From the horses’ mouths …
Andre Laurin: “I don’t think it would matter who you spoke with that took part in the race, you would hear the same story: the 2020 Mint 400 was incredibly tough. I thought I’d seen it all but this was the baddest and meanest off-road course I’ve ever encountered. The track was so blown out, with holes and bumps, and even down to shale in some areas, it would give your grandmother a headache just watching the race on TV. Every bump you hit it just came through your body. But you have to ignore that if you’re going to keep going. The first two laps were like a dream. Everything was copacetic. Then on Lap 3 we had a problem with the alternator. Instead of producing 14 volts it had dropped to 11.9 and it was getting dark out. We needed the lights on so we pulled into the pits. Having to wait around for the alternator to be replaced totally threw me off my game. After six hours of being in peak racing mode, the sitting around just wipes that out. You suddenly realize how tired you are and that your focus is gone. It totally drained my mojo. We were well on our way to grab a top-three finish; the alternator problem changed everything. But as the cliché goes … ‘that’s racing’. You know that anything mechanically can happen at any time. We’ve just managed to dodge the bullet all this time at every event we entered and that sets you up for a false sense of security. But hey, we still salvaged eleventh place, not to mention finish the race. As always Adam did a fantastic job with the truck and he saved the day in Vegas. His racing skills equal his technical savvy and he took the truck to the max on the final lap to do the team proud.”
Adam Fitza: “Other than the alternator issue it was a pretty flawless race for us. The malfunctioning alternator cost us a fair chunk of time, sure, but it could have been a lot worse, like DNFing. Once
again, we started a race and finished it. That is really what it’s about when looking at the big picture. You want to see the checkered flag after all the hard work you put into prepping the vehicle, never mind driving it at speed over terrain that is totally unforgiving. We knew we had a competitive truck that was capable of a top-five to top-three finish, but under the circumstances we gladly took eleventh. The track was vicious, rougher than anything I’ve seen in a long time. It’s no surprise that some fifty percent of all the combined entries DNFd. Usually the Parker 425 is the roughest race on our schedule, and it’s no picnic, but this year’s Mint made it kind of look like a walk in the park by comparison. There were spare tires, alternators, fire extinguishers, drive shafts, pieces of this and pieces of that lying all over the place. It actually looked like a junkyard by the end of the day. The truck took a serious beating and so did Andre and Kerry. I was amazed that Andre was able to drive three laps and that Kerry was able to hang in for all four. It did a number on me, too, and I was fresh when I got behind the wheel and only had to do one lap. When I climbed out of the vehicle, I felt like I’d been not only shaken but stirred as well.”
Kerry King: “I can only concur with what my colleagues had to say about this year’s Mint 400. It was really rough. For me it was the most brutal race I’ve ever been in. At times I felt like I was inside a tumble dryer, the terrain wasn’t taking any prisoners. And of course, it was hot. There was a lot of carnage out on the track, too, which kind of turned the place into a minefield by the end of the day. You really had to focus not only on where you were going, but keep an eye out for all kinds of debris that if you hit it, it could take you out of the race. But I was just happy to be back in the navigator’s seat, after having to miss Laughlin.”
Brad Ewen: “All in all race day was pretty amazing for me. It sure was a long day. We got to the venue about seven in the morning and didn’t get out of there until around midnight. It was my first experience being in the pits at the Mint 400. I had to marvel at just how fine-tuned the pit crew worked together. The truck would race into the pit and they would instantly change from relaxation mode into taking care of business. Like a methodical full-on assault to perform their assigned duties. The engine is revving, the tension in the air is palpable and the adrenaline goes from flatline to spike. The truck’s jacked up, tires are coming off, fuel is being injected into the gas tank, some food is quickly shoved in the direction of Andre and Kerry. Adam does a quick survey of the vehicle. It’s full
tilt boogie time. It’s not unlike a NASCAR pitstop, where nothing is left to chance. Everybody knows what they have to do and nobody gets in the others’ way. One thing that made for a mad scramble was when Kerry radioed in that they had to pull into the Main Pit, because the alternator was not producing enough voltage. Adam and I and two other crew members jumped into this little SUV and probably set a land speed record getting from Pit B to the Main Pit in a little under half an hour. That was a rush in itself.”
Team OTSFF/MOTUL would like to thank all the individuals and contributing sponsors for their invaluable support to help make our participation in the MINT 400 possible. You guys are awesome! We look forward to seeing you at the Silver State “300” in Alamo,
NV , April 30th – May 2nd.