For this final leg, excited and exhausted, Mead took the wheel in Cordoba for Stage 13. It was another scorcher as they made their way to the Special, a 180-kilometer sprint to the finish.
“When I began looking into making this a reality 10 months ago, my greatest hope was just to just get here, to participate,” Mead said. “When we cleared Stage 12 in Cordoba and all the other Open Production cars were out, it sunk in. We could actually win our class.”
Recent rains left many sections of deep mud. In areas of higher ground, the searing austral sun had dried the track, and blinding silt became the issue.
The shock mount, which had broken during Stage 5 and received a field repair, detached itself from the Raptor’s frame again just 10 kilometers short of the finish line. Skilton crawled under and removed the shock in less than 10 minutes, allowing the team to continue of to a 40th place for the day.
Mead said, “I was turning 60 and really wanted to do something big. I’d navigated for Darren in the 2000 Dakar in Africa, an incredible experience. He knows what he is doing and I knew he had the know-how required to manage the team. As we completed each stage, as brutal as they were, we just rolled into the next. Before I knew it, we were more than half way done. So many others had broken down, crashed or dropped out, yet I began to think we could actually see the finish line. At that point our entire focus fell on keeping the Raptor in one piece and getting it back to Buenos Aires.”
From the earlier stages when the independent team, with just one support vehicle and a total of five people, was in 126th position, the team managed to move up the Dakar ladder to 110th, 95th, 65th and even 51st position overall. At the end of the day, they held 40th place overall, and pulled off a first place finish in the Open Production Class. With the team’s success, Mead, who is America’s first female driver of record at Dakar, also became first to achieve an automotive class victory.
The car in front of the finish line was the No. 320 VW Touareg piloted by Nasser Al-Attiyah of Qatar. Shortly behind were Giniel DeVillers and Carlos Sainz, also in VW Touaregs. America’s Mark Miller and co-pilot Ralph Pitchford pulled off a sixth place in the T1 Auto Class while California based motorcycle hotshots Quinn Cody and Jonah Street knocked off ninth and 12th, respectively.