Photos from Randy Wells and the Cameron Healy Collection
Jeff Gamroth is sweating and stooped over from exhaustion. He and his Rothsport Racing team have just replaced the transmission of his Porsche 964 #89 in a little shop in the middle of nowhere in less than 45 minutes.
“Well, nobody said it was going to be easy,” he quips between tacos and gulps of ‘real’ Coca Cola. “We broke the bell housing on something, probably a big rock on that last section.”
What he isn’t telling us is that the Baja Mexican 1000 off-road race is probably the toughest desert race in the world. There are huge boulders, big jumps, water crossings, and endless silt beds. About half the cars that enter the annual National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) rally from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo never finish.
Fortunately, Gamroth had the tools, the spare parts, and the race crew to reach the finish line of the 51st annual event on April 27, 2018, just like he had done in 2017. Even better, the sister Rothsport Racing Safari 964, #65, driven by Cameron Healy won its class – a feat that a Porsche has never achieved before in a Baja race.
“It’s always an honor to make Porsche racing history, and the 911 that Jeff Gamroth built performed perfectly,” Cameron reports. Along with his nephew (and navigator) Eric Healy, they ran a focused race and avoided obstacles while speeding down the Baja peninsula. They named their yellow Baja-equipped 1989 Typ 964 – appropriately – “Desert Flyer”. Gamroth and his co-driver Tim Ralston finished second in class in an identical 964 named “Red Sled”, which, logically, is painted in a red and white Bastos-inspired livery.
Healy’s co-driver in 2017 was rally champion Jeff Zwart. Cameron paid close attention to his mentor’s advice, and Desert Flyer remained free of flats and relatively absent of mechanical issues in 2018 (except for one broken rear shock absorber and two bent front uprights). The Healys completed the route from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo in 27 hours, 5 minutes, just a bit slower than some of the unlimited trophy trucks. Gamroth and Ralston hit more obstacles in 2018, breaking shocks, two trailing arms, and a transmission during the grueling five-day race.
Gamroth and Healy give credit to what they learned in 2017. The two 964s were updated over the winter, with a 4-inch taller ride height (now 11 inches overall), improved shocks with nine-inches of travel, wider tires, a raised shifter tunnel, and an improved approach angle with a cut down front bumper.
Gamroth further upgraded the cars with thicker skid plates, reinforced shock towers, and beefier suspension pick-up points. He mounted a special engine oil cooler and fan in the rear window that not only sucked dust out of the cabin but also ensured motor longevity. Safety items include gusseted FIA roll cages, front and rear bush bars, multiple driving lights, and a long elastic tow strap.
Their 320-horsepower 3.6-liter Porsche flat sixes with Motec engine management and Rothsport’s own six throttle-induction system ensured snappy throttle response. Gamroth’s custom plenum, exhaust system, cams, and compression ratios were selected to run on any fuel and produce maximum torque. The 2-wheel drive transmissions have limited slip differentials, billet side covers, coolers, and close ratio gearing topping out at 130 mph.
One of the Rothsport Racing support vehicles there to assist was a modified ex-military Hummer, entry #998. It was specially equipped to deal with one of the most challenging off-road races in the world. The result was that all three finished the Mexican 1000, and one won its class. That’s a testimony to the team’s perseverance, preparation and friendship.
NOTE: Desert Flyer will be on display at the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville, Oregon for the next 6 months: https://www.worldofspeed.org. A 10-minute film by Randy Wells documenting the 2018 win will premiere there in early September.
© 2018 Randy Wells. All Rights Reserved.