How do you pack for a major trip? My method is to pile everything I might need while I'm away onto my bed until it looks like a deep-discount sales bin of clothes, shoes and toiletries. Then I comb through it and start packing: essentials first, then the nice-to-haves. Inevitably, I unpack and repack my bag several times as I decide I don't really need that extra hoodie or that I can make do with only one pair of sneakers.
That's what every one of the 15 rallycross teams competing in Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, has been up to for the past couple of weeks -- only on a much larger scale.
I dropped by the normally neat-as-a-pin Olsbergs MSE shop in Huntington Beach, Calif., last week to find it in a state of chaos. There were Ford Fiesta body panels, wheels, tires and miscellaneous hardware everywhere. For three days, the team that runs cars for X Games veterans Tanner Foust, Brian Deegan and Toomas "Topi" Heikkinen and newcomer Patrik Sandell has been packing the race team equivalent of luggage in preparation for the 5,000-plus-mile journey to Brazil for the first X Games RallyCross competition of the 2013 season. It's a massive undertaking.
"We aren't talking about racing just around the corner from the shop," said OMSE mechanic Brad Manka. "I'm not real familiar with Foz, but it's not like we can call the local auto parts store and pick up a spare racecar."
Rallycross is hard on cars. Teams routinely assign five or six technicians to care for each competition vehicle during a race, and they're prepared to make such fixes as adding fuel, wiping dust off the windshield, hammering out dents or welding a new subframe. They don't know before the race what could happen in this full-contact motorsport, so they have to be prepared for any eventuality.
"We have spare everything," said Manka, as he combed through a 10-page, single-spaced inventory spreadsheet that represents the spare parts and tools for just two of the team's cars. "Seventy-four coil springs, 39 V-band clamps, 24 clutch shims, 82 stainless steel hose clamps …" A few weeks ago, sport organizers sent teams a scary looking 31-page document outlining the do's and don'ts of packing for the trip. A missed step -- as simple as an uncrossed 't' or undotted 'i' -- could mean rejection by customs officials and a car that arrives too late to the race. Each part had to be itemized as it was packed up into a crate suitable for loading into a shipping container. Parts are assigned a unique number based on globally recognized harmonized shipping codes that identify every type of item -- from applesauce to zippers -- that gets shipped through international borders.
To accompany each rallycross car, teams have been allocated 2.5 tons of spare parts packed into a space that's probably a little smaller than your bedroom -- 10 feet by 8 feet by 9 feet (720 cubic feet).
When it comes to packing for a rallycross event, it's a little more complicated than getting to the airport and discovering you have to check your skateboard because it won't fit into the overhead bin. While you might check your toothpaste label to see if it's under the 3 ounces allowed through a TSA security checkpoint in a plastic baggy, Manka and his crew had to itemize every nut and bolt and double-check that their engines have easily visible serial numbers stamped into the metal so touchy customs agents don't give them any grief.
"We can't even ship high-pressure cylinders, so we're not sure what we're going to do about welding gas," said Manka, as a team member lugged a portable welder into a massive crate.
While this was going on in the United States, this effort was being duplicated in Europe, where several other teams -- including Liam Doran's -- were also packing up for the long trip to Brazil.
Once a team's 2.5 tons of gear is carefully inventoried and loaded, it is shipped, along with the competition car it is accompanying, which weighs in at another 1.3 tons, to Miami where all the gear was scheduled for load-in earlier this week to a special Boeing 747 cargo transporter -- chartered by X Games for just this purpose.
They don't want to lose that luggage. Depending on what's in a crate, each one can contain as much as $100,000 worth of parts. The cars are worth another $500,000 each.
If you've never seen a cargo plane in action, it's impressive. Imagine the same airplane you travel on when you fly to visit your grandma, but instead of seats, this one doesn't have any creature comforts outside of the cockpit, just a flat floor with rollers on it. Huge doors on the nose, tail or side open to reveal an empty cylinder for cargo. To load it, forklifts feed crates, cars and pallets into the maw of the beast. The cars themselves are wrapped in plastic and stacked two high on racks, and everything else is neatly loaded in. When all is said and done, a pilot, a co-pilot and many tons of rallycross cars and parts will travel together to Brazil.
With any luck, it'll all sail through customs and the teams will find their gear waiting for them when they get to Foz -- when the unpacking begins. Then, after the race on April 21, the process starts all over again: Destination Round 2 -- Barcelona, Spain.