Team OTSFF/MOTUL wrapped up the 2021 desert racing season this past weekend in the foothills of Las Vegas, Nevada, barnstorming their way to an impressive fifth place overall finish in the iconic Mint 400, aka “The Great American Off-Road Race”. The main event, which was staged on Saturday, December 4th, saw hundreds of off-road vehicles take on the challenging multi-terrain 100-mile desert track for a total of four laps. At least the ones that survived to reach the finish line!
Team owner Andre Laurin was back in the seat of the explosive OTSFF/MOTUL 6100 Spec Trophy Truck alongside navigator and long-time friend Kerry King. Truck builder/technician/team manager Adam Fitza was on hand in the pit as crew chief and backup driver. As in previous years, however, Laurin bit the bullet and completed the entire 400 miles.
On Wednesday, December 1st the Vegas Strip hosted racers’ parade day, which again attracted a huge crowd to get close-up views of the competition vehicles and drivers. The next day tech and contingency were on the schedule. Friday was set aside for qualifying, which saw Laurin churn out a quick pace, with his daughter Renee in the navigator’s seat. Laurin, who is known for his relaxed attitude towards qualifying, still pulled a respectable 10th place out of his sleeve.
“After our previous race, with some engine failures, it was time for a full chassis prep. I tore the OTSFF/MOTUL off-road truck down to bare chassis and nothing was untouched,” Fitza said. “New engine, transmission, sensors, rear gear, bearings, brakes, the list goes on! Finishing a race begins in the shop. We had a fairly tight time frame but were all motivated to come out swinging and that we did.”
“A few days before the Mint 400 festivities began, we tuned the truck at Danzio Performance Engineering and got an additional 40-hp to the rear wheels,” Fitza continued. “Amazing! From there we took the truck to apex desert to shake down and get Andre behind the wheel to feel the changes we made.”
The truck, which went through extensive pre-event prepping by Fitza, ran like a charm, and from the get-go Laurin and King were in a good position for a podium finish, battling against the usual suspects in the top-ten to top-five ranges. While Laurin drove the truck like he was born in it, King called the notes and monitored the vitals of the truck perfectly.
Although there were zero technical issues to deal with in the Mint 400, two flat tires ended up costing the team some time on the clock and basically negate any chance of an elusive podium finish. But it was close! When all was said and done, Laurin and King were only two seconds off of fourth place and eight seconds off of third! Regardless, all the stars aligned for the team with fifth place in the bag.
“The dust was the worst I’ve ever raced in, very difficult to see, but that was the same for everybody,” Laurin said. “Whenever we did get some clean air, I just kept the throttle down and went as fast as I could and hope for the best. A few times my heart was in my throat. We lost about five to six minutes changing the first flat, caused by hitting the sharp edge of a rock. Because of the position we were in on the track, it was hard to get at the tire.”
“The second flat was caused when the bead lock let go on the wheel,” Laurin continued. “Just circumstantial things you can always expect in dessert racing and hope it doesn’t happen. I pushed the truck hard and it got beat up pretty bad. There wasn’t much left of the body. The pit strategy orchestrated by Adam worked especially well for us and in the long run saved the day for us to still nail down a fifth-place finish.”
No matter how one looks at this, it’s an unbelievable feat in the most competitive class in desert racing on one of the roughest courses in North America. Team OTSFF/MOTUL rose to the occasion to end the season with smiles on their faces. With the overall results booked this year, everyone can see a top finishing spot in the near future and can’t wait to get back to the desert to make it happen.
“We felt very confident going into the Mint and although we somehow came just short of the podium, we still managed to stay focused enough to bring home a respectable fifth place,” King said. “It was a strange year for us, missing a number of events, but the season ended on a positive note. We matured greatly as a team and we have shown the competition that we deserve to run with them. We’re already looking forward to 2022 and taking our game to the next level.”
Not surprisingly, despite some other super demanding tracks on this year’s schedule, it was a general consensus that the 2021 Mint 400 was the toughest, roughest race of them all. And because there was no wind, the dust settled and hung in the air like fog, making for poor visibility in many places on the circuit.
Overall, it was a great way to finish off the 2021 season and set their eyes on a win in 2022.