On Friday, February 7th, 2014 in Means Dry Lake area at Johnson Valley, California USA., a 194 mile off-road endurance race was held for the eighth year that has become known as the gold standard for an extreme test in unlimited off-road competition.
The test, first held in 2007, is known as the Griffin King of the Hammers (KOH) and gets its name from the many rock strewn climbing tracks encountered throughout the course (Claw Hammer Trail, Jack Hammer Trail, Sledge Hammer Trail and the area includes Wrecking Ball Trail, Sun Bonnet Trail, and After Shock Trail to highlight a few features). The KOH presents an intimidating blend of endurance desert racing that features rock crawling, sand tracks, hard-packed rock trails, near-vertical rock walls, and treacherous ledges.
Nitto sponsored racer and 2010 KOH event winner, Loren Healy, of Farmington, N.M., took the top winning spot, driving the Unlimited class 4400 #67 Jimmy's 4x4 ATX Wheels/Nitto Tire Ultra4 buggy, finishing the 194 mile race with a total time of 8:03:25. Healy felt, as communicated during a post race celebration on Thursday, Feb, 14 2014 held by Nitto Tire in Cypress, he was able to be successful again because of three main factors.
The main or #1 factor boiled down to the template philosophy that a steady and even pace with a buggy designed to take advantage of the driver's core strength of obstacle climbing was key. This starting point effected the outcome of the other two remaining factors which aided heavily to the reliability of the vehicle and allowed for an overall quickest conclusion to completing the 194 mile challenge.
"I always enjoyed the adrenaline of going fast in the desert," says Loren Healy. "I wasn’t a desert racer to start. I was a recreational rock crawler. When they put them together in Ultra4, I had to try it."
The #2 factor came in the choice of front axle the Ultra4 buggy was built upon. The controversy centers on the performance and reliability of an independent suspension/travel axle versus a solid straight/unitized travel axle. To take advantage of his recreational rock crawler strength and background, Loren Healy specified a straight axle for his Ultra4 design.
"As the sport grows, the technology advances with it. We’re lucky in in that there are a lot of products on the market designed for desert racing vehicles that work well for us," said Healy. "The biggest game changer recently has been the introduction of independent front suspension because it’s very forgiving. A solid axle car is like a ‘70s or ‘80s pick-up truck can handle the horsepower, but when you hit a bump [on the flats], the whole vehicle reacts. There are a few vehicles built in 2014 that now incorporate an independent rear suspension [as well]. It looks interesting, but I want to wait and see whether it holds-up enough to be an advantage."
Factor #3 came down to reliability. The mechanical will be what it is but the one area where time can be lost is in the choice of the tires. If the tread design is too 'blocky' and not staggered, it does not perform well going the 115 to 120 miles per hour speeds encountered in the flatter sandy tracks of the KOH course. On the other hand, if the compound of the rubber itself is too hard, grip is not at its maximum and crawling over rock obstacles may have the tires slip and loose grip. Further, the tires need to be able to remain inflated ... a tire change on the track could take over ten minutes and this could mean the difference in finishing first, or something less than first. Loren Healy choose ATX wheels fitted with custom KOH race designed Nitto tires, designed by Senior Staff Engineer Alan Ngo.
"Having the awesome ATX wheels and Nitto tires that we use, are a huge part of our success and how we race. It’s about the confidence to drive as hard as I can knowing that the wheels and tires can take it, without worrying about breaking a wheel or getting a flat tire. Every time you have to get out and change a tire, you’re losing positions to whoever is winning the race," he says. "We don’t even carry a spare tire. I don’t want the extra weight while we’re racing and I know they’re going to hold up."
Said Nitto Tire Senior Staff Engineer Alan Ngo, "We modified the design of a standard Nitto 40x13.50R17 Trail Grappler Mud-Terrain tire by adding sidewall grip nobs and softening the compound to allow for a greater level of cohesion for crawling over rock obstacles. This win represents two full years without a tire failure with any of the racers we have sponsored in the King of the Hammers endurance event."
Of the 156 drivers who started the event, just 32 finished the race. Including race winner Loren Healy, Nitto had a total of five drivers complete the event. Finishing fifth was Derek West from Springfield, Mo., in the #4420 Jimmy's 4x4 Nitto Tire Ultra4 buggy. Right behind West was Rick Mooneyham of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, in the #554 Nitto Tire Trick Toys Fabrication Ultra4 buggy. Also finishing this grueling event were Nitto-sponsored drivers Ben Napier from Sydney, Australia, and Erik Miller of Cumberland, MD. Napier, driver of the #4461 BN Motorsports Ultra4 buggy finished in 16th place, while Miller, driving the #4421 Miller Motorsports Ultra4 buggy came home in 25th place, despite leading a portion of the event.
For Loren Healy, driving the Unlimited class 4400 #67 Jimmy's 4x4 ATX Wheels/Nitto Tire Ultra4 buggy, winning the 2014 Griffin King of the Hammers presented by Nitto Tires off-road endurance event for the second time was as easy as 1-2-3!
... notes from The EDJE