The 2016 Sun Valley Road Rally Pulls Off A Nail-Biter
SVPN Magazine, September 2016
Words & Images by David Concannon
7:00 a.m., Saturday, July 23. Twelve miles north of Ketchum.
The mid-summer sun is just peaking above the mountains to the southeast, casting its first warm glow onto volunteers and crew assembled in a pullout to the side of Highway 75. The sound of the nearby Wood River is evident in the heavy morning air, still thick with mist and cold from the night before. People shiver and warm themselves with steaming cups of coffee as a bevy of supercars enters the area, and the sound of the rushing river is replaced by the crunch of gravel, low voices, the revving of engines and the nervous energy given off by the drivers and their teams of mechanics and guests. A sense of energy and excitement fills the air.
Welcome to the start of the 2016 Sun Valley Road Rally. Today is the culmination of a year of planning, thousands of hours of preparation, and the work of dozens of volunteers. This is the day that goals will be met, smiles will spread, high fives will fly, and hundreds of thousands of dollars will be raised to support local charities. By day’s end, 41 drivers will complete 75 high-speed runs in six heats, to the cheers of 800 enthusiastic spectators – those who had been fortunate enough to acquire tickets to the event before it sold out three weeks earlier.
The previous night, 200 cars paraded in the Ketchum Cruise & Car Show, to the delight of 7,500 residents and visitors, and hundreds of local businesses. The two-day Ketchum Cruise & Car Show and the Sun Valley Road Rally has officially become one of the largest and most successful events in the Wood River Valley.
But memories of the last night’s crowds lining the parade route and cramming Ketchum Town Square are dissipating with the morning mist as the drivers prepare their cars for the 3.2 mile ride north to the start of the course: a red line crudely painted across the tarmac of I-75 near the entrance to Cathedral Pines. If you listen closely, you hear talk of goals.
One person who is here to achieve a personal milestone is Forbes adventure writer, Jim Clash. Clash has taken more than a dozen supercars above 200 mph, but all were foreign-made – Bugatti, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, Mercedes McLaren, Porsche – and on foreign soil. Clash has never driven an American car 200 mph or above. He’s here to drive a 2015 Corvette Z06 loaned to him by Sun Valley Community Chest Treasurer Dave Stevens to see if he can break 200 mph for the first time in an American car on an American public road and, frankly, he has his doubts.
For the next several hours, drivers leave the assembly area in packs of cars led by police escorts to complete each heat, before returning with either smiles or expressions of frustration.
Clash was not having a great day. He achieved 196 mph on the Corvette’s speedometer on his first run, but a discrepancy with the timing equipment at the finish line gives him a recorded time of only 182 mph, and he is not happy. A second run by Stevens, the car’s owner, yields a speed of 198.3 mph, but a third run by Clash leads to a scratch when the engine light comes on. It doesn’t look good.
Similarly, Bowman is unhappy with the result of her first run – 177.9 mph – and she resolves to go again.
Also having a difficult time is Hezy Shaked in his crowd-pleasing Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse, nicknamed “Hellbug.” Shaked’s personal goal is to achieve 247 mph, besting the 246.4 mph time set by Benjamin Chen in his Bugatti Veyron Super Sport Pur Blanc, a.k.a. “Panda,” in 2014. Last year, Shaked tried but ran 235.7 mph. This year, he has donated nearly $12,000 to make six runs to achieve his goal. With each run, Shaked goes incrementally faster: 215, 219.4, 226.4, 230, but a problem with the timing equipment on his fifth run – his best – leads to a failure to record his speed across the finish line. With rising winds and heat taking their toll on the course, Shaked’s final time in his last run is “only” 228.2 mph. He vows to return next year and try again.
Others are more fortunate. Peggy Baker, happily riding with her girlfriends in a 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible, top down and scarves flowing, ran the slowest speed of the day: 55.4 mph. In the supercars, Joe Clark ran over 200 mph in both a McLaren 675 LT and an Aston Martin One-77, one of only 77 made and as rare as a unicorn in the United States; Cass Whithead broke 200 mph in two Porsches, a Panamera Turbo S and a 911 Turbo S; and Edsel Ford II, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, hit a personal best of 186 mph in his baby blue and orange 2006 Ford GT40 (Boise State colors?) with his wife Cynthia in the passenger seat.
Speaking of Porsches, John Crowley ran another crowd-favorite, a classic Porsche 911 “reimagined” by Singer Vehicle Design, up to 175.8 and 176.2 mph; and, in her second run of the day, Carol Bowman smashed 206 mph. Bowman was elated; emerging from her car, fists pumping, she said: “I had no idea what speed I did because I don’t look down. I just want to know where that finish line is!” Bowman crossed the finish line at 206.7 mph, to be exact, besting her goal and making her the fastest woman in the rally’s nine-year history.
In fact, Porsche made an exemplary showing throughout the day, to the great pride of the rally’s title sponsor, Porsche Cars North America, Inc. Speaking for the company, Lene Staertzel, Area Marketing Manager for Area West, said: “This is our second time as title sponsor of this great event and we have seen the event grow and become bigger and better over the years. We loved being a part of it again this year as we witnessed our 911 Turbo break the 200 mph mark and we are hoping to do the same with the new Panamera next year. Working with Dave Stone and his team is such a pleasure and we are so glad we get to be a part of it all.”
Part-time Sun Valley resident Cynthia Ford echoed this sentiment: “This event is, bar none, one of the favorite events we've ever done. It's so simple for the participants. The organizers do an amazing job so it is simple for us. It's such a community effort - from the Sun Valley Auto Club to the Sheriff’s office and countless volunteers. We absolutely love it."
As the day’s events drew to a close and time was running out for the legally approved time to finish, there was talk of adding a seventh heat, but Sheriff Gene Ramsey’s permission was needed. When Dave Stone asked the Sheriff for permission, his response was typical of the 39 years of dedicated service he has provided to this community: "How much money will you raise if you open a seventh heat?" “$24,000,” says Dave. "Do it,” said the Sheriff.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not so charitable. With crosswinds gusting dangerously in the afternoon sun, the seventh heat was cancelled. But, on the last run of the last heat of the year, Jim Clash pulled it out. He hit 206.8 mph in a second borrowed car, a turbocharged 2007 Corvette Z06 loaned to him by Brent Rule of Restoration Rods in Boise.
With that, the 2016 Sun Valley Road Rally was in the books. But not before a final celebration dinner was held that evening, where even more money was raised to support the local community. A number of donated items were auctioned off, including an official Blaine County anniversary police pocketknife donated by Sheriff Gene Ramsey ($2,000); a “No Speed Limit” sign autographed by the drivers; photographs of the participants’ cars donated by SVPN’s photographers, David Concannon and Nils Ribi ($1,700); a designer-signed Halo racing helmet, worn in the rally and donated by a driver. Also, eight people bought trips to the Porsche driving school, and the 2017 Porsche Macan S seen in town before the rally weekend fetched over $100,000 in a raffle. The money raised will go to the Drug Coalition and other worthy needs throughout the local community.
As the day ended and darkness fell, each participant left with bragging rights and the deep satisfaction of knowing they contributed substantially to the betterment of the community. And maybe with the knowledge that they will be back next year, to achieve goals unfulfilled or meet new ones, because the glow they felt while leaving the Saturday night gala was exactly like that early morning sun at the start of the course: warm, fleeting, but welcoming. Yeah, they’ll be back.
Note: To view a gallery of photos from the 2016 Sun Valley Road Rally, the final event to be run at Phantom Hill, click here.