In 2008, their virgin year as rally racers, Team New Mex Express took home the Willie Williams Award, the Palme d’Or of the annual Dustball Rally. Santa Fe-based driver and founder Matt Ruybal and navigator and co-driver John Paul Gonzales think they can score a repeat this August in the 1,500-mile scavenger hunt on wheels and attract enough sponsors to raise the $120,000 entry fee for the annual Gumball 3000 rally. Read their dust trail: teamnewmexexpress.blogspot.com
SFR: Is it a race or not?
JG: The saying goes: ‘It’s a rally, not a race.’ What we get at the beginning of the rally is a sheet of paper with ‘gimmicks’ on it. These are clues to items that you’ll see as you’re driving along the highways. So you’ll have a picture of a sign and you’ll be asked to identify the location of the sign or you’ll have to pick out the fourth letter of the third word of a street sign on the left of mile marker 20, and you string these together to answer a question. The competition is who is able to solve those questions the fastest and the most accurately and basically make the best time over the distance.
So, really this is competitive road tripping?
JG: I wouldn’t say it’s just a road trip, unless you also you want to boil Formula One racing to just guys in cars driving around in a circle.
Point taken…Do you guys have rules for the car stereo?
MR: Mostly during the rally we won’t really have the radio on unless we need to get some sort of traffic information from it. In our rally-prepared vehicle, we have a citizen band radio like truckers use. We have a GPS; we’re making phone calls down the road in order to get a clue. That’s kind of how they write it, these gimmick rallies: They keep you busy the entire time.
Has it made a huge difference that gas prices dropped back to a buck-something?
MR: We worked with my brother, who is an engineering student at [University of New Mexico], and we actually mapped out fuel mileages at different altitudes and measured the conditions for certain scenarios so that we wouldn’t run out of gas. You don’t realize the extent of the efficiency until you look at all your receipts after you get back and really realize you traveled 1,000 miles on less gas than somebody traveling at highway speeds straight across country.
Do environmentalists ever get on your case for using gasoline for sport?
MR: Actually, no we haven’t really gotten too much of a complaint. Rally vehicles are some of the best maintained I’ve seen anywhere.
JG: We are in the active search for a carbon-offset sponsor. We are conscious of the environmental impact of what I suppose some would call needless driving.
Matt, why don’t you tell me about your ride?
MR: The vehicle that we use is a 1995 Ford Mustang Cobra, a classic American muscle car. It’s just been a wonderful rally car because it combines all the creature comforts you need, such as air conditioning and cruise control, to keep pace in hilly areas without exhausting yourself.
The Legislature voted to ban text messaging while driving. Is that important to you?
MR: Our official stance is that the driver drives. When we are driving, we won’t do anything unsafe or break any sort of code or law. If you get pulled over, it is really devastating to your overall placing in the rally. Once you’re pulled over, it could be any amount of time that you’re stuck on the side of the road.
What do you think of Santa Fe drivers?
MR: To be able to get through a town like Santa Fe, where you have people from all over the world driving, is the ultimate test. It’s also the ultimate test place for a driver to be able to get in and out
of towns, in and out of small streets, big streets, around pedestrians.
JG: Santa Fe drivers made us grow up in a competitive environment. I think it gives us an edge overall.