Snagging Third Overall After Ultra4 Finals In A Topsy-Turvy Season

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Scott LeSage is a FOX Off-Road manufacturing engineer based in San Diego responsible for all Ford Raptor and Toyota TRD Pro programs. He also races the Ultra4 national series in the 4900 UTV class in his modified 2014 Polaris RZR. Here’s his report from the 2020 4WP Nitto Tire Nationals in Davis, Oklahoma on October 24.

“Eighth place at the final race of this crazy year was bittersweet. I maintained third overall in the National Championship and had unmatched reliability all year. I gained so much confidence this year and am ready to push harder for podiums and race wins in 2021.

“After the Utah race in September, I knew the car was still in okay shape except for the transmission. The week following the race was spent doing the critical prep and pulling the transmission. I had to travel for work most of the weeks between races, so I only had a handful of working days with the car. Remotely, I pulled all the parts together for Alba to assemble. New gear ratios, and shafts, Cryoheat gears and bearings, all ready to go and a new secondary clutch. I had one weekend to work and one weekend to test before the race. My prep weekend was spent getting the new transmission and other new parts installed. I felt confident and left for another work trip. One weekend left before the race. I finished a fab project and final prep late Friday night, and made a last-minute decision to swap shocks to my short course setup Saturday morning. I was testing in the desert by early afternoon and everything was going great until I started feeling a sudden and intermittent clunk.

“I was convinced it was the transmission or 4WD somehow, because it felt so harsh and metal to metal. I wasted the rest of that day, night and well into Sunday before I discovered it was the front springs binding and releasing on the shock body. I put new springs on my short course FOX shocks and the noise was resolved, but at least I had the utmost confidence in my drivetrain.

“One final night of little things on Monday, and the car was perfect. Tuesday was just packing and loading, then I was on the road. That night I slept in Arizona, then made it nearly to Dallas by the following night. About six hours of sleep in the truck and 18-hour days, just how I like it. I picked up a friend of mind in Dallas, and we made it up to the venue right as pre-running was opening. We head out to see both A and B loops as soon as we could, because daylight is so valuable since I only have a day and a half to see the course. My low short course setup was too aggressive for this course so, after our laps we swapped the shocks for my Desert/KOH setup. I practiced the short course, then we went out to see loop A again with the taller, softer setup I’m used to. The tail end of a hurricane was going to pass through the area that night, so we set our tents up on our neighbor’s flatbed trailer and hunkered down for the night. The wind was horrible and we woke up cold and wet; wonderful…

Qualifying

“After defrosting in the truck and letting the day warm up a bit, we went out to see the rocky B loop again. We got back just in time for the drivers meeting, with qualifying immediately after.”

“I put on a bit of a show in qualifying with my tall and loose desert setup, carrying one or two tires off the ground in most corners. I sometimes forget how quick the car actually is, I qualified ninth out of 26 cars. After qualifying there was a driver’s summit where they talk about rule changes and the future of the series, I’ll mention more about that later. The car was in great shape, so we did the usual pre-race checks and got to bed early.

Race Day

“The race was scheduled to start at 7 a.m., which was about 30 minutes before sunrise. The engine temp said 34 degrees when it started before dawn. A few trackers weren’t working so the start ended up being delayed 30 minutes. I rip off the start line into my usual cautious but quick pace. I was surprised to not see anyone the entire first loop, no one in front broke and no one caught me either. The attrition wasn’t going to be as high as I had expected.”

“Once back to the short course I screwed up the timing system by going straight out on the B loop instead of doing the short course loop to cross the start finish line. Many people made the same mistake, as there wasn’t any signage in this part of the course. Oops.

“On the B loop I finally caught and passed the car who started in front of me, but it was strange that I didn’t see more broken cars yet. My first full lap was an hour and seven minutes; I knew I would have to pick up the pace just to finish on time, regardless of what the leaders were doing. I turned it up and was hitting rocks harder than I thought the tires and car could handle, but it didn’t skip a beat. Nearly a full lap of beating on the car, brakes fading, and only seeing a handful of broken cars, I reached ‘the rock face’ on my second loop B. There was a car obviously rolled at the bottom, a Jeep assisting them, and a car backing down. This is a 50- to 75-foot slick, off-camber rock face just after a creek. It’s scary but not that bad if you have a full head of steam and a clear path.”

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“I was waved to a stop by course workers, but impatient with the other cars I engaged low gear, honked my horn and went for it. Almost to the top I knew I had made a mistake: the car was losing momentum and traction, sliding sideways into a groove of trees. If I turned up hill I would surely roll, so I turned into the slide and throttled on more time to allow a tree to ‘catch me’ instead of rolling down the hill. My heart sank as I did it, knowing I was getting into a very sketchy and time-consuming situation. I backed up slightly to try to get more level, but I just high-centered on branches and rocks. After I climbed out and started pulling the winch line, I actually asked a course worker to take a picture because this was the most ridiculous situation I have ever tried to self-recover from. They were too busy making sure the car didn’t roll down the hill and injure someone to oblige. 

“I backed up slightly to try to get more level, but I just high-centered on branches and rocks. After I climbed out and started pulling the winch line, I actually asked a course worker to take a picture because this was the most ridiculous situation I have ever tried to self-recover from.”

“The car was at a 75-degree angle on its side and only the tree and a big rock were keeping it from rolling down the hill. Once I got tension on the winch from up the hill it pulled right over and I was able to start the engine. I pulled a full spool of line into the winch then un-hooked and eventually drove out the top. Thank you, Warn Industries!

“After that little adventure I knew my chances of finishing on time were low. I just tried to settle into this new faster pace that I hopped would be fast enough to finish. I grabbed fuel and went out on my last lap. Radio communication had cut out after lap one, so I didn’t actually know where I was on time or position. I pushed on and the brakes were nearly useless at this point, but the tires and everything was holding together. I just kept hitting rocks and ledges harder and harder, increasing my pace even more.”

“I got the checkered flag when I crossed the finish line from the A loop and was blocked from completing my final B loop. My heart sank; I had finished every mile of every race that year and was just a couple minutes late from being able to prove that I had one of the three most reliable cars and programs across all classes in the entire 2020 Ultra4 series. Bummer.

“After some clarification with timing about my first lap, the finish order was corrected and I was officially eighth. That was enough to retain third place in the National Championship.The 2020 championship was calculated with best two out of three races plus the National race. Everyone’s King of the Hammers (KOH) points were excluded because no one else in the UTV championship hunt finished KOH. If it was a raw total I would have won by over 100 points, but that’s my goal for next year.

“What I learned this season is the car is now more reliable than I anticipated. I will make some more changes this winter to further improve, but now I have the confidence to use the full potential of the car. The pace of the entire UTV class has increased this year, so I’m excited to see the level of competition in 2021.”

Changes for 2021

Ultra4 will have a new website: It will launch in December and support revenue sharing and content creation. Media and racers will be able to upload, share, purchase and get paid for content right off the main website.

Live stream and tracking will be next level: They will improve upon the already world class live show and add premium features like live in-car video.

COVID-19 Mitigation plan: Ultra4 is bringing the largest and most robust COVID-19 plan I’ve ever heard of to the local California government to ensure KOH happens for the racers and fans.

The 2021 schedule: Nearly all the events are growing to festival status. The Moab race is during Easter Jeep Safari, the South Dakota race is during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and all classes are now racing during Crandon. I wish I had the money and time off work to do all of these massive events!

EV Class: Ultra4 is working with OEMs to offer a ridiculously high bounty for winning KOH in an electric vehicle (rumor is a $1 million). They will compete in an EMC class, and if they finish, they can race for the big money in the big race.

What Ultra4 has done and will continue to do for the off-road racing industry is push the envelope. Ultra4 is bridging the gap between world class racing and the off-road industry. We will all benefit from the level of coverage and exposure Ultra4 is bringing to the masses.

Complete race results here.

LeSage received his B.S. Engineering from Oregon State University, where he was captain of its Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team, a collegiate design competition where engineering students design, build and race off-road cars. Sixty to 100 teams compete in each competition. He started racing the Ultra4 series in 2018, finishing first at Ridgecrest.

// ridefox.com/utv