The battle of the bikes is heating up again in Mexico and, as we get closer to the green flag, the last minute shuffling is keeping fans guessing how the big race will shake out this Saturday in Ensenada. Of the entire SCORE series, the BAJA 500 is a favorite among many looking for a “sprint” through the northern peninsula and the course remains almost totally recycled from recent years, giving an advantage to the veterans and creating a barrier to moat new entrants.
Class 22 (unlimited pro)- For the first time in the modern era, JCR Racing’s Team HONDA is going into the 2nd round of the series as an underdog, trailing the points leader BONANZA PLUMBING’s FMF/KTM and golden boy Kurt Caselli along with Mexico’s prodigal son Ivan Ramirez. But with both Caselli and Quinn Cody injured, KTM’s has shuffled the cards and stacked the deck to put more fire-power on Caselli’s 7x bike. After all, Caselli leads the points and has a shot at winning the 2012 points title after his impressive run in the San Felipe 250.
The biggest BAJA news for KTM and Caselli’s 7x bike is the addition of 3-time DAKAR winner Marc Coma from Spain. Many consider Coma to be the best off road racer in the world and he is no doubt in a peak physical condition. This will be his first appearance in BAJA and he join Ivan Ramirez and Mike Brown on the 7x in an effort to beat JCR’s Colton Udall and David Kamo (1x). A win for this KTM would virtually demolish Udall’s hopes to retain his 1x title. To insulate his effort to defend 1x, Colton brings Timmy Weigand back with him and looks to fortify JCR’s prospects for continual dominance of the BAJA Peninsula. Caselli (KTM 7x) will likely cross the start line on Saturday and immediately hand the bike off to Ivan Ramirez.
Also for KTM, the 2x bike of Mike Brown will be co-piloted by Mexico’s top off-roader Homero Diaz along with BAJA hero Gerardo “Niño”Rojas. This is a great move by KTM to spice the race up for all the locals of Mexico.
THR’s Robby Bell, who crashed hard at over 80 MPH in the first miles of the San Felipe, returns with David Pearson and Steve Hengeveld on the KAWI KX450. “Henge” has made no less than 6 previous attempts to win a SCORE race on a bike since parting ways with HONDA in early 2008. Will this be his day to stand on top of the podium again?
Another formidable contender to this BAJA 500 is the 5x Metal Mulisha bike of Mark Samuels and the Eddy Brothers, Matt & Max Jr. They have added top ace Kyle Sommers to that roster and Colton Udall’s brother “Pee’in” Ian Young will round out the line up for that bike. They did very well in San Felipe and have an easy shot at the podium.
Red Bull’s Kendall Norman (9x) is a lone privateer who is said to be going to Ensenada to “have fun” while solo-ing the BAJA 500 on a CRF 450x (colored blue and white). If he has a much “fun” as he did in San Felipe, where he was registered to race solo but did not start, he may have a massive hangover on Saturday instead. Norman, who was once the “King of BAJA” with multiple consecutive BAJA 1000 and 1x titles, has yet to win anything notable in 2012. What’s going on when a guy with this much talent starts to fade away? Is he perhaps staging a massive comeback to surprise and disappoint the top off road racers in North America?
Class 20 (bikes under 450cc)- Race-Solo.com’s Gabriel “Mexihonkey” Williams hopes to redeem himself as a soloist after a navigation error and consequent penalty cost him a narrow win in San Felipe. With only 4 bikes entered in the class, the elite endurance racer has another shot at winning this one against Chad Broughton.
Pure rookie Dane LaFontaine, will make his racing debut with an attempt to finish the BAJA 500 solo on an air-cooled HONDA XR400 while raising funds and awareness for Rancho Santa Marta Orphanage in San Vicente. It will be a physical and mechanical challenge that should prove to be the biggest of his life.
Class 21 (450cc) brings an epic war of past champions to the battlefield: Americans Shane Esposito and Scott Myers will lead a team on bike 102x against Mexicans Francisco Septien, Roberto Villalobos and Brandon Prieto on bike #104x. Former Champ Carlos Casas (105x) can also have a shot at this “class-warfare” as well. “Pyscho-Dude” Adam Neuwirth (101x) has had an uphill battle retaining some of his best recruits from the past but has a little secret sauce to possible wrangle his way up onto the podium. He has a big heart, lots of desire and he won’t give up.
The class 40 battle continues in Ensenada for Baja legends Jeff Kaplan and Ron Wilson (400x), who take their points lead to the line versus contenders Mike Johnson (402x) and Mike and Mike Prunty (403x).
The BAJA 500 is a sprint and a longtime favorite for many in the southwest because it’s a loop race and usually more economical to race. Even though the headcounts continue to shrink this class-warfare of sorts is sure to impress on race day and of course, your friends at RDC will have a small army of soldiers on the ground to bring the coverage right to you no matter where you are. Tune in first thing on Saturday morning at 6:30 AM!