LA PAZ, BAJA CA, MEXICO- It really is the “Race of the Century” and all eyes are on the bikes as the top manufacturers of off-road battle the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of the BAJA wilderness for the coveted 1x plate. It’s winner take all because the points race for the season championship is so tight, there is no jockeying for 2nd place to clinch the title. Second place is truly “first loser”. There is no other title in North America that means more for any off road team due to the rough conditions and mystique of a remote and foreign country. Look it up, it’s on the Internet-Johnny Campbell’s multi-decade legacy of HONDA dominance is under attack by the former kings of Kawasaki and now joined by KTM, which is relatively “new” for the European manufacturer. There are only 3 teams that can win this race and, therefore, the title: Defending 1x champion Colton Udall of JCR HONDA, former 1x champion Robby Bell of THR KAWASAKI and virtual BAJA rookie Kurt Caselli of FMF KTM.
The X-Factor is the new course section
We took 4 days on the bike to survey as much of the racecourse as possible (as we did in 2010) to find out what the riders are up against. We found that the average speed will come down from 2010 and that the recent storms have dramatically worn the terrain in a bad way. Additionally, SCORE has added an 85-mile section in the midpoint that can only be described as “TOTALLY HACKED OUT”. The new section will be the X- factor for the bike teams as this is a highly technical area with deep sand and silty s-turns wrapped up by the most gruesome and rocky 5 mi section into San Ignacio. No exaggerating here: it is the harshest 5 miles for bikes in the history of the race. If the wind comes up, as is the custom, the silt beds in the first part will be blinding for the racers who will reach this spot in just an hour after the sun sets.
So who will win the race and the title?
It is just way too close to call. So here are the factors for each team to consider:
This is a night race, period. Due to the geography of the Baja Peninsula and it’s orientation to the earth’s longitude, the racers travel toward the southeast and therefore into darkness during the top half of the race. By our calculations, the racers will have only 9 hours of daylight versus 12-13 hours of darkness. When the sun sets, racers will be traveling into it on the way into El Arco. Also, the race cannot be won in the first half, but it can easily be lost by a single mistake. The technical nature of the new section and the possibility of inclement weather (wind, fog and/or cold) means that racers will have to balance speed and endurance with care and efficiency. By default, at least one team will lose the race in the first half by rider error, but quite ironically, can win it back by the misstep of another in the second half. It certainly can come down to the last 50 miles. Fog played a factor in speed during the last 100 miles for Kendall Norman’s 5th win 2 years ago, although he won the race handily.
Starters might not be able to help finish- This is a relay race and, due again, to the particular geography of BAJA and the massive Sierra de San Pedro de Martir, racers who ride anywhere north of San Felipe might not stay ahead of their teammates if they get off their respective bike in the northern section. SCORE rules prohibit racers from being transported by air after they have already raced. THR’s Robby Bell for instance, is expected to end his race around San Felipe and let his teammates carry the torch for his effort. The same may holds true for FMF KTM’s Ivan Ramirez and JCR HONDA’s David Kamo. The only conceivable way these riders could race in the north AND make it to an “interception point” further south is to stay in the race for 325 miles to Coco’s Corner and/or to ride a “ghost bike” as fast as possible down the east side of the peninsula and join the HWY 1 at Chapala dry lakebed. While this is possible it is not so practical.
Breaking the teams down, piece by piece:
1x-JCR HONDA: COLTON UDALL, TIMMY WEIGAND, DAVID KAMO
We will start with defending 1x champion Colton Udall and his teammates David Kamo and Timmy Weigand. We now know that Timmy has been staying in La Paz and pre-running many nights (with Caselli ironically) on the final 220 miles. We expect Timmy to finish for Colton, as he did in the last Baja 1000. Our intel sources have spotted Colton pre-running as far north as San Felipe and clear down toward Loreto. Colton looks up to Timmy as a mentor and coach. They are like two peas in a pod and Colton trusts Timmy with everything. Also a factor to consider: while Colton has proven speed on his split times versus former rival Kendall Norman, he has only won 2 SCORE races in his career, back to back San Felipe 250s, both with the late Jeff “OX” Kargola on his team. Johnny Campbell’s experienced team and logistical integrity of the pit program are not to be understated. That they only have 3 riders is the weak point versus KTM and KAWI who each have 4 (plus 1 back-up each). Johnny himself is the backup rider for JCR, as is the tradition on that team. There is no question that this is Colton’s moment of truth. A win here validates the noble warrior. A loss would be truly devastating.
8x-THR KAWASAKI: ROBBY BELL, STEVE HENGEVELD, DAVID PEARSON, DESTRY ABBOTT
Robby and Henge were both groomed by the late Bruce Ogilvie’s HONDA dynasty and defected in 2008 when Johnny Campbell disconnected HONDA’s off road program from the American HONDA complex in Torrence. Ever since Bell’s departure, he has worked with Henge to dislodge Johnny from atop his perch in the BAJA arena. In 2009, Bell & Hengeveld came within 2 minutes (after 900 miles) of tackling Johnny’s boys, but was rooted by Kendall Norman who stalked Henge in the darkness for 150 miles and finished a minute behind him. THR’s has some great strengths: the experience and tenure of Bell and Henge, the logistical prowess and engineering talent of Robby’s dad Bob and Precision Concepts, the maturity of Destry Abbot who is now 40 and has only the BAJA 1000 remaining on his list of things he wants to accomplish before retiring. Abbott is considered one of the most accomplished off-roaders of all time, well rounded and humble. KAWASAKI recently cancelled their off-road program and Abbott is ready to retire. Doing so with a BAJA 1000 title will be the icing on his cake. The ‘gentle giant’ David Pearson is motivation to p a win for THR, especially versus rival Kurt Caselli. Recently, Pearson threw an AMA championship literally onto the ground and figureitivley into Caselli’s hands in Lucerne Valley when he hastily rode down pit road while fueling his bike before dropping his dump can on the ground. Pearson is ready for redemption. In the past, THR has had several pitting and logistical mistakes which they hope to remedy by enlisting BAJA PITS as the core infrastructure for the pitting needs. It is expected the 8x bike of Bell will stop at nearly all 20 BAJA PITS location and THR personnel will be on hand at each. As for weakness or cracks, THR KAWI has few if any. If someone had to pick a team that is advantaged, THR KAWI would be the one, but it is still way too close to call.
FMF KTM: Like Destry Abbott, Kurt Caselli has won just about everything in off-road and is the successor to filling Abbott’s shoes as the most accomplished off road racer ever. The only meat left on that bone, like Abbott’s, is the cliché “granddaddy of them all”. Caselli approached KTM over a year ago to wage a complete war against incumbent JCR HONDA. A natural leader, Caselli is running the show weather or not KTM heads may suggest it. Caselli has been working the graveyard shift in southern Baja for many weeks and has been, believe it or not, sharing pre-running time with JCR’s Timmy Weigand. The two are great friends yet they will battle each other like no tomorrow in the greatest motorcycle race ever staged in the western hemisphere, perhaps the world, even rivaling any DAKAR battle. Caselli’s teammates Ivan Ramirez and Quinn Cody have each crashed this year. Ramirez cash in the BAJA 500 cost Caselli a win there and Cody’s spill in San Felipe took Mike Brown’s bike out of that race. Let’s talk about Quinn Cody for a moment: The JCR defector, like all others before him, has it out to knock Johnny off the box, but crashes at DAKAR and San Felipe this year have put his total strength in question and he may not yet be at 100%. His experience helping Kendall Norman win as many as 5 BAJA 1000’s is not to be understated so we will put a check next to Cody’s name in the strength column. Another great strength for KTM is BAJA native Ivan Ramirez. We wouldn’t be talking out of school to suggest he may have countless cousins and distant relatives who could pitch in to help KTM’s entry into southern BAJA. The one question is weather or not KTM’s top brass wants to take any chances delegating any logistic outside of its central control. If KTM has a strength, its their bike speed and Caselli’s work ethic. The weakness would be ‘net’ inexperience in southern BAJA.
Where the Hell is Kendall Norman?
The 6 time BAJA 1000 champ has had a number of challenges, some of which have not been widely reported but his abilities have never been questioned. He was “released” suddenly from JCR after winning #6 a year ago and has yet to find either a win or a team to call home. Rumors and predictions (even a verbose one by this fallible author) have never materialized. He would give KTM the advantage in this race, or any team for that matter, but he appears absent in this arena, much to the loss of all parties, especially the fans.
Low moonlight: 6% illumination
9 hrs of daylight
13 hours of darkness
Likelihood of inclement weather
Guarantee of changing weather
Ave speed prediction: 52.5MPH
Total time estimated: 21.33 hrs
Gets dark around rm475, bikes heading southwest into setting sun
Estimated to cross finish at 4:03PST, 5:03 local (1hr 3 min before sunrise)