The Malecon is packed with people partying, taco and beer tents litter the street and a mariachi band pauses for a tuba solo while the crowd cheers. While this sounds like the San Felipe 250 it’s actually the CODE OXXO San Felipe 200.
CODE, based in Mexicali, is a smaller promoter but they are every bit as professional as the larger top-tier groups in desert racing. 115 entries took to the extremely rough 35 mile course on an unseasonably hot Saturday that hits 94 degrees. The race was broken up into groups for safety, with bikes and quads starting first and doing three laps, then sportsman, 9, 11 and 7s who did four laps, and in the afternoon unlimiteds, 12, 10, 8, 7 and 5s open finished with five laps.
The event started with technical inspection and contingency held at the El Cortez hotel near the center of town. It was scheduled to run from 5pm to 10 pm, but at midnight racecars were still being teched and lots of fans were still partying, embracing the baja lifestyle.
The start/finish line was just north of town on the Ejido and went west, paralleling the road to Morelia Junction then it joined the 250 course at Zoo Road for ten miles; from there it worked its way south and east on new race course back to the start. The entire course was incredibly rough with giant whoops, rocks, two track and square ledges and these obstacles took their toll on the machines throughout the day with 48% of the field failing to finish.
In Pro Motorcycle Francisco Septien took an early lead and never looked back putting down the fastest time of the day to take first overall in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 27 seconds at 41.87mph. In Pro Quad, the team of Alex Gomez, Cesar Chanate, Lipy Torres and Pancho Zuniga ran super consistent with all laps within 10 seconds of each other. Their total time of 2 hours, 51 minutes and 9 seconds at 36.81mph was good enough to take the class win.
At 9:30 am the first groups of cars and trucks left the line, led by Class 18, CODE’s version of 1450. Much like the top tier of 1450 the 18 trucks were very well built and very fast with big tires, shocks and V8’s, but also like their northern brothers the class was plagued with reliability issues. Carlos Fonseca and Jorge Ortega finished all their laps in 3 hours, 27 minutes and 18 seconds at 40.52mph. Their speed was the second highest average of the day and the highest of all four wheeled vehicles. Rounding out the podium was Jose Acuna 20 minutes back and Mario Leal 53 minutes back in third.
Class 11 ace Roberto Robles took the win in his class in 3 hours, 57 minutes and 1 seconds at 26.58mph. Robles battled with Ruben Espinoza Jr. on the first two laps as the two were within seconds of each other but Espinoza had problems on his third lap costing him an hour, but he persevered to take second in class 58 minutes back.
Class 15, a sportsman version of the venerable 5/1600 had the largest field of the day with 16 entries. The team of Danny Sanchez and Orlando Duenes were dominant and were minutes faster each lap to finish with a time of 4 hours 31 hours and 42 seconds at 30.92mph. Daniel Hernandez was second 23 minutes back followed by Javier Alberto and Silva Leon in third another four minutes back.
At two in the afternoon the unlimiteds left the line for five laps of the brutal course. Benny Canela was the fastest in class driving a Ford F150 and he was also the only finisher with all others suffering breakage. Canela ran the course in 4 hours, 58 minutes and 11 seconds at 35.21mph.
In traditional beam cars Class 16 driver Tanner Harris beat all the 12 cars with a time of 4 hours, 41 minutes and 3 seconds at 37.36mph, second fastest of the afternoon race. Juan Gallo was the fastest in class 12 with a time of 4 hours, 52 minutes and 32 second at 35.89mph.
In Class 7 Arturo Alvarez and Quetzalli Cortez put down the fastest time of the afternoon race and won their class in 4 hours, 21 minutes and 50 seconds at 40.1mph. The team was also the only truck to finish after all the other entries dropped out.
While the race itself went very smoothly the day was not without problems. A spectator on foot who was reportedly “super wasted” got lost and was separated from his group near race mile five. He was later spotted near mile 15 and was eventually found on the highway and taken to the hospital for fluid replacement, and reports are that he will recover from the dehydration but the prognosis is grim for him getting smarter or learning moderation.
Promoter Alfonso LaCarra spoke about the race at the finish. “This is my favorite place to race, I race an 11 and a 9 but I love the rough courses. Everything was perfect, the course was really rough. Some people liked it a lot but others said I must hate them; what can you say, it’s San Felipe. I busted my butt to come up with the smoothest course possible, but San Felipe is always hard.”
Sergio Cardenas from Mexicali Tourism also spoke about the race. “San Felipe is special, you can go and race for a few hours then get out of your car and it’s a short distance to go and relax at the hotels or hit up the bars.” Cardenas is also a big fan of CODE, ”CODE is the best promoter in Baja, because they have all the Mexican racers but also 60% out of town racers, including the US, Tijuana and Ensenada.”
The CODE series resumes on May 20th with the Escomex night race.