KTM AND THR KAWI TO CHALLENGE JCR HONDA
Buildup to San Felipe- Something Has to Give
The San Felipe 250 is always highly anticipated for the motorcycle classes for two reasons: This is the critical first SCORE race for the moto class points championship and, mile per mile, it is the roughest race course on the planet even when compared to the DAKAR Rally and Vegas To Reno.
The first point speaks to the importance of this race for teams and racers who want to make a run at the points race and the highly coveted 1x plate, which has been owned by Johnny Campbell Racing and HONDA since the last century. The second point addresses the pure gnarliness of San Felipe’s outskirts which are peppered with miles of giant whoops, deep sand and perilous hidden rocks. For the typical tourist or college partier, San Felipe is soft and easy with cold beers, fish tacos and toes in the sand. For the professional moto classes at the SF 250, it’s hairy and treacherous, anything but soft: It’s hard-core. On a per mile basis, it trumps anything in else in the world and, while that may seem like a bold claim, it is irrefutable. SF is pure gnarr and this year’s race is laden with talent as KTM and THR KAWASAKI bring their guns down to try and unseat the HONDAs of Kendall Norman and Colton Udall.
It’s the first time in this century that such a challenge has faced the HONDAs. Last year, KAWI showed up with Robby Bell and Steve Hengeveld to try and win. They came in second behind first time winner Colton Udall with team mate Jeff Kargola.
But this year we have a stacked field and its super interesting because both KAWI and KTM are introducing SCORE rookies: THR KAWASAKI’s Bobby Garrison and KTM’s Kurt Caselli. This is huge for the sport but puts enormous pressure on both teams to perform because how they finish in San Felipe will determine whether on more red cent will flow from sponsors in the subsequent BAJA 500 (June) and BAJA 1000 (Nov). Word on the street is that if KTM (Ivan Ramirez and Kurt Caselli) don’t do really well (duh, winning), there will be no further support in BAJA for the rest of the year. Similarly for the THR KAWI of Shane Esposito, Bobby Garrison and Steve Hengeveld, they need to kill it in order to receiving funding for the rest of the series. It should be noted that although Garrison won the TECATE Enduro in December and got 2nd in the 2010 TECATE Hare Scrambles, this is his first time racing in SCORE, which is a whole different speed. On the THR KAWI, Esposito is a seasoned vet, Hengeveld a multi-time open pro champion and Garrison is no stranger to the podiums of WORCS, BITD and many others.
The pre-race analysis says HONDA’s “A” team, 1x (Kendall Norman and Quinn Cody) is heavily favored. Cody just returned from his DAKAR debut and did phenomenally there, toughing it out in a tent for 2 weeks and 6000+ miles. Cody also has his name carved into the canyons of Matomi Wash on the south side of the course. Norman, it had previously been rumored, may not even be 100% human and there is now talk of him having trace amounts of tiger’s blood running through his veins. The guy is just not from this terrestrial realm.
Enter HONDA’s “B” team, 6x (Colton Udall and Jeff OX Kargola). These two won last year after Norman decided to solo the race and crashed on the backside, giving Udall/ OX the checkers on a silver platter. Udall also suffered from the law of unintended consequences last November when Justin Imhoff’s tragic crash also resulted in Udall’s losing the 2010 points championship, which was essentially in the bag.
So in the pro class 22, it’s 2 HONDAs vs. a KTM and THR KAWI. Each team has its strong points but it’s a question of who’s been down there the longest in the past few weeks. The storms of the last two years have totally rearranged the sand washes and what used to be noticeable hazards are now replaced with new ones. Those teams that took the time and did the homework to know those lines now have an upper hand on race day.
There are two other teams to watch out for: In class 40, you have Baja masters Jeff Kaplan, Ron Wilson and 2010 class champ Louie Franco sharing duties on the Scott Dunlevy built 400x from Berkley HONDA. Although they are entered in class for (duh, winning season points), they just as well may have entered class 22 because, in reality, they are racing for the overall. That’s a noble aspiration, but they are starting at least 17 positions behind the first bike off the line. Norman/ Cody, on the other hand, start 2nd. Nevertheless, the wisdom, knowledge and expertise of the Kaplan team give them a reasonable shot at an overall podium. Class 30 contenders include 2010 class champ Francisco Septien with team mate Jason Trubey on 300x and Mike Johnson on 306x. Class 21 is a wild card but eyes are on Adam Newirth (105x) who is pretty nutty even for Baja standards. In fact, even Charlie Sheen thinks this guy needs therapy. New for 2011 is the change in class 20. Score amended its criteria to allow for all bikes up to 400cc. Unfortunately it didn’t attract any newcomers, because as of press time, there are no entries for this class.
Alas, the kickoff for the 2011 SCORE season kicks off for the motorcycle classes Saturday morning and it will happen very fast. The winners will be back at the arches before lunch. Stay tuned to RDC for on-going coverage. We are down there for the love of it and we know you will be watching.