NORRA Mexican 500 Recon -

NORRA Mexican 500 Recon

Last month Mike Pearlman of NORRA invited us to come along for a day of marking the Mexican 500 race course. This will be a new event for NORRA after coming back into the racing world in 2010 with the annual Mexican 1000, a 4-day event from Mexicali to La Paz and Los Cabos.

The Mexican 500 will be combined with the classic CODE Mexicana Logistics race. While CODE races for one day only and relies on a common desert racing layout, after day one NORRA will press on with its 3-day rally. The new race will start in Ensenada, going through Mexicali, San Felipe and returning back to Ensenada on its 3rd day. We only preran and marked parts of the first day’s layout. Day one’s course will be open to public pre-running while day two and three will remain secret and only revealed to the NORRA racers shortly before they enter the race.

This prerun day was lead by Mike Perlman and Alfonso LaCarra of CODE. Both have very precise ideas on where the course should be laid out and today’s trip was to confirm what looked good on the map. Some parts also needed to get approved by the respective land owners and authorities before a race course can be declared official. We followed along and took pictures, absorbed the beauty of Baja, and tried to stay clear of the other professionals working.

_A110135Our journey begins at 6AM. We are heading south-east outside of Ensenada on Hwy3

_A110140Mexico has a high catholic population and here is one of many crosses sticking through the morning fog about 20 miles outside of Ensenada

_A110143The infamous military checkpoint as you enter the city of Ojos Negro. The checkpoints are the governments attempt to fight the drug cartels. The soldiers may search your car for contrabands. Typically there is not much to worry about and most soldiers conduct themselves in a professional matter.

_A110148Coming out of Ojos Negro we continue to follow Mike to the small town of Heróes de la Independencia to meetup with the rest of our course marking crew that came from Mexicali. This intersection often becomes part of RECORD and SCORE races held in the area when race cars proceed on the dirt road into the background.


_DSC0014Marking a course starts out with ideas on a paper map. NORRA and CODE officials share ideas before heading onto the terrain to find those lines on paper. Even at a time of GPS Devices and maps on tablets a traditional paper map is used.

_A110209Gasolina obviously translates into Gas or Fuel and that is what is being offered at this very unofficial gas station. We are far between towns and if you are in pinch to refuel this is a very welcome sight.

_A110214We are entering the Jamau area. This part of Baja is known for its natural terrain jumps. Many races in northern Baja go through Jamau.

_A110173Caballo in spanish means horse and it doesn’t matter if you are pre-running or racing. You need to remain focused and expect the unexpected on the roads.

_A110154NORRA, CODE, RECORD, SCORE and ESSOR all race in Baja and its common to see markings from one of these organizations along the way. In this case it is a “Wrong Way” marker for the RECORD June race. If you see this as a racer on race day you are about to enter a zone you shouldn’t enter.

_A110254A desert is not always a deserted flat area of waste land. No its alive and full of plants. If you stick around for a bit and remain calm you see plenty of wildlife. Unfortunately it’s also very hot. At 10am in June the air temperature was in the 90s and rising.

_A110238111 copyPanoramic view of the wide open desert. [Clickable for larger view]

_A110221Some property owners prefer no off-road driving on their land. This sign warns that this is a cattle zone and no off-road cars and Motos (Motorcycles) are welcome ahead.

_A110280NORRA and CODE officers discuss if a section that we just pre-run is suitable for all race cars or if an alternative route should be picked. Small breaks are also welcome to stretch the body for a moment and to absorb the Baja beauty before continuing the off-road drive.

_A110295Alfonso Lacarra is closing a gate after we passed through. Its absolutely critical that you close every gate you opened when off-roading in Baja. This keeps livestock where it belongs.
_A110315Rancho Viejo is a very simple cattle farm who’s land NORRA and CODE is exploring as a potential race course for the Mexican 500. We try to check in with the owner to propose the plan and get permission.

_A110301NORRA and CODE officers are chatting with the Sandoval Brothers, owners of Rancho Viejo land. Even the dog wants to participate.

_DSC0022Miguel Angel Salgado runs Rancho Viejo. He works raising cattle and horses and loves off-road racing. It looks like we will be welcome to race through his land for the Mexican 500.

_A110223There are two common ways to keep cattle from leaving your property. One is simple barb wire fence and the more elegant solution is a cattle guard. Cars and people can comfortably pass through while the four leggers wont. The advantage is no slowing down for gates but the higher costs of these makes them more scarce in Baja.

_A110334Even horses follow one leader. We stopped for a minute to observe this herd of horses roaming the ranch. Note the bell on the lead horse.

_A110345Eventually we reached another farm of another owner. The owner wasn’t there to negotiate a deal for land use so we continued on through the property to mark what may become the course. We will have to continue here at a later time.
_A110368We are getting into some mountain terrain as we are following Mike Pearlman in his Land Cruiser.
_A110380Around 3pm you get to see a first glimpse at La Laguna Salada in the far distance.
_A110394These mountain roads have not been raced on in over 10 years. Some of it is single car width wide with severe consequences for failed passing attempts. This part of the Mexican 500 will be fun for some while terrifying for others but without a doubt challenging for all on race day.
_A110406Dude where did I park my Suburban comes to mind. This old burned out carcase alongside the path seemed odd and in sharp contrast of the beauty of nature.
_A110436The CODE Jeep makes it down the rocky mountains.
_A110454After the long mountain descent we re-grouped and cooled of with some cold drinks. Mike (left) is in deep though and concerned about the last rocky mountain section. The group started to discuss alternative routes and the challenges ahead for some the more fragile historic race vehicles that typically race in NORRA. From what we understand the mountain decent will be part of the Mexican 500 and is considered passable for all vehicles.
_A110469Capirote Mountain, famous for its dark top lays next to us on our way back to Mexicali.
_A110463One more last stop and an opportunity to stretch the legs before the long drive through the drylakes. It is getting late in the day and we are soon running out of day light.

_A110477Now we are driving into darkness and suddenly everyone wants to push on to get out of the desert before total darkness.

_A110516The Laguna drylake is miles upon miles of flat surface. This is not the type of drylake that is perfectly smooth. No surface world speed records will be set here since there are ruts and bumps that get your attention the faster you travel. We on purpose keep a sizable distance to each other to avoid driving in the dust and have time to react to those “Watch out for…” radio calls.
_A110505The sun is about to set in Baja. The NORRA Mexican 500 & CODE Mexicana Logistics will be held on September the 27th and will cover the 3 day event daily.
Photos by Ernesto Araiza

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