The Baja, the granddaddy of desert racing and is the home to some of the most challenging terrain that man has ever traversed. That’s part of what makes the Baja 1000 a check on the ultimate bucket list for racers the world over. It’s also where the biggest controversy in desert racing occurred in 2012, where a win was removed far after Sal Fish greeted the last racer and the clock was stopped. For 2013 the course has increased distance and that will have many looking for redemption or to take championships for the end of the SCORE season on the new loop course.
Let’s start first with the course change; while the 2013 Baja 1000 will not be a point-to-point race and not reach a full 1000 miles, it will be the longest loop course since 1985. That year the race was 822 miles long around the Baja Peninsula and this year will be 883 miles total from the start on Boulevard Costero in Ensenada. The terrain will be far different than last year as the rainy season has been exceptionally wet and could not only change the look of the course, but could also result in a muddier surface. There will be 8 physical checkpoints in which the competitors will have to come to a full stop before traveling to the next as well as six speed zones. Those zones have to be traveled at 66 miles per hour or drivers and riders will face penalties as many did in 2012. Those speed zones will also make up nearly 84 total miles of the full race distance.
Three other major changes are the start times with Motorcycles and ATVs in both Pro and Sportsman Classes will start at 11pm Thursday and the trucks and buggies will start at 9am Friday. There will also be a closed qualifying session for Pro Moto, Pro ATV, Trophy Truck, and Class 1. It will not be open to the public and will be run outside of Ensenada, off the race course so no one gets an early advantage. This will also mark the first year that Sal Fish did not own SCORE, which was taken over by HDRA owner, Roger Norman in 2013 and who has brought about these major changes.
It will be a great challenge and there will be many drivers and riders looking to add their names to the legendary list of those who completed the Baja. This year, names of racers who finish will potentially include rally car favorites like Andrew Comrie-Picard and Armin Schwarz, road race and open drivers Patrick Long and PJ Jones, TORC drivers Brad Lovell and Luke Johnson, and more. Just racing to the finish is enough for some of these drivers, especially first timers, but it’s being able to say “I won the Baja 1000” that really makes the hardcore come back and makes heroes into legends.
For 2013, simply racing the Baja will not be enough for two Trophy Truck drivers in particular; BJ Baldwin and Tavo Vildosola. The reason being is that in 2012 Tavo received a 90 minute penalty 7 days after the finish of the 1000 and stripped him of his win after a protest lodged by BJ. BJ had lodged the protest after a video surfaced of Tavo receiving vehicle service while racing down the peninsula. Tavo claimed no knowledge of the occupants of the truck but SCORE said that was regardless and that he received an illegal service, thus the penalty.
While Tavo is looking to redeem that win, you can’t count BJ out of redemption either. Many will look at his win with an invisible asterisk; a notation that he won a week after and only after the winner had 90 minutes tacked on to his finish time. Can one really say BJ won the Baja if he did not cross first? While SCORE officially does and fans of BJ do recognize the win, fans of Tavo and the diehard Baja enthusiasts don’t. The only way to fully solidify his win in 2012 to them will be to take the official win by crossing first over Tavo and the rest of the Trophy Truck field.
That’s also not the only thing to be determined at the last few feet of the Baja. There are still championships that are so close you couldn’t fit a sheet of paper between the bash bars. Sticking with Trophy Trucks, there is only 15 points between leader Bryce Menzies in the Red Bull F-150 and 6th place that is occupied by Juan and Carlos Lopez in the RPM Racing/Speed Energy Silverado. In this fight is also the controversial pair of Tavo and BJ, so this makes it a double triumph for both of them if they can reach the finish first. Or it can be devastatingly horrible, either way it will make a great story for one of those six drivers as this could be an even closer championship than the 2012 SCORE championship that was also won by BJ.
With the way Rob MacCachren has been driving lately, it’s hard to not call him a favorite for the overall. Rob’s no stranger to distance, as he won the longest SCORE Baja 1000 (1,296 miles) in 2007. Add three time Baja 1000 Overall Champ, Andy McMillin, in the mix and you have a duo with a huge support logistics, chase crews, and pits, which will most definitely make a difference for this grueling distance race. Earlier this year at Best in the Desert’s Vegas to Reno, Andy came out to race for Rob Mac and Steve Sourapas in the #6 Corona Trick Truck and said, “It took me maybe three miles to get back warmed up. I still got the feel of it.” Fast forward three months and Team Mac will be a major frontrunner in this years Baja 1000.
However, the monkey wrench in all of those plans will be the number 77 Speed Energy Silverado of Robby Gordon. Coming off of his first year as the owner and reinvigoration of stadium truck racing via his Stadium Super Truck Series; Robby looks to add another Baja win to his book despite the points race. He looks like a favorite considering that he took the overall at the SCORE Baja 500 this year and is always a threat, so long as his truck stays together. I say that as last year the truck was in contention and only 13 seconds behind the leader when the 77 blew out its rear shocks at marker 250 and had to be changed before his stint at marker 545.
Class 1 can’t be over looked as the unlimited buggies have a 10 point spread for the overall championship between 2012 Class 1 Champion Cody Parkhouse, Jr., Justin Matney, and Ronny Wilson. Last year’s 1000 winner, Luke McMillin, will not be in Class 1 for the 2013 Baja 1000 as he has moved into the Trophy Truck Class in the Racer Engineering F-150. First off the line for qualifying, though, will be Hedi Steele. The wife of Camron Steele and an off road veteran in her own right; the Desert Assassins driver will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Robyn Gordon and be the next overall female winner of the Baja 1000.
With all of the changes, history, and controversies, the 47th running of the SCORE Baja 1000 is set to be a historic one on November 14 through 17th. Race-Dezert.com will be there to cover the 2013 1000 like no other website can and will be the only way to find out if the 1000 will have fireworks in the skies, on the track, or both. Thank you also for reading my first of many articles to come here at Race-Dezert.com and am looking forward to bringing you the latest in off road and desert!
Words by Justin Banner