A Francisco Arredondo-led team finally emerged from the pack and led all motorcycle teams to the finish at the 49th SCORE Baja 500, round two in the SCORE World Desert Championship, aboard their Bremen Racing/Chris Haines Motorcycle Adventure Company/Precision Concepts Honda CRF450X.
Though four other teams kept attacking and nosing into the lead during the first half of the 516-mile course that looped from Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, and hit both sides of the peninsula, Arredondo and teammates Shane Esposito, Justin Morgan and Roberto Villalobos dominated the last half of the race, starting with the always tough San Felipe loop. By the time they got back to the finish in Ensenada, they’d stretched out their lead to almost 30 minutes, officially, taking the checkered flag in 11 hours, four minutes and 53 seconds after the post-race review of tracking data assessed them a 10-minute penalty.
Esposito and Morgan had both won the 500 for other teams previously, but this was the first time for Arredondo, though his squads have flirted with victory many times.
“We’ve obviously got the speed,” Morgan pointed out. “We’ve got good equipment. We’ve had a couple freak mechanical failures [in the past], like the solder blowing off at the 1000 [last year while we were leading, killing our lights]. But we just keep going.”
The key to beating the two Ox Motorsports Honda teams who finished second and third appeared to lie in the strong showing Morgan put on in San Felipe where temperatures topped 100 degrees but didn’t reach the extreme 120-plus like last year.
“Justin’s the one who made a lot of time,” Esposito insisted. “We started seventh; I got us into physically first around [mile] 60 and [the] 3X [Ox Motorsports team of Derek Ausserbauer/Ray Dal Soglio/Nic Garvin] was staying pretty close.”
Morgan was scheduled to ride from Morelia Junction (about mile 278) to Ojos Negros (mile 480), but after running out of water, the team made an on-the-fly decision to pull him off the bike so he could rehydrate and rest a little. He confessed, “It was really rough. It was hotter than I thought it was going to be. I was struggling for a minute there, I really was. I did [mile] 278, Morelia Junction or before there I got on and I rode to Via del Sol road. Shane rode the 15 miles up to Valley T, then I got on at the Goat Trail and went into Ojos, just at the Highway [3 crossing] he got [back] on, then I rode the pre-runner back into town.”
For “Espo,” the win was a great way to celebrate his 43rd birthday; he said, “It feels good [to finally get the win with this team], but I’m just here for the fun.”
On the other hand, the 500 turned into a frustrating day for the Ox Motorsports Honda crew. Both the 1X and 3X teams had some personnel changes due to rider availability, and this time the 3X trio enjoyed the better finish—a nice turnaround from their DNF at San Felipe.
“There were about four bikes within 10 minutes of each other at the halfway point, so it was definitely a battle,” Dal Soglio said. “At the halfway point we were about a minute off the leader, then 1X was not too far behind that and I believe 100X was in there. There were quite a few bikes all battling in there.San Felipe makes or breaks a lot of people. We kind of started gapping the rest of the field [there]; 45X started gapping us a little bit, but really started separating through San Felipe. That’s really what started making the race.”
They finished in 11:30:26.
As for the 1X Ox Motorsports trio of first-time Baja racer Jason Potter, Ryan Penhall and Mark Samuels, San Felipe bit them when Samuels hit an unseen rock and crashed hard, losing a lot of time while the team helicopter landed to make sure he was okay.
“It was a big bummer and a big-time loss,” Samuels lamented. “I was riding really well and went from 11 minutes back to two and a half minutes back, and then that happened.”
But Samuels managed to eventually deliver the bike to Penhall, who took it to the finish in 11:35:29.
Though third to the finish physically, the Lake Powell Offroad Association/Fastheads/Monarch Honda CRF450X trio of Kadin Guard/Tommy Harris/Skyler Howes had to settle for fourth in 11:36:33. That was still noteworthy considering Howes had jammed his thumb severely in the first half and the bike had no front brake from mile 80 to 240, where they did a complete service.
“We started off the line in sixth,” Howes shared. “I was able to pass all the up into the lead. As I was trying to pass Nic Garvin for first overall, we were coming down this really gnarly, rocky hill and he had no clue I was there. He just kind of kicked a rock straight to my front wheel and I went down real hard.”
But he still had the San Felipe loop to tackle so he prepared for it as best as time allowed, saying, “I did some serious icing on my hand and I was supposed to take the San Felipe loop from, basically, Mike’s [Sky Rancho] road all the back to Mike’s road, so about 130 miles of gnarliness, just relentless stuff. Kadin Guard gave me the bike and we were physically fifth, and when I got back off the bike we were physically third, I believe. I’m not really sure what happened to 45X or whatever; the next bike ahead of us was 3X. Kadin got back on to give me a little break—let me get a drink of water—and 1X got back by. I got back on the bike and checked it and took it from K77 [on HIghway 3] there at the ‘Honda house’ and did the last part through Ojos and all the way to the finish. I got around 1X and charged into the finish.
“Penhall was on the bike, and he had quite a gap on me, and I didn’t catch his dust until almost Ojos, the reason being there were tons of people on the course, driving head-on [at me]! I almost had at least five head-ons! It was a tough, tough day and scary—tons of people driving on the course—so he checked up for a lot of that, and I think I lucked out and just kind of timed it right. It ended up he stopped at a pit just to get a splash of fuel, and I got him there and charged in for the finish. That’s Baja—you’ve just got to power through it and get it in [to the finish].”
Fifth bike overall belonged to Pro Moto Limited (under 401cc) winners Morgan Crawford/Justin Morrow/Kevin Murphy/Jim O’Neal on their Monkey Business Cleaning Products/PCT/HP Race Development Husky FE 350 in 12:08:26. Third overall halfway into the race, their bike developed an injector issue, forcing them to stop several times over the last half to clean it.
Other class winners included Jim Holley/Ryan Senacal/Jason Thomas/Kenjiro Tsuji/Tony Wenck in Pro Moto 30 (riders over 30 years old) in 12:50:12 on their Hicklin Powersports YZ450FX; Jeff Kawell/Jano Montoya/Alberto Ruiz/Francisco Septien in Pro Moto 40 in 12:22:47 on their PB Brown KTM 450 XC-F; Robert Gates/Chris Goolsby/Bob Johnson/David Potts/Doug Smith/Steve Williams in 13:12:36 on their HelmetKits.com KX450F; Dennis Greene/Mark Hawley/Andy Kirker/Dennis McLaughlin/Bill Tarling in Pro Moto 60 in 16:10:49 on their Tivoli CRF450X; Josear Carrasco in Pro Moto Ironman in 15:14:47 on his Too Much Fun Promotions RMX450Z; and Jose Galvan/Adan Garcia/Cornelio Garcia/Fermin Vargas in Sportsman Moto in 13:40:43 on their Pirelli-backed YZ450FX.