By Justin Lambert
We only enter 2 races in the SCORE series, the Baja 500 and 1000. With pretty good results at the 500, racing our naturally aspirated Polaris RZR XP1000 up into the turbo class and taking a 2nd place overall, and actually beating the next naturally aspirated car by 2 hours. We hoped to better that at the 1000 as we chase that elusive Baja 1000 overall win. Right now I would like to thank the people that help us race in baja, they are there with us in the battlefield under rested; Jim, Casey, Greg, Guy, Mitchell, Dale, Scotty, Brandon, Nick, Chris, Mike it takes a lot of help to race in Baja. Also part of our team is our sponsors and we owe big thanks to them for the best products and support anyone could ask for; Polaris, Cognito, Sparks Performance Products, Method Race Wheels, ITP Tires, Mystik Lubricants, and FOX shocks.
We spent a few days pre-running the week before the race, my normal co-driver Mitchell Alsup would get driving duties this time in the section from Race Mile 184 to 515 and Dale Pabst would co-drive with him. My buddy Brandon Hong from Sparks Performance Products would co- drive with me the rest of the race which we had split into 3 sections. Brandon and I would run the first section which was the start of RM184, then Mitchel and Dale the middle section from 184 to 515, and then Brandon and I back in from 515 to the finish for the 2016 Baja 1000 which was a total of 855 race miles.
During pre-running, we could tell this was going to be the toughest Baja race we had ever entered. Most of the course is worn out from all the racing going on with SCORE plus some other Mexican series that race down there. It was obvious there would be some areas prone to bottlenecks, and there would be some silty hills that would prevent other classes with 2wd race vehicles from easily clearing obstacles.
Brandon and I shot off the starting line right around noon on Friday, and the dust was thick already just ten miles into the race. We were making our way around several other vehicles and were baffled as to why they were scheduled to start the race in front of the UTVs, but every race the UTV class is moving up in the ranks as our finishing times get quicker. Around 40 miles into the race we came up to a parking lot of race vehicles, as there were some race cars stuck in a patch of silt with no room to go around. Brandon and I started looking on the GPS for an alternate route, and as we spotted a sand wash on the GPS to the north of us, and started to make our way there but we were not the only ones with that idea, other UTVs had the same idea and we all followed in a pack and made our way around the trail plug and then back on course. As we came up to speed, all of a sudden our clutch slipped and the engine revved up and we knew we had a problem. Pulling over to check things out, we got the clutch cover off and didn’t spot anything wrong. One of our chase trucks was in Ojos Negros, about 15 miles away, so we figured we would make our way there and assess the situation. By this time the trail plug had broken free and everyone had already passed us by, we got the clutch cover back on and got back in the car, heading down course to find a spot to cut over to Ojos Negros when we felt like the clutch was working fine, so we carried on down course and knew that we had support waiting for us at RM 82, so we canned the Ojos Negros idea and carried on. We came to another trail plug around RM 70, and luckily with 4wd we were able to climb a hill on the left side of the course and go around the stuck buggy with 6 cars behind it, and continue on with our race but with reservations on running too hard since we felt the clutch slipping a little bit here and there.
Around RM75 we came to a steep hill and could not make it to the top as we had smoke billowing out of the clutch cover, we backed down the hill a little and turned crosswise with the hill, it wasn’t steep enough that we were worried about rolling over though. We shut the engine off to let things cool, and some locals ran up to our car to see if we needed help, they were eager to help us get going again, one of them spoke English and relayed to the rest that we were just letting it cool down. We let a couple trucks go by and then fired the car back up and got some momentum built up by cross hilling, then turned into it and crested the top. We made it to our pit support at RM82 and we swapped clutches and a belt, and then were off racing again but were about 45 minutes behind the lead pack at this point. This would be a 20+ hour race so we knew there was a lot of time left and a lot could happen in the next 15 hours, the clutch was happy now so we were running a really good pace. We made our way toward the beach section where we race on roads cut on mountain sides and thru the hills, the sun was in our eyes and we came around a bend where Johnny Angle was trying to help a fellow UTV racer that was stuck in a ditch. They had just unhooked a tow rope and Johnny was back racing with us following about 100 yards behind. We came out onto the hills where the course runs parallel to the ocean and we had a good battle going with Johnny, passing each other back and forth taking split lines and it was a lot of fun. Johnny started to slow a bit so we figured he might have been having an issue, he let us by and we were racing to get our average speed back up as far as we could before making it to the driver change at RM184.
We did an extensive pit service at RM184 as Mitchell and Dale got strapped into the car, we were behind so we wanted to make sure we sent the car off in great shape. Now Brandon and I tried to get some sleep in the truck as we figured we would not be getting back in the car for a good 8 hours, but it’s not easy to get good sleep sitting in the back seat of a truck, but we tried our best. We would awake to updates that Mitchell was making up time on the leaders and was only 25 miles behind at halfway thru the race. Sitting in our spot at RM515, we got word that the car needed some repair, our other chase truck headed down his way around RM450 to take some parts, we didn’t expect that it would take an hour and a half for them to repair the car, and we found out later that a 1600 car was driving like an idiot on course. Mitchell was in front of this 1600 car, slowing down for a hard right turn when the 1600 car apparently was not looking at GPS for the course, ran right thru Mitchell’s dust and smashed into the rear of our car and sending it into a fence. The 1600 car did not even stop, and as Mitchell and Dale limped our race car on course to the highway section, 3 miles later the culprit 1600 car was off in a ditch and looking for a tow out, as Mitchell and Dale waved a finger and drove right by them.
Well, there was no more sleeping in the truck for Brandon and I, we were impatiently waiting and it seemed like forever for the car to get repaired and back to us at RM515. The 1600 car had smashed in the bumper, the radius rods, the axle, tire, and bent a shock, so the Cognito crew was busy swapping out parts to get our car road worthy again. When it arrived at RM515, we did another in-depth service to the car to make sure all is well before we crossed over from the west coast of the peninsula, about to head thru the mountain roads on our way towards the east coast of the peninsula where we had 1 chase truck waiting. It was close to 5 in the morning and it was cold in that race car, they say the night is coldest just before the sun rises, I believe it! We made it to the east side of the peninsula where the terrain is brutal. Brandon and I could not believe that we were not passing or seeing more race vehicles, there were a few but we were running a super-fast pace and figured we would catch more people or see more people broke down.
Once we got to Borrego, the really rough terrain caused us to back off a little to save the car, we came across some dust and it was a dirt bike racer, then some more dust and it was a UTV! We got passed the Murrays in their Can-Am and then we saw more dust, it was Jagged X, we got passed them and then hit the highway section until the course dropped back into some more rough stuff. We took fuel and then hit the infamous ‘Goat Trail’ got past that and then into some faster-winding roads trying to put some time on the 2 UTV’s we had just passed. Only ten miles later the course would get into a super rough section where we earned a flat tire and Jagged X got past us. We changed the tire and took a fresh spare at the road crossing, in a hurry to get to the finish line but the rough course would not let us do that comfortably, we earned every mile as we pushed the car and our bodies to the limits. We came across the finish line in Ensenada and on corrected time in 5th place in the turbo class. It was a tough race, we battled and conquered Baja but can’t retire from it yet, we are still chasing that elusive Baja 1000 win. Until next year…