With four major teams competing in this year's Baja SCORE Racing Series, the 2012 Baja 500 was lined up to be a shocker, and it didn’t disappoint. Kawasaki was looking to bounce back from the San Felipe 250, after a crash oriented race that wrecked their shot at dismounting Honda from the top of the box. KTM was coming in with a victory, but was also very short handed with injuries sustained to Kurt Caselli and Quinn Cody.
Honda was looking to back up their decade of dominance and put the Red machine where it belonged; on top of the podium. And then there was wildcard Kendall Norman, the 5-time winner of the Baja 500, who with the support of his fellow Mexico National support group was looking to disrupt all the commotion and solo the beast by himself.
Race day provided constant action all day long! Just 20-miles into the race the KTM 3X machine cart wheeled through the desert after Ivan Ramirez got caught in the dust and misread a rock, flaunting a full flying W through the sage bushes. Ramirez soldiered it out tough and rode the bike all the way to his handoff section, where the one and only Mike Brown got on the bike. With KTM’s big mistake off the start, this gave Honda and Kawasaki clean air to run away and hide. Honda was the first to be able to capitalize after Bell (Kawasaki) ran out of gas and gave the lead to the Red Brigade. But defending champion Colton Udall made a big mistake on the Summit, crashing hard and handing the lead back over to the Kawasaki group. KTM’s Mike Brown also put the hammer down on the Summit section and held it wide open through the desert lake bed, gaining 8 minutes on Honda and Kawasaki. The 40-year old knows how to hold the throttle open and is proving that he will be a force to be reckoned with no matter when or where he swings his legs over a motorcycle.
Kawasaki held tough and Robby Bell was riding the bike like he already reached the podium. His teammates put on one heck of a performance too, and it was Steve Hengeveld, the winning-est Baja 500 winner of all time, who so happened to be riding his favorite section of all time; the coast. After mile marker 250 the Honda team was starting to put in a charge and at one point, was leading on adjusted time. KTM was having bike problems as the heat was taking its toll on the carburation system. Meanwhile 5-time Baja 500 winner Kendall Norman was soloing his way right up the food chain. After starting off slow (typical Kendall Baja style), he picked the tempo up by the time he reached the Summit section and was only 18 minutes back of the leaders at MM 250. The Honda machine was coming for the THR Motorsports/Kawasaki/Precision Concepts bike out front. The last 60-miles was a drama filled event, as Tim Weigand and David Pearson were neck and neck for 20 miles. Pearson was able to give the bike to Bell with the physical lead and Bell held it to the finish for the last 30 miles and was able to pull on Timmy through the last section of the race course. The win for Kawasaki was their first in the Baja 500 in 15 years! KTM finished in 3rd, 10 minutes back of the leaders and Kendall Norman came in solo at 5th place.
The racing in Baja always has it's surprises and this year has definitely unveiled a few; from crashes, to missed pits, to run-in's with cows and trucks. Baja proves again and again to be the ultimate proving ground for man and machine.