[Photos: Mark Kariya]
With the year quickly coming to a close, most everyone’s attention is turning intently to the forty-fifth running of the SCORE Baja 1000 and the promise of a showdown in the Open Pro class. Considering all of the drama that has played out between the San Felipe 250 and Baja 500, the stage is set for the speculation to cease, the adrenaline to flow and the green flag to drop on what has to be one of the most hotly anticipated duels in the history of this epic event. By this time, most of the bike testing is finished and the riders are getting set to head down south of the border to begin prerunning their respective sections.
Prerunning takes on a new meaning at this event as logistics dictate most riders will have a vast number of miles to cover in their stint; the trick becomes a balancing act between feeling prepared and running your body into the ground. Being too ambitious with how much distance to cover daily can leave riders feeling burnt out before the green flag even waves; being less than your best in Baja can lead to concentration lapses and a less than stellar performance on race day. On the flip side, going to bed with only a vague memory of the section and constant second guessing of whether or not you’ve spent enough time prerunning can add anxiety and tug at your confidence. In the end, each racer can only do what they think is right by them and let the rest sort itself out on race day when everyone shows their hands and the test truly begins.
One of the true tests of the Baja 1000 is the examination of a team’s preparation. It’s so often the difference between finishing first, and finishing an hour behind the lead bike and it’s probably the single most important factor when calculating a team’s race effort. Preparation can be the difference between missing a line and gaining seconds on it, knowing exactly where the next pit is and missing it entirely, and it can mean the bike making it to La Paz, or dropping out of the race before it ever sees a San Felipe whoop. Most people who race in Baja believe in a bit of luck, and while some may chalk things up to dumb luck, the other viewpoint is that luck is simply the intersection of preparation meeting opportunity; that luck lends itself to the most prepared. So while the saying goes that you need a bit of luck to succeed, it doesn’t hurt to be as ready as possible for anything thrown your way, because in Baja anything can, and often times will, happen.
Then there’s one of the scariest parts of Baja: the race within the race… the chase. The chase can sometimes add more stress than being on the bike, from a racer’s perspective, as you’re not in control. All you can do is listen for the odd update over the radio, or from a text message, about how your team is doing as you’re driver is forced to go much faster than Baja highways were meant for just to keep up with the race and make a few pits. Some of the craziest race day stories come from the chase: hitting livestock, dropping wheels off the edge of the road (which has much worse consequences in Baja than in the States) and locking mirrors with a big rig at 80mph are some of the more routine. Indeed the chase can pump just as much adrenaline through racers and chase drivers alike as being on the racecourse itself.
That’s why the Baja 1000 is so appealing to so many; it’s one of the last places to experience a bit of (loosely) controlled chaos. It’s where the David’s of the smaller budget bike teams can compete against, and often times beat, the Goliaths of the multi million dollar Trophy Trucks. It’s also where a middle-aged man can get behind the wheel of a car and whoop up on kids almost half his age. It’s a trial of one’s resolve over some positively beautiful terrain. It’s a true appraisal of a racer’s strength, courage and will, and the amount of effort required to simply finish this event leaves a lasting satisfaction at the accomplishment and a unique, life-long bond between all those involved.
But of course this year there’s the added prospect of three teams, filled with incredibly talented riders, in a winner take all scenario that’s destined to leave two teams heart broken. Of the three, the KTM drew the best start pick of fourth off the line. There’s no doubt the orange team will have an abundance of speed in their ranks, the only questions seem to surround the bike, but with two Baja events under their belt they’re proving the reliability is coming around. The Kawasaki takes off seventh and most feel the green team has the speed to rival the KTM bike; it’ll come down a little more to preparation and lack of mistakes. Then there’s the Honda team leaving the line as the tenth bike off. There’s no denying the solid program and Baja knowledge of the red crew, but this is going to be a brutal race to split up between three riders, as opposed to four. The Honda boys have proven tough, though and there’s no doubt they’ll step up to the task. There really isn’t much separating the three teams and it seems most people have their favorite. Calling a winner from in a race where the only guarantee is that anything and everything will happen is like betting on the roulette wheel, and I, like everyone else, can’t wait to get down there and let it all play out. ¡Viva México!