Sunday, July 21, 2024

Penalties turn Baja 400 upside down

When Nick Lapaglia reached the Baja 400 finish in Ensenada, Ciaran Naran and the #3X team celebrated their second Moto overall win of the 2023 SCORE International season while the #11X’s Arturo Salas Jr. and Clayton Roberts cherished a runner-up in their début with GasGas. By the next day, however, neither team was even on the podium for their class.

The #11X’s victory was taken away by an hour-long penalty for conducting a pit stop too close to the road; SCORE rules stipulate stops must be on the right side of the pavement between thirty and fifty feet (9.1 to 15.24 meters) away from the course. The #3X received two minutes for speeding, which greatly paled in comparison to the hour they got for having a chase truck on the course that kicked up dust which impeded the progress of riders behind it.

The penalties dropped Salas and Naran to fourth and fifth in Pro Moto Unlimited, respectively, while reigning bike champion Juan Carlos Salvatierra notched his first win of 2023. Even his #1X team, consisting of Shane Logan, Diego Llanos, and Justin Carnes, was not spared SCORE’s wrath as they got eighteen seconds for speeding.

On four wheels, Pablo Jauregui went from having Tecate beer cases on his Class 1/2-1600 car to seeing his name at the bottom of the results sheet. He initially beat Eric Pavolka by over two hours but was automatically disqualified for using an illegal racing line. Likewise, Aaron Celiceo was the lone finisher in Class 7F only to receive a DSQ for encroaching on an rancher’s graded road after taking a turn too early and ending up off the course.

Either other class winners also had time added for various infractions throughout the race on Saturday. Bryce Menzies was not one of those as he avoided penalties to win the Four-Wheeler overall for the third year in a row, beating Luke McMillin by three minutes as he has since the 2021 race.

McMillin’s cousin and Menzies’ team-mate Andy McMillin finished third in his first start of 2023. With Menzies finishing higher of the two, they are expected to share his #7 Trophy Truck again for the Baja 1000 as the finishing order of the 400 determines the starting lineup at the former.

Christopher Polvoorde finished tenth in his Trophy Truck class début in his standard Trophy Truck Spec. At the tail end of the top level, Roberto Romo Jr. overcame suspension problems to be the final Trophy Truck at the finish.

As Menzies enters the Baja 1000 looking for his third straight SCORE win of the year, Team Australia will be desperately seeking something to turn their luck around. After Toby Price placed his and Paul Weel‘s #46 truck on pole in qualifying on Thursday, the front differential broke in half after 120 miles to force their fourth retirement in five SCORE races. The team had also topped qualifying for the season-opening San Felipe 250 only to bow out of that with a broken power sensor, followed by a power steering failure at the Baja 500. During their maiden year in 2022, they finished that year’s Baja 400 in fourth before their truck burst into flames at the 1000.

“Normally if you lose a sprag, you still got the rear end to drive and just run on three-wheel drive, but it sawed the front diff in half basically and that’s it, just dropped everything,” explained Price. “I’m speechless. I’m bummed for Paul, I’m bummed for the whole lot of us, I’m bummed for the team. Just frustrating watching these cars go by. We just can’t catch a break. Now we just got to deal with a shit start for the 1000 and see what happens.”

Apdaly Lopez, the pole winner for TT Spec, also retired after just forty-eight miles when the truck “just shut off and we [weren’t] able to turn on again.”

Tavo Vildósola and Jack Grabowski retired after a bizarre accident in which both trucks broke their right front control arms while going through a particularly tough stretch of land adjacent to each other. Unable to control his truck, Grabowski crashed into Vildósola before catching fire, though nobody was injured. Vildósola also collided with a non-competitor’s vehicle after spinning off course, destroying the latter’s trunk. The incidents ruined an otherwise strong start for Vildósola, who was battling Alan Ampudia for the overall lead early. Ampudia went on to finish fourth.

At the eighty-mile mark, the Trophy Truck Specs of Ethan Hagle and Travis Williams got stuck in the middle of a fork, forcing nearby trucks to slow down and go around them. Both eventually recovered and finished fifteenth and seventeenth in class, respectively. On the other hand, classmates Zach Lumsden and Jorge Sampietro got stuck in a wash at Mile 156 and were unable to get out, forcing them to retire.

Paul Kraus experienced probably the strangest wreck of the TT Specs when he was navigating a right turn at the eighteenth mile and clipped the rocks on the outside, shooting him forwards into them and causing his truck to flip back onto the roof. Later in the race, Thor Herbst tried to pull his Terrible Herbst Motorsports team-mate Jordan Dean‘s disabled truck only to accidentally flip the vehicle while towing and drop it into the surrounding trees. Both still reached the finish with Herbst third in TT Spec while Dean was twenty-third; the latter was racing the #298 truck in Riley Herbst‘s place, who was unavailable due to his NASCAR obligations but will take over for the 1000.

Class 11 enjoyed its most successful Baja 400 as Oliver Flemate and Eric Brandt reached the finish; Flemate had started the race in his Trophy Truck Spec, which finished sixteenth to rebound from a rollover in qualifying. The first three editions of the 400 only had one Volkswagen Beetle complete the race each time.

The 2023 SCORE International World Desert Championship concludes with the 56th Baja 1000 on 13–18 November.

Class winners

Class Overall Finish Number Competitor of Record Time
Baja Challenge DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 1 32 121 Damen Jefferies 9:09:29.160*
Class 1/2-1600 113 1625 Eric Pavolka 13:10:23.740*
Class 10 22 1091 Francisco Vera 8:56:42.689
Class 11 70 1105 Oliver Flemate 11:59:53.327
Class 5 72 511 Eli Yee 10:21:31.543
Class 7 120 700 Dan Chamlee 14:04:52.502
Class 7F DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 7SX DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 8 DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Pro Moto 30 52 300X Jano Montoya 9:42:32.032
Pro Moto 40 74 400X Ryan Liebelt 10:27:51.031*
Pro Moto 50 62 501X Robert Creemers 10:04:26.936
Pro Moto 60 86 644X Kevin Ward 11:06:52.941*
Pro Moto Ironman 59 723X Edgar Cota 9:58:12.833
Pro Moto Limited 47 114X Ely Ramirez 9:35:12.275
Pro Moto Unlimited 20 1X Juan Carlos Salvatierra 8:52:58.068*
Pro Quad 33 1A Nicolas Velez 9:13:29.281
Pro Quad Ironman 124 83A Faelly Lopez 14:33:19.547
Pro Stock Forced Induction 60 2905 Marc Burnett 10:00:27.727*
Pro Stock UTV 93 3959 Antonio Mendez 11:33:10.845*
Pro UTV Normally Aspirated 71 1980 Gabe Matthews 10:19:31.580
Pro UTV Open 25 1896 Brock Heger 9:01:57.309*
SCORE Lites 101 1211 Oscar Alvarez 12:03:11.133
Trophy Lite DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Trophy Truck 1 7 Bryce Menzies 7:53:54.722
Trophy Truck Legends 12 1L Gus Vildósola 8:20:11.559*
Trophy Truck Spec 14 234 Jason McNeil 8:28:56.995
* – Received a time penalty


Class Overall Finish Number Competitor of Record Time
Sportsman Moto 4 249X Jose A. Ortiz 10:19:25.178*
Sportsman Quad 1 139A Sergio Jimenez 9:19:53.079*