Monday, April 15, 2024

PREVIEW: 2023 SCORE World Desert Championship – Baja 400

With the Baja 1000 on the horizon, the 2023 SCORE International season has reached the “qualifying race” stage in the form of the fourth Baja 400. The finishing results from the 400 are used to set the starting order for the 1000, meaning one must still perform well in the former if they want the early advantage for the latter in November.

The race takes place on Saturday, 16 September. The three Trophy Truck classes (the main TT, TT Legends, and TT Spec) will have qualifying two days prior on Thursday. All other categories conducted a random draw for starting order.

Bryce Menzies is the defending victor on four wheels while Juan Carlos Salvatierra is such on two.

The Course

The Baja 400 remains a loop as it has been since the inaugural edition, continuing to start and end in Ensenada. At 384.66 miles for pro classes (619.05 km), it is slightly shorter than the 2022 race. The Sportman categories have a shorter course at 372.24 miles (599.06 km) that bypasses Mike’s Sky Rancho.

The course runs in a clockwise direction along the west of Highway 3, with a lone physical checkpoint at the 222nd mile at Llano Colorado. Elevation changes include climbing the Cerro Blanco mountain, which tops out at 4,741 feet (1,445.05 m).

All competitors will have sixteen hours to complete the race, three fewer than last year.

Credit: SCORE International

The Grid

Menzies enters the Baja 400 with momentum after winning the Baja 500 in June while many of his Trophy Truck rivals dropped out, allowing him to hold a three-point lead over San Felipe 250 winner Luke McMillin in the SCORE TT championship. Salvatierra hopes to find his stride as his 2023 has been plagued by bike issues.

Andy McMillin is perhaps the biggest non-regular in the field, making his first start of 2023 after stepping away from full-time competition at the end of 2022. He will drive the #31 Trophy Truck owned by Menzies, with whoever finishing ahead of the other having their truck as the one they share for the 1000.

Jordan Dean, fresh off winning the Vegas to Reno in the 6100 Spec class, will drive the #298 Trophy Truck Spec in place of Riley Herbst. A NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, Herbst is unavailable for the Baja 400 as his day job is at Bristol Motor Speedway for the weekend. Still, he is listed as the Driver of Record and will start the Baja 1000 from wherever Dean qualifies via his 400 finish. Dean is no stranger to the Herbst family or working with a NASCAR driver from Las Vegas, having raced in Class 1 with Brendan Gaughan in 2022.

Baja 500 bike winner Arturo Salas Jr. switches from KTM to GasGas, marking the first time that the Spanish manufacturer races in the Pro Moto Unlimited class after mainly being used by Ironman riders. GasGas, owned by KTM, is primarily known for enduro and trial competition while also enjoying success in rally raid as the 2022 Dakar Rally-winning bike.

Christopher Polvoorde will race the #91 Trophy Truck after moving up from Trophy Truck Spec. He won the TT Spec class at the 2022 Baja 400.

NASCAR veteran and off-road great Robby Gordon returns to SCORE as part of the #5L RPM Racing Trophy Truck Legend team led by Clyde Stacy.

After a limited rollout at the Baja 500, all competitors are required to use the new Sport-TAG transponder starting at the 400.