Saturday, July 20, 2024

PREVIEW: 2023 SCORE World Desert Championship – Baja 500

The month of June brings summertime to Mexico, and SCORE International will usher in the changing of seasons with the 55th Baja 500 on 3 June.

Rob MacCachren is the reigning winner on four wheels while Juan Carlos Salvatierra is the defending bike victor. Both entries will hope to rebound after struggling with mechanical problems in the season-opening San Felipe 250.

The starting order is set based on the results from San Felipe, meaning that race’s winner Luke McMillin will open for the cars whereas Ciaran Naran does so for bikes. Those who did not run the opener will draw for their start positions on Friday.

The Course

The route measures 473.67 miles for the pro classes and 440.72 for the sportsman divisions, consisting of a clockwise loop starting and ending in Ensenada. It is ten miles longer than the 2022 layout and fairly resembles the 2008 and 2009 layouts with its brief run along the coast from Route Miles 350 through 370.

There are two physical checkpoints at RM 211.62 and RM 326.64 along with 187 virtual checkpoints.

While the San Felipe 250 had to abort running the Mini Summit, the Baja 500 will get to go through the Summit at RM 108.23 for the first time since 2016.

The race will take place two weeks after the deadly drug cartel attack on the Cachanillazo UTV event in San Vicente, which is located right outside the Baja 500’s 330th mile. While certainly a concerning situation, SCORE will proceed with the race with tighter security; such protocols are not unknown for the sanctioning body, with last year’s Baja 400 doing the same in the wake of increased cartel crime and eventually proceeding without further trouble.

“SCORE International would like to express our deepest condolences to all the families that have been impacted by the tragic event that took place this past Saturday in the town of San Vicente, Baja California,” begins a statement released by the sanctioning body on Wednesday. “This activity was a private event that was in no way associated with SCORE International or the SCORE Baja 500 event activities. There were no teams racing or pre-running for the SCORE Baja 500 involved in this incident. The opening day of pre-running for the SCORE Baja 500 took place without any incidents.

“The BFGoodrich Tires 55th SCORE Baja 500 will take place as scheduled from May 31 through June 4, with an estimated 250 teams participating along with a full contingency display area.

“The security for race teams, sponsors and the attending fans continues to be a priority for SCORE international. There will be increased security measures applied under the coordination of the Baja California State Government. This will include the support of the Municipal Authorities, National Guard as well as the Mexican Army and Navy along several sections of the route during pre-running and the actual race time period.”

Credit: SCORE International

The Grid

Brandon Walsh is one of the more notable changes among the full-timers from San Felipe as he departs Class 7 after over a decade in the category to compete in Pro UTV Open, driving the #1870 Polaris. Short course star Doug Mittag will also make his début as a SCORE driver of record in the class in the #1881.

After a family matter forced him to skip San Felipe and sidelined his #34 Trophy Truck team for the season, Broc Dickerson has joined forces with Elijah Kiger in the #238 Trophy Truck Spec.

Two Australian teams are entered, headlined by Paul Weel and Toby Price in Trophy Truck as they hope to rebound from their retirement in San Felipe. Kevy Nott will run his second career SCORE race in Class 1 after an impressive showing at the 2022 Baja 1000.

While Salvatierra hopes to make up lost ground after the opener, he will no longer have Arturo Salas Jr. as a fellow rider on the #1X Pro Moto Unlimited as Salas has formed his own team, the #11X.

The great Larry Roeseler will pull triple duty as he will ride alongside the #440X Pro Moto 40 stable of Ryan Liebelt before getting into his #43 Trophy Truck. Upon completing the 500 solo in his truck, he and his co-driver Eric Brandt will get to work on the #1143 Class 11.

World Rally-Raid Championship stars Seth Quintero and Austin Jones will race in Pro UTV Forced Induction for South Racing, who has an alliance with their W2RC team Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team. Jones currently leads the W2RC’s T3 standings with a win at the Dakar Rally while Quintero is one point back. The duo recently raced in Mexico in April for the Sonora Rally, where Jones finished third in class.

The Baja 500 will be the first race with the new Sport-TAG transponder, which is more compact than its predecessor. Trophy Truck, TT Legends, TT Spec, Classes 1 and 10, all UTV categories, and Pro Moto Unlimited are required to use the new device, and SCORE hopes to mandate it for the entire field by the Baja 1000 in November.

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