Monday, May 27, 2024

Trophy Trucks struggle, Bryce Menzies cruises to Baja 500 win

Trophy Trucks might be SCORE International‘s premier class, but Saturday’s Baja 500 was eager for their blood.

While attrition was relatively on par for the 500 (the 2022 edition had eighteen finishers in TT while 2023 just saw one fewer), many trucks were plagued by mechanical issues throughout the day. Most notably, points leader and San Felipe 250 winner Luke McMillin lost his power steering pump early on, followed by hitting a rock that destroyed a brake caliper and his fourth and fifth gears in what he attributed to “just driving too hard,” and eventually finished off the podium in fourth. His brother Dan McMillin suffered a bent gear shaft after eighty miles and had to replace his steering box, but managed to reach the finish in seventh.

Alan Ampudia, who finished second to McMillin in San Felipe, retired after 223 miles with a mechanical failure. Team Australia’s woes also continued as the power steering box broke while Toby Price was running in seventh, followed by the yoke doing the same with Paul Weel at RM 330. Variants in the Legends and Spec categories also saw victims like Elijah Kiger and Broc Dickerson‘s #238 TT Spec blowing a transmission at RM 140 and classmate Christopher Polvoorde breaking a differential 150 miles later.

Other classes weren’t safe either like Class 1, where Brad Wilson battled with Cody Reid for the lead before retiring with a transmission problem, and San Felipe victor Cody Parkhouse rolled just twenty-five miles into the race.

The #16 TT of Cameron Steele and Ryan Arciero and #55L TT Legends of Jose Flores were involved in perhaps the largest accident of the day. Arciero was chasing Gary Magness and Flores down a narrow road exiting Ojos Negros when the trio started to stack up and Arciero rammed into the slowing Flores. While Flores was able to finish fifth in his class, the #16 was out altogether.

“I had no idea he was there until it was too late,” wrote Arciero. “There were three of us trucks stacked up leaving Ojos and going back to speed after the speed zone ended. It is a very fast and straight part of the course and i was running through the dust and didn’t expect to see the truck in front slow down and by the time I saw him it was way too late. And I hit full brakes but could not slow down in time. Closing rate was way too fast.”

Most managed to overcome their issues to salvage finishes like Tavo Vildósola, who nearly bowed out at the halfway point but managed to place twelfth, and Tim Herbst, who lost a belt early on yet recovered for a top ten in tenth. TT driver Kevin Adler and TT Spec’s Bryan Scheible had particularly eventful rebounds as both rolled their trucks shortly after the 400-mile marker, but respectively came back to place sixteenth and twenty-second in their classes.

Bryce Menzies was technically not exempt as he suffered an early flat tyre, but he benefitted more from the drama than was hurt as he won his fourth Baja 500. Previous victories came in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

“We started out early, got a flat early, had to make up some time on Luke and Alan,” recalled Menzies. “Got by Alan with an issue, and then got by Luke going slow, so from there, picked our way to the finish. Kept it smooth. A couple little issues here and there but nothing major. To win number four feels very special.”

Mike Walser provided the closest competition and finished seven minutes back for his best finish since a third at the 2022 San Felipe 250. Amid the tumultuous day endured by his peers, the TT Spec of Jason McNeil impressed by finishing third for the very rare overall podium by his class; he was the first non-Trophy Truck to podium overall in a SCORE race since Justin Morgan won the 2018 Baja 1000 on a bike.

Oliver Flemate had a busy day in triple duty, finishing twelfth in his #244 Trophy Truck Spec before linking up with the #1203 SCORE Lites team and placing second in class there. After that, he hopped into the #1105 Volkswagen Beetle and won Class 11, reaching the finish shortly before 3 AM.

Brock Heger notched his and Polaris Factory Racing‘s first SCORE win as he finished thirty-first overall to win Pro UTV Open, beating Branden Sims to be the best performing UTV driver as a whole. Rodrigo Ampudia, from rival manufacturer Can-Am and UTV overall champion in San Felipe, retired from the 500.

World Rally-Raid Championship T3 points leader and Dakar Rally winner Austin Jones finished fifth in Pro UTV FI alongside his W2RC team-mate Seth Quintero; their car was third overall among UTVs when Quintero swapped out for Jones, who suffered a mechanical issue shortly after taking over. Fellow Can-Am driver Sara Price won the Pro Stock UTV class; Price raced alongside the duo, as well as Toby Price, at the W2RC’s Sonora Rally in the eponymous neighbouring Mexican state in April, where she clinched a Dakar Rally ticket.

Honda Factory Racing enjoyed a double victory day for a 2023 season debut as Zach Sizelove won Pro UTV NA for the second year in a row while Ethan Ebert claimed Class 7 in his first SCORE race driving the flagship Honda Ridgeline.

The bike overall saw a first-time winner for the second time in as many races in 2023 as Arturo Salas Jr. scored the victory. Making his début for his own team after departing reigning champion Juan Carlos Salvatierra‘s team, Salas and Clayton Roberts held off Connor Eddy and San Felipe winner Ciaran Naran. Salvatierra had set the best time through halfway before a broken chain and penalties dropped him to fourth.

Class winners

Class Overall Finish Number Competitor of Record Time
Baja Challenge 121 BC4 Edward Muncey 14:49:32.102*
Class 1 14 168 Cody Reid 10:17:01.952*
Class 5 66 511 Eli Yee 12:10:11.821
Class 5-1600 DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 7 43 709 Ethan Ebert 11:14:55.217*
Class 7F 145 700F Gerardo Novelo 16:46:04.167
Class 7SX DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 8 DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
Class 10 18 1091 Francisco Vera 10:29:40.434*
Class 11 1^ 1105 Oliver Flemate 15:49:45.450
Pro Moto 30 65 300X Jano Montoya 12:02:20.626
Pro Moto 40 110 441X Alirio Amado 14:08:11.554
Pro Moto 50 80 501X Robert Creemers 12:47:24.263
Pro Moto 60 102 644X Kevin Ward 13:35:17.579
Pro Moto Ironman 74 700X Brandon Wright 12:30:42.574*
Pro Moto Limited 63 117X Jeffrey Row 11:51:06.593
Pro Moto Unlimited 19 11X Arturo Salas Jr. 10:29:59.968
Pro Quad 57 1A Nicolas Velez 11:35:54.628
Pro Quad Ironman 137 83A Faelly Lopez 16:16:29.606
Pro Stock UTV 90 3938 Sara Price 13:06:05.757
Pro UTV Open 31 1896 Brock Heger 10:45:27.809*
Pro UTV Forced Induction 46 2944 Phil Blurton 11:18:55.102*
Pro UTV Normally Aspirated 86 1925 Zach Sizelove 12:59:51.162*
Pro UTV Unlimited 93 3993 Richard Fant 13:09:57.140
SCORE Lites 91 1211 Oscar Alvarez 13:07:05.800
Stock Full DNF N/A No Finishers N/A
TrophyLite 127 6049 Chase Swanson 15:02:44.947
Trophy Truck 1 7 Bryce Menzies 9:06:37.973
Trophy Truck Legends 9 1L Gus Vildósola 9:56:24.908*
Trophy Truck Spec 3 234 Jason McNeil 9:33:36.760*
* – Received a time penalty
^ – Class 11 and Class 7SX are classified in their own group


Class Overall Finish Number Competitor of Record Time
Sportsman Moto 2 290X Gerardo Rubio 12:38:17.578*
Sportsman Quad 1 139A Sergio Jimenez 12:16:23.508*