Honda has owned Baja racing for decades, but it looks like the Red Riders will get their first real challenge since Kawasaki ruled south-of-the-border competition from 1988 to 1996. Since then, you can count the number of Honda losses on one hand.
That hasn’t set well with KTM and the Austrian manufacturer finally decided to see about changing that status quo this year by launching a two-pronged factory effort with the seemingly unbeatable Kurt Caselli and young Mexican sensation Ivan Ramirez. They’d be backed up on a second 450 SX-F-based desert bike by desert rookie Mike Brown and veteran Quinn Cody.To make things even more interesting, THR Motorsports put together a Kawasaki-mounted dream team comprised of Destry Abbott, Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld and David Pearson in an attempt to unseat perennial Baja champs Johnny Campbell Racing Honda, this year represented by David Kamo, Colton Udall and Timmy Weigand.
So at SCORE’s season-opening MasterCraft Safety/Tecate San Felipe 250, everyone expected a four-way battle royale–perhaps even the protagonists themselves. They responded by stepping up their games, but Baja has a way of biting the unwary, such as those engrossed in their competition instead of the peninsula’s inhospitable terrain.Bell was the first to suffer Baja’s bite, reportedly the victim of a local’s booby trap. (Reserve rider Mike Childress also went down hard just a few miles later, the team losing a huge chunk of time before rejoining the race to salvage sixth-place-in-class points.)
Cody hit the deck hard as well to also earn a helicopter ride back across the border for medical attention, leaving the Caselli/Ramirez duo to fly the orange banner. (Caselli reportedly went down as well, though he and the bike escaped damage and managed to retain their lead.)That left the always solid JCR Honda effort as the sole challengers, and they responded by steadily chipping away at the KTM’s lead until they led on corrected time halfway through the 249-mile sprint.However, Baja bit once more, this time taking Weigand down. That left Caselli with clear sailing to the finish, he and Ramirez handing Honda its first defeat since KTM-mounted Chris Blais, Quinn Cody and Andy Grider won San Felipe in 2005.
“It was a rough course and there was a lot of attrition,” Caselli observed. (But San Felipe is always like that.) “Ivan rode perfect, and it was just a good day.”Udall picked up the crashed Honda and got it to the finish in plenty of time to maintain second place for the defending SCORE champs who won’t relinquish that title without even greater effort in the longer 500 and 1000.NotablesThe winning KTM was a combination of Caselli’s 450 SX-F rolling chassis with a special factory engine originally built for KTM’s rally team. Carbureted instead of fed by EFI, it posted a GPS-indicated 118-MPH top speed, 6 MPH faster than JCR Honda’s CRF450X. It also featured a number of other special parts, such as the rubber-cushioned aluminum skid plate trimmed and drilled for enhanced airflow.
After their crashes, Robby Bell and Timmy Weigand ended up sharing a hospital room before being released the next day.Baja is very tough on equipment. While the Dunlop Desert AT rear tire usually provides long life, the one that Kurt Caselli and Ivan Ramirez used for the first 108 miles was destroyed, with several center-section knobs completely ripped away–testament to abuse from the rocks, speed and power it endured during its sub-two-hour lifespan.
Former Team Green minibike MXer Robby Gordon had a very busy but ultimately frustrating weekend. After pre-running all week, he got a ride in a friend’s jet to Las Vegas on Friday morning, where he failed to qualify for the NASCAR race. He then jetted back to San Felipe that evening and raced his Chevy Trophy truck but DNFed.On the other hand, former motorcycle champ champ Larry Roeseler ended up fourth overall and fourth Trophy truck in the Ford he shared with Tim Herbst, “LR” driving the last half of the race.After crashing, Quinn Cody managed to get back on and limp it in to the next pit around mile 70. Unfortunately, by that time, teammate Mike Brown had already been transported to the bottom of the course at mile 170 where he was slated to get back on the bike after taking the first 30-mile stint. With the Caselli/Ramirez team apparently leading fairly comfortably, “Brownie” stayed put. Had Caselli/Ramirez been unable to finish, KTM would have had Brown make the time-consuming drive back up to mile 70′s pit two to salvage finish points.