Change Helps Mark Samuels / Colton Udall Win 2016 SCORE San Felipe 250

SCORE San Felipe 250 race report and photos from Mark Kariya

When SCORE announced that the Baja Sur 500 wouldn’t be run this year, each of the remaining four races in the SCORE World Desert Championship became even more important. You always want to start the season strongly so a good result at round one—the 30th SCORE San Felipe 250—was even more crucial.

For defending race and series champ Colton Udall, that meant a few changes to his approach at what’s widely regarded as the roughest race on the SCORE schedule. Being the shortest of the three classic Baja races, it’s more of a sprint and requires fewer personnel to pit you. That meant he could go back to the slimmer 3.2-gallon IMS fuel tank instead of the more portly 4.0-gallon cell he’d employed at the Baja 1000 last year, thus enhancing rider comfort on his Ox Motorsports Honda CRF450X.

Colton Udall, 2016 SCORE San Felipe 250
As aerial eyes followed him, Colton Udall sped past those who’d started in front of him and led most of the way, aided by partner Mark Samuels. This marked Udall’s fifth San Felipe triumph in the last seven years and the first for Samuels as they seek to defend the 1X plate.Photo by Devin Chatterjie

And for a teammate, he chose Mark Samuels, who’s always been a backup but more in charge of running the second Ox Motorsports entry—a lesson they picked up as it was passed down from Johnny Campbell who’d embraced it after learning the team management ropes from the legendary Bruce Ogilvie.

“Hopefully, we’ll race all season together and then for the SCORE Baja 1000, I hope to ironman it and win overall,” Udall revealed.

The second Ox Motorsports entry consisted of Ray Dal Soglio, new recruit Nic Garvin and Australian Daymon Stokie, who’d proved his worth at the 1000.

Indeed, the two teams ran 1-2 in the early going after drawing the third and fourth starting positions, but a miscue shuffled the Dal Soglio/Garvin/Stokie 3X bike back a bit.

After starting from the sixth and last spot in the Pro Motorcycle Unlimited lineup, the newly formed Monster Energy/Bremen/THR Motorsports squad of Francisco Arredondo/Shane Esposito/Justin Morgan/Ryan Penhall/Roberto Villalobos closed on the leader. With a previous best finish of third, Rider of Record Arredondo and team manager Chris Haines (himself a SCORE age group champion many times as well as former top motocross mechanic) believed they could take that next step to the top of the box by forging an alliance with THR Motorsports boss Scott Jacobson, who’d lost two of his top riders in the off-season yet still wanted to race in Baja. Jacobson brought with him a welcome co-title sponsor in Monster Energy as well as a complementary rider asset in 26-year-old Morgan.

Roberto Villalobos, 2016 SCORE San Felipe 250
Roberto Villalobos hits the Zoo Road crossing in the first 10 miles after being the final Pro Motorcycle Unlimited entry off the line. He and teammates Francisco Arredondo/Shane Esposito/Justin Morgan/Ryan Penhall made up ground and fought for the lead until Villalobos went down hard around mile 200. They settled for second, still a best result to date for the revamped, re-energized team.Photo by Mark Kariya

Esposito unofficially got within the two-minute margin that separated the 1X and 4X teams off the start, meaning they led on corrected time, but a scheduled wheel change predictably dropped the 4X bike back.

It was then Morgan’s turn to play catchup, which he did well: “The first Baja Pit I hit was at 109 and I was in [Samuels’] dust at that point, got fuel and kind of stayed right in the dust all the way down Matomi Wash—made a second here, a second there and really got close. They pitted at the end of the wash and Colton Udall got back on the bike and we entered the speed zone side by side and rode 60 miles an hour for the four-mile pavement [speed zone] stretch. At the end of the pavement stretch was my pit so I gave the bike to Roberto Villalobos and he took off in Colton’s dust.

“It was pretty cool. It’s crazy to have that close of a race down here!”

Udall confirmed their battle, saying, “We were practically holding hands going down the highway!”

But the wily veteran knew it’d be difficult for Villalobos to make time in that treacherous stretch of Baja, starting with the extremely rugged old Puertocitos Road before looping in and out of the Chanate and Huatamote Washes.

In fact, he managed to add minutes to his lead when Villalobos crashed hard, suffering a separated shoulder though he managed to pick the bent bike up and limp it to Penhall who took it to the finish.

And it’s a good thing Udall kept charging because when officials performed their usual post-race tracker review, the 1X bike missed a Virtual Check Point (VCP), thus incurring a 10-minute penalty. The 4X machine hit all VCPs. Thus, the final official time for the winners was four hours, 46 minutes and 41 seconds, with the Monster Energy/Bremen/THR Motorsports gang’s clean run completed in 4:49:50.

“I wasn’t really expecting it to be this close,” Samuels admitted.

Almost overlooked in this was the fine performance by another new team comprised of both desert veterans and SCORE newbies. Morgan Crawford and Kevin Murphy shared an SRT Husqvarna FE 501 with Jordan Brandt and Cory Graffunder, both of whom are more used to tight, technical woods.

Crawford/Graffunder, 2016 SCORE San Felipe 250
While Morgan Crawford (middle) is no stranger to desert racing, Cory Graffunder (right) is far more at home in technical going, but he and fellow SCORE first-timer Jordan Brandt (not show) performed admirably along with Crawford and Kevin Murphy (not shown) to give the new SRT Husqvarna effort a solid third place.Photo by Mark Kariya

Ironically, they’d drawn the first starting position so they led for a while until Samuels/Udall, Dal Soglio/Garvin/Stokie and Arredondo/Esposito/Morgan/Penhall/Villalobos freight-trained past, but they rode their own race, stayed off the ground and hit all VCPs to claim third in 5:04:14.

After Stokie’s crash, the 3X bike finished fourth in 5:35:33, having missed a VCP. The Rex Cameron/Mike Johnson/Jason Trubey team won Pro Motorcycle 40 (for riders 40 years and older) in 5:48:26 to round out the top five motorcycle teams overall.

Other class winners included: Garrett Poucher/Michel Valenzuela in Pro Motorcycle Limited (449cc or less) in 6:52:54; Luis de Nicolas/Jorge Flores/Mario Murillo, Jr./Jorge Valenzuela in Pro Motorcycle 30 (riders 30 years and older) in 5:56:16; Andy Kirker/Flipper Manchester/Jim O’Neal/Mark Winkelman in Pro Motorcycle 50 (riders 50 years and older) in 7:01:38; former class champ Tony Gera in SCORE Ironman (riding a throwback KX500) in 6:32:56; and Kristopher Harvey/Eric Saltzer in Sportsman Motorcycle in 7:06:57.