It seems like just a few weeks ago that we were off to the San Felipe 250. Yet, the 500 is already upon us. We already know the major players; Honda, KTM and Kawasaki. One of these teams will win the coming race and have a chance at becoming series champions.
If you will recall from the first race of the season, the San Felipe 250, the Bonanza/FMF KTM team of Kurt Caselli and Ivan Ramirez came away with a huge win. The JCR Honda was battling close before Timmy Weigand took a spill. Johnny Campbell hopped out of the helicopter to take over the bike while Timmy climbed in to the helicopter and headed off for a medical check up.THR/Precision Kawasaki had a hard day all around. Multiple crashes set the team way back, but they soldiered on for a finish, keeping them in the points hunt. The second KTM of Quinn Cody and Mike Brown also suffered a crash and the team manager chose to pack up, instead of making an effort to finish the race.
Now the same combatants will line up for the second race of the year, the Baja 500. This year’s course is nearly identical to that well run route that has seen so little change over the years. Let us look at how the teams stack up. It is hard to call a favorite. This will be some of the closest racing in over a decade.
JCR Honda- In this day of social networking, JCR holds to the old school business plan of “we do our talking at the races”. Not much for interesting story lines here. There is not much dirt to dig up on these guys, it all happened earlier in the year with the departures of Kendall Norman and Quinn Cody. These guys are squeaky clean in terms of touting the company line; great bike, awesome team yadda yadda, just the way Johnny Campbell wants it, lest you suffer the fate of Kendall.
If there is a story line here, it is that JCR has not won anything lately. They compete in a number of series, but there has not been a win by any team rider in a while. This is a very dry year so far.
Never the less, this is JCR Honda and they are going to show up with a healthy team and organization. In fact, the reason they may not have much to show for race wins, is because they are taking no chances on not being 100% healthy and prepared for this race. They have a big weight to shoulder as the long time numero uno of Baja.
There are no real weak points on the team. Riders Colton Udall, Timmy Weigand and David Kamo are all solid and should be able to mount a good campaign. If the 450x is getting long in the tooth, they are working hard not to let it show.
THR Kawasaki- If you believe in momentum, you have to put all the chips on THR. These guys have it in spades and they are the only team that does. The Kawasaki’s have won everything in the last few weeks; Gran Prix, Hare & Hound and Best in The Desert. The green riders are on a roll.
The rider lineup changes just a little for this race. Robby Bell and David Pearson are back. Joining them this time is Steve Hengeveld. Bobby Garrison might show up to ride a short section also. Apparently, Destry Abbott is committed to ride the 24hrs of Perry Mountain the same weekend, so he will not be at the 500.
David just won the Utah National H&H this past weekend. Robby was 2nd at the WORCS race and won the Primm GP two weeks ago. On the same weekend, Steve finished second at the Best in the Desert race, nearly taking the overall win while riding solo. This is a team riding a nice wave of success as they head to Baja.
With Bob Bell building the KX450 and guiding the team organization, this will be a top shelf effort. Word is that the team just secured a larger sponsorship commitment from Monster Energy. Having watched the team closely at the last few races, one cannot help but the sense that they are due for a win.
Bonanza Plumbing/FMF/Factory KTM – I am not even quite sure where to start talking about KTM. The team was on a roll after winning the San Felipe 250. Both riders looked strong enough to take on all comers. However, since then things have taken a definite turn south.
If you have not been paying attention, the entire KTM off road program is close to being in chaos. Between injured riders and poor results, the team is on its heals reeling. The biggest news is the injury to Kurt Caselli. So the Hare & Hound championship is all but over. They have also apparently pulled out of the WORCS series. Back east, Cory Buttrick is injured and Charlie Mullins has been a back marker. Charlie has pulled out of the National Enduro Series. As of today, Kailub Russell is the only factory rider with a chance at a national series win. You have to admit that is a poor showing for the largest and most expensive race program in the country.
So what does that mean for Baja? Probably that KTM is putting most of its eggs in one basket. With bad news on every front, a Baja win is now paramount. Mike Brown and Ivan Ramirez will take charge of the 7x “A” team bike. Personally, I think these two can run with anybody out there. They have the speed and patience to get a win. But, you have to think that Mike Brown could have used the extra race time that would have come from letting the bike finish in San Felipe. His total Baja race mileage to date is something like 40 miles!
Kurt will start the bike and do a quick hand off, he has to in order to keep the points. Quinn Cody is also on the disabled list, expect him to be in the helicopter as an emergency rider. As the team member with the most experience, I believe Quinn is guiding most of the race planning.
As we have long expected, rally racer Marc Coma is also in town to attempt Baja. KTM is tight lipped about his role on the team. I expect he will ride on the 7x bike. They would not bring him all the way over here just to ride the “B” team bike. Look for him to ride one of the smoother sections, probably along the coast. Baja is a challenge that is unique from anything else in the world. Compared to rally racing it is an absolute sprint, every single mile. It will be interesting to see if Marc can get up to speed in such a short time.
Is there even going to be a second bike? If you remember, they parked the second bike at the San Felipe race after Quinn crashed. As of now, I believe they will run two bikes. The other bike is already built; it saw short action at the 250. KTM has put out the call to just about every rider who might be able to ride. So look for former Mexican National Champion Homero Diaz to ride the 2x bike alongside another Mexican rider. Pick your term, this is the domestique, or water carrier bike, there to support the 7x.
So there you have it. The Baja 500 is unique because it is just builds up to the ultimate race, the Baja 1000. It is a midpoint stepping stone in the championship. You can’t win the championship at this race, but you might lose it. You want to push for the win, but that has to be balanced against the long term goal.
Every one of these teams has a different need for a win. For KTM, they have the lead with one race win already, a second place finish would not hurt them too much. However, they really need a boost for the team because it is in such disarray. Honda could settle for second, but they need to put on a good show against a wounded KTM squad. Kawasaki had a poor result at the first race and needs to make up points. No one can afford to set back and let the race come to them. Expect everyone to be on the attack.
Two quick post scripts here, Kendall Norman will be racing solo on his own Red Bull backed Honda. Look for some very quick young guns in this race, there are a couple of other teams that could have an outside shot at a podium. I will have a preview about those teams later in the week.