In one week, I leave to cover the 2012 Baja 1000. I can think of no time in recent history where one single Baja race had the potential for so much action as this forthcoming one. To be honest, there have not been many serious threats to the Honda string of victories in many years. The Kawasaki team was very close in 2009 and again last year, but there certainly have never been two serious challengers to Honda in the same year.
There are so many factors and stories surrounding this race. Foremost would be the entries of three major teams, each with a nearly equal chance at the win. Riders from these teams have battled each other all year in Baja as well as other off road racing series. Most notably the AMA National Hare & Hound series where the championship was decided just last week, by the slimmest of margins, for KTM and Kurt Caselli.
Coming into the 2012 SCORE Baja series Honda, Kawasaki and KTM all set out with full efforts to become the Baja champion. KTM drew first blood at the San Felipe 250. With a solid ride, the “A” team bike of Kurt Caselli and Ivan Ramirez rode to victory while the competition was collectively picking themselves up off the ground. Crashes by Robby Bell, Timmy Weigand and Quinn Cody put all the other teams out of contention for the win.
The KTM squad made it look so easy, one might have expected them to romp through the rest of the season. At the second race, the Baja 500, KTM came to Ensenada with two crippled teams. Injuries to Kurt Caselli, Quinn Cody and Homero Diaz saw them scrambling to find enough riders to fill the ranks.
An early crash by Ivan Ramirez would end the chance for a second KTM win. He and Mike Brown rode a valiant race, but were back far enough to be out of contention.
Focus shifted to the Honda and Kawasaki teams. Battling back and forth all day, no one standing at the finish line knew which bike would arrive first. Even then, it would fall to the adjusted time to determine the race winner.
The green Kawasaki cruised in with plenty of time to spare to become the second winner of the year. A few minutes behind, the Honda would arrive. JCR rider Colton Udall had crashed early in the day and was unable to ride the final section. This forced Timmy Weigand into a marathon to bring the bike home. He had not practiced the finish section and quickly lost time and the potential win to Robby Bell.
This win was a huge boost to the THR/Monster Kawasaki team. The flip side was that the Honda loss represented a rare occurrence; the JCR team actually lost the race due to poor race strategy. With Udall unable to finish, they had no other rider prepared to ride the final section.
Even with adversity, all three teams have scored points in the first two events. With the Baja 1000 paying double points, the battle comes down to one final race win of the year. Winner take all, the team that wins the Baja 1000 will also win the SCORE championship. Let us take a quick look at the status of each squad.
In many ways, this is not the same Honda team that reigned in Baja for so many years. While the competition from other teams increases, Honda downsizes to a one-bike operation. They retain many of the strengths that brought so many race wins, but without the services of long time leader Kendall Norman. Their three-man team consists of Colton Udall, Timmy Weigand and David Kamo. All are experienced riders and have speed, but the big wins have eluded them this season. Their CRF450x has the most development time and age. It is dependable, but also the heaviest and slowest of the group. JCR has their own long established pit service program that should give them an edge in that category.
Collectively, the most seasoned group of riders are on the Kawasaki; Robby Bell, David Pearson, Destry Abbott and Steve Hengeveld. They share more Baja race wins than any other team’s riders. These riders have spent many race miles together over the years and should work well together. The Bob Bell tuned KX450 is light and fast, but gives up horsepower to the KTM and overall top speed (gearing) to both rivals. THR will use Baja Pits for fueling, supplemented with their own crew members at each location.
FMF/Bonanza Plumbing/Factory KTM
This year KTM came to Baja with the full factory rally motor package for their 450sxf. As of yet, I have heard of no failures from this motor. Depending on who you listen to, it has 8-10 more horsepower than any of the competition. This is the closest thing to a true factory bike in Baja. In theory, the days of broken KTM’s in Baja should be over.
The team has decided to use an innovative light set up from Baja Designs, combining LED and HID technology. Even with so much new light development over the past few years, teams like Honda have chosen to stay with the proven dual 8” halogen lighting. The KTM set up is far more compact and aerodynamic, although it may be slightly heavier than the halogen package.
For riders, KTM has the newly crowned AMA Hare & Hound champion Kurt Caselli. Backing him up is San Felipe partner Ivan Ramirez. Also on the bike for this race will be Quinn Cody and Mike Brown. Quinn is just returning from a wrist injury, he has not raced all season. Mike Brown has had an outstanding year in a number of off road disciplines, but is currently suffering from a stomach ailment that sidelined him at last week’s Endurocross event. It is a very talented group of riders, but they have little time together as a team. They are much more a collection of individuals.
For service, KTM will be relying on their own assortment of team mechanics, most with little Baja experience. Overall, the KTM team has plenty of strong elements, but they are still newbie’s in the Baja realm. With so many different factors in the long peninsula race, that it will be interesting to see if they can all come together at just the right time to get the win.
So who will win?
Baja racing is the kind of crucible that brings many different elements together. It is also a magnifying glass that exaggerates even the slightest of flaws. The last trip to La Paz was in 2010. The two rider Honda team of Kendall Norman and Quinn Cody rode a perfect race. Racing with only two riders might seem risky, but part of the conventional wisdom is that the fewer cooks in the pot, the better.
When looking at all the variables, it is very difficult to view any of the teams with a clear advantage.
As for choosing a winner, it is almost a bit random. It is impossible to guess how the race will develop. Will the race be won on speed, strategy, experience or just plain luck? Do you not make your own luck? Who knows, but someone has to win and someone has to make a guess as to whom that will be, so I pick the THR/Monster Kawasaki for the 2012 Baja 1000 win.