Well it is that time again. The Baja 1000 is just around the corner. Has been the case for the 2013 year so far, all the news revolves around the SCORE organization.
As SCORE continues to tinker with the race direction, everyone is wondering what the outcome will be. Once again, the race could end being decided by the rules and decisions of the organizers, rather than the efforts of the racers. But that is not particularly new to Baja either, that which has changed is really more or less the same.
The first big change will be the night start. With Pro Motorcycles scheduled to leave the start line at 11 pm on Thursday, they will be racing out of Ensenada in the dark for the first time. If you have not been following along, this was a move to get the slow motorcycles and fast Trophy Trucks farther away from each other. SCORE wants to see less of the potentially dangerous overtaking of Sportsman motorcycles by trucks.
The idea is good at heart. I am all for anything that leads to safer racing. The question is- is this really safer? While there have been incidents between trucks and motorcycles, statistically it is way down the list of ways to get hurt in Baja. As for starting through the streets of Ensenada in the dark, it seems really dangerous to me.
If you have never had a chance to ride the typical start, it consists of a couple of miles right through the middle of town plus another 20 miles of urban gran prix as it winds through rough subdivisions, new construction and scattered farms and houses. At race speed it has to look like a wild “need for speed” kind of video game. I can only imagine doing it all in the dark.
At the start of the race it can be very dusty and tricky to pass. If the fog comes in it will even be worse. Navigation is based entirely on having prerun the start many times to learn all the turns. SCORE has thrown another wrench in the works now, not allowing any prerunning to take place between the start and Ojos Negros, the first 40 some miles of the race!
So now, it is not only dark, but you don’t get to learn the first part of the course either. As of today that decision stands, but I would not be surprised to see an 11th hour move on SCORE’s part to open it up for prerunning. Just one more decision that will probably benefit some teams while leaving others caught off guard.
In general, SCORE racing is on a marked course. The use of a GPS on motorcycles is a backup measure and typically just for the less experienced Sportsman riders. Without the opportunity to prerun, navigating the start and finish will be impossible without GPS for most teams.
The timing of the night start also means that nearly everyone will also finish the race in the dark. Hence they will have to run lights twice. That adds another level of complexity to the event. I am guessing that the first two or three bikes in might arrive before nightfall on Friday evening.
Next on the list of changes is the new qualifying procedure for the Pro motorcycle classes. The day before the race there will be a short scrambles track set up in Ojos Negros. Each team will have one rider race a qualifying lap to determine the start order. The rider who does the qualifying will also have to start the race. As I understand it, all Pro classes will start together based on qualifying performance.
It is an interesting idea. When they announced it for the Trophy Trucks earlier this year, it made lots of sense. The class is huge and there are vast differences in speed between the fast and slow teams. A team’s draw position had a huge effect on their race prospects.
In the Pro motorcycle classes, it is hard to say that this same fact holds true, particularly for the class 22 teams. The class is not that big. Draw position may not have much effect on the race. What this does offer is the chance for the fastest class 30 and 40 teams to start towards the front, well ahead of other teams in their class. Is that fair? I don’t know.
Ultimately this could lead to a new part of the whole Baja show, adding a day of racing that many people can watch. But at the Baja 500 spectators were not allowed for the truck qualifying. For now, it is just one more day of racing, travel and preparations that the Pro motorcycle teams will have to go through.
SCORE has changed to new tracking systems for this race. Live tracking will be available for all vehicles during the race on the Dirtlive.com website. I will be amazed if I actually get to sit in front of the computer and follow the lead motorcycles, let’s keep our fingers crossed. They are charging each team nearly $300 to rent the tracking equipment for the race. It is not available for purchase. Yes, the costs are rising faster than…. well I seem to be at a loss for a good metaphor here.
The new Pro Ironman class will be an interesting one to watch. According to the website there are eight entries in the class, including Alexander Smith. Entered in class 21 is a team led by MotoGP racer Colin Edwards. That should bring some excitement to the event also. There is a good article about his team in the current Cycle News.
So what about the big boys, the class 22 motorcycles? Here are the top teams:
1x Honda: Timmy Weigand, Colton Udall, David Kamo
4x Kawasaki: Robby Bell, David Pearson, Steve Hengeveld, Taylor Robert, Ricky Brabec
2x KTM: Kurt Caselli, Ivan Ramirez, Mike Brown, Kendall Norman
Frankly there is not much to report. I have not received a scrap of information from any team. KTM has finally decided that they need Kendall Norman on the bike. I am glad to see it, they need the rider and experience and Kendall needs a ride. I expect that Kendall will put in a solid ride, but I would be surprised to see him really stand out from any of the other riders he will be battling. It looks like KTM is still hanging on to the old twin cam 450sxf that they have been racing for the past two years.
I don’t have anything to report on the Kawasaki or Honda teams. Let’s face it, things have been at a stale mate this year. The teams are matched very close and there has not been much action to change that. Last June at the Baja 500, both KTM and Kawasaki crashed their way out of any shot at a win. Both with riders considered least likely to lose it, Caselli and Hengeveld.
Where does that leave us? If you are standing at the gambling table, you swear that it can only land on red so many times before hitting black. But the smart money knows that the percentage of each roll never changes, regardless of the previous outcome. So I guess we will keep betting the red. Someone else is bound to win sooner or later, but the odds are still probably in favor of the Honda. They are the team that consistently makes the fewest mistakes.
The last aspect of the night start is this – as a journalist/spectator/enthusiast, there will be almost nothing to see during the race. Typically I would head out to Ojos Negros at daylight and catch the first few Pro bikes as they cross the road there. That is where most of the spectacular Baja photos that you see come from.
The low morning light typically makes for a great photo opportunity. The bikes are still bunched together, so you can get lots of photos. From there, I would head towards Nuevo Junction or Borrego to get a second group of shots. Finally I would head back to town to catch the finish line action. All in all it makes a good plan for the day and we end up with lots of photos and quick quotes at the rider changes.
With the night start, that is all out the window. There are really no good chances for timely race photos, just at the start and finish. These will probably both be in the dark. If I wanted daylight photos, I would probably have to go way down south towards Catavina and wait hours for the top teams in each class to pass. Then I would be stuck down there and miss the finish.
As I see it, there is really nothing for me to do at the Baja 1000. So my plan right now is to stay home. I am not even going to go. I will contract with someone else for photos and watch the live tracking from home. That will be more race information than I could get by actually being there.
With so many new changes to the program, I am sure that I have probably misstated something. Feel free to jump in to correct or comment as needed. If you have a favorite team you want to give a shout out to, leave a comment. We hope for a safe race for all the riders.