2013 SCORE Baja 1000

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The 2013 SCORE Baja 1000 has come to a close, but it will forever be remembered as the race where UTVs made their mark on Baja. Sure, UTVs have been racing Baja for many years now, but up until this year UTVs have never been considered a Pro class, only sportsman. While the title of a class doesn’t define it, for OEM’s and other competitors already racing UTVs at the Pro level in other series it meant everything. These racers, sponsors and teams would never take Baja seriously until Baja took them seriously. One of the first class changes implemented by new SCORE owner Roger Norman early this year was the addition of a Pro UTV class for the SCORE series. Immediately, factory backed UTV teams and Pro’s racing at BITD took notice and committed to bringing their programs to Mexico to conquer the famed Baja races that SCORE sanctions.

The 2013 season at SCORE has been the coming out year for UTVs in the series. Car counts jumped starting in San Felipe where 13 UTV’s would line up. The most UTVs to ever start a SCORE race up till this years 1000. But despite the higher car count and despite it being the shortest race in the SCORE Baja series at only 250 miles, only 4 UTVs would finish. In June at the coveted Baja 500, 11 UTVs would line up to take the green flag yet only 2 would finish. So the question became not would UTVs show up to take on Baja but could UTVs actually finish the race without suffering such a high rate of attrition. Reality is, we as a class are not going to garner the respect we so desire from the series and the fans of the sport until we could actually put together a legit podium finish and until the class actually produced a race, not just an endurance battle to see who could finish. We as fans want to see UTVs battle for a win, not battle to see who could outlast the other guy. With all that said, I do not want to sound like I am taking away the win or finish from Matt Parks who won the SF250 and Baja 500 in convincing fashion, or Cory Sappington who fought hard to make it to the finish line at the 500 in 2nd place. Anyone who knows Baja will tell you that to finish first, you must first finish and the fact that we were seeing these finishes in a Pro class was certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Fast forward to November and the famed Baja 1000 is upon us. UTVs are riled up, new and old racers on UTVUnderground.com are claiming they are coming to Baja to compete and come race day on Friday we had 19 UTVs staged to take on what some were claiming was the most difficult Baja 1000 race course in years and maybe ever. Multiple professional racers including those competing in Trophy Truck, the sports elite racing class, were claiming that there would be no way a UTV could finish this course. It was too long, to harsh, too much silt, we were hearing it all. Despite the negative comments coming from those who were pre-running, these 19 UTVs were coming to Baja to not only finish, but to compete for a podium position. 19 UTVs! The most we have ever seen line up at a race south of the border and amongst the 19 were some very serious and experienced UTV desert racers. This was going to be our year, our race, to prove to the community that we as a class are for real, that we are not just going to show up but that we are going to finish. The fact that we were the 3rd largest class to line up in Ensenada was enough to put eye balls on us, now it was up to the racers, their teams and their strategies to prove to those who were watching that we could finish and stake our claim as a legitimate pro racing class in the sport of off-road desert racing in Mexico.

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We were not only excited about the car count, we were also excited about the diversity in manufacturer representation. Arctic Cat, Can-Am and Polaris were all very well represented at this years race. Can-Am had 3 factory backed teams representing them including the 1917 Can-Am Maverick of Murray Motorsports. Murray Motorsports is the flagship UTV race program running under the Can-Am X-Team umbrella. The Murray brothers, Jason and Derek, are two of the sports biggest proponents and are 2 of the most fierce competitors the 1900 class has ever had. The Murray’s and their team of committed volunteers, many of whom also race Can-Am’s on their own, are always a class favorite to win. But the Murray’s were bringing a brand new 1917 to Baja. A Maverick Max race machine that had yet to see competition this year and that left many wondering if they had the equipment to back up their skills. It was a beautiful piece of equipment, it looks like a Class 10 when comparing the size of the machine and we knew they had a good amount of test time, but Baja loves to expose weak points and will take the most well prepped machines and turn them inside out showing you and everyone else the flaws that exist.

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While the Murray’s tend to garner the most attention for Can-Am, there were 2 other very competitive teams running Mavericks in Baja, both of which are very capable to take down Baja and win the race. Marc Burnett, arguably one of the most experienced Baja racers in the class has won multiple Baja races in other classes and has logged thousands of miles in Baja both in competition and in pre-running. Burnett put in countless hours of pre-running in preparation for this years race and was looking to shake his streak of bad luck since entering the UTV class. Marc, while being experienced in Baja is still a rookie in the UTV class. It has been a huge learning experience for Burnett and his 1905 Can-Am Maverick, even Burnett will admit that he underestimated the class and the challenge of moving down from Class 7 to race UTVs. But after putting in some major hours of prep, Burnett and the MB Motorsports / Can-Am team was ready to go.

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Not to be overlooked, the self proclaimed “godfather” of UTV racing, Cory Sappington. Sappington, competing in the 1904 Dezert Toyz / Can-Am Maverick, is not new to UTV racing, and he will tell you that himself! Cory, alongside Tim Orchard (OMF Performance) and Mike Lasher (former UTV desert racer), founded the UTVRA many moons ago and together are credited for being the founding fathers of UTV DESERT Racing. While Tim and Mike left Cory to be on his own soon after the founding of the UTVRA, Cory kept on and besides being a racer is also the UTV tech director for BITD. While Sappington doesn’t always show up with the biggest team and he rarely shows up with the prettiest machine, one thing he does do is compete for podiums and he is always game for a hard race. Sappington finished 2nd at the Baja 500, and he had plans of bettering that finish here at the Baja 1000.

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The brand machine that surprised me the most to see so many lining up was the Arctic Cat Wildcat. I shouldn’t have been surprised at all as many who had arrived had already competed in San Felipe and at the Baja 500 in June, but because there are virtually none in BITD it was a pleasant surprise to be reminded that the Wildcat is alive and well in Baja! The one team that certainly stood out to us competing for Arctic Cat was the Tonka Team of Todd Romano and Hans Waage. These two friends have been racing UTVs in Baja for many years and have a Baja 1000 win under their belt in their old Kawasaki Teryx to whom they shared driving duties with Baja legend Larry Roeseler. Hans and Todd know their way around Baja, know how to compete in a UTV and they certainly have done their homework as it pertains to building and prepping their Arctic Cat Wildcat. Having suffered mechanicals in both the SF250 and the Baja 500, the team was coming to Baja to prove they had worked out the bugs and had the equipment to back up their driving skills!

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The 1932 Jagged X Polaris RZR piloted by Matt Parks has dominated the first year of Pro UTV racing in SCORE. While Sappington is quick to let people know that he is the reason there are UTVs racing in the desert, what many do not know is that Matt Parks has fought hard for YEARS with SCORE to make UTVs a legitimate class in the Baja series. He worked with Sal Fish (former owner of SCORE) on many occasions to make this class happen, but not until Roger Norman took over would this dream actually come true. Matt fulfilled his end of the deal he made to SCORE which was give us a Pro Class and I (he) will come back and race. Matt pulled out of BITD only a season after having won the UTV championship there and took his Jagged X 1932 RZR to Baja and brought along one of, if not the most experienced UTV desert racing teams with him in Jagged X. Parks has raced in Baja in a UTV prior to this season, mater of fact he was one of the first to EVER compete in a UTV in Baja back when he raced his Polaris RANGER, yes, I said RANGER! Parks was at the Baja 1000 to first finish and capture the 2013 Pro UTV season championship, but we all know that he wants to sweep the season and take with him the win at the Baja 1000. To help him do this he was bringing in a hot shoe pilot to help bring the 1932 to the finish. Parks recruited professional UTV / ATV racer Beau Baron to the team. Beau brings experience in competition and ads a ton of speed to an already fast team.

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Another team competing for the first time in Baja was the 1908 Polaris RZR of Cognito Motorsports. One of the “greenest” teams coming to Baja, Cognito was tired of sitting on the sidelines all year watching Parks and Co. have all the fun in Mexico. Cognito, always a favorite at the BITD series, was coming to Baja to take on the famed 1000 with goals of finishing and gaining some experience. They recruited their short course ringer Ryan Piplic who competed for the frist time last year in Baja, but other than that everyone on the team was coming to Baja for the first time which always makes things interesting. We had fun hanging with the crew in Baja, and I promise you they will be coming back!

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Certainly the fastest team in UTV desert racing and arguably the most well funded team in all of UTV racing was also coming to Baja for the first time. The 1934 Polaris RZR of Coastal Racing decided they needed a bigger challenge so together with builder / driver Mark Holz, team owner / driver Scott Kiger rounded up his troops and headed south. For a week they pre-ran the course, they also recruited the most famous driver in UTV racing, RJ Anderson, and they had all of the chase equipment one could desire including a helicopter. The 1934 RZR is light, fast and when things go right for this team they usually result in a win. Baja is a new challenge for this team but if their was one first time team coming to compete that I would have bet on, it was the Coastal Racing team. They never half step, they never overlook details and they certainly play to win. Together they rounded out what Polaris was calling the 2013 Polaris RZR Baja 1000 ASSAULT and if you are Polaris you are feeling pretty good about your chances of a win for your brand at the Baja 1000.

After the always festive day known as Contingency, drivers and their teams retreated to their hotels, houses and trucks to go over last minute plans and strategies. For UTVUnderground.com, we did the same. We had a full team of guys with us to film, photo and cover the race from the UTV perspective. Thanks to Polaris we were able to bring a crew of this magnitude to help us cover the UTVs, other than SCORE’s own TV crew, we were the largest media entity in Baja and I think that alone says something about our class. We had to plan and prepare just like the race teams themselves. We have to know which crew is going where, make sure they have food, water, communications, etc. Everyone has to know their objectives and so after a huge helping of Taco’s at one of our favorite local taco stands we all shoved off to bed to get the rest we needed to chase the teams well into the next night. We were ready to go!

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Soon after sunrise the rumble of V8 engines began to roar outside of our hotel. Race day brings a sense of excitement that only those who are there or have experienced it can understand. As the line of Unlimited Trophy Trucks and buggies make their way to the start line and jolt of adrenaline starts to surge through ones body. While racing is the ultimate high, for us who are preparing to chase the race it is the same feeling of anticipation and excitement. We as a media team run our own race, and for us we still have our own unknowns and challenges. At 9am on the dot, the first Trophy Truck was sent off the line and from there on every minute following another machine was sent out into the Baja. The first UTV would make its way to the start line right around 11am. With the drop of the green flag they were off, one after another until all 19 machines were on the clock and in the race. Finally, the butterflies are gone, the race has begun and now its time to do work!

We watched the UTVs off the line and then we charged hard to get to our chase truck. The UTVUnderground.com team of myself and Rusty Baptist would begin to chase UTVs with a goal to see them in as many parts as we possibly could. Our first goal was to get to KM77 which was less than 100 miles into the race and was where most of the teams were doing their first quick stops before heading out into the pine forest. We witnessed teams do fuel stops, visual checks and once overs before we set off to San Felipe where we had hoped to see them one more time before dark. We reached San Felipe well ahead of the first UTVs which gave us time to rendezvous with our network partners at Race-Dezert.com out at the ZOO Road crossing around RM220. Here Klaus and team had the RDC sat trailer set up so we had fast and crisp wifi in the middle of Baja! We decided we would set up here and post updates as we saw all of the UTVs through.

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As we sat waiting for the arrival of the first UTV the sun began to fade quickly behind the mountains. Soon it was dark and the fact that we were only at RM220 meant it was going to be a long night of racing for everyone. At 5:28pm we heard the familiar buzz of a Polaris RZR and as the LED lights bounced closer we soon realized it was the 1932 of Jagged X. It shocked us at first since we knew Jagged X had selected a rear start and were one of the last vehicles off the line, then again, it didn’t shock us because it was Jagged X! It would be another 10 minutes before another UTV would pass and to no ones surprise it was Hans Waage in the 1933 Arctic Cat Wildcat. He came through our location like a man on a mission! It would be another 30 minutes before we would see another UTV. At around 6:10pm the 1917 Can-Am Maverick Max of Murray Motorsports came cruising through at a good pace It would be the last that we would see the Murray’s, further along they would lose an engine ending their day.

Right behind the Murray’s was the 1903 Wildcat of Mark Schelbert and then quickly behind them was the 1904 Maverick of Cory Sappington. at 6:22pm Marc Burnett in the 1905 Can-Am would come blazing through but it wouldn’t be until 6:54pm that we would finally see another Polaris bass by and it wasn’t Cognito or Coastal Racing. It was the 1942 Polaris RZR XP1000 of Scott McFarland. So almost 1.5hrs behind Jagged X there was still no sign of the other 2 factory Polaris machines. At 7:02pm Sean Cook in the 1930 RZR came by, then at 7:13pm another Wildcat came by (we couldn’t catch the number). Finally at 7:17pm Cognito made it by. At 7:43 the 1945 RZR of Brightside Racing came passing by. It would be quiet at RM220 until 8:25pm when we would see the 1948 RZR. Without seeing Coastal Racing we made the decision to load up and head back to Ensenada while our other teams pushed south.

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It was here at RM220 that we got the horrific news that KTM 2X rider and world famous talent Kurt Caselli had passed away due to injuries he suffered when crashing late in the race on his motorcycle. Reports are still unconfirmed but it sounds as if Caselli, while leading the race, had an animal (cow) run in front of him causing him to either collide with the animal or with a tree resulting in him losing his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Casseli’s family and friends. This wreck was unwelcome reminder at just how harsh this race and Baja in general can be. Everyone who enters Baja to compete understands that you are entering one of the most dangerous forms of competition in the world. Needless to say, the rest of the race felt a bit different. RIP KC.

While traveling back across Baja from San Felipe to Ensenada we dropped into a dead zone where we lost most all contact in terms of UTV related news or information. The race teams themselves were moving south where service gets spotty and radio communication only comes in the form of Weatherman relay. It would be dark both in Baja and in terms of communication until the next morning. The battles and struggles that took place overnight are for the racers to tell, we can only imagine what they went through and suffered through.

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After much of our team stayed up late into the night to welcome the lead Trophy Trucks across the line (props to UTVUnderground.com / Polaris rider BJ Baldwin for winning the SCORE Baja 1000 in TT) it would be with sunrise that we would get up and head back out on course. Our goal was to head back across highway 3 and meet the racers as they came out of Mikes Sky Ranch and themselves reached Highway 3. As we neared that point we would see amber LED lights that we knew right away belonged to the 1934 of Coastal Racing. Somehow through the night they were able to overcome mechanical troubles and overtake the field. Directly behind them on the highway was the 1932 of Jagged X. We quickly flipped a U-Turn and began to run down the UTVs who were limited to 55mph on the highway. We passed the 1932, then passed the 1934 giving both teams fist pumps as they made their way to the “Goat Trail” that leads racers back out of Valle T and back on course. But as we approached the goat trail we came up on a local who was in the highway going extremely slow, so we decided to go around and when we went around RJ Anderson who was driving the 1934 decided to follow us thus missing the goat trail turn off. This split second mistake was all that Beau Baron in the 1932 needed to get around RJ and reclaim the lead. We couldn’t believe what we had just watched happen but as the teams jammed up the hill back into the desert we pressed hard to try and beat them to RM800 where Coastal would perform a driver change and Jagged X would have a fule stop.

Its crazy to think that it took almost 700 miles of an 883 mile race for a race to actually break out! Now it was 2 stars of UTV racing in Beau Baron (1932) and Rj Anderson (1934) battling it out at the Baja 1000. 2 guys who have battled all year long at the WORCS racing series are now waging war on each other at the most famed desert race in the world. As we made our way across the highway another surge of adrenaline poured into our bodies. We were nearing the end the but so much more was left! We reached RM 800 just in time to hear Beau Baron call out over the Jagged X team radio that he had a broken throttle cable. Only miles after he had passed RJ at the goat trail Beau’s throttle cable let go allowing RJ back around once again. While Beau had to wait for the Jagged X team to chase in off the highway to get him a replacement, RJ was charging in to the pit where he would turn the 1934 back over to team owner Scott Kiger. Kiger would take the RZR all the way to the finish. It would be almost 20 minutes before Jagged X would reach the same pit area for fuel. By now we were headed back west on the 3, now with the entire Coastal team in tow to try and catch the 1934 back at the meadow outside of Ojos Negros. At Ojos the 1934 would come through in solid shape. They would make a quick visual stop and then head onto the finish. We would do the same ensuring we were there when the first UTV would cross the line!

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We made it back to Ensenada’s finish line just in time and right at 27hrs 16min 57sec the 1934 Polaris RZR of Coastal Racing would take the checkered flag and would be crowned winners of the 2013 SCORE Baja 1000. Finishing with 2 broken rear axles which they suffered in the final 40 miles of the race, the Coastal Team would claim the top prize in their very first Baja race. Coastal Racing ran an amazing race. Overcoming an early race deficit of almost 2 hours to the lead UTV to not only conquer Baja but to do it in record time!

At 27hrs 40min 43sec, the 1932 Polaris RZR of Jagged X would come barreling across the line. Beau Baron looked relieved on many levels to be done with his leg and despite coming up short of the win the team immediately began to celebrate their 2013 Season Championship. Jagged X raced smart and clean and their machine ran flawlessly. They did what they needed to do to capture the season championship and we can’t wait to see what this team has planned for next year!

While the 2 RZR teams traded stories and began to celebrate their respective victories, 8 UTVs were still pushing hard to finish. At 28hrs 3min 11sec  Cory Sappington in his 1904 Can-Am Maverick came across the line rounding out the first full podium of Pro UTVs ever. 2 more UTVs would finish late in the day, the 1948 Arctic Cat Wildcat of Kevin Fuller and the 1908 Polaris RZR of Justin Lambert.

To have 5 UTVs finish in the allowed time was amazing. While many didn’t event think 1 would finish, we actually had 5 finish, and the winning UTV of Coastal Racing turned in a time that was good enough to win and place in a bunch of other classes. UTVs made their mark in Baja. Respect has been earned and we couldn’t be more proud of every single team who lined up to take on this race.

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According to time, here is how the lead UTV of Coastal Racing stacked up in the overall race.

1934 Polaris RZR of Coastal Racing – Scott Kiger / Mark Holz / RJ Anderson
(27:16:57)

1st Place in Pro UTV – 31st Overall

1st place in: Class 4000, 1700, 2, Baja Challenge, Pro Truck, stock full, 11, 9, 8, 7200, 5-1600, 5, 3,
2nd place in TT Spec, Score Lite, 7SX, 7
5th place in Class 10, 1/2-1600,
8th place in Class 1
13th place in Trophy Truck

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UTVUnderground.com wants to thank each and every racer and their team who represented us in Baja. We are sorry we don’t know all of your Baja stories but please tell us about them in our forum. Thank you to our crew and to SCORE International. We are already looking forward to 2014!

Photos by: Rusty Baptist, Vincent Knakal, Ernesto Araiza, and Jason Zindroski // UTVUnderground.com
Words by: Joey DiGiovanni // UTVUnderground.com

 

46th Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

Final round of the 2013 SCORE Desert Series
Nov. 12-17 – Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico (883.1 miles)
Total Starters: 251 Total Finishers: 116 (46.22 percent)

CLASS 19 (Limited, Stock 4-wheel Utility Vehicle)

1. Scott Kiger, Mt. Morris, Pa./Mark Holz, Lynden, Wash./R.J. Anderson, Riverside, Calif., Polaris XP900, 27:16:57 (32.4 mph);

2. Matt Parks, Newport Beach, Calif./Jason Spiess, Peoria, Ariz./Keith Redstrom, Glendale, Ariz./Craig Scanlon, St. Michael, Minn./Beau Baron, Atascadero, Calif., Polaris XP900-4, 27:40:43;

3. Cory Sappington, Peoria, Ariz./Eric Fitch, Scottsdale, Ariz./Tyler Dixon, Phoenix, Can-Am Maverick, 28:03:11;

4. Kevin Fuller, Portland, Ore./Jim Creagan/Gregg Northam, Yacolt, Wash., Arctic Cat Wildcat, 33:44:17;

5. Justin Lambert, Bakersfield, Calif./Casey Filippi, Porterville, Calif./Justin Sheakley, Peoria, Ariz., Polaris, 34:10:02.

(Total Starters: 19, Total Finishers: 5)