The 2023 SCORE World Desert Championship may only be one race old, but its UTV divisions have already delivered plenty of intriguing storylines coming into this weekend’s 55th SCORE Baja 500. After checking in for the action on Friday’s tech and contingency day, a preliminary entry list of 60 UTVs across five classes will take on a 473.67-mile loop from Ensenada and back starting on Saturday morning in the second-longest round of the SCORE season.
Competition at the highest level remains split between Polaris RZR and Can-Am, but with each manufacturer focused mostly on a different class. Led by Polaris Factory Racing and its Pro R Factory model, and with numerous other Pro Rs competing, Polaris RZR comprises all 20 entries on the Pro UTV Open grid, with just a handful remaining in the Forced Induction class. Instead, most of those 21 registrations use the Can-Am Maverick X3. The closest thing to an even split between those two manufacturers is four RZRs to seven Can-Ams on the 11-car Pro Stock UTV entry list; three Honda Talons will take on four RZRs on the Normally Aspirated grid, while a single RZR will compete in the Unlimited division.
Which class (and manufacturer) took the overall win in each SCORE race last year changed from race to race, but it was the Forced Induction brigade that pulled it off in the season-opening San Felipe 250. Rodrigo Ampudia’s recent run of successes in SCORE continued with the top overall time among UTVs at 6:16:17. The factory-backed Polaris squad spent much of the race up front in the Open division, with team boss Craig Scanlon eventually taking top honors with a 6:22:51. The rest of the overall top six was split down the middle, with Open podium finishers Wayne Matlock and Mike Cafro coming in third and sixth overall and FI podium finishers Edgar Garcia Leon and PJ Jones slotting in between them.
They’ll all be back for more this weekend, as will defending overall winner Austin Weiland—although he’s in a factory Polaris in the Open class now, instead of his FI-spec Can-Am from last year. In the Normally Aspirated class, it’ll be Joe Bolton looking to follow up on his win in San Felipe, but defending class winner Zach Sizelove is back as part of the Honda entry to reassert himself at the front of the pack. In the Pro Stock class, Anibal Lopez is both the defending winner and points leader after a victory in San Felipe, but his competition gets stronger as well with Sara Price on the grid; Price’s 2023 has gone exceptionally well, with an invitation to the 2024 Dakar Rally among her most recent accolades, and she’ll aim to add a Baja 500 win to the list.
As with the opener in San Felipe, the SCORE website and YouTube channel will carry live coverage from throughout the event, including tech and contingency on Friday and coverage from both the start/finish line and on the race course over the weekend. Following the Baja 500, the 2023 SCORE World Desert Championship returns to Ensenada on September 12-17 for the 4th SCORE Baja 400; Weiland, Cafro, and Kaden Wells were among last year’s class winners in the event.