Next week in Ensenada, Mexico
SHOWDOWN: Honda vs. Kawasaki (and maybe KTM) in motorcycle battle at 42nd Tecate SCORE Baja 1000
Honda revving for 12th straight Overall motorcycle win, but Kawasaki' "Super Star" team stands in the way
LOS ANGELES--What a difference a year has made in the world of SCORE Baja motorcycle racing. Just when it looked like the invincible Johnny Campbell Racing factory-supported Honda team would give Honda its 20th overall win in the granddaddy of all desert races, along came Kawasaki with a factory-supported team of its own filled with superstar former Honda riders. The 42nd Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 desert race will be held next week in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.
Oh My! A funning thing happed on the way to the podium. The challenge of SCORE Baja racing is significant enough itself, but put some serious competition alongside the Honda racers for the first time in 19 years, and you have the kindling for a major bonfire of enormous proportions.
And, through into the mix that masterful SCORE Baja champion Johnny Campbell, who has a record 11 overall motorcycle titles in this race, was injured enough in a recent test session to keep him off one of his teams two entries this year, the plot definitely thickens.
Now, add some thunder from down under in the form of a top Australian KTM team and the legends of Baja will all be watching this one.
Honda has won the overall in this race 19 times, including 12 straight. Kawasaki has won the overall in this race 11 times including nine straight between 1988 and 1996. KTM has yet to win an overall in the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. Kawasaki is returning to Baja for the first time in nearly 20 years with a factory-supported team.
With racers competing in 32 Pro and 6 Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs, the legendary race will be held Nov. 19-22 in Ensenada, Mexico. Completing its 36th year as the World's foremost desert racing sanctioning body, the event is the finale of the five-race 2009 SCORE Desert Series. To date, 338 adventurers and the world's best desert racers have come from 39 U.S. States and 14 countries to gather on the majestic Baja California peninsula.
This year's 672.85-mile race will start for the 35th time and finish for the 20th time in Ensenada. The motorcycle and ATV classes will start their journey at 6:30 a.m. PST next Friday, with the car and truck classes starting at approximately 10:30 a.m., or three hours after the last ATV leaves the line. Vehicles will leave in 30-second intervals in the elapsed-time race and while the fastest finishers are expected to complete the course in approximately 14 hours. All vehicles will have a 31-hour time limit to become official finishers in the legendary adventure.
Now the motorcycle lineups...
On the red No. 12x JCR Honda CRF450X is the squad of Kendall Norman, Santa Barbara, Calif./Timmy Weigand, Santa Clarita, Calif. and Quinn Cody, Los Olivos, Calif.
On the red No. 18x JCR Honda CRF450X is the team of Colton Udall and Jeff Kargola, San Clemente, Calif. along with Brent Harden, Menifee, Calif.
Wearing the green colors on the No. 1x Blue C/Wahoos Penhall Motorsports Kawasaki KX450 is the super squad of Robby Bell, Sun City, Calif., Steve Hengeveld, Oak Hills, Calif., brothers Ryan and Connor Penhall of Corona, Calif., and Destry Abbott, Peoria, Ariz.
Flying the yellow and green Aussie flag for the on the orange No. 16x Team Australia KTM 530EXC will be Brad Williscroft, and Ben Grabham of Appin, Australia.
If that's not enough, the young gun dark horse in race might just be the 4x Honda Beta 450RR of brothers Cameron and Kyle Corfman, El Centro, Calif., Craig Smith and Aaron Tuck of Brawley, Calif.
The Corfman team won the open Class 22 in June's Tecate SCORE Baja 500 and leads the Class 22 point standings heading into the season finale. Smith was part of the overall winning team in 2000 for Honda.
Any more growing drama and you might call this show 'Desperate Desert Rats'.
Norman has won the overall title in this race three times (2004, 2007 and 2008) while Cody won it in 2006.
The Udall team is the less experienced but very still a very talented JCR team with superb equipment and great pit support.
Robby Bell has two overall wins in this race while the legendary Hengeveld, who finished fifth in SCORE Trophy-Truck last year in this race, has 10 motorcycle class wins in this race, including seven overall titles. Hengeveld's overall titles all have come between 2000 and 2007.
The Penhalls are as talented a pair of young riders as you can find anywhere in the desert and they are the sons of legendary speedway motorcycle champion Bruce Penhall. Abbott is a veteran desert racer who was part of the famous Kawasaki Team Green for many seasons.
In setting the stage for this classic old west shootout, Robby Bell put it best.
"I had a great run with Honda and last year with JCR," said the personable Bell. "It was truly a rewarding experience to have ridden for some of the legends of this sport. For that opportunity I will be forever grateful. This year is the next chapter in my career and I am really excited about how it is going. The new KX450F is awesome and I feel right at home on it."
Honda, without legend Johnny Campbell, has to step up a notch. Kawasaki has to move up a step to keep pace in Baja. The KTM riders, well, they are running for the pride of their country as well, so who knows.
With nearly 150 motorcycles and ATVs entered in the race in several classes for engine displacement as well as age group motorcycle riders, there will be no shortage of great racing in these divisions that run in only the three SCORE Baja races and not the two US races in the SCORE series.
Leading the age group racers into Mexico are 13-time class winner Craig Adams and Jim O'Neal, who has eight class wins in this race, including three in 2006. This year both Adams and O'Neal will be competing as part of two teams. Adams, San Clemente, Calif., is racing on the Scott Myers team in Class 40 (riders over 40 years old) and on O'Neal's Class 50 team. O'Neal, Simi Valley, Calif., is also racing on the Class 60 team of Donald Lewis.
This race also features the prestigious Sal Fish SCORE IronRider awards presented to each motorcycle or ATV rider who completes the course within the time limit while riding solo. To date, 32 individuals have officially declared that they will be attempting to complete the course riding solo.
With massive crowds reaching nearly 250,000 anticipated to again be spread out along the rugged course that travels from Ensenada to Ojos Negros, east down Laguna Salada to San Felipe, down through the legendary Matomi Wash, around Mike's Sky Ranch, through both Rancho Las Truchas and Rancho El Coyote, down the infamous Simpson's Hill and back to the Pacific Coast below San Vicente and up through Santo Tomas, Uruapan and back to Ojos Negros, covering much of the northern half of the majestic Baja California peninsula to and from Ensenada.
In addition to season point class point championships, drivers in the Pro car and truck classes are also racing to earn prestigious SCORE Toyota Milestone Awards given to all drivers who complete every required mile of the five-race season. Being presented by Toyota Motorsports for the 24th consecutive year, a total of 16 drivers remain eligible after Round 4 of the 2009 SCORE Desert Series.