AUSTIN WEILAND AND CAN-AM TOP BAJA 500 TURBO PROS

BOUNCING BACK IN BAJA

Next to 30+ years of covering Supercross and Motocross, Baja has been my favorite place to be, and I returned to Ensenada for the 54th running of the SCORE Baja 500. I was to embed with twice UTV champion Marc Burnett for some pre-running of the brutally rough 463-mile course, but first I went down to Baja Powerhouse to see what Juan Carlos and crew were up to. Baja Powerhouse is a full-service UTV/bike/truck/buggy shop, and they also conduct Baja Voyager Adventures for adventure bikes, UTVs and 4x4s. They also do recovery work and have mechanics on hand, and they even send runners to get parts in the USA. I should know, they saved me when my Harley blew an EFI O-ring, stranding me a couple of years ago.

The 54th Baja 500 featured a brutally rough 463-mile course, and the Baja Powerhouse GPS map also shows access points to various sections of the course.

Baja Powerhouse also hosts teams like Coastal Drilling during SCORE and NORRA races with several bunk beds, a locker room with showers, an on-site restaurant, secure parking on the compound and shuttle services to anywhere in Ensenada.

When we visited the shop, all the teams were out pre-running, so Juan Carlos (right) showed us their latest projects.

They cater to pre-runners and racers and have 11-ton lifts, welding and fabrication, and they’re a Shock Therapy distributor. Juan Carlos gave me an ICONS GPS map of the 500 course with access points for chase crews and this photographer.

If they don’t have it in stock, they can get it shipped or will send a runner to San Diego.

I chose an access at Highway 3’s KM19 and headed out on my Harley to catch the out-bound start pre-run on Thursday. The dirt road led to Rancho Nelson, where the course snaked through a large valley with massive oaks and a hill with three graded jumps. I was stoked with my shots and would return on race day. I went back to the Riviera Hotel to catch race teams coming through Tech, and it was cool to see old friends and make new ones. Nick Bruce of Adrenaline Motorsports and Ambosio Quintero of Baja UTV Tours were hosting Bruce Jett and Steve Beard from Maryland in a Pro UTV Stock X3. Both teams would later stand on the podium.

Pre-running Baja is as fun as it gets. Marc Burnett airs out his X3 Max pre-runner as Fern looks on from the banner.

Friday was the only day to pre-run the inbound section from Ojos Negros to the finish, and I got to ride along with Burnett in his trick X3 Max. He called out danger zones for Simon to flag on the Lowrance and checked out alternate lines, and we did some sections at speed. Amazed, I asked him later what percent of race speed were we going. He said, “70 percent.” For me, that would be 170-percent. We crossed one ranch that had a banner across the entrance with Marc’s old Monster RZR and Fern’s (Fernando Flores) face immortalized. We all got a big kick out of that and took action photos of the pre-runner under it. Friday night, the team meeting went late into the wee hours. Tech and Contingency of the race cars took all day, with many thousands of fans getting photos with racers and autographs. It also went well into the night.

Branden Sims also had to work through the Pro Turbo field to finish second in his RZR Turbo R.

Saturday morning, I left for Rancho Nelson as Marc and Fern left in their race cars for the start. Traffic was heavy on Hwy 3, and the lead trophy trucks had already gone through when I approached the ranch. There had to be at least a thousand people there, spread out from the Pepsi stand to the other end of the ranch. It was like a mini Hammertown, but with better music and food. Hundreds of EZ-UPs lined the course, and the fans tail-gated as the trucks and buggies raced past. Between roars of engines, Mariachi music blared out of car and truck speakers. Kids played in the dirt with their race cars and a few flew kites. Everyone wore off-road racing T-shirts, many with Rodrigo Ampudia and other local heroes, and they videoed with their phones as racers passed. I walked and rode around shooting photos, as many campers started fires for a barbacoa. Later the smells of carne asada mixed with those of wood smoke, dust and burnt race fuel.

After all the UTVs passed through on the way to Ojos, I retired to the shade of an oak tree near the ranch house to eat lunch. Many of the spectators loaded up to catch the race action at other points on the course, which basically did a big figure eight across Baja Norte, snaking from the Summit to Tres Posos to Mike’s Sky Ranch and back to Ojos and the finish in Ensenada. I found some shade under a semi-trailer tanker and took a siesta while waiting for the bikes to come back through.

The bikes had started at 4:00AM, and around 2:30PM I spied dust on the horizon. The lead bike was the #10X KTM team of Bolivian Juan Carlos Salvatierra (who I had met on his father’s Ecotourismo de Bolivia bike, ATV and UTV rides in 2000 and 2001), Argentinian Diego Llanos, Arturo Salas Jr., and Shane Logan, both from San Diego. It was around an other 30 minutes before the next bike came through, and I stayed to shoot the first few quads for Dirt Wheels. Since it would be dark when the UTVs would come through, I headed back to Ensenada.

In all, 30 states were represented, along with Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica,  Ecuador, Peru, Canada, Denmark, England, France, New Zealand, and of course Mexico. While these racers and fans spoke many languages, we all speak off-road!

For the first time in SCORE Baja history, the Baja 500 had five SCORE UTV teams taking part in the race promotion. One team started before the dirt bikes took off at 4:00AM and did the entire course looking for and marking booby traps to assure a safe race. The second UTV took off after the last quad to make sure that there were no downed bike or quad riders on the course before the Trophy Trucks started at 10:00AM. The other three teams were dispatched to the Borego/Sea of Cortez side of Baja to man hydration stations at three race miles along the course.

Kaden Wells was third Pro NA 1000, finishing some 36 minutes behind the winner.

For the 54th SCORE Baja 500, there were 259 starters in all classes and 174 finishers for a 67.2-percent success rate. There were 24 Pro Forced Induction UTVs and 15 finishers (62.5%), 8 Pro NA 1000s and 6 finishers (75%), 10 Pro Stocks with 4 finishers (40%), 6 Pro Open UTVs with 4 finishers (66.67%) and 2 Sportsman UTVs with 1 finisher (50%) for a total of 50 UTV entries. There were a combined 51 Trophy Trucks across three classes

 

Off the start through Race Mile 16, Wayne Matlock was the first UTV in his Pro R and Mike Cafro was about a minute behind Matlock in a long-wheelbase Turbo S with Craig Scanlon hot on Scanlon’s tail. Justin Lambert was the first Pro Turbo with Edgar Leon (C-A) and PJ Jones (C-A) in hot pursuit. Austin Weiland started way back and came through in 14th, and Kaden Wells was the first Pro NA through two minutes ahead of Zach Sizelove in his Honda. Ethan Ebert was next in another Talon.

Zach Sizelove won the Pro NA 1000 UTVs in his family-built Honda Talon.

Weiland worked through the field from 22nd to the physical Pro Turbo lead by the time he handed off the #2954 Can-Am to co-driver Justin Wragg at RM310. The team only had one flat over the 463-mile brutally rough, rocky, and dusty course, and they finished 20.33 minutes ahead of Branden Sims, who drove solo in his Turbo R. He got stuck in a bottleneck over the Summit but otherwise had no problems other than fatigue on the rough, technical course. He said at the finish this was the first time he had ever pre-ran the whole course. Cayden MacCachren started the #2919 Turbo S and handed off to Brandon Schueler at RM315. The team finished third Pro Turbo with no flats and a couple of little issues, and Schueler said the routing of the course was awesome.

 

Marc Burnett also drove solo and broke three axles at one time (RM70), but the team did a great job of changing them out quickly. Burnett ran tire blocks inside ITP Coyotes on OMF rims, and each tire weighed 75 pounds, contributing to the failed axles. Burnett was the only one in the top 10 Turbos not to receive a time penalty for infractions.

 

With a 12:42:46.729 time, Zach Sizelove was the next solo driver to finish and win the Pro NA 1000s  by 23+ minutes ahead of Joe Bolton. Sizelove also lost time at the Summit bottleneck but had no flats or other problems, he was stoked to finish the brutal race, especially the last 50 miles. Bolton also had a trouble-free race other than the bottleneck, and he handed off to Austin Bolton at RM190.

The 54th Baja 500 returned to its roots of starting and finishing in front of the Riviera Hotel, also the site of Tech and Contingency. The pandemic had forced the start to be moved out of town and Contingency to be canceled, so the fans loved to be back.

Pro Stock UTVs went to the #3919 Polaris of Anibal Lopez, winning by almost 36 minutes over Nick Bruce in an Adrenaline Motorsports Can-Am Max. Maryland-native Bruce Jett arrive-and-drove to third in another Adrenaline X3 with co-pilot Steve Beard. Mike Pratt worked the Pro Open UTV field to take the win by almost 13 minutes over Mike Cafro with Craig Scanlon a distant third.

 

RESULTS: 54TH SCORE BAJA 500 UTVS

Pro Turbo UTVs

  1. Austin Weiland/C-A…11:22:59.667
  2. Branden Sims/Pol…11:43:21.174
  3. Brandon Schueler/Pol…11:54:48.764
  4. Wes Miller/Pol…12:38:05.835
  5. Marc Burnett/C-A…12:40:54.422
  6. Herman Johnson/C-A…13:03:03.928
  7. Jorge Cano/C-A…13:26:30.465
  8. Edgar Garcia Leon/C-A…14:28:29.674
  9. Leobardo Gomez/Pol…15:11:18.861
  10. Alonzo Lopez/C-A…15:27:15.467

Pro NA 1000 UTVs

  1. Zach Sizelove/Hon…12:42:46.729
  2. Joe Bolton/Pol…13:05:04.418
  3. Kaden Wells/Pol…13:18:46.231
  4. Adrian Orellana/Pol…13:21:50.693
  5. Ethan Ebert/Hon…13:26:24.110
  6. Richard Fant/Hon…15:28:55.172

Pro Open UTV

  1. Mike Pratt/Pol…14:46:54.290
  2. Mike Cafro/Pol…14:59:47.028
  3. Craig Scanlon/Pol…15:25:04.833
  4. Kriston Matlock/Pol…19:07:18.475

Pro Stock UTVs

  1. Anibal Lopez/Pol…13:55:18.402
  2. Nick Bruce/C-A…14:31:06.612
  3. Bruce Jett/C-A…19:05:58.501
  4. Douglas Cornwell/Pol…19:31:37.712

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