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Baja 1000 – 50yrs in the Desert | Features

The race affectionately known as “The granddaddy of all desert races” is certainly old enough to lay claim to that title. The Baja 1000 celebrated the 50th edition of the race in November 15-17 2017.

Just like the good old days, the 2017 event saw riders leaving the start line in Ensenada Mexico on the stroke of midnight. Leaving in one minute intervals, riders disappeared into the darkness and started their 1134 mile journey down the Baja Peninsula to the finish line in La Paz.

The scale of this race has to been seen to be believed and unlike the original race won by Malcolm Smith, the track is regularly lined by huge crowds of spectators. In fact it is estimated 250,000 spectators are along the course as it weaves from one coastline to the other.

Francisco Arredondo was first away on the number 45x, Honda CRF450X. Second to be waived away was the 1x machine and 2016 winner, Mark Samuels. Completing the Honda trio of first bikes to leave the start line was the 3x machine with Ray Dal Soglio aboard. Although some guys like Australia’s Chris Warwick enter the Ironman class, riding the entire course on their own, the majority of Baja riders are actually teams consisting of up to six riders.

Baja 1000

By the time the sun rose over the Sea of Cortez, the first bikes were at the 250 mile mark, changing riders. The 1x team had already lost time when their transponder came loose and valuable time slipped away as repairs were carried out. The night section was not kind to Dal Soglio who dropped over 20 minutes behind the leaders and relinquishing third place in the process.

As the bikes came into San Ignacio, just after the half way point, it was the 45x team who had taken the lead from 1x and was now 27min in front. The 45x team had little chance of increasing their lead through the silt and whoops as a gearbox issue meant 5th gear was not an option. They pressed on, hoping the CRF gearbox would hold together. The next 240 miles into Loreto was chopped up from pre-running and despite the track conditions, the 3x team managed to make up time through the whoops and take back third position.

Baja 1000

The final 300 miles down the peninsula to La Paz is littered with massive silt beds, just waiting to catch out riders as they endeavour to hold a good line through what looks like concrete powder. Ruts, rocks, logs and stones are hidden in the silt so the best option is point, shoot and hope your reactions are quick enough.

Ian Young was now at the controls of the 1x Honda and rode the silt like a champion. Not only did he make up the lost time, he passed the 45x machine and managed to pull a three-minute lead as the sun went down. Young held the lead all the way to La Paz where he crossed the line around 9pm and pulled a celebratory wheelie heading up to the podium where an entourage of media were eagerly waiting. However it all went wrong when the front wheel slipped out from under him as the bike came up the dew covered metal ramp. Bike and rider separated as media scuttled out of the way of the CRF. Officials took a dim view of this reckless behaviour and issued the 1x team with a 10min penalty. That put the 45x machine of Arredondo in first place, with 1x relegated to second and 3x held their position to take a well-earned third place.

Max Sullivan