While it’s still unofficial — and as we write this, there are still cars, trucks and motorcycles strewn all up and down the beautiful Baja California peninsula from Ensenada to La Paz — the father/son team of Juan C. Lopez and Carlos “Apdaly” Lopez from Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, took top honors in the 50th anniverasry of Mexico’s most famous desert race. The team’s fluorescent-orange RPM-sponsored Chevy Trophy Truck covered the 1134.40-mile course in 19 hours 53 minutes and 36 seconds.
The Lopez family team had finished second for the last two years behind Rob MacCachren, who won the race each of the last three years. This year MacCachren was in contention for the lead when his engine blew, 550 miles in. Had he won, he would have been the first driver to win in four consecutive years.
The Lopezes crossed the line more than an hour ahead of second-place Trophy Truck finishers Cameron Steele and Pat Dean in a Ford F-150. A scant 11 minutes behind the Steele/Dean truck came the McMillin Racing Ford of Dan McMillin and Gary Weyhrich in third place.
The winning team takes the checkered and the big BFG check
MacCachren was one of the race leaders who dropped out at various points on the course. Two-time winner B.J. “Ballistic” Baldwin also dropped out, with transmission troubles. Baja 1000 pole-sitter and NASCAR driver Robby Gordon led in the early stages, then fell back with mechanical troubles. Andy McMillin, Tavo Vildasola, Luke McMillin, Larry Roeseler and Bryce Menzies also led at various points. Veteran racer Roeseler was ahead as far as mile marker 900, where a broken shock sent the team into limp-home mode. That’s where the patient Lopez family took over and flew down the last 200 miles to La Paz and victory.
This is the problem with GPS trackers, maybe. The gold line is the route the tracker claims motorcycle rider Samuels and company took, impossible unless they had a water bike. The red line is the course route.
The trucks beat the motorcycles this year by an adjusted finishing time of about an hour. But there was controversy among the bikes at the finish line. Exactly what that controversy was is still being sorted out as of press time. All competitor vehicles carry SPOT GPS trackers to identify each team’s location on the course and to prevent anybody from taking a short cut. The GPS trackers have been part of Baja racing for several years. The motorcycles have them as well as the four-wheeled entries.
At the finish it was the motorcycle team of Colton Udall, Mark Samuels, Ian Young and Justin Jones who crossed the line first, having shared riding duties on their No. 1x Ox Motorsports Honda CRF450X bike. But the apparent winners were penalized after what looked like a glitch on the GPS software that showed straight lines where the course curved over the terrain. Some of the straight lines appeared to go over the water, look at the screen grab above. So something was wrong. The Ox Motorpsorts team was assessed a 30-minute penalty, which moved it from first place to second.
As of now SCORE has said, “…apparent winner (Mark) Samuels was penalized after the race by SCORE race officials for a reckless incident at the finish line ramp.” We are awaiting more information on that from SCORE-International, sanctioning body of the race. A report in a Spanish-language Mexican media outlet said Ian Young, who rode the final 200-mile leg of the race for the team, did a wheelie across the finish line ramp. That could be considered race-winner exhuberence, couldn’t it? But we weren’t there so we don’t have the full story and SCORE has not responded to our request for more information about it.
In the meantime, the official motorcycle winners are the No. 45x Bremen-Arredondo-Haines Racing Honda CRF450x, whose official finishing time was 21:07:17. Francisco Arredondo, from Guatemala, paced the team with co-riders Shane Esposito, Justin Morgan Max Eddy Jr. and Ty Davis, all of Southern California.