The San Felipe 250 earlier this year in April, ended on rather a somber note. Sure we had made it out alive, but we were left nursing bruised egos, bodies not to mention wallets. The one positive we left with, was the motivation to come back swinging at the following race. The Baja 500!
Our 5th place finish in the San Felipe 250 awarded us a less than ideal start position for the Baja 500 in Ensenada. Starting at one minute intervals we would take off in the 5th position, that meant a full four minutes behind the first motorcycle. If that’s not bad enough, we had the combination of a four motorcycle dust cloud combined with the dense coastal fog that descends from the mountains into Ensenada every morning. The dusty fog combination, 4am start time all but diminishes any chance of visibility beyond your fender. In fact, our powerful headlights do more harm than good, with the light hitting the haze and reflecting back into your eyes. The strategy here is to memorize the route, navigate the course by muscle memory and tiptoe your way through those agonizing first 40 miles.
Our approach coming into this race was to create a plan that built on the lessons leant from the previous race. Preparation and planning that if executed properly, would earn us a solid finish. The race itself then is just a byproduct. Now, let's be real for a second… No matter what anyone says, the moment the boots and that helmet are on and the start flag waves, men become boys and the competitive spirit rears its ugly head. But we knew that if the reins can be pulled gently and correctly on that wild mustang that is competitive spirit, and it matches with the calmness of the underlying plan, you create a recipe for greatness.
Despite the tricky conditions I was able to make a pass into 4th place by race mile 6. From there I picked my way through each corner, bump, rock and hole, mile after mile. Praying that the fog would lift and the sun wouldn't. The sun won, cracking the sky over the mountains and shining directly into my eyes, making the fog seem pleasant in comparison. Race mile 38 was my first contact with our pit crews, our strategy allowed us to not stop if we didn’t have to, and a simple hoot, holler and shaka as I zipped by, told everyone all that was in order. The plan was unfolding as we had hoped! The next 30 miles would be both exciting and trepidatious, the most challenging of my race.
The sun burned into my eyes like high beams on a highway. I had spent the entire week pre-running this section day after day, finding smooth, safe lines and opportunities to make passes on my competitors. At around race mile 55, I was able to do just that. A tricky section of the course had previously prompted me to get creative. I’d found a smoother road that paralleled the race line and it shaved off about 30 seconds. It was here I made the pass into 3rd place, without ever seeing the competitor nor him realizing that I had passed. Our hard work was paying off.
I came flying into race mile 68, where a frenzy of fans, spectators, and pit crews all anxiously awaited their teammates and machines. It took a few split seconds to spot Ciaran and our pit stop. We made quick work of handing the motorcycle over to Ciaran and sent him off in a cloud of dust in hot pursuit of the 2nd place machine. A few dozen miles later, going back and forth, Ciaran made the pass into 2nd place where we would stay for the rest of the day. At this point the 1st place machine had used the first place start and lack of dust to put a twenty minute lead on us. That might sound significant, but we knew Baja has a way of flipping things upside down in an instant, so we charged on.
Ciaran had a clean run and brought the bike in to our full service pit and rider change, still applying pressure to the first place team. Nick hopped on and did the next 140 miles. He kept the pressure on and whittled away the miles. The plan was working, the bike was purring and we were having a clean race. Race mile 360 was my turn to hop back on the bike and bring it in for the finish.
Those next 100 miles have become my fondest memories of racing my motorcycle down in Baja! The miles and time dropped away until after 11 hours and 4 minutes of racing, I brought us in for a finish. Once the time penalties were assessed, we finished just off the lead with a 1 minute 31 second deficit! 2nd Place never felt so good!
We threw the entire race program together ourselves, we then raced every mile of it. We had the most amazing support of our friends, and our family on the ground and the incredible brands behind us. But to pull it off with such a lean mean team, well, it felt pretty damn sweet.
Man, I can’t wait for the Baja 400 in September!