Just minutes before the start of the 45th Tecate SCORE Baja 500, the motorcycle and ATV teams gathered at the starting line in Ensenada, the pre-dawn peace and quiet was occasionally shattered by staccato exhaust notes in anticipation of the start.
Gathered at the front of the line, four motorcycles, led by THR Motorsports/Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Robby Bell, was the picture of focus in anticipation of a repeat of the team’s 2012 race victory. Bell said that he just wanted to have a mistake-free race.
Indeed, in the face of fierce competition, the 500.99-mile race distance stands to be far less forgiving of errors, something that the JCR Honda team found out last year when a crash derailed its drive. Bell and his team went on to win the race by about one minute.
“I’m in the same boat,” Bell said. “We had our issues last year, too, when I blew past our pit, but that was last year. All three teams are going fast—I mean four teams, if you include Kendall. We just want to keep the bike on two wheels.”
Bell said that the team will have a different strategy than its main rivals. Four riders means shorter stints for each rider, so the team feels that it will be able to set a faster pace to the finish than the three-rider JCR Honda team of Timmy Weigand, Colton Udall and David Kamo, and the FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team of Kurt Caselli, Mike Brown and Ivan Ramirez. Conversely, FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM’s Kendall Norman will handle the longest stint of any of the top riders. His teammate, Ryan Abbatoye, will be taking over for the run over the Summit, but Norman will be running the rest of the way.
In fact, the danger of Baja already presented itself on the way to the starting line, as Norman (above) nearly collided with a pedestrian.
“I guess I got that out of the way early,” Norman joked.
But Norman has no such worries about his new KTM, which features the fuel-injected engine introduced on the team’s motocross models one year ago.
“I’ve been pre-running the heck out of it, and this is all I know, and I’m stoked with it, so we’ll see how it goes,” Norman said. “I’ve got 370 miles to go on it today.”
The bikes left the starting line right on time at 6 a.m. As of 9:30 a.m., the 1X JCR Honda team was in the lead, followed by the FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team with Caselli (above) aboard. Bell, who left the starting line first, was running third.
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Story by Scott Rousseau, Image by Scott Rousseau and Josh Burns