The Pro Motorcycle class took a new turn in Baja California, Mexico, today, even before the official start of the 46th annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. Racers took part in a timed qualifying format on a slightly modified version of the five-mile course that the Trophy Trucks used, just outside of Ojos Negros, to set the front of the field for the race, which is scheduled to start at 11 p.m. Thursday night.
In a frantic sprint unlike anything that many of the racers are used to, FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM’s Kurt Caselli is generally acknowledged to have claimed the top spot, although official results were not available as of our post time. Caselli is said to have completed his flying lap between one and three seconds faster than Johnny Campbell Racing Honda’s Colton Udall, with THR Motorsports/Monster Energy Kawasaki’s David Pearson timing third quickest, setting the front three starters for the grueling 883.1-mile race.
Qualifying may be something new, but the top three teams all expressed satisfaction with the format, especially considering that their race will begin in the dark on Thursday evening in an attempt by SCORE to make the race safer by lessening the interaction between motorcycles/ATVs and the four-wheeled vehicles, which are scheduled to start at 9 a.m. on Friday. The riders’ reasoning was that it gives them the opportunity to control their own fate and avoid being stuck behind numerous slower entrants in the blinding dust that is a staple of Baja competition.
“It’s good, I think,” Caselli said. “You know, with the draw it is kind of just out of your hands, but when you have qualifying you can sort of strategize and put your fastest guy out there. Obviously he has to start, too, but you feel like you earned that spot, to start up front. That was our goal today, to start tomorrow’s race up front.”
Caselli appears to have reached that goal, as he called upon his decade of International Six Days Enduro special test experience to forge a blazing-fast lap on the Ojos Negros course after all the teams were only allowed two sighting laps.
“It went okay,” Caselli said. “We only got two laps to look at the course, and it is kind of tough to memorize everything in two laps, but it kinds of reminds me of the ISDE, where you have to go out and sprint. I just wanted to be smooth, not make any mistakes or blow any corners. I think Colton (Udall} and I were pretty close at the end.”
Caselli added that the team is hopeful it can take advantage of the clean air that is a clear advantage to whichever rider or team starts the race in the number-one position.
“Obviously it is going to be sketchy (the race will start at 11 p.m. tomorrow evening rather than early Friday morning as it has in the past), and the dust is going to play a big factor, but I am up for it,” he said.
The FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team will use four riders to cover the 833-mile race distance. Caselli will start the race before handing the reins to Kendall Norman, the runner-up finisher at the Baja 500 last June. Norman will relay to Ivan Ramirez, and former AMA National motocrosser-turned off-roader and EnduroCrosser Mike Brown is also on the team. Caselli said that winning the the Baja 1000 is a goal he has set for himself.
“Baja has always been on my list,” Caselli said, “but there is a lot to learn, way more than just riding the bike. A win (by KTM) is something that’s not just myself but a lot of other people have wanted to see it for a long time, and I will be very happy if I can be a part of that. I’m not trying to take any glory. I just want to be able to say that I was part of a winning team.”
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