While the Johnny Campbell Racing Honda team has dominated the Baja 1000 for the past 15 years, qualifying was just as new to it as the other teams. The format change did little to back the Honda boys down, however, as Colton Udall put together a stellar qualifying lap to unofficially finish within one to three seconds of Caselli, ensuring a second-place start off the line in Ensenada when the race gets underway Thursday night.
“I like the qualifying,” Udall said. “I think it is a great idea, but I think maybe they should have put us before the trucks because what they do to the course makes it tougher on the bike guys. The bikes aren’t going to beat the course down like the trucks do. The trucks won’t even realize it because they’re not feeling the bumps like we do. So it was sketchy to qualify. There were a lot of square edges, and the rocks were gnarly. But I like the qualifying because it puts us where we feel we should be. Like, say I drew 10th. I would have to pass nine other guys in the dust. Qualifying is an advantage at night because nighttime dust is twice as bad as daytime because your headlight is just illuminating the dust, and it’s just like a wall in front of your face. So I think qualifying is great. I think it was a little dangerous today, especially the day before the race. It just brings that much more risk to Baja.”
Even so, Udall was happy with his lap.
“It went good,” he said. “I nailed everything. I made one small bobble in practice, but I cleaned everything up on my fast lap, so I felt really good. I mean, Kurt is an amazing ISDE rider, and that’s what this was, a five-minute special test. That is his forte after 10 or 11 years of ISDE racing, whereas I’ve always been the guy has to get warmed up. But I’m happy with my lap. Starting first, second or third, I am good with that. It would have been nice to start first because of the dust, but I can apply pressure if I am behind, and once we do make a pass, we will know for sure we are in the physical lead.”
JCR Honda’s plan is to start with Udall before handing the bike off the bike to Mark Samuels at Race Mile 280. David Kamo and Timmy Weigand will also handle some of the race before Udall gets back aboard for the finish. The team hopes to cross the finish line between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, but it won’t be easy. Not only does it face tough competition in the KTM and Kawasaki teams, but both Udall and Kamo are riding this year’s race with injuries.
“I hurt my knee at the Utah AMA National (MX) in August, and I have been spending every waking minute trying to get back to full strength since then. I have to get surgery after the 1000. Then Kamo took a digger and hurt his shoulder while we were doing our mileage runs down here. I have a really good rehab guy, Dr. Dave Sales of Next Level Rehab in San Clemente (California), and he has been working with Kamo, and Kamo is back on the bike. But we weren’t sure about Kamo, so we brought Mark Samuels on, and Mark is a very solid rider. He has run his own team down here and done very well. I think it will be a good battle with those other teams. For the last two years, we have been battling our butts off with those teams. We’ve made mistakes, and they’ve made mistakes. Baja is all about making no mistakes. If you can just keep that bike going, don’t end up on the ground and have clean pit stops, you can usually come out on top. But I don’t look at them as my competition. I look at Baja as my competition. That’s what my predecessors have been teaching me. You have to defeat Baja.”
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