For the 17th year in a row, a Honda crossed the finish line first in the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. The Johnny Campbell Racing Honda team of Tim Weigand, Colton Udall, David Kamo and team newcomer Mark Samuels came into the event with a lot of question marks but finished the race with an exclamation point. The team won the overall motorcycle race, covering the 883.1-mile distance in a time of 18 hours, 29 minutes, 14.240 seconds, at an average speed of 47.768 mph.
Such an unbeaten streak should be a cause for celebration, but the event was marred by the death of reigning AMA Hare & Hound Champion and ISDE veteran Kurt Caselli, of Murrietta, California, in a solo racing accident near Race Mile 792 on Friday afternoon. Caselli was the lead rider on the factory-backed FMF Racing/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team, and he was on his second stint in the race when the accident occurred. Caselli was 30 years old.
More details on Caselli’s accident can be found here.
Using new sections and some that hadn’t been run on since 2007, the race course promised to be a brutal test of men and machines, and it could be argued that the JCR Honda team’s unbeaten streak was more vulnerable than at any time in recent years. Both Udall (knee) and Kamo (shoulder) came into the event injured, and then rider of record Tim Weigand suffered a crash on the Monday before the Baja 1000, forcing Weigand to drop out and his sections taken up by Kamo. Caselli’s brilliant run for KTM during Thursday’s timed qualifying served notice that the Orange Brigade was ready to battle Big Red for the Baja 1000 crown. With the professional motorcycle and ATV teams starting their race on Thursday evening, starting at the front of the field could have been a huge advantage in the race.
Udall was well aware of that, and he put together an inspired ride to keep the flying Caselli in sight through the first 200 miles as they rode through the darkness.
“The fog was tremendously bad all the way out to Ojos Negros,” Udall said, “Every year I am really prepared with Roll-Offs, and this year I came to the line with no Roll-Offs. It was the first time that I have ever started. I was just cruising in second gear with not too much gas because I couldn’t see anything.”
But Caselli was also slowed in the fog, and while Udall said that he could see Caselli’s headlight off in the distance, Caselli was able to maintain his advantage over Udall before handing the FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM to teammate Kendall Norman during a pit stop. Udall stayed on the JCR Honda and began to shave time off the KTM team’s physical lead.
“I could see his taillight, and I passed him in the whoops,” Udall said. “Then I just put my head down through Puertecitos, and when I handed the bike off, we had a seven-minute lead on them.”
JCR Honda rookie Mark Samuels took over for Udall and race to Race Mile 570, which included Coco’s Corner and the bottom half of the course.
“It was a lot of silt and a lot of rocks, and it was pretty awesome,” Samuels said. “I’ve been working for this for two years, so to get the call from Johnny Campbell to be a part of the team is awesome.”