2013 SCORE Baja 500 Motorcycle Preview
Call it timing, call it circumstances, call it luck of the draw, but the battle for the Class 22 (pro motorcycle) victory at the 2013 Tecate SCORE Baja 500 promises to be one of the toughest in the event’s 45-year history.
No less than three marquis teams, representing three different manufacturers, are poised for combat in the grueling 500.99-mile race. The THR/Monster Energy Kawasaki team of Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld, David Pearson and Taylor Robert is the defending Baja 500 event champion, but if they hope to retain their Baja 500 crown, they’ll most likely have to outrun two other star-studded teams, including the Johnny Campbell Racing/Rockstar Energy Honda team of Timmy Weigand, Colton Udall and David Kamo, as well by the FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team of Kurt Caselli, Mike Brown and Ivan Ramirez. KTM has further stacked the deck by signing former JCR Honda star Kendall Norman to a factory contract just two weeks before the 500, and Norman will be racing a brand new KTM 450 SX-F that features a fuel-injected engine rather than the carbureted engine that will be used by Caselli, Brown and Ramirez.
Bell said that he expects an epic race.
“I think it’s going to be the best Baja 500 ever,” Bell said. “It’s getting so competitive now. Up in the States we are all kind of separated by the individual series that we race, but Baja is the best of the best racing each other. We’re looking forward to having a great race with the Honda and KTM boys. We’re gonna give it heck tomorrow, and we just hope everyone has a great, safe race.”
If past recent history is any indication, it will be close. Bell and company won the 2012 edition of the 500 by only about a minute over the JCR Honda team, and this year’s squad, composed of Timmy Weigand, Colton Udall and David Kamo, is gunning to return SCORE’s winningest motorcycle team to the top of the victory podium. Team manager and Baja racing legend Johnny Campbell views the competition among the three brands as a healthy sign for motorcycle racing in Baja.
“It’s a very good indication of the prestige and the value of coming down here to Baja and racing,” Campbell said. “The other manufacturers coming down here and racing adds value to what we do, and it’s fun. We can’t blame them for wanting to come down here to experience it.”
The added measure of competition may not only come from the talent on the teams, but also from the race distance itself. At roughly half the length of the Baja 1000, the Baja 500 places more emphasis on rider talent and less on bike preparation and team logistics.
“The duration does make a difference,” Campbell said. “If you have a long race, you do have a little time to make an error, and you can make up for it. If you have a shorter race, you don’t have as much time to recuperate. For sure, last year, we made a mistake and bent our bike up, but we still only lost by a minute. That gives us a good gauge of where our program is.”
It could be argued that Campbell deserves as much credit as anyone not only for the performance of his own JCR Honda team but also for the years of cultivating the talent and sharing knowledge with riders such as Bell and Norman, who were once his teammates but have since become some of his team’s main competition in Baja.
“You can invest in a person and hope that they stick with you, but things happen,” Campbell said. “People have other goals. Kendall, Robby, Steve—we’ve all had great races together as teammates, but people grow in different directions. Yeah, I’ll take a little credit for the education that those guys have down here, but now I’m investing in guys like Colton and David and some other riders coming down the pipe. You have to take what you’ve learned in life, and if you just keep it to yourself, you’re not doing what you’re meant to do. You need to invest in the next generation.”
Although Weigand will be the rider of record, Campbell’s hottest ace in the hole arguably has to be Udall, who already has experienced the sweet taste of Baja victory since joining the JCR team five years ago.
“The time and effort that Johnny puts into me is fabulous,” Udall said. “Each year is a building experience, and to have Johnny directing me is an honor. Maybe Kurt Caselli, Robby Bell or Taylor Robert whip my butt in the States, but I feel like I am one step ahead down here because I have the 11-time champion (Campbell) on my side. I feel strong, and I have the 1X on my back for a reason.”
Udall is confident, but he doesn’t come of as cocky. Quite the opposite, he has a healthy respect for his competition, and there seems to be a genuine camaraderie among the top Baja bike teams despite the fact so much is at stake.
“We’re all friends away from racing, although we certainly have no love lost for each other when we put our helmets on,” Udall said. “They’ve all got their strong points, and they’re doing a good job. From what I know, they’re here to stay for a while, so hopefully that means that we can keep on racing them with Honda down here for a long time to come.”
The FMF/Bonanza Plumbing KTM team is clearly a legitimate threat, with a mix of talent that includes multiple Baja winner Norman on one squad and fast-rising international off-road star Caselli, along with AMA National MX Champion and Endurocross competitor Brown, and Ramirez, on the other. The 500 will mark Brown’s sixth SCORE Baja start, while Caselli, who wowed fans around the world in the 2013 Dakar Rally, is making his Baja 500 debut.
“I’m excited about that,” Caselli said. “I am glad to be teamed with Ivan Ramirez, who I’ve been riding with for a few years now. We’re good friends and good competitors, and I’m glad to be riding with him.”
Brown added that he is happy to see the KTM Baja effort getting more support.
“It’s good to have another KTM out there,” Brown said. “It’s always good to win, but if we can beat Honda and have the points lead going into the Baja 1000, that’s the main thing.”
The motorcycles are scheduled to start tomorrow’s Baja 500 at 6 a.m. PDT. Experts predict that the first bike back to Ensenada will need about 9.5 hours to complete the course. Whether that winning bike will be green, red or orange is anyone’s guess.
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