The legendary race is back for a 50th year, with racers starting and ending in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. With desert pros from all over the world signed up, and the legendary Sal Fish and Ivan Stewart as co-Grand Marshals, it’s going to be an event to remember.
The BFGoodrich Tires SCORE 50th Baja 500 will be held May 29th to June 3rd and is Round 2 of the four-race 2018 SCORE World Desert Championship. This year, organizers have put together the longest race distance in event history, clocking in at a punishing 541.12 miles. That extra 0.12 of a mile is important, don’tcha know.
Baja 500 is an elapsed-time race, featuring staggered starts as the green flag on Saturday, June 2nd, will drop first for the motorcycles and quads near 5:00am (PDT). Approximately five hours later, classes containing cars, trucks, and UTVs will be waved off from the starting line.
This year’s course will have four physical checkpoints. Checkpoint number one is in El Chinero at race mile 174.20. Checkpoint 2 appears in San Matias (race mile 260.72), while the third checkpoint will be found in Vicente Guerrero (race mile 368.15). About eighty miles from the finish, at race mile 466.83, is the final checkpoint at Santo Tomas.
Reflecting on the course, race director Jose Grijalva commented, “This is going to be the roughest, toughest, longest and most spectacular SCORE Baja 500 race course in its 50 years of existence without exception.” Grijalva’s vocabulary does not want for hyperbole, then. “Reflecting [SCORE President] Roger’s desire to have at least 500 miles on dirt, we have a final course of 542.12 miles.” It’ll be a remarkable event, to be sure.
To ensure competitors have more than a fleeting chance of finishing the race, organizers extended the time limit to 22 hours. If those start times mentioned above seem a bit early, you’re right: they’re also starting both groups two hours earlier on race day, June 2nd.
The race course is an example of all Mexico’s Baja California has to offer. Included in the course are high-speed dirt trails plus sandy, rocky and silty natural terrain. There promises to be more than a few Baja washes and canyons, combined with stretches along the seashore. Elevations will test racers from sea level to over 3000 feet.
Acknowledging the brutal course they’ve laid out, race bosses have said they are requiring all Sportsman classes and Class 11 machines to bypass a brutally-tough section of the route near La Ventana on the north side of Highway 3. This will reduce the total distance for those classes to approximately 473 miles. However, the time limit for these racers is still 22 hours.
Official practice, or pre-running, on the official race course, will begin next Saturday, May 19th. Pre-running will start near race mile 38. The section from the starting line to race mile 38 may only be run outbound on Thursday and Friday of race week.
Entrants so far include competitors from 21 U.S. States plus people from places far-flung as Italy and New Zealand. Robby Gordon will be there in a Trophy Truck, as will Rob MacCachren and Andy McMillin. The class titled ‘Vintage Trailblazer’ catches this author’s eye but apparently has nothing to do with the clapped-out Chevy Trailblazers riding on a space-saver spare that always seems to appear in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Over 350 competitors are expected to take the green flag.
The very first Baja 500, held in 1969, saw 163 starters and 73 finishers. Overall four-wheel winners were Bud Ekins & Guy Jones in a Baja Boot-Olds in what must have been an arduous race compared to the level of equipment available to racers today. Last year, Andy McMillin drove solo in a Ford truck to win his second overall event and the 10th for a member of the McMillin family.
Be sure to check out the off-road.com website and social media properties during the Baja 500 as we will have boots on the ground bringing you official results and some behind-the-scenes exclusive content.