PREVIEW: 2022 SCORE World Desert Championship – Baja 500

The 54th annual Baja 500the second leg in the four-race SCORE International World Desert Championship, begins on Saturday, 4 June. 248 entries will traverse over 460 miles of desert in what likely be a very weather-involved event.

The Moto and Quad classes start their race at 4 AM local time (Pacific Time), while the Four-Wheel categories do so five hours later. Racing is livestreamed on SCORE’s website.

The Course

The Baja 500’s 463.72-mile loop starts and finishes at the Rivera del Pacifico Cultural Center in Ensenada, with a pair of physical checkpoints at Route Miles 240.1 and 360.3. Teams will have twenty hours to complete the course.

It goes without saying that deserts are very hot as is summer weather, and that combining the two tends to create exceptionally high temperatures. However, this appears to be even more the case for 2022 as the loop does not include a run along the coast near the Pacific Ocean. An inland-exclusive course was last used in 2016 and overshadowed by the deaths of two riders from extreme heat that reached triple digits Fahrenheit; Bryce Menzieswho finished runner-up in the San Felipe 250 and has won the 500 thrice, recalled his father Steve having to “try and find missing riders that were having heat stroke. Pretty bummed as it was chaos last time for a lot of people.”

“This is a very dangerous course with the HEAT be careful and don’t dehydrated keep plenty of fluids with you,” wrote four-time overall winner Robby Gordonwho is unable to take part in this year’s race due to overseas business obligations with SPEED UTV.

To mitigate the effects of exposure, hydration stations manned by volunteers will be established at various points on the course, including pit areas, with water and electrolyte beverages available for competitors to consume. Desert Pits and Solens will also offer hydration spots alongside their welding services on the 72nd and 325th miles.

The course was slightly tweaked on 25 May to address a potential bottleneck at the 240th mile shortly before the first physical checkpoint prior to reaching San Matias. Instead of taking a sharp turn left to lead to the 94th Virtual Checkpoint, said VCP will now only require a slight forward forward before turning right and proceeding to the 95th and eventually RM 240. This also decreases the route length by just six-tenths of a mile.

Had the original layout been kept, all-wheel-drive vehicles like UTVs would have an advantage due to their increased manoeuvrability compared to 2WD and limited cars. Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee Tim Mortonwho has seven Baja 500 wins to his name, endorsed the change and argued in a Facebook comment, “The courses over the past 15 years have become more rugged than years past, IMO really favoring the UTVs, and having a 2-mile section that can spell the end of the race for 2wd limited cars removed is no big deal at all.”

The affected region is also where the Sportsman classes run their own route, which breaks away from the main course at RM 203.2 via a right turn onto a highway. The Sportsman entries eventually rejoin the others at Checkpoint #1.

RMs 33.82 and 430.78 were opened for pre-running on 21 May. Such test sessions, especially at high speeds, obviously come with its dangers: on Monday, a Moto rider hit a rock at around RM 132 and flipped, knocking him unconscious and resulting in presumed back and pelvic injuries. Seven Trophy Truck teams including San Felipe overall winner Luke McMillin stopped to provide medical treatment, a process that was made difficult by a lack of proper supplies such as a backboard; An improvised board was constructed using a truck’s tailgate while a spare IV was found in a medic’s bag, which was administered until a helicopter arrived.

Credit: SCORE International

The Grid

248 entries currently comprise the field, though on-site registration is permitted until Friday, 3 June.

The starting grid is set based on the results from San Felipe, with Luke McMillin being the first to start ahead of Menzies. Likewise, the Bikes will lead off with overall victor Juan Carlos Salvatierra of the Pro Moto Unlimited class. Those who failed to finish at San Felipe or did not race there were subjected to a random draw to receive their Baja 500 starting positions. Any racers who sign up after the 20 May deadline will be among the last to start regardless of their San Felipe finish and are not included on the final entry list.

Larry Roeseler, the defending Baja 500 overall champion, will be the twenty-seventh Trophy Truck (twenty-fourth if exclusive Trophy Truck Legends entries) to roll off after failing to finish in San Felipe. 2021 Moto winner Jason Alosi will start second behind Salvatierra.

Eighteen competitors opted to start at the rear, including San Felipe’s Pro UTV Normally Aspirated class winner Joe Bolton. He did the same for last year’s Baja 1000.

Class 7F pole sitter Brandon Walsh‘s Toyota Tacoma stands out from the others as he has a Starlink router mounted on the roof. Since racing in the desert typically means a lack of stable Internet connection and cellular service, Walsh hopes to use Starlink, a satellite Internet service operated by SpaceX, to livestream the entire race on his Twitch channel with radio communications and an on-board camera. The effort was coordinated with assistance from long-distance vehicle outfitter Basil’s Garage and SCORE International’s media team member Aaron Laub.

Honda Factory Racingwhose Ridgeline program has won the Baja 500 Class 7 every year since 2018 with team principal Jeff Proctor, will also field a trio of Talons in Pro UTV NA with new liveries. One of the Talons’ pilots, development driver Ethan Ebertis making his SCORE Baja début.

Various drivers do not return for the 500 after competing in San Felipe. For example, Class 11 winner Fernando Prado is skipping the 500, which allows reigning class World Champion Hector Sarabia, who finished second in San Felipe, to inherit the pole. Other San Felipe class winners not in the 500 include Barry Thompson (Baja Challenge), Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Class 5-1600), and Scott McIntosh (Pro Moto 60).

Pole position (per class)

The full starting order is available at SCORE International’s website.

Class Number Driver of Record Entries in Class
Baja Challenge BC4 Edward Muncie 2
Class 1 138 Kyle Quinn 7
Class 1/2-1600 1626 Martin Rangel 6
Class 10 1088 Chase Warren 24
Class 11 1145 Hector Sarabia 6
Class 3 319 Cesar Gutierrez 1
Class 3000/Trophy Lite 6005 Pete Waldroop 1
Class 5 527 Jack Grabowski 3
Class 5-1600 558 Luis Herrera 2
Class 7 703 Scott Brady 3
Class 7F 701F Brandon Walsh 4
Class 7SX 744 Dario Serrano 3
Class 8 818 Jessalen Sells 1
Heavy Metal 8044 Brett Maister 1
Pro Moto 30 325x Jano Montoya 4
Pro Moto 40 400x Ryan Liebelt 6
Pro Moto 50 522x Vance Kennedy 2
Pro Moto 60 649x Guy Laycraft 1
Pro Moto Ironman 750x Brandon Wright 10
Pro Moto Limited 180x Fernando Beltran 4
Pro Moto Unlimited 10x Juan Carlos Savatierra 7
Pro Quad 7a Luis Ernesto Villafina 5
Pro Quad Ironman 83a Faelly Lopez 1
Pro UTV Fuel Injection 2918 Justin Lambert 25
Pro UTV Naturally Aspirated 1995 Kaden Wells 8
Pro UTV Open 1871 Wayne Matlock 7
Pro UTV Stock 3910 Brent Stowell 10
SCORE Lites 1216 Matt Ferrato 8
Stock Full 8103 John Marshall 1
Trophy Truck 83 Luke McMillin 27
Trophy Truck Legends 21L Gus Vildósola 6
Trophy Truck Spec 204 Christopher Polvoorde 33

Sportsman

Class Number Driver of Record Entries in Class
Sportsman M/C 214X David Navarro 11
Sportsman Quad 111A Fidel Gonzalez 8
Sportsman UTV Open 1801 Dave Miller 2

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