Baja 1000 overall winner Justin Morgan, in an undated photo, riding a Honda CRF450X.PHOTO BY JUSTIN MORGAN
In the never-ending battle it was the bikes this year, but just barely
BY: MARK VAUGHN
Honda motorcycle racer Justin Morgan, on a CRF450X, crossed the finish line in Ensenada in sixteen hours, 23 minutes and 26 seconds to take first place in the 51st SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race. Morgan and co-riders Justin Jones and Mark Samuels had the advantage of leaving the starting line before anyone else, with a 4:00 a.m. green flag. As such, they had the best course conditions and didn’t have to contend with any dust from competitors all day. The team never gave up the lead, not to trucks, motorcycles or ATVs, throughout the course of the day, and sailed across the finish line ahead of everyone for a flag-to-flag victory.
According to race organizer SCORE International it was the first time since 2013 that a motorcycle had the fastest time of all vehicles in the race. In the event’s 51 years motorcycles have now finished first 38 times compared to just 13 for the 4-wheel vehicles. This year was also Honda’s 28th overall motorcycle win in the Baja 1000.
Cameron Steele at the finishPHOTO BY SCORE INTERNATIONAL
After the first motorcycle, the next six finishers on corrected time were all in the headlining Trophy Truck class. Number-one qualifier Larry Connor, with co-drivers Ricky Johnson and Luke Johnson, lead the Trophy Truck class for the first 600 or so miles before mechanical difficulties caused them to fall back. At that point four-time Baja 1000 winner Rob MacCachren took the lead and held it till the end. But SCORE officials slapped penalties on MacCachren’s Ford “for a course infraction” and he was officially listed in fourth place overall and third in Trophy Trucks. The course has five physical checkpoints and 194 virtual checkpoints that all have to be hit for a penalty free race. With MacCachren’s penalties, the official Trophy truck winners were veterans Cameron Steele and Pat Dean, whose Monster Energy Ford Trophy Truck took just 37 seconds longer than Morgan’s motorcycle to complete the 806.8-mile course.
“The whole team really deserves this,” said Steele. “This isn’t just about one driver or two drivers, it’s about everyone that puts the will in.”
And of course, it wasn’t accomplished without overcoming some adversity.
“We ran the entire thing with no first gear,” Steele said. “They told me it would make it and they were right… for us it was about persevering until the end. And we did and we were able to win the most amazing race on the planet.”
Steele and Dean were followed by the Chevy truck of Andy McMillin and Gustavo “Tavo” Vildosola five minutes later and MacCachren’s Ford three minutes after that, once MacCachren’s penalties were assessed.
This year’s course was a loop, starting and finishing in the Pacific Coast resort town of Ensenada, 80 miles south of San Diego, Calif. From there the course ran east to San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez, then south to Bahia de Los Angeles, or Bay of LA as the racers call it, before crossing back over the peninsula to the Pacific side and then north to the Ensenada finish.
Of 285 starters, only 178 finished the race in the allotted 36 hours. The SCORE International season starts all over again April 3-7 with the San Felipe 250.