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Mark Samuels Captains a Winning Crew The SLR Honda team beats BaJa with a trio of champ riders and a proven steed By Stuart Bourdon Photos by GetSomePhoto The 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts was nothing like anyone expected. It took a few calendar changes, a great deal of preparation, precaution, and a location change, to get the race started. But this also added a new racecourse and a very different weather pattern that wasn’t at all typical of a normal SCORE Baja 500. When it was all over, the first race of the 2020 SCORE World Desert Championship Season was a huge success. It was especially so for the SLR 1x Honda team of Mark Samuels, Justin Morgan, and Justin Jones, who won the Pro Moto Unlimited class.    The SLR Honda team is a multi-talented trio of successful riders that collectively have innumerable wins and championships under their belt. Its ringleader, and the rider of record for the number-one-plated bike (1X) 2020 Honda CRF450X, is Mark Samuels. “We had to do a lot of planning and pre-running,” said Samuels. “I pre-ran some of it five times because this race was moved from its base in Ensenada over to the other side of the Baja peninsula at San Felipe. There were three of us; Justin Morgan, Justin Jones, and me. We split the course up into manageable sections.” Fast & Cool “Things went smooth for us,” he said. “When Justin Morgan took the bike from me after I had rolled it off the start line, he pulled away into the lead. It was pretty crazy how fast the pace was out there in the dark (Pro Moto Unlimited started at 3 am). Morgan averaged about 60 mph up to race mile 160, which is fast at night.” The new racecourse included a bit of everything, including the long stretch across a huge dry lake where SCORE Trophy Trucks often run more than 120 mph. But the dry lake also offered much more rocky terrain than the normal SCORE Baja 500 course would feature. “SLR Honda and STI Powersports worked together on a new tire, the Tech 2 PRO, that was perfect for this racecourse,” said Samuels. “We’ve been working on it for about a year, and it was cool to have them for the San Felipe area race. The new tires worked well, even across that dry lake bed. From race mile 80 to 160, which included the lakebed, Morgan averaged 92 miles per hour for 80 miles.” Slow & Hot As dramatically fast as Morgan’s section of the San Felipe-based racecourse was, much of the rest of it was painstakingly rough and slow. “The course turned back south, and then it got tough,” said Samuels. “That slowed everyone down. In my section, there were new course sections we had not ridden before, lots of canyons, and lots of rocks. It was very technical stuff, and the heat just made it even harder.” “In those hot canyons where the going is slow, you can’t even make your own breeze by going fast,” Samuels continued. “The whoops in the desert are so bad and are getting tougher and tougher on bikes. They are extremely demanding on your body physically. Then to come off all those whoops and go into those canyons where there’s no breeze, and the air was hot and stagnant was also exhausting. It felt like it was 10 degrees hotter than in the open desert.” Home Stretch Justin Jones took over the bike at race mile 395 and hammered his way through nearly another 70 miles of the brutally rugged and rocky terrain on the south end of the course. “Justin relieved me from the heat that was starting to build up,” said Samuels. “I took a break for about an hour while he took the bike up to Checkpoint 3 at about race mile 460. That’s where I got back on the bike and rode into the finish. This is the way we had broken it down, and it worked out perfectly.” “We’ve run the SCORE Baja 500 on the other side of the Peninsula many times and won the race last year,” said Samuels. “It certainly was warmer during this race than it would have been even at this time of year on the Pacific side. Some of the terrain in this new course was quicker, but then you throw in all those rocky canyons with the heat, and it becomes much more challenging for riders.” Riding Forward Samuels and the team are ready for the upcoming 53rd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts and feels they have a solid bike and plan to win it once again. “We ran the same bike as last year, a Honda CRF450X with factory SHOWA suspension,” said Samuels. “It’s been worked over by Bobby at San Diego Powerhouse who built the race bike using a Twisted Development ECU and motor package. This is the bike we’ll take to the SCORE Baja 1000.” The bike is solid, so there’s no reason to make any change there. As far as the team goes, it will be the same three riders, me, Justin Morgan, and Justin Jones. We work together well as a team, and we’re looking forward to the race. This win at the SCORE Baja 500 was fantastic, and it was a good shakedown for the crew. It helps us get ready to go for the win at the 2020 SCORE Baja 1000.” SJ

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