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SAN FELIPE TURNS UP THE HEAT The First Race Of The 2020 Season Was Also One Of The Toughest Ever By Dan Sanchez Photos by Get Some Photo It had been 10-months since SCORE fans and racers competed in Baja, so when everyone realized the 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts was actually going to happen, it was a welcome relief for both racers, fans, and the people of Baja, Mexico. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, and in working with protocols set by Mexican state and local authorities, the race was moved to San Felipe instead of Ensenada. September, however, is an incredibly hot time of year in Baja, and racers know only too well that the terrain around San Felipe is extremely brutal to their vehicles. For a typical San Felipe 250 which has averaged arounds 300 miles in the past couple of years, a SCORE Baja 500 with a race here for the SCORE San Felipe 250. But the SCORE Baja 500, with 493 miles of punishment mixed with excessive heat, would really test the endurance of both teams and their vehicles. A total of 129 racers came to compete again, including top competitors in the SCORE Trophy Truck division such as Luke and Dan McMillin, Tim Herbst with Pat Dean, Alan and Aaron Ampudia, Robby Gordon, Larry Roeseler, Justin Lofton, Carlos Ibarra, Rob MacCachren and Christian Sourapas. For these and the other racers in various classes, this SCORE Baja 500 would be quite different than what they were used to. The start and finish line was closed to the public on the grounds of the El Dorado Ranch resort. There was also none of the usual pre-race activities such as is typical on Contingency Days, with race vehicles and teams lining the streets to interact with fans. Despite the lack of fanfare, however, racers and teams followed all of the health and safety protocols and were happy to be back in Baja racing. A Brutal SCORE BaJa 500 Course The fast but difficult 493-mile course, plotted by SCORE President/Race Director Jose A. Grijalva, would exit out of town, running alongside the highway before turning into the San Felipe desert. Plotted to proceed both north and south of San Felipe, stretching up towards La Ventana and Laguna Salada, then heading south all the way to Azufre Wash and crossing east to Laguna Perecbu before looping back to San Felipe. “It feels like SCORE San Felipe 250, but it’s SCORE Baja 500”, said Luke McMilliln about the course. “When you think about it, it’s 500 miles just in the desert and I don’t know if we ever had a course so rough and rocky and just pure desert for 500 miles, so I think attrition is going to be a big factor. With the fewer amount of entries, the key is just to keep moving all day.” Along the way, the SCORE Baja 500 course included its share of high-speed dry lake beds, whoops sections, Baja washes, and 198 virtual checkpoints as well as three physical full-stop checkpoints and three speed zones. Sportsman classes had an abbreviated 433.34 mile course which although somewhat shorter, wasn’t any less difficult. Top Classes Qualify To Start First Since this was the first official race of the SCORE 2020 World Desert Championship season, top racers within the SCORE Trophy Truck, Trophy Truck Spec, and Class 1 divisions had an opportunity to qualify for their starting positions. This took place Wednesday September 23rd on a 3.47-mile course south of San Felipe. Robby Gordon in his new #77 AWD Speed Trophy Truck qualified first with a time of 3:57.29 and averaged 51.65 miles per-hour. “That was a fun course,” said Gordon. “It wasn’t about the big bumps or who was crazy to the big bumps, it was very technical. I think it was good for our truck. I know it’s a lot of work for the series to do that, but the luck of the draw is just not the right way to go racing.” All other SCORE Trophy Truck competitors could not complete the course in under four minutes, leaving Luke McMillin with the second place starting position followed by his brother Dan McMillin in third, and Justin Lofton with a time that left him starting fourth off the line. “There is very soft sand out there, just like the washes, which is cool,” said Luke McMillin. “I had a lot of fun. With this being the qualifier for the SCORE Baja 1000 race, you just don’t want to make a mistake.” Rounding out the top five qualifiers was Erick Hustead in his number 38 Ford F-150, but many were looking at Alan Ampudia in the number 10 ID Ford Raptor. Ampudia was another favorite to do well in this race, given the fact that they were the last SCORE Trophy Truck team to win by taking the Overall at the 2019 SCORE Baja 1000. Ampudia qualified sixth and realized it will be difficult to move past some of the competition in this race. “Off the bat I miscalculated a big hole and it kicked us off course, so we lost a lot of time there,” said Ampudia. “I think it’s just me not driving the car in a long time since the SCORE Baja 1000 last year. It’s been a while since I’ve been behind the wheel and I blew a couple of turns. We wanted to be in the top five. Hopefully, at the end, we can make some moves and be up front to start at the SCORE Baja 1000 up front.” Class 1, TT Legends and TT Spec Racers Compete For Top Positions Within the Class 1 division, all eyes were on former Class 10 champion Broc Dickerson who would compete in his first SCORE Baja race in this class. Dickerson demonstrated he would be just as fast in Class 1 as he was in Class 10, by laying down the fastest qualifying time in his new number 123 Jimco buggy. Close behind Dickerson in qualifying was Cody Parkhouse in the number 33 Jimco buggy, followed by the Torres brothers Rubben and Gabriel who qualified third and fourth. The SCORE Trophy Truck Spec class had several tough competitors return, including Clay Lawrence, Santiago Creel, Elias Hanna, William Hedrick Jr. and others. Lawrence completed the course with the fastest qualifying time to start first, followed by Jim Wilson who was driving for Pat Sims. Vincent Munoz qualified third, followed by Ryan Millen who was driving for Pierce Herbst, son of Tim Herbst. Santiago Creel swapped the handlebars for a steering wheel at this race and qualified fifth, which put him in a good spot for the race. Within the SCORE Trophy Truck Legends class, the team of Nick Vanderway and Jeff Geiser driving for Clyde Stacy in the #1L Geiser Chevy, V16 powered RPM Off-Road truck qualified first, followed by Los Angeles Dodger owner Bobby Patton and Robbie Pierce. Mark Winkelman, head of the Monkey Business team proved he could handle a truck as well as a motorcycle by starting third, followed by Jim Bult in fourth and Jose de Jesus Flores who will start fifth in class. Luck Of The Draw For the rest of the classes participating at the 52nd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500, starting positions were done by a draw. Within the Pro Moto Unlimited class, however, the competition is so high among a group of talented riders that any starting advantage would be helpful along this long and difficult course. Despite three very competitive teams including Santago Creel’s 66x and the Colton Udal and his 5x team, it was Mark Samuels who drew the first starting position for his 1x team consisting of Justin Morgan and Justin Jones. Samuels and Morgan have three Pro Moto Unlimited Championships under their belt and are looking to add a fourth in this abbreviated 2020 SCORE season. SJ

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