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THREE-RIDER THREE-PEAT The SLR Honda Team rode to a series sweep and another Pro Moto Unlimited class championship Story by Stuart Bourdon Photos by Art Eugenio By all accounts, the 53rd BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts was an unusually tough and demanding race. At 898.4 miles it was the longest loop race ever run for the SCORE International season finale, and because the loop was laid out in the rockier northern part of the Baja peninsula, it was naturally an extremely treacherous track. After weeks of pre-running by competitors in everything from motorcycles to mega-horsepower trucks, it was also well-worn by the time the race began. Nevertheless, the three-rider SLR Honda Team of Mark Samuels, Justin Morgan, and Justin Jones did their homework. They created a race-winning strategy, toughed it out to nail the top spot again, taking their second win in the pandemic-abbreviated two-race season for the year and the 2020 SCORE World Championship Series Pro Moto Unlimited class championship. According to team leader Mark Samuels, the race began with him on the bike at 3:00 am on Friday, November 20th. “I rolled the bike off the line and handed it over to Justin Morgan. He’s our ‘nightrider.’ Morgan likes riding at night.,” says Samuels. “After Justin took it over, he went the first 124 miles and put a small gap on the 66X bike (Santiago Creel). We had about a three-minute split when he came in, but we had to wait to take the lights off and do a few things on the bike. That took up almost the whole three-minute lead and put us back in the race right in front of 66X.” Southbound Duo Duel Samuels said that Justin Jones took over from there. With Jones riding the 1X Honda, and Yorba on the 66X Husqvarna, they battled shoulder-to-shoulder down the coast, swapping the lead several times as they headed south. “When the 66X bike made their pit stop to take off lights and change a wheel, they lost about two minutes, but it was still a pretty tight race for the first 250 miles,” said Samuels. Jones had just two weeks earlier come back after a knee injury, and according to Samuels, “Jones did well, and it was cool to see him riding again.” The 66X bike had a fuel pump issue about the 250-mile mark, but Jones kept riding fast and gave the team a 36-minute lead when he handed the bike back over to Samuels. Race mile 304 was the team’s next planned rider change. That’s when Samuels took over again. “I got on and took it to race mile 604. I went over the mountains to Mike’s (Sky Ranch) and then down into Valle de Trinidad. Then down halfway through the San Felipe loop to the bottom of Matomi,” he said. “It was honestly one of the most brutal races I’ve ever ridden. I’ve done 300-mile stints before, but that first 100 miles of my section was tough mentally and physically. It was so tight and technical, rocky and silty, that it took about two-and-a-half hours to do it. That’s pretty slow for a Baja race, and I still had 200 miles to go. I felt spent.” Fatigue Turned to Fast Samuels continued, “I was so tired during my last 60 miles, I ended up having to take an extra-long break in one of the pits to recover and make sure I stayed strong and smart to not fall off the bike. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired racing down there.” Samuels told us that he is more of a high-speed rider and was excited to get through that first 100 miles and be able to open her up. “Fast suits my style. I enjoy riding on top of the bumps.” We asked Samuels about the mental and physical transition from slow-speed technical sections to the wide-open desert. He replied, “I felt wiped out, but it didn’t take too long before I could relax a little and start clicking some miles off faster through my section of the racecourse.” Last Leg The SLR Honda Team ran the same bike, but not the same one they ran in the SCORE Baja 500 earlier in the year. Samuels explained, “It was another Honda CRF450X we built especially for the SCORE Baja 1000. The build was pretty much the same except for a different suspension set up. We spent some time testing with Showa to change the suspension tuning for the SCORE Baja 1000. We wanted it a little bit stiffer for certain areas of the race course. A race that long can cause the suspension to get soft. We didn’t want to worry about shock fade during the nearly 900-mile race. The bike held up very nicely.” Samuels was able to successfully bring the bike to Morgan for the 290-mile run to the checkered flag. “Justin (Morgan) did a great job and finished the bike clean. Luckily the other guys (66X) also helped out by falling far behind,” said Samuels. “That made it so Justin could take it easier on the bike and himself. He wasn’t worried about being pushed hard during that last leg of the race after the 66X bike had some serious downtime at the 250-mile mark. We finished about two hours ahead of them in the end.” “This SCORE Baja 1000 was an extremely tough race for everyone. The loop races (Baja 1000) are normally about a 17- to 18-hour race for us, and we usually get in pretty early that night. This course was more choppy and rougher than the peninsula runs have been. It took almost 21 hours for us to finish, which is about how long it has taken in years past to go fewer miles all the way to La Paz.” SJ

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