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Page 49 of 124

A FOURTH TO REMEMBER Tactics Helped The Honda Racing Factory Off-Road Team Win Its Fourth SCORE BaJa 500 Story by Stuart Bourdon PHOTOS by GET SOME PHOTO The beautiful landscape of Baja can beguile and yet be rugged enough to break vehicles and racers. This year, the SCORE Baja 500 had an extremely rough and highly technical racecourse, requiring race vehicles to be rock solid, and teams to be at the top of their game. The Class 7 Honda Ridgeline team was one that was on point with its prep and planning, earning the Class 7 win for the fourth time with a flawless race. Jeff Proctor piloted the Ridgeline for the first half of the race to start their winning strategy. “Everything went great. It’s always an adventure to race in Baja,” he said. “Our strategy has always been to methodically pre-run and learn the course. On the first pre-run before the race, we realized it was rough and only going to get rougher after everybody had done their pre-running that week.” Critical planning is essential for success in any endeavor, and the Honda Racing Factory Off-Road Team seemed to have done their homework. “Knowing how bad the racecourse would be by race day, we looked for alternative exits where we knew there were going to be bottlenecks,” said Proctor. “Sure enough, our experience and extensive pre-running paid off. Where there were bottlenecks, we already had a plan to get around them.” Planning Makes Perfect Describing one of the biggest bottlenecks as looking “like a circus,” Proctor told us, “Just outside of Rancho El Coyote, there was a hairpin left. Spectators there were using hand signals to tell us to slow down. After the turn, we dropped down into this tight wash. There were Class 1 cars, 10 cars, and Trophy Truck Specs driving around in circles because the course was blocked by stuck cars. The sand was so soft that if they stopped, they would be stuck too.” We found a little spot of grass we could park on. My navigator Evan Weller jumped out and went up the side of the hill to find the exit point nobody else had found. I drove up the hill, he dove through the window when I got to the top, and we took off. Our way out was up through these big rocks. There were no tire tracks to follow and we left everybody behind going in circles. That was the defining moment of the race for us.” Total Team Tactics That tactical approach to pre-running is what put the Class 7 Honda Ridgeline in a good position early on in the race. Once Proctor was past those bottlenecks, he set a good pace and carefully charged ahead. Around the 200-mile mark, they got notification from the crew that they had a 70-mile lead on their next class competitor. “Everyone else was stuck behind us waiting to get through bottlenecks,” said Proctor. “We started to back it off a little bit to preserve the truck and not make any mistakes.” The team successfully delivered the Honda Ridgeline to his backup driver, Pat Dailey, at race mile 310. By that time, they had about a 100-mile lead in their class. The strategy from that point on was to back off a bit, not to push the truck, and not take any unnecessary risks. “It’s rare to have that kind of race day in Baja,” said Proctor. “All the stars were in alignment and our team was hitting on all cylinders. This truck was flawless.” It wasn’t just Proctor and the Honda Ridgeline that benefited from the tactical approach taken by the Honda Racing Factory Off-Road Team. The communication network set up with the Honda Talon UTVs behind the Class 7 race truck allowed them to share the intelligence on trouble spots before they came upon them. “Our team tactics also played a big role in getting our Talon UTVs through those bottlenecks,” said Proctor. “Because they had eyes and ears out in front of them, our team was able to make a strategic pass on Kristen Matlock in one of those sections.” Looking Fast Forward The Honda Racing Factory Off-Road Team has big plans moving forward in the 2021 SCORE Off-Road Racing season. “Now we have our sights set on the VP Racing Fuels SCORE Milestone Award and Class 7 Championship,” he said. “Through the first two races, we’ve got all three team race vehicles to the finish line. Working to get the Milestone award for finishing every single mile of every single race was a part of our driver debriefs after this SCORE Baja 500.” However, Proctor admitted that all year, the SCORE Baja 1000 has been on their minds. “That’s what we’re primarily focused on,” he said. “The SCORE Baja 1000 has been rough for us the last few years, and I crashed out of it last year. We’ve got IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi helping drive the Honda Ridgeline for that race and we’re going into it with crossed T’s and dotted I’s, making sure we’re 100 percent ready to win.” SJ

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