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GOOD PARTS AND A LITTLE LUCK Branden Sims Pulled It All Together to Win the Pro UTV FI Class By Mike Vieria Photos by Get Some Photo Branden Sims brought home a victory in the SCORE UTV FI Class at the BFGoodrich Tires 53rd SCORE Baja 500, despite a bit of a rough time before the race even started. On Thursday before the race when he was scheduled to start his pre-running, Sims says he was awakened with digestive issues that kept him out of the driver’s seat for several hours. With Pepto-Bismol to the rescue, he was feeling better by the afternoon and was able to get in about a hundred miles of pre-running. On Friday, when he got down to the location to meet his crew for his pre-run, he found that he had left the key for the vehicle in his hotel. He ended up having to hotwire the pre-runner to get it going. With those inconveniences out of the way, it was time for him and his co-driver Skylar Howell to race. “We started pretty far back in our class, with only three or four people behind us,” said Sims. “We ran a fast pace at the beginning because I knew we were going to run into log jams and things that I didn’t want to get involved in. Even though we ran into a few of them, we were able to work our way through pretty well.” Sims hadn’t been able to pre-run the spots where he encountered the jam-ups, but said, “With the side by sides, we can come to a complete stop where everybody else is stuck, then be able to accelerate back out of it without getting stuck ourselves. I was able to pick and choose my lines through the silt areas and pass the stuck vehicles. That allowed us to work our way up in position on the road to about third at the halfway mark in the race.” Things were going well as the miles rolled by, but as he got within about eighty miles of the finish, trouble arose. “I started feeling and hearing something going on with the steering, and wasn’t quite sure what it was,” he said. “I was hoping that it would make it on to the finish, but the steering was getting looser and looser. After about ten miles, I went to make a turn and the car just wanted to go straight.” Sims was able to get the car safely off the road and check out what was going on. A mount for the steering rack had broken off, but some quick thinking was able to get him back on the road quickly. “I used the ratchet strap from my spare tire and was able to strap the steering rack to the frame,” he said. “I was able to get enough steering out of it to nurse it to the finish line.” Helping him out was the fact that several speed zones allowed easier driving with the Polaris in a fragile condition. “For the most part, we didn’t have any other issues besides that,” said Sims. “We didn’t have to get out of the car at all, no flat tires, no troubles. The beginning was a little rough. The middle part over the crossover was pretty bad, worse than what I’ve experienced before there. It was a little stressful because we only had two chase trucks, so I had to be careful of where we had them. The coast section was super fun after being beaten up on that crossover!” He also felt that not having to go through the San Felipe area helped him because he doesn’t know it as well as some other drivers. “Other people have better lines in that area, but on this one, I don’t think there was as much advantage for people who knew the roads better.” While Sims has other SCORE Baja wins under his belt, he hasn’t had the opportunity to spend as much time pre-running and exploring the roads as other teams, and that can often put him at a disadvantage. “I’m looking at Google Earth the night before the race,” he says. The UTV Forced Induction class is getting more popular and more competitive all the time. His Polaris RZR is a 2019 model, with a chassis and suspension by Lone Star Racing. “We put a bunch of good parts on a car that was already a very good contender, and made it a little bit stronger,” said Sims. “This class is getting crazy as far as what it takes to win, and a lot of big names are doing it. It’s taking everything we’ve got to win. Between good parts, and a little bit of luck, and a halfway qualified driver, we do pretty well.” Sims specifically gives praise to the electronically adjustable FOX shocks that allow him to fine-tune the suspension motions as he drives, saying it’s been a huge benefit. While Sims isn’t going out for the Class Championship this year, he does plan to be back for the SCORE Baja 1000 later this year. Maybe he’ll even get the chance to do a bit more pre-running. SJ

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