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THE POWER TO WIN Branden Sims’ Strategy Pays Off With A SCORE UTV Overall and Open Class Win By Larry Saavedra Photos by Get Some Photo Piloting the new race-modified Polaris RZR Pro R, factory team racer Branden Sims took the SCORE Overall and Pro UTV Open Class win at the 55th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 Presented by 4 Wheel Parts, with a time of 20:37:09. Sims’ victory on his new No. 1869 RZR Pro R was one of three top-five finishes at the race for Polaris. It also marked the second SCORE Baja 1000 win for Sims; he won it in the SCORE UTV FI class in 2016. Team Polaris RZR Factory Racing Manager, Brett Carpenter, was thrilled. “Winning the SCORE Baja 1000 is the ultimate way to finish the year,” he said. “It’s a victory that provides tremendous momentum going into the 2023 season.” The victory comes as a sweet ending to the 2022 season in which Sims says all he ever wanted was the UTV Overall win for Polaris, so that’s why he moved from SCORE’s Pro UTV FI to the SCORE Open class. “I ran the FI class at the SCORE Baja 500 and placed second,” said Sims. “I needed the added performance that the new RZR Pro R offered. It gave me an instant power curve with no turbo lag and way better torque.” The switch also put Sims in the latest Polaris RZR Pro R which he admitted benefited from the all-wheel drive feature. The Pro R from the factory is already set up for desert racing, so no real modifications were required for drivability for the tough Baja terrain. After the draw for starting positions, Sims and navigator Skylar Howell started the race last but immediately gave chase to the leaders. “I put in about 180 miles of pre-running preparing for the race and hit all my marks on the course because of Skylar’s navigating skills,” said Sims. The team avoided every potential penalty and hit all of the VCPs across 828 miles despite having a lot of catching up to do off the grid. “We’re a team that hasn’t gotten a single penalty in the past four races,” he said. “We ended up passing the first competitor near the highway section, leaving Ensenada, then another competitor right before Ojos. We made several passes in the first 100 miles before the summit.” Sims wanted to get past as many competitors as possible before the dreaded bottleneck that he predicted would happen in the rocks and narrow mountain roads of this course. “I was the fourth UTV entering the summit when I got caught up in two bottlenecks,” said Sims. “Three UTVs were ahead of me and passed me there. Once it cleared, I made it another mile down the summit and then got stuck in another bottleneck.” While Sims said he can typically go around most bottlenecks, there were zero alternative lines of travel around a SCORE Trophy Truck that was stuck on course. After clearing this second bottleneck, Sims says he went on a full assault down the bottom of the summit and all the way to San Felipe and had no other issues from that point on in the race. It was at this point that he and the team had to chase down his other Factory Polaris teammates Wayne Matlock, Craig Scanlon, and Austin Weiland racing for Cam Am. “They were three fast guys,” said Sims. “I didn’t know if I could catch the three until leaving San Felipe, and I saw an opening at race mile 280 right before the highway section. I caught Matlock there in the sand wash.” As he got close enough to make a pass, Matlock blew a tire and pulled off course. “I then had to pass Austin and I was able to get around him after his vehicle suffered some engine issue,” said Sims. At that point, physically in second place, Sims pushed even harder until he caught up with Scanlon. “I pushed much harder in the rocks and got around him,” he said. “I was now in first and I wanted to put as much time as possible between me and the other competitors before the driver change.” Sims’ co-driver, Eric Borgen, had never been in the RZR Pro R, so Sims was rightfully a tad apprehensive, but he knew he could handle it. “At mile-marker 475 where I made the swap, I told Borgen to treat it like a very fast recreation ride,” said Sims. “He and I have done these rides countless times in the off-season.” On cue, Borgen jumped in and took it to the finish, 380 miles away without an incident. In fact, Borgen was able to increase the eight-minute lead he had at the swap, to forty minutes by the time he reached the checkered flag. “This was an incredible victory for our team and a true testament to the power and durability of the Polaris RZR Pro R,” said Sims. “With desert racing, there is always going to be adversity, but the SCORE Baja 1000 takes that to another level. In order to win, the team has to be incredibly resilient and resourceful, and the vehicle has to take a beating and keep powering through.” Because of this win, Sims is now contemplating running a full season in UTV Pro Open for 2023. SJ

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