SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - JULY 2017

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 14 of 102

LAMBERT AT FULL SPEED Justin Lambert discusses the faster speeds in UTV racing and his big win at the SCORE Baja 500 By Dan Sanchez For UTV racers, the chances of winning a race out of a field of 36 competitors are slim. For Justin Lambert, however, CEO of Cognito Motorsports, his chances increased at the SCORE Baja 500 after moving into a turbocharged vehicle that utilizes many of his own company’s parts. Lambert and his team, started the race in 13th position and managed to pass his major competition and finish the 500-mile race under 14 hours, and averaging speeds just under 40-mph. With such a commanding performance from a UTV and a driver who competes all year long, we asked Lambert to reveal some insight into what it took to win the Pro UTV Overall at the race. As a manufacturer of off-road components for UTVs, we also thought Lambert had a unique perspective on the UTV aftermarket industry and asked if these vehicles will only get faster and encourage more competition. SJ: When did you first get involved in off-road racing? Lambert: When I was six my dad bought a couple of go-karts and we both went racing. This is where I got my feet wet in competition motorsports; although I wasn’t very good yet. We got out of that after a few years and got into riding ATVs and camping with friends. Years flew by quickly until all of a sudden, I was off to college. It was after college that I started Cognito Motorsports building truck suspension kits. It wasn’t until we started building suspensions for the Rhino and the Teryx UTVs that we became aware that people were racing these in the desert in Arizona and Nevada. So in 2010 we built a desert race Teryx and attended our first competition, the Blue Water Grand Prix. We had a great time and were doing really well until we had an electrical malfunction that took us out.   SJ: In 2010 you started UTV racing professionally? Looking back, how different is this type of racing now than it was back then? Lambert: UTV racing has evolved really fast! The OEM machines have evolved and so has the strategy and competition.   SJ: Your Polaris RZR XP1000 is a new turbo vehicle. Was this an advantage that you think led to winning at the SCORE Baja 500? Lambert: The Polaris RZR XPTurbo is new to us this year, as the previous two years we were racing a naturally aspirated XP1000. The turbocharged engines have advantages and a few disadvantages. The turbo obviously makes more power and torque which has its obvious advantages, but those can also bite back with desert race machines that are so heavy and there is a lot more heat generated. With our naturally aspirated XP1000, we were able to go all-out and not worry about heat. With the XPTurbo we have to pull back on the reins a bit to make sure we don’t overheat CV-joints and clutches. In desert racing it isn’t about the fastest car, it’s about the fastest average speed, we were able to execute a game plan that put us in the winner’s circle with a 49-minute margin, without compromising the longevity of our race car. I believe we could have won the SCORE Baja 500 in our naturally aspirated car also; maybe not by quite as much margin though.   SJ: In racing the SCORE Baja 500, did everything go as planned? Lambert: Aside from having an auxiliary alternator issue the day before the race, and having to remove it, this SCORE Baja 500 went better than planned. Luckily it wasn’t super-hot weather this year, so we unplugged one of our cooling fans to compensate for the lack of alternator power. We decided to run as hard as the engine coolant temps would let us. We started 13th and by race mile 80 we were in second place. The more miles I get behind the wheel, the more experienced and comfortable I become, and that helps to be able to know the limits of pushing it. This was one of those races that you just don’t know if someone who started up front is going to check out or not, so we ran the first 60 miles at about 85 percent. It turned out that we were one of the racers that were checking out. By race mile 150 we had taken the physical lead and we were extending it. The rest of the race we ran at about 75 percent and it worked out really well for us. We are still in a learning curve with this Polaris RZR XPTurbo, so we ended up changing clutches two times during the race. We had a good lead and could afford the time.   SJ: Looking back at the race, are there things you would do differently? Lambert: There really isn’t anything we could have done better, everything fell into place pretty well. We missed the Polaris team party since we were working on last minute details on the race car, but we were there to win a race first and foremost. Just like any race, this one was a learning curve as well, so you can bet that we would do things a little differently next time.   SJ: How was the competition at the SCORE Baja 500 this year? Why do you think some of the top competitors didn’t finish the race? Lambert: The competition is getting better and better at every race. Now there are guys racing UTVs that came from racing ATVs in Baja for a lot more years than I have even been thinking about racing, guys such as such as Cafro, Miller, and Matlock. Wayne Matlock has been our biggest opponent in Baja. At last year’s SCORE Baja 500 we had some small issues but took second place right behind him. We were in an XP1000 and he was in an XPTurbo. We felt like we could beat him this year, but unfortunately, he had issues early on in the race and didn’t put up a fight this time. That made it easier on us. I know he loves to race me as much as I love to race him.   SJ: You had mentioned in a previous interview that a lot of UTV racing is won by attrition. Do you think that now there are more vehicles finishing and why? Lambert: Yes the finishing rate is going up and that is good to see. There are so many people finishing now that it isn’t all about simply “saving the car.” During one race, all you may have to do is “save it” while another race, you may have to leave it all out there. The tricky part is you don’t know what kind of race it’s going to be until it’s at least halfway over! SJ: What are the advantages UTVs have in a Baja race over some of the other vehicles on the course? Lambert: 4WD! 4WD! 4WD! Other than that, UTVs are very agile, maneuverable, and stop fast. In the tight twisty stuff, I don’t think there is a vehicle faster than a Polaris RZR. These UTVs are getting tougher, especially with companies like mine (Cognito) who are ever improving aftermarket products that the recreational owner can buy on Monday after I just proved it in Baja the previous Saturday. SJ: Why do you think Pro UTV is the fastest growing class in SCORE? What makes it so appealing? Lambert: Technology, innovation, ease of access, safety, and the need for speed. UTVs have gotten much faster, and now more reliable. The UTV is a machine that is attainable by anyone via financing, and the aftermarket is huge so there are a ton of companies supporting the evolution. There are racers now coming from other classes and joining the UTV competition. Racers like the competition of course! SJ: These vehicles seem to get faster and gain more suspension travel. Where do you think the next innovations for these vehicles will come from? Lambert: UTVs are also getting larger. I am not sure where it is going to stop, but I think everyone will be surprised at the level and performance of the vehicle that they can get at the dealership in the next couple years. I am already surprised that it is this easy to go as fast as we do, just by visiting a Polaris dealership and then making payments on an RZR XPTurbo monthly.  SJ: What are some of the disadvantages that UTV racers have to deal with on the course in Baja? Lambert: There are classes that start the race in front of the UTVs, that just are not as fast as the fastest guys in our class. That means we eat a lot of dust and have the challenge of poor visibility. This increases the danger factor or the challenging factor for us.   SJ: Your UTV has a variety of your company’s components in it. Does racing UTVs help your team design new products that help you be competitive? Lambert: Absolutely! We race what we sell. You won’t find any exotic one-off parts that we make only for our race car. For example, when we build ourselves a new race car, all the suspension components come off the same shelf that our recreational customers buy from. We work on our own shocks and provide our customers with the same setups that we have figured out on the race course. We also get to test new products in legitimate racing action before putting our race proven stamp of approval on them and offering them to the public. I think our customers appreciate this, as they know if we can go win desert races, they feel comfortable they will be riding on pure quality and confidence in our product.   SJ: What do you learn while racing UTVs that gives you an advantage in understanding what enthusiasts want from their UTVs? Lambert: When enthusiasts buy aftermarket performance parts for their UTVs, they want value. If they need to spend thousands of dollars on the suspension to ride at their pace and not worry about breaking parts. Then they want to know they are getting value for their money. Any aftermarket company can say their product is the best, and most do make those claims. When I am racing and proving my products as well as my sponsor’s products, I take pride in the fact that I am not just a salesman who says their stuff is the best. I have the results and the answers to prove that what I run is the best. This allows me to be confident and knowledgeable about explaining to people what they need or don’t need, and why they need it or not. I don’t want to sound like some salesman who says his stuff is the best but doesn’t have the knowledge to back up the claims. The UTV aftermarket is a tough arena. I think mainly because it is off road, and that inherently allows more flexibility in certain aspects of a business (ie. Product liability insurance)     SJ: When will we see you and the Cognito Motorsports team next? Lambert: This year, we planned on competing at the SCORE Baja 500 and will also be at the 50th Anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000. We compete in seven races in another series, so nine desert races a year is a handful. We are considering running a complete SCORE series next year and gunning for a SCORE Championship. SJ

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