Off-road racing champion Kurt Caselli, 30, dies after Baja 1000 crash (UPDATED)

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UPDATED (6:30 p.m. ET): New information has emerged about the Baja 1000 accident that claimed the life of 30-year-old racer Kurt Caselli. According to a statement from the SCORE sanctioning body, Caselli lost control of his KTM bike near race mile 792 on the 833-mile course.

As for Caselli’s KTM Racing team, it has said in its own statement that it has discovered traces on Caselli’s bike that indicate “he had collided with some small animal,” causing the crash.

Initial reports that said an on-track booby trap caused Caselli’s crash have apparently now been discredited. According to ESPN.com, Kawasaki rider Taylor Robert posted on his Facebook page that his teammate, Rickey Balbec, was the first to come upon Caselli and that Balbec went to get Caselli help while another rider, Ivan Ramirez, stayed with him.

“Even though the news didn’t come out until the night time, the accident happened while there was still daylight, and didn’t have anything to do with racing at night,” Robert said. “This was merely a racing accident.”

One of the more decorated competitors in the off-road ranks, Caselli was a three-time AMA National Hare and Hounds champion and had won the Desafio Ruta 40 Rally in Argentina this year – only his second internationally rally event after debuting in the 2013 Dakar Rally.

Despite being a newcomer to the famous race, Caselli won two Dakar stages this year. He was also a three-time champion in the World Off-Road Championship Series, or WORCS.

AMA president and CEO Rob Dingman issued this statement earlier today on Caselli’s tragic death:

“Kurt Caselli was one of American desert racing’s finest champions, and his early and untimely death is a major blow to the hearts and minds of all of us who knew him or knew of him. Caselli was a gracious competitor, a team leader and a fan favorite. His love for motorcycling showed through in everything he did, whether he was leading his fellow racers as the U.S. team captain for the International Six Days Enduro or signing autographs for a young fan.

“On behalf of the AMA Board of Directors, our staff and AMA members everywhere, we offer our condolences to the family of Kurt Caselli and thank them for sharing with us one of the sport’s finest racers and greatest men.”

Our thoughts are with Caselli’s family and friends at this time.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Remaining part-time drivers

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MotorSportsTalk wraps up its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the remaining part-time drivers, after the 23 drivers who ran anywhere from six events to the full season.

There were 15 drivers who made four or fewer starts this season. Some overly impressed or drew major headlines in their limited opportunities.

They were, by start count:

  • Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 4)
  • Gabby Chaves (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet, 3)
  • Oriol Servia (No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 3)
  • Jack Harvey (No. 50 MSR w/Andretti Autosport Honda, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, 3)
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, 2)
  • Zach Veach (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, 2)
  • Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti Honda, 1)
  • Pippa Mann (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Jay Howard (No. 77 Team One Cure/SPM Honda, 1)
  • Sage Karam (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, 1)
  • James Davison (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Tristan Vautier (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 1)
  • Buddy Lazier (No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, 1)
  • Zachary Claman DeMelo (No. 13 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, 1)
  • Robert Wickens (No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Practice Only)

Going through them, in terms of impact, Alonso’s one-off at the Indianapolis 500 easily resonated loudest. It was incredible to witness the amount of buzz, worldwide support and media attention that Alonso generated, and fueled a running joke that he was the only driver in this year’s race. It was capped off when he beat Ed Jones to race rookie-of-the-year honors, despite losing a Honda engine late while Jones dragged a broken Dale Coyne Racing car to third place.

Elsewhere, Chaves and Harding Racing’s debut was the most unexpected pleasant surprise from a driver and team standpoint. A solid ninth at Indianapolis was followed by an even more impressive fifth at Texas. Their three oval races laid the groundwork for a step-up to a full-time entry in 2018.

Montoya proved he still had it with a pair of top-10s in a fifth Team Penske car. He’ll be in Penske’s Acura prototype sports car program next year and the hope is that we haven’t seen the last of him in IndyCar.

Saavedra re-established himself on the scene after a year-plus hiatus. The likable Colombian overachieved given low expectations with two different teams. Whether it was enough to see him and longtime backer AFS Racing for further races in 2018 is unknown.

Harvey and Veach each came up to IndyCar for a cup of coffee, both rookies in the Indianapolis 500 alongside Alonso and Jones while also getting additional road course starts. Neither of them looked a world-beater in their road course outings owing to tough circumstances, but they logged key laps and miles to build for a brighter future from 2018 and beyond in recently announced multi-year programs (Harvey with Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Veach with Andretti Autosport).

Of the rest, Servia’s results left a bit to be desired, a potential top-five fading in Indy when he and Davison collided to trigger a multi-car pileup. Davison and Vautier impressed in their lone starts of the year with their pace and aggression but were unable to parlay them into results.

Mann made her usual Indy 500 one-off entry and secured her best finish in six starts, but pressed through a challenging month that she’ll be keen to improve upon in 2018. Her day was significantly better than Howard’s and Lazier’s, who both ended their ‘500 bows in the wall, and with Howard having contributed to Scott Dixon’s savage accident when he crashed in Turn 1 and then came into Dixon’s path.

“ZCD” made his debut at Sonoma in a second RLL Racing entry and did rather well, competitive on lap times as the weekend progressed on a track that’s notoriously low-grip. Wickens never got that far. Despite a preseason ride swap with his close friend James Hinchcliffe that reignited his passion for open-wheel after several years, and with Mercedes announcing it would pull the plug on its DTM program after 2018, Wickens got only a practice day at Road America before Mikhail Aleshin sorted his visa issues. The circumstances evolved in Wickens’ favor at season’s end to see him get the second seat for 2018 at SPM after all.