Photo: Tony DiZinno

BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 1000 turns 50, as MacCachren goes for 4 in a row

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The mecca of North American desert off-road racing hits its golden anniversary this week, with more than 400 entries from 44 U.S. States & the District of Columbia, two U.S. Territories and 27 countries set to hit Baja California, Mexico for the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000.

Baja isn’t just a race for most of its competitors but a proper authentic human experience, as the race traverses through the desert but fully engages with the fans who stand roadside as the Trophy Trucks, cars, quads, UTVs, motorcyles and other offbeat vehicles all make their way.

For most of the field that runs on BFGoodrich Tires, which is also the race’s title sponsor, it’s akin to a spiritual awakening, being one with the machine in the open desert where there almost no rules, nearly anything goes, and the test of endurance is met with the fact that you’re almost entirely on your own.

More than 100 teams that run on BFGoodrich Tires have registered to receive pit support from BFGoodrich, which entitles them to a bevy of free support including fueling, vehicle welding, tire changes, mechanical repair, bottled water and much more from a support crew of more than 200 people. BFGoodrich Tires will also award $50,000 contingency money to the overall winners of this year’s Baja 1000 running exclusively on their tires.

“This is a huge weekend for us as we’re excited to be with SCORE as its official tire, the entitlement partner for the 50th Baja 1000, and the 50th Baja 500 which is spring of 2018,” Chris Baker, motorsports director, BFGoodrich and Michelin North America, told NBC Sports.

“November this year at the Baja Peninsula is such a beautiful place, and for us, it’s such a key component of our brand heritage and our product development heritage.”

This year’s race is back to being a point-to-point race rather than a loop race, as the 2016 edition was. For this year’s course, it’s a 1,134.4-mile course with five physical checkpoints, 147 visual checkpoints and the finish line. There are 20 speed zones (either 37 or 60 mph) for a total of 162.87 miles. As per normal the race starts in Ensenada, and the race works its way south down the peninsula to La Paz. This is the race’s first time ending in La Paz since 2014.

It’s fitting that a historic event will have history-making potential on the line, as Las Vegas’ Rob MacCachren, 52, goes for his fourth straight overall victory at Baja, which would be a record.

Last year, MacCachren shared his No. 11 Rockstar Energy MacCachren Motorsports Ford F-150 SCORE Trophy Truck with Jason Voss en route to the win. The loop race was only 854.5 miles that started and ended in Ensenada, and the duo completed the distance in 17 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds, averaging 49.63 mph.

Using that as a reference, expect this year’s course that’s nearly 300 miles longer to take several more hours to complete. There is a 48-hour time limit for vehicles to complete the run but figure the win should be in the low-to-mid 20-hour mark.

MacCachren won in 2014 and 2015 co-driving with Andy McMillin of the powerhouse McMillin team and family, before McMillin branched off into a separate truck in 2016. This year, MacCachren will go for the quartet with Voss, of Cupertino, Calif. and Justin Smith, also of Las Vegas.

MacCachren qualified second for the event, after qualifications were held in late October at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Off-Road Track. Pole man is Robby Gordon, who has extensive off-road experience and has three overall wins in the legendary Baja classic. He’ll be in the No. 77 Team Gordon Chevy Silverado, and will co-drive with Damen Jefferies.

The McMillin family out of National City, Calif. is spread nicely over four Trophy Trucks strong this year, with family patriarch Mark McMillin back behind the wheel himself. Mark McMillin is a five-time Baja winner, and will co-drive with his brother Scott McMillin (2 overall wins) and niece Jessica McMillin (Scott’s daughter) in the No. 43 SCORE Trophy Truck. Elsewhere Andy McMillin (No. 31), Luke McMillin (No. 83) and Dan McMillin (No. 23) are the headlining drivers in three other trucks. Luke McMillin will co-drive with Larry Roeseler, who has 17 class wins in this race, including a record 13 overall wins (10 on a motorcycle).

The Trophy Trucks category has several other notable drivers including Larry Connor, Bryce Menzies, Toby Price, Ricky Johnson, Justin Lofton, P.J. Jones, Troy and Tim Herbst, Armin Schwarz, B.J. Baldwin, Cameron Steele, Carlos “Apdaly” and Juan C. Lopez and more.

One legend outside the Trophy Trucks category is Rod Hall, 79, of Reno, Nev. Hall, who will turn 80 on November 22, is the only driver to have raced in all 49 previous Bajas, and will race in his 50th this week, co-driving in the Stock Full (truck) class with Chad Hall, Austin Hall, Chris Woo and Frank DeAngelo in the No. 8101 Hummer H1Alpha. He has 24 class wins.

The field also includes a wealth of past Baja winners both overall and in class, lots of family ties spanning several generations, fathers and sons both together and apart, brothers together, female racers and ironman riders (nearly 20 riders will attempt to ride Baja solo in Pro Moto Ironman).

There’s significantly more to consider when looking ahead to this race, but that’s a brief primer. Our posts from last year’s on-site coverage are linked here (race winners, week recap, McMillin chase vehicle recap, BFGoodrich celebrates 40 years at Baja).

The start times and planned order are below.

START LINE-Blvd. Costero in front of the Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center

FINISH LINE-Adjacent to Grand Plaza Hotel on the outskirts of La Paz

START – Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017—12 a.m.-Midnight Motos, Quads (Pro Moto Unlimited & Limited two-minute intervals. All other moto, quad classes–one-minute intervals).

Order Subject to Change—Pro Moto Unlimited, Pro Moto Limited, Pro Moto 30, Pro Moto 40, Pro Moto 50, Pro Moto Ironman, Pro Moto 60, Pro Quad, SPT Moto, SPT Quad

START – Thursday, November 16, 2017—10 a.m. Cars, Trucks, UTVS (TT, 1, 10, TT Spec-one minute intervals–five-minute gap between those classes. Other classes-30 second intervals).

Order Subject to Change—TT, 1, 10, TTSpec, Hammer Unltd, Hammer Ltd, 1/2-1600, 5, 8, 7, SL, HM, 3000, TL, Pro UTV FI, Pro UTV, Pro UTV Unltd, PT, 5-1600, 3, BC, SF, 7SX, 3700, 1700, SM, 9, 11,  V-Trailblazer, V-Innovator, SPT Unltd Truck, SPT Buggy, SPT Ltd Truck, SPT UTV, Safari

TIME LIMIT: 48-hour time limit from the time each vehicle starts to cover the course

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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