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

Here’s What Drivers Said after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto

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Given the chaotic nature of Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto, it’s not surprising that drivers had lots to say afterward.

Here’s What Drivers Said:

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) — WINNER: “I’m worn out, man, that was a physical race. It was definitely easy to pick up lots of debris on the tires out there, and I think that’s what happened to Josef (Newgarden) on that restart where we took the lead. He tried to go a little bit fast into the last corner there in Turn 11, got into the gray and that was pretty much it. I can’t thank PNC Bank and the crew enough, we just needed some clear air and we were able to check out. What a great win for the team and everyone associated with this No. 9 car program.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 2nd: “It was a good time. It was a great race, you know, Toronto supports the Verizon IndyCar Series so well. Thanks to the fans for showing up; it was packed today. The track was beautiful. Tough racing out there. You know, the (new aero) package is a lot less grip in the corners, it was a lot more straightaway speed. The tires really struggled in the heat. There was a lot of marble – a lot of dust. Restarts were ice racing. It was a lot of fun, and obviously, it turned out in our favor. I think we showed that we’re back this year. We’ve done a lot of work in the background. I want to thank Team Penske, DXC Technology and Chevy for doing all the work they do in the background to help me understand this (new aero) package. We saw it this weekend, all three Penske cars were in the (Firestone) Fast Six. It was a great improvement.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – finished 3rd: “We did have a great car in the race. I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott (Dixon) today. Dixie was kind of in a class of his own, but to go punch for punch with him in the second stint…I thought we really showed some great strides, some great improvements on the Lucas Oil car from warm-up to now. The final stint, I don’t if it was damage from the fight with (Simon) Pagenaud, but I had too much understeer and I couldn’t maintain that pace. If not, I think it would have been a fun fight between Simon and I at the end. I thought maybe second (place finish) was in the cards for me, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully, I’m not an overly teary guy, but that (finishing on the podium in Canada) was really cool. I can’t thank these Toronto fans enough. I mean, this whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions, and to stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) – finished 4th: “Our start didn’t go great, and obviously we were battling for position with Robbie (Wickens) there and got shuffled back behind Marco (Andretti). That really was kind of the start of the end of a great result for us because we had pace, we just couldn’t get by him. We burned a lot of push-to-pass trying to get by him, but just couldn’t do it. It’s unfortunate to waste so much time in the beginning of the race. On that restart melee, we got tagged by Takuma (Sato), which I should know better than staying on the inside of him in a corner like that. I bent the toe link, and from there, it was a bit of a struggle to feel the car out and see how it was going to change with the bend in the suspension. Honestly, the Arrow Electronics car was still pretty great, and in that last stint, we were chasing down the leaders. Who knows what could have been, but ultimately happy with Robbie being on the podium and two SPM cars in the top five.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Novo Nordisk Chevrolet) – finished 5th: “I’m just really proud of the Carlin guys. They fight and work so hard, weekend in and weekend out. They’re the first ones here in the paddock in the morning and the last ones out at night. We struggled a little on Saturday, but on race day we were able to bring it. We showed up in Toronto with a great foundation from Detroit Race 2, a top-10 car, and we were able to make it a little better this weekend. The No. 23 crew had two fantastic pit stops – that second stop was just rock solid. To be able to come out with a top five, leaning on fourth at the end, was a great way to cap off the weekend. Really pleased to bring home Carlin’s first top-five in the Verizon IndyCar Series and my first top five of the season.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 6th: “Great day for the ABC Supply team – we finally had everything going our way. We had good stops, good passing and obviously, we had a couple people do us some favors on the racetrack – that’s the way this race goes. It’s the best result for the team so far – top six on a street course where we’d been improving our car all weekend. Really happy for ABC, Larry (Foyt, team president) and for A.J. (Foyt, team owner). He’s (A.J.) not here, so I wanted to give him a good result.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda) – finished 7th: “It was a heck of a fight today, honestly. Starting 22nd, we knew we had our work cut out for us to get to the front, but we had great pit stops and great strategy. The guys did exactly what I needed them to do on the car on each pit stop, as far as adjustments, and it just came to us at the end. I’m really thankful for Andretti Autosport and Relay to be able to have such a good run up here in Canada. I’m ready to go to my hometown now and see if we can get into the top five.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished 8th: “It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races. We had contact with Will (Power), and he had a bit of a problem going into Turn 3 and I misjudged the closing rate, so I had a front-wing change that put me to the back of the field. Then (Graham) Rahal spun around and I stopped to avoid it, but then Ryan (Hunter-Reay) hit me and I went airborne. We changed the wing again and stopped a couple more times. The fact that we finished eighth is a huge testament to the NAPA AUTO PARTS team and I’m so thankful for them. It was a difficult day and they kept me in it. We’ve had a lot of mistakes lately and there’s not a lot of time off, so we have a lot of work to do.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 9th: “It was a tough race. Making contact with the wall didn’t help. I don’t know what it was to be honest with you, it was either marbles or dust from the sweepers; they’re trying to clean off the track and that yellow, when we already had tons of marbles 27 laps in. I don’t know what to tell you, I went straight into the wall. And part of that is my fault, just making a mistake, but I didn’t expect it; I’ll tell you that. I just had no idea the car was going to do that. I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely. I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake. This No. 1 Hitachi Chevy was quick today, I think it was capable of being in the top three or potentially winning the race if I didn’t make the mistake, but you have days like this in racing. We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing. We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Oberto Circle K / Curb Honda) – finished 10th: “I’m really disappointed. I just hate it for the Oberto boys because we had top-four pace all weekend and the only time we didn’t show it was in qualifying. We should’ve maybe had a shot at podium, but definitely fourth. We were pretty good on cold tires. Everybody had a ton of pick up, so it made it a lot of fun when people were sliding around so we were able to capitalize. I saw the collector light come on with two laps to go and my heart sunk. We’ve had street course pace all year, we’re just not doing what we need to do as far as results and I’m pretty disappointed with that, to be honest.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – finished 11th: “The first few laps were quite tricky, being on blacks (Firestone primary tires) while everyone was on reds (Firestone alternate tires). With the incident this morning, we weren’t 100 percent sure where we were with the car. I maybe struggled a bit more in the first stint than I did at the end of the race, I’ll put my hand up for that one. We got to the lead on strategy and once we were in clean air, the pace was quite good. Tim (Broyles, ECR General Manager) was telling me what was happening, so I was quite happy. And literally, just about as we were going to come into the pits, no more than 100 meters from the pit commit line, the yellow came out and my heart just sank. It was almost perfect. That dropped us to the back of the field, but I had a couple of good restarts with the yellows that were later. On the last restart, I got pushed a little bit wide and it took me about three laps to recover, just trying to get the dirt off the tires. Those two things were a little bit annoying, but overall, I thought our pace was good. It was a great job by the Fuzzy’s Vodka guys to get me back out in time for the race and I am glad I could perform for them. It was a decent result, but if the dice had rolled differently for us as we came into the pits, I think we could have been set for a solid Top 10, maybe even a bit higher.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 12th: “Well that wasn’t the day we wanted to have. We knew the car had good speed, but things just didn’t seem to go our way this weekend with the NTT DATA car. With some early pit stop strategy and the way the race played out we were able to make up 9 positions, but we want more than that. Hopefully we can come back stronger in Mid-Ohio in a few weeks.”

CONOR DALY (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – finished 13th: “I just want to thank Harding Racing and Chevy for this opportunity, it’s so nice to be back in a car. There’s something about this car that we need to sort out mechanically on heavy fuel loads, the car was really beating me up. I think we had good race pace. I got shoved into the wall a few times, which I didn’t really like, but it is what it is. I could have used a bit more cooperation from the No. 18 car, as he was a few laps down. But anyway, I’m just so thankful to be back out here and we made a lot of progress technically this weekend, so hopefully that helps the team in the future.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – finished 14th: “It was a fun race, we had quite a bit of yellow today and I think that helped us with our pit strategy. I let the race come to us, and I didn’t take any unnecessary chances in my No. 19 Paysafe car. A lot of people had different issues and I stayed out of trouble and it led to a decent finish. It’s been a fun season and I want to thank Dale Coyne Racing and Paysafe for giving me the opportunity to do these nine races with them this year. Now I get to cheer on Pietro (Fittipaldi) when he comes back for the next race.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 15th: “I’m a bit disappointed with the result we had today. I got hit on Lap 20 and got hit again after a restart, so we had to do two extra pit stops. From then on, my day was over-not much we could do. It’s a pity because I think we could have finished in the top 10.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 16th: “It’s was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points. The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “The first stint of the race on Firestone red (alternate) tires went pretty well. We had good pace and were running as high P11 at one point in the race. Unfortunately, I lost positions after one of the restarts and my tires got dirty in the marbles. I was not able to recover the positions and had to settle for 17th. I am ready to move past this event and focus on Mid-Ohio in two weeks.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 18th: “That was definitely a very physical race. In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit. I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go. We’re just going to keep pushing away with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy and focus on the double points in Sonoma. That can be a 100 point swing, so we’re still in the game.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Mouser/Molex Honda) – finished 19th: “It was a tough weekend all around for the Mouser Electronics/Molex team. I thought we had something pretty good in qualifying that could help us accomplish the usual good starting position in Toronto, but I wasn’t comfortable enough with the conditions (wet track) to challenge the car for the one lap. I didn’t do a good job, we didn’t make it through and that put us at the back of the field. We tried something for the warm-up this morning and the car was far worse than it had been. So, we un-winded that and threw a Hail Mary at it for the race, but the car still wasn’t quite there. It was OK on the Firestone red (alternate) tires, then we made a couple of changes during the first stop and put black (Firestone primary) tires on. As soon as we put on the blacks, the car became extremely catchy, snappy and unpredictable. I made a couple of mistakes where I almost crashed, then I got into Turn 1 and I have no idea what happened. It felt like I didn’t really slow down. The car started to crab and go sideways under braking and from there I couldn’t recover. I went backward into the tires, not bad enough to put us out of the race, but bad enough that I had to come in and change the rear wing. We lost two laps, and from there it was just about collecting data and bringing it home. It was just a very disappointing weekend. I really wanted to do a lot more for the Mouser Electronics, Molex guys, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be this weekend.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) – finished 20th: “I got a lot of marbles on my right front tire and it just took off on me. I was along for the ride. It is a shame, we had moved up quite a lot. The Preferred Freezer Services car was handling pretty well, so it’s frustrating because we threw away a lot of points. It is what it is, but it’s really frustrating. I feel bad for my guys.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rousseau Honda) – finished 21st: “I’m disappointed; there isn’t anything else to say. Obviously, as we showed there at the end once we got back in the race, the car was fast. The start was awful; we got boxed in and just couldn’t go anywhere, so that was disappointing. The blacks (Firestone primary tires) were OK to start, it was really that we just got boxed in and that was my fault. I just didn’t get the right lane and it bit us a little bit. Overall, the Rousseau car was fast and I feel bad for the guys. We wanted better and we expected better and it hurt us a lot in the championship. We go on to Mid-Ohio after opportunities lost again.  We’ve just got to make one (win) happen soon.” (About the Lap 34 restart): “I had a really good run and was going to the right, and then (Jordan) King popped out and hit the brakes. I went left to try to avoid him, got into the back of (Max) Chilton just a little bit, but we were kind of OK. We started to get to mid-corner and were OK, and then, wham, I got absolutely drilled from behind. I don’t really know by whom, but ultimately, obviously, I started the whole train of it. I just don’t know what happened behind me.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 22nd: “All weekend we were competitive. Obviously, the weather situation for qualifying was tough for us, but still, we were competitive again in the warm-up before the race.  Then, in the race we had some issues, but the car was fast all day.  I feel sorry for the boys who gave me a great car the whole weekend.  I think we have great momentum. I’m looking forward to going to Mid-Ohio.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – finished 23rd: “It was just a really unfortunate day for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and the whole Carlin Gallagher Racing crew. We were given a penalty under yellow that I’m not sure I completely agreed with, and then when we did go back green, everyone’s tires were still so dirty from driving through the caution zone that the contact was somewhat inevitable. A car spun out in front and then we were hit from behind, causing quite a considerable amount of damage. We were able to limp back around to pit lane, but once we got there, the team decided the damage was too extensive to continue. Just a tough break for the team, especially with how much I love racing here in Toronto.”