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Honda Dominates Baja! (again)

By Sean Alexander, Nov. 28, 2003
This isn't really a surprise, considering Honda's total domination of the Baja peninsula over the past god-only-knows how many years. Nevertheless, they deserve credit for the depth of their domination. I'm fairly confident that an HRC kitted XR-650R is the way to go, if you plan to race South of Tijuana. Smoking the entire field and grabbing the Overall victory with a lead in excess of 45 minutes, is no small feat. Sean

P.S. They also won the open ATV class (see the lower press release)

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*Honda Press Release*

SCORE Desert Series Round 3: Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico November 21, 2003 ~ The 36th-annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 will go down as toughest one ever, with just 153 of the 272 original starters able to finish. Despite the long, dusty day and cold, foggy night, however, the Honda Off-Road Team pairing of Johnny Campbell and Steve Hengeveld not only coped well but thrived, resulting in a winning ride that saw them literally run away from the entire field to take the overall victory in 15 hours, 39 minutes, 52 seconds. That gave them an average speed of 51.58 miles per hour for the 808-mile course on their XR650R, besting the first truck or buggy by some 45 minutes and the second-place motorcycle by about 53 minutes. It also stretched Campbell's Baja 1000 win streak to seven in a row and gave Honda its 14th overall motorcycle victory, also extending a record. In addition, eight of the first 10 bike finishers relied on the XR650R, resulting in four Pro-class wins out of five (of course, the 650 isn't eligible for the 250cc class).


Though Campbell and Hengeveld finished the three-race SCORE Desert Series with a perfect record for the second consecutive year, don't think that their Baja 1000 win was easy. Campbell was fourth off the line and grabbed the lead just 20 miles later. Early in the race, however, he hit a sizeable rock that sat hidden in the shadows, destroying the front wheel. "I never even knew it was there," he said. "I've been down that road a hundred times, but I hit it going really, really fast! Right when I hit it, I thought it was over with."

Fortunately, Campbell didn't crash, but besides the mangled wheel, he suffered a jammed thumb on his throttle hand, an injury that would affect him the rest of the day. "It kind of dampened my ride because I had a really good rhythm going and everything was working really good until then," he lamented. Still, Campbell managed to limp the bike onward until he could get the broken wheel replaced by the heads-up crew from the next pit. After that, "Basically, I just had to maintain and ride 75 percent because my thumb was hurting pretty bad," he said, and he handed the bike to Hengeveld after 205 miles.

Coming on strong and determined to overtake them, the Christopher Blais/Chuck Dempsey/Andy Grider/Beau Hayden team actually passed Campbell/Hengeveld when the defending champs stopped for a scheduled tire change. That lasted only until they reached the bottom of the course near Chapala Dry Lake and turned north with Hengeveld moving back into the lead for good. "When I passed them at Chapala, my goal was just to ride as hard as I could to San Matias Pass (a distance of nearly 170 miles) because I figured I could put some time on them," Hengeveld explained. "When I got to San Felipe (about 120 miles later) I had six minutes and kept building."

Despite having to avoid a herd of cattle and some wild horses in the dark in the last 150 miles, plus needing to slow markedly for fog, Hengeveld kept extending his margin while Campbell kept tabs via a satellite phone he borrowed.

"There is no greater thrill or accomplishment in our sport than to be champions of the Baja 1000," Hengeveld declared after finishing back in Ensenada. "Don't wake me up; it's unbelievable!

"We rode a couple thousand miles in preparation for this thing. It all worked out so it's okay," he laughed.

The Blais/Dempsey/Grider/Hayden team ended up second overall on their XR650R, their ride slowed by a broken light bracket. Third overall and first in Class 40 for riders 40 or older went to Craig Adams, Rich Binkley, Chris Haines, Bob Johnson, Jack Johnson and Paul Ostbo. It marked the 20th Baja 1000 for Haines and gave him his 10th class victory. Class 30 winners Gerardo Rojas and Sergio Vega took fourth overall by just three seconds over Class 40 runners-up Jeff Kaplan, Jim O'Neal and Tim Withers.


Baja 1000 overall motorcycle results:
1. Johnny Campbell/Steve Hengeveld-Honda XR650R-15:39:52 2. Christopher Blais/Chuck Dempsey/Andy Grider/Beau Hayden-Honda
XR650R-16:32:44
3. Craig Adams/Rich Binkley/Chris Haines/Bob Johnson/Jack Johnson/Paul
Ostbo-Honda XR650R-17:37:30
4. Gerardo Rojas/Sergio Vega-Honda XR650R-17:43:18
5. Jeff Kaplan/Jim O'Neal/Tim Withers-Honda XR650R-17:43:21


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Honda's new TRX450R Conquers Baja in its debut race


Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 November 21, 2003 ~ Honda made its official return to ATV off-road racing by winning Class 25 (Open ATV) and taking first overall ATV at the 36th-annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 with the brand-new, never-before-raced TRX450R. The come-from-behind win over several larger- displacement machines was backed up by a second TRX450R ridden to fourth place despite an early race crash that left the rider with a broken collarbone-though he managed to nurse the damaged bike and himself 20 miles to the next pit.

The winning team consisted of veteran racers Poncho Castro, Doug Eichner, Tim Farr (Honda's official factory-supported ATV racer for 2004), John Gregory and Marc Spaeth, who covered the 808-mile course in 18 hours, 27 minutes, 34 seconds, at an average speed of 43.78 miles per hour. That was quick enough to earn them 16th overall vehicle of the 272 original starters, and put a whopping 53 minutes between them and the second-place team. Scott Callen, Shane Hitt, Alberto Marquez and Danny Rudd comprised the riders of the fourth-place ATV, finishing in 20:45:48 on the second TRX450R. After Callen's injury, Rudd rode the last half of the race, and felt the effects afterward of what was considered the toughest, most technical Baja 1000 ever. Besides tight, rocky sections, competitors faced conditions that ranged from hot, dusty and dry to cold, foggy and even rainy. Of the 272 starters, just 153 finished.

This marked the second consecutive victory for a factory-backed Honda ATV in the 1000 after last year's rather surprising 1-3 finish by a pair of virtually stock Rincon sport-utility quads. Unlike last year, however, the pair of TRX450s was widely expected to vie for the win this time.

"The main purpose of racing the 1000 with the new bikes is to confirm the base performance for this product," Honda R&D Chief Engineer Hajime Shogase said before the race. To that end, both 450s were only very slightly modified-a different carburetor and exhaust, dialed-in stock suspension, taller seat and aftermarket wheels with Baja-oriented tires being the notable changes. "Basically, every rider on the two teams was happy with the suspension setting change, and they loved the power!" Shogase reported.

Though they drew the 12th starting position, the eventual winners were in third place unofficially by the time they reached Valle de Trinidad about 110 miles into the race. They continued to hunt down the front-runners until Spaeth caught up to the lead ATV about halfway into the race and saw the leader crash in a silt bed. Seeing that, Spaeth veered to the left but also hit something and tumbled into the powder. However, he got the Honda restarted before the other rider and sped by. That essentially ended the race as the TRX450R simply pulled away in the last half.

"The bike worked awesome!" Spaeth exclaimed. "The only thing I had a little bit of trouble with was the helicopter-I've never had a helicopter over me so it was a little bit intimidating having somebody watching you."

"Everything went smooth," Farr said. "In the past, the teams I've ridden for have just had a lot of problems-organization and bike problems have always plagued the teams that I've been on. This year with Honda and Golden West Cycle it was completely different."

"This bike is everything you could want in an ATV," said Eichner who took the start and finish sections. "The powerband is very useful and very, very easy to ride. The bike handles really well, and it's built like a Honda-it's built good!"

Baja 1000 results, Class 25 (Open ATV)
1. Poncho Castro/Doug Eichner/Tim Farr/John Gregory/Marc Spaeth-Honda
TRX450R-18:27:34
2. Ruben Martin/Gilberto Santana-Bombardier DS650X-19:20:33
3. Carmen Cafro/Mike Cafro-Honda TRX400EX-20:29:47
4. Scott Callen/Shane Hitt/Alberto Marquez/Danny Rudd-Honda TRX450R- 20:45:28
5. Alex Croswaite/Antonio Espinoza-Yamaha YZ450-21:06:15