Kawasaki captured the overall win at the Baja 500 for the first time since 1996. Robby Bell, David Pearson and Steve Hengeveld combined efforts to take the victory just under a minute ahead of the next-best team at the 44th running of the Tecate SCORE Baja 500, June 1-2.
The Kawasaki team’s win didn’t come without some anxious moments, however, when Bell missed the first gas stop and nearly ran out of gas later on. Luckily for him and his team, he found enough fuel from locals and managed to continue on. The ordeal, however, cost the team the lead when the Honda entry, ridden by Colton Udall, Timmy Weigand and David Kamo, rode past. But Pearson was able to get back on the Kawasaki and get out in front and hold on to take the win, 58 seconds ahead of the Honda team, which was slowed by a Udall crash and resulting bent bike.
“I found two [people] that had some [gas] and they were more than happy to give me enough gas to get to pit two,” Bell said. “I would really like to thank them. It is pretty awesome that out in the middle of nowhere, two guys would have some gas and give it to me. They kept us in the race, though we lost about four or five minutes from that, but it kept us in the race. My teammates Steve [Hengeveld] and David [Pearson] rode so well. I’m so happy with how the day went. It [having Kawasaki back on the podium] is great for the sport and for the brand. I’m stoked to get Kawasaki down here because I know Honda has a huge history in Baja, but so does Kawasaki. It feels good.”
The KTM team, made up of Kurt Caselli, Mike Brown, Ivan Ramirez and rally star Marc Coma finished third, about six minutes behind the Honda team. Caselli was injured coming into the race, so Ramirez, Brown and Coma did the bulk of the riding. Unfortunately for them, Ramirez crashed in the dust early in the race and played catch up the rest of the way.
“I had trouble in the start around mile 15,” Ramirez said. “I was in the dust and couldn’t see a rock and went over the bars and had a little concussion and hurt my elbow. I tried to be up front again but those guys rode pretty good and didn’t have any problems.”
Fourth overall went to multi-time Baja winner Kendall Norman on a private Honda CRF450X. Norman rode solo and finished approximately 30 minutes behind the KTM team.
“It was awesome,” Norman said. “It [riding solo] was a new experience. I’m pretty fried right now. It was an awesome experience and probably one of the most memorable and most fun times I’ve ever had in Baja. I just thank the awesome friends that I have that stepped up and wanted to help me do what I do because everything was so last minute.
Fifth overall went to the winning Class 21 team made up of Jim O’Neal, Shane Esposito, Scott Myers, Ricky Brabee and Morgan Crawford.
The Class 40 win went to the Honda-mounted team of Jeff Kaplan, Ron Wilson, Johnny Campbell and Louie Franco in 10th overall.
The Class 30 victory went to the team of Mike Johnson, Jason Truby, Ben Brinkley, Shane Bell and Steve Garnett.