For the first time in quite a while, there isn't going to be a "sure thing" in this weekend' SCORE Baja San Felipe 250, the first round of the three race SCORE Desert Series for bikes.
Over the years Honda and, more recently, the Johnny Campbell Racing Honda team, has simply dominated Baja. Johnny Campbell, Kendall Norman, Steve Hengeveld, the late Jeff "Ox" Kargola, Robby Bell, Tim Staab, Johan Street and Colton Udall are just some of the riders who have won over the years on Hondas. Obviously, these are some of the best off-road riders in the world, but one of the reasons Honda has dominated so much is that it hasn't really been challenged all that much ever since some of the heavy-hitting teams of the past have taken a breather from racing south of the border, teams like Husqvarna, KTM and Kawasaki. The only challengers Honda has seen lately have come from within their own corporate walls, as Honda has fielded A and B team of late. This year will be just one A team.
During the off-season, there was a major shake-up at the Campbell-run JCR Honda team. Campbell and Norman couldn't come to terms for the 2012 season and the very successful Norman/Honda marriage abruptly came to an end, leaving Quinn Cody without a teammate.
Instead of staying with Honda as many had expected, Cody was quickly snatched up by KTM, which has made it known since last year that it is going to take Baja seriously in 2012.
Honda has chosen to go with one team this year, handing the reigns to last year's San Felipe winner Udall, and David Kamo, who joined the team midway through last season after a short stint with Husqvarna, and Timmy Weigand, who has ridden on the Honda team before.
As mentioned, KTM has pulled out the stops to end Honda's dominance in Baja. This time, KTM will be returning to Baja with not one, but two powerful teams. One will be made up of AMA Hare & Hound Champion Kurt Caselli and Ivan Ramirez, and the other by former WORCS Champion Mike Brown and Cody, who will be competing for the first time since his big crash at Dakar earlier this year. Brown has never competed in Baja, but he'll have a great teacher and mentor in Cody.
Caselli, who is a former WORCS Champion and is the current AMA Hare & Hound Champion, says winning in Baja is his next big challenge and hopes what he learns from racing in Baja will perhaps lead him into a career racing in rallies down the road. Caselli made his first Baja attempt last year at the San Felipe race, but his bike "blew up" shortly into the race. This year, they'll be riding specially built KTMs designed to be fast and reliable. Still, the team is quite new to Baja and will be going up against the veteran Baja team of Honda. Should make for an interesting race, especially when you throw Kawasaki into the mix.
Like Honda, Kawasaki once dominated Baja with riders such as Larry Roeseler, Danny Hamel, Ted Hunnicutt and Danny LaPorte at the controls. After a long absence in Baja, Kawasaki is slowly returning and is putting together a formable team this year, mostly made up of veteran off-roaders. The team will go with four riders in the relatively short Baja race this weekend, their strategy is keeping its team fresh to maintain peak speed through out the 250 miles. The Kawasaki team will be made up of former National Hare & Hound Champions Destry Abbott and David Pearson, and former Baja Champions Steve Hengeveld and Robby Bell.
As for Norman, he has not confirmed if he will ride solo or have co-riders on a possible private team.
In the first 25 years of the San Felipe 250, Honda has earned 16 overall motorcycle victories (including the last six years straight and 14 of the last 15 years), Kawasaki has six, KTM has two and Husqvarna has one.
This year's 248.64-mile race course will utilize two washes that have never before been used for racing - Cuevitas and Amarillas. The Cuevitas Wash will replace the Three Poles to Borrego section of previous courses.
The course runs in a counter-clockwise direction and starts and finishes at the landmark San Felipe arches. For the first time, the second half of the race course will also include five infamous washes - Matomi, Azufre, Huatamote and Chanate, along with Amarillas - before heading to the finish line. The course includes four physical checkpoints as well as 51 virtual checkpoints to help insure the safety and the integrity of the challenging race course.
Past San Felipe 250 Winners:
1982--Bob Balentine, Honda XR500 (Class 22)
1983--Jack Johnson, Honda XR500 (Class 22)
1984--Dan Smith/Dan Ashcraft, Husqvarna CR500 (Class 22)
1990--Dan Smith/Danny Hamel, KTM (Class 22)
1991--Larry Roeseler/Ted Hunnicut Jr, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1992--Larry Roeseler/Ted Hunnicut Jr, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1993--Danny Hamel, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1994--Danny Hamel, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1995--Danny Hamel, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1996--Paul Krause, Kawasaki KX500 (Class 22)
1997--Tim Staab, Honda XR650 (Class 22)
1998--Johnny Campbell/Tim Staab, Honda XR650 (Class 22)
1999--Johnny Campbell/Cole Marshall, Honda XR650 (Class 22)
2000--Johnny Campbell/Tim Staab, Honda XR650 (Class 22)
2001--Steve Hengeveld/Jonah Street, Honda XR650R (Class 22)
2002--Steve Hengeveld/Johnny Campbell, Honda XR650R (Class 22)
2003--Steve Hengeveld/Johnny Campbell, Honda XR650R (Class 22)
2004--Steve Hengeveld/Johnny Campbell, Honda XR650R (Class 22)
2005--Chris Blais/Andy Grider/Quinn Cody, KTM MXC525 (Class 22)
2006--Robby Bell/Kendall Norman, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)
2007--Robby Bell/Kendall Norman, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)
2008--Robby Bell/Johnny Campbell, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)
2009--Kendall Norman/Timmy Weigand, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)
2010--Colton Udall/Jeff Kargola, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)
2011--Colton Udal/Jeff Kargola, Honda CRF450X (Class 22)