For the Slam Life Racing (SLR) Honda duo of Justin Morgan and Mark Samuels (third rider Justin Jones sidelined by a lingering knee injury), the biggest obstacle at the 51st SCORE Baja 500 had to be dense fog in the morning then fighting complacency in the afternoon, as they completed the very challenging 487 miles in 10 hours, 50 minutes and 46.54 seconds, beating the runners-up by more than an hour. Their finish time put them sixth vehicle overall (and first Pro Moto Unlimited) behind five Trophy trucks, winner Andy McMillan clocking 9:49:12.11.
Slam Life Racing (SLR) Wins Baja 500 2019
As the winners of round one—the San Felipe 250—Team SLR was the first to get the green flag at the Estero Beach Resort at 4:00 a.m., and Morgan conceded that played a major factor in the end result due to unexpected fog, as well as several areas of deep silt.
“I couldn’t even ride with goggles on for the first 80 miles,” he said. “It was definitely unexpected; I pre-ran at the same time for a couple days, and it wasn’t even close to like that! It was a pretty difficult section going into daylight, but luckily we got the win at San Felipe, so we got to start first. I think that’s a huge advantage, and I’m very thankful for that.”
Morgan’s stint on their Monster Energy/STI Tires/Lava Propane CRF450X took him from the resort’s short-course truck track next to the Pacific and east through Alamo, Santa Catarina, the Summit, Cohabuzo Junction and Borrego before handing it to Samuels near mile 240.
By pit two at Santa Catarina about 103 miles into the race, Morgan had approximately a 20-minute lead over the second-place team of Ray Dal Soglio, Nic Garvin, Dylan Gillespie, Austin Miller, and Troy Vanscourt. Armed with that knowledge, he and Samuels could afford to back it down a bit.
“At that point,” Morgan said, “I started riding extra-smart trying to conserve the equipment and myself as much as possible. I had 130-something miles to go, and it was the toughest part of the day coming up.”
Samuels continued that mode in his ride westward over the mountains to Mike’s Sky Ranch, Rancho El Coyote, and then down the Pacific coast town of Vicente Guerrero, where the course turned north and headed back to the finish, via Colonet, Erendira, Santo Tomas, and Uruapan for a drama-free victory. It was their sixth in a row going back to last year’s San Felipe 250 when they began their current win streak.
For the Dal Soglio-captained runners-up on their RTM Motorsports/Multitool-USA.com/NiteRider-backed KTM 500 EXC-F, second in 11:54:16.84 wasn’t a bad result considering Dal Soglio crashed hard while pre-running and had to have a rod placed into his femur in an Ensenada hospital a few days before the race. Needless to say, he couldn’t ride, and that meant a last-minute scramble to recruit substitutes and readjust riding duties for the rest of the team.
But they enjoyed a solid ride, Vanscourt saying, “Today I got on the bike about race mile 91 and took it to Mike’s road where I gave it to Nic Garvin. There was plenty of silt, and I had no mishaps—actually had a very clean run, no issues.”
As for Dal Soglio who was hobbling around on crutches the day after surgery (which he was awake for and watched!), he admitted, “I was a little worried after this all happened that we weren’t going to be able to find riders to cover [my section] because I had a pretty long section, but we were still able to put it together.”
Third bike to the finish in 12:14:36.28 and first in Pro Moto Limited was the Monkey Business Workshop/Monster Energy/Nitro Mousse-sponsored KTM 350 XC-F with riders Santiago Creel/Alvaro Miller/Carlos Miranda/Alejandro Sardi/Larry Serna.
“It was really tough and personally I had a big crash at mile 70,” Sardi said. “We broke the lights, the front fender. The team got everything perfect—we got the bike fixed, and it was nice to go from the back [of the pack] because I didn’t pre-run the first section, so I had to go blind at 4 a.m. All the guys went by me by the river, and we had to go pick them off one by one, and it was satisfying [so] that now this champagne tastes better! When I crashed, I thought it was over.”
Veterans Shane Esposito and Francisco Septien teamed up for the Pro Moto 30 victory, finishing fourth bike overall in 12:20:35.38 despite both riders crashing at least once.
Another Creel-captained team (this one with Mitch Anderson, Massimo Mangini, Brandon Prieto, and Taylor Stevens) finished fifth bike overall in 12:22:40.35 and third in Pro Moto Unlimited after Prieto crashed and broke both wrists around mile 60. They lost a lot of time getting the bike going again and extracting Prieto. (Remarkably, he had surgery in Ensenada to get screws in both hands and made it to Estero to watch the finish a few hours later!). As Anderson explained, “Once Brandon went down and broke both of his wrists, we had to switch up the strategy. Some riders got quite a bit more added to their section so I took the last 40-plus miles and rode it to the finish [from 350]. I had a few close calls—one oncoming car on the road in Camalu, but my ride was, thankfully, uneventful [otherwise].”
Other class winners included: Steve Roberts/Paul Thomas in Pro Moto 40; John Griffin/Jim O’Neal/Troy Pearce/Earl Roberts/Giovanni Spinali in Pro Moto 50; Tanner Janesky in Pro Moto Ironman; and Don Crane/Tyler Evangelista/Steve Herstad/Dakota Hilbride/Nick Robertson/Shane Schorno in Sportsman Moto.
But this 500 definitely belonged to SLR Honda, Samuels hinting at more of the same in the last half of the series. “Each race, we’ve gotten a lot better and a lot better [getting the new bike dialed in], and I think we learned a lot this race on making a few more changes, too, to make it even better for the 1000,” Samuels said.
In other words, SLR Honda’s challengers will need to work overtime to beat the reigning champs who are now halfway to a second consecutive unbeaten season.
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