Robb Pritchard, Off-road correspondent
Baja 1000, Ensenada, Mexico. 17th – 20th November, 2011
Cacti, sombreros, dodgy moustaches… and an 850bhp truck on 40 inch tyres slewing sideways through the centre of Ensenada. It can only be the Baja 1000, home of the fast, the hardcore and the bizarre… and the construction truck that had crashed across the course just outside of town was only the beginning of the things that the drivers had to deal with. First guy out was Jesse James and someone joked his ex-wife Sandra Bullock had hired the truck driver to block his way, but once the race was re-started it was rocks, gulleys, washouts, holes that the crews had to contend with for the 705 miles… as well as locals digging ramps into the tracks and I even heard of someone throwing a live rattle snake at one of the cars!
Coming from Europe I am more used to the FIA Cross Country World Cup where everyone always talks about driving conservatively to save the car, being careful about what’s over the next dune, but here constantly and absolutely flat out is the only strategy the teams have. This is the 44th straight running of the Baja and it is a race taken extremely seriously by the top teams. There have been enough years of development and enough money involved that the elite machines can take 15 hours of this none stop brutal punishment!
Of course, being so spread out and run in the middle of nowhere across the empty desert of northern Baja California it’s hard to follow what’s happening. It’s not like a circuit race where every tyre lock-up is captured on film and every pit stop is timed to the second, but standing by the constantly rough track you do see plenty of action. With suspension designed for masses of travel and the insanely powerful engines the trucks have they literally fly. Because the competition is so close every corner is taken on maximum attack. Even on an easy looking turn just after a crossroads Troy Herbst spun wide and much to the joy of the cheering spectators, rolled it onto the side.