Baja p70-74:Layout 1
Honda’s winning legacy was established. At the end of 1996, Team Green Kawasaki pulled out of Baja, leaving the Honda team unchallenged. In 1997, Johnny Campbell led a young Honda team to victory in the 1000, the first of a long string.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
The THR Kawasaki team was made especially dangerous with the leadership of Bob Bell.
Mexico will always be Mexico.
In the time since 1997, there have been challenges to Honda’s dominance in Baja’s shorter races. In fact, going into the 1000, Honda was winless on the year. KTM had won the San Felipe 250 and Kawasaki had taken the 500. Colton and teammates David Kamo and Tim Weigand still felt like the 1000 would be a whole new game. “The 1000 is a different thing,” says Udall. “You have to have a lot more structure.” And speed. You have to have speed, which Colton, as Johnny’s heir apparent, has in quantity. He started ninth, but had cut his way into the physical lead by mile 150. That gave the Honda team a tactical advantage for the entire race, as adjusted time gaps would not play a factor. Oddly enough, the last team to fall was one in which Colton had a special interest in. “Mark Samuels ran out of gas while he was leading. His team was really a factor; they were going as fast as anyone.” Why did Colton care? Samuel’s teammate was his brother Ian Young, and the other partners were his friends Justin Jones and Evan Kelly. This particular running of the Baja 1000 was actually over 1000 miles. Usually it’s about 700, but every three years it goes all the way to La Paz. “It was one of the toughest in years, and we never got a break. Both the Kawasaki team and the KTM team were right on our heels the whole way.” It looked like the race was going to be at its closest right at the finish. But late in the race, things began to change. They always do. The first team to fall was the KTM squad. Colton’s former teammate Quinn Cody crashed and broke his leg. By the time he was rescued and the bike was running again, they had lost over an hour. That left Honda and Kawasaki way in front, pushing the speed higher and higher as the end of the race grew near. Steve Hengveld was on the Kawasaki as night fell, and he was riding hard. Then, in a fraction of a second, Team THR Kawasaki’s race ended. The KX450’s piston broke, leaving Hengveld stranded and the Honda without a challenger. Weigand rode the bike to the finish with an hour lead over the stillcharging KTM team. Third place wasn’t far behind that, and it was a story in itself. The team was organized by Jim O’Neal, who has more class wins than anyone else in the history of Baja. This was another for the list, but it was in class 21 (450cc, no age restriction). O’Neal is over 60 years old, but his teammates—Shane Esposito, Ricky Brabec and Max Eddy—aren’t. In the end, it turned out that the JCR Honda team still had some tricks, despite teaching its closest rivals how to do things. Will that be enough in the years to come? No one knows. That’s the nature of racing. ❏ FEBRUARY 2013 / DIRT BIKE 73