Monster Energy/THR/Precision Concepts Kawasaki Trio Dominate SCORE International Baja 500 Aboard KX450Fposted Jun 6, 2012
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Irvine, Calif. (June 6, 2012) – After piloting their KX™450F for more than nine hours through the grueling Mexican desert, Monster Energy/THR/Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s Robby Bell, David Pearson and Steve Hengeveld were crowned the champions of the 2012 Southern California Off Road Enthusiasts (SCORE) International Baja 500 in Baja California, Mexico. The trio split time on the bike throughout the race to accomplish the feat in just over nine hours and ten minutes, with an average speed of 49.09 mph. Despite temperatures reaching over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and nearly running out of gas at one point, the team was able conquer all elements to put Kawasaki back on top of the Baja 500 podium.
Monster Energy Kawasaki Under the Tent
For the Monster Energy/THR/Precision Concepts Kawasaki team the Baja 500 began several weeks before the start of the race. Extensive planning and advance preparation was required to get all three riders and the support crew on the same page and ready to tackle race over the Baja Peninsula.
“We start planning for this race about six weeks in advance,” said Hengeveld. “We first figured out where we were going to lay out our nine different pits and the logistics involved with getting all of our crew and equipment to each location. One of the biggest challenges was getting the KX450F set up so everyone was comfortable. We had to figure out a suspension setting that would work for all three of us riding different types of terrain, which was difficult because there is about 100 pounds difference between us. After a lot of testing we were able to find a setting that worked well for everyone. We also adjusted the handlebars and levers so everyone would be comfortable.”
The race began in the Mexican town of Ensenada with Bell at the controls of the KX450F. At 6:00 a.m. the green flag dropped and the first two teams of bikes (2X and 3X) were released in 30 second intervals. Waiting for his turn to go on the 4X bike, Bell took a few deep breaths and when the flag waved he launched his Kawasaki into the Mexican desert. Bell quickly charged past both the 2X and 3X machines, pulling into an early lead by mile marker six.
“It started off amazing,” said Bell. “I pulled into the lead only six miles out of town. My ride out of town was smooth. I tried to keep my pace under 100 percent heading out of town because the blinding sun was directly in front of me. I got through Ojos Negros and was nearing my first pit, which we had planned to be just before race mile 48, that’s when things got a little crazy.”
The team planned to pit Bell at mile marker 48, but Bell missed the pit and began a panicked search. First he attempted to find the pit, but as his gas began to dwindle he started looking for any spectator who might be able to help with gas. With barely fumes left in the gas tank, Bell luckily found a good Samaritan at the last minute who had a couple gallons to spare.
“When I reached our first proposed pit area it was super crowded and chaotic,” said Bell. “Before I knew it I had already passed through the area and never saw my pit. I panicked for a second, but then thought our pit might be at race mile 52, which was a second area we had talked about placing our pit. I made it to that area, but our pit was nowhere to be found and suddenly my heart sank. I began thinking I had just thrown away our entire race and I screamed at myself under my helmet. I knew I was going to run out of gas within ten miles and I made the decision to start looking for gas from spectators. I stopped at every little camp I came across but no one had any. After stopping nine different times to ask, I finally found a couple spectators who had a five-gallon can of gas and were more than willing to give me a couple gallons. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for getting me back into the race and saving our Baja 500.”
With 450 miles to conquer, the trio decided to break the riding into smaller sections to keep everyone fresher so they could sprint harder. After nearly running out of gas in the first section, Bell went back to work on the challenging course. After completing the first 100 miles of the race, Bell handed the KX450F over to the current AMA National Hare & Hound points leader Pearson, who tackled the next 100 miles.
“When I got the bike we were about four minutes behind the leader,” said Pearson. “My primary goal was to pass those guys and hand off the bike in first place. My first section over the summit was really rocky. The team thought I might struggle with the suspension because it was set up more for Robby and Steve, and they weight almost 100 pounds less than me, but the suspension was soft which ended up working out great in the rocks. About halfway through the section I caught the leader and put the pass on him. When I brought the bike into Borrego we had about a three minute lead.”
After Pearson finished his 100-mile segment and brought the team back into the lead, Bell jumped back on the bike for the next 66 miles to complete the ride from Borrego to Via De Trinidad.
“I took off out of Borrego ready to tackle all of the whoops on the eight-mile power line road,” said Bell. “My back was burning through the whoops, but I just kept telling myself to stay strong, keep pushing and stay focused. From the whoops I rode into the sketchy sand wash section of San Matias where thousands of rocks were just waiting for you to clip one the wrong way, and it only takes one. Then I hit the section called Mike’s loop where there are a bunch of dirt roads with sweeping turns. I was riding in third and fourth gears and sliding the corners like a flat-track racer. It was some of the most fun you can have on a dirt bike.”
After Bell completed the 66-mile sprint he arrived at Via De Trinidad and handed the Kawasaki over to multi-time Baja champion Hengeveld who tackled the next 100-mile section.
“Pearson was able to make up a lot of time in his section and by the time I got the bike from Bell we had a solid lead,” said Hengeveld. "I jumped on the Kawasaki at Via De Trinidad and took the crossover road to Erendira. From there I hit the Pacific Coast and rode several miles of beach. I followed the coast all the way up to Santo Tomas and from there I rode up to Uruapan and handed the bike back to Pearson.”
Pearson jumped back on the KX450F for the 37-mile trek from Uruapan to Ojos Negros, and then handed the Kawasaki over to Bell who completed the final 43-mile stretch of the race to take the checkered flag.
In the final stretch of the race Bell had a few close calls, but was able to finish the race strong to ride his team’s Kawasaki through the finish line first. After all the bikes came across the line and the times were correlated, the Monster Energy/THR/Precision Concepts Kawasaki team had secured the Baja 500 title by 58 seconds.
“In the last section toward Ensenada I was tired, but was still having fun pushing the corners like a grand prix race and taking some calculated risks in the silt,” said Bell. “I pushed all the way to the finish and as I crossed the checkers the stopwatches began. I must have had three or four iPhones shoved in front of me when the clock hit a minute, showing me that we were the unofficial winners of the Baja 500!”
Popping the Champagne
Winning the Baja 500 takes an enormous effort from a team of dedicated individuals. In preparation for the race the team had to pre-run the course, plan their nine different pits and coordinate the efforts of three talented riders.
“This is a huge victory for the entire team, from the pit volunteers to the sponsors who support us,” said Bell. “It feels fantastic to finally achieve what we’ve all been working so hard for. Thanks to all the support from Monster Energy, THR Motorsports, and Precision Concepts Kawasaki for building an amazing bike and fielding such a big effort we were able to get it done. The KX450F performed flawlessly all day, even on the spectator gas, which I’m betting was nowhere near the quality of our VP race fuel. The suspension worked so well in the whoops, rocks and cornered like a dream over the dirt roads. I can’t put into words how great this win feels for me and the team. We’ve been working so hard and to see it all finally pay off, especially with the drama that unfolded, makes the win so much sweeter.”
Hunting for the 1X Plate
After taking the win in the Baja 500, the team is now poised to take the championship at the final race of the season at the prestigious Baja 1000.
“We figured out the points system and whoever wins the Baja 1000 will take the championship and the 1X plate,” said Pearson. “Our win at the Baja 500 makes it a three-way battle for the title which is really cool because second place won’t cut it this year. You have to win to take the title so it should be a pretty exciting race.”
Even though the 45th SCORE Baja 1000 doesn’t begin until November 14, the team is already getting prepared for the challenging race in hopes to earn the 1X plate for their Kawasaki.
“Now we’re already thinking about the Baja 1000,” said Hengeveld. “That race is in November, but we are already working on getting the KX450F setup. Right now we are exploring our options for putting lights on the bike. We are searching for a frame that is light-weight, but can take a beating. In October we will start scouting for our pit locations then we will begin pre-running the course in early November.”
SCORE International Baja 500
Baja California, Mexico
June 2, 2012
1. ROBBY BELL/DAVID PEARSON/STEVE HENGEVELD, MONSTER ENERGY/THR/PRECISION CONCEPTS/KAWASAKI, 9:11:33 (CLASS 22)
2. Colton Udall/Timmy Weigand/David Kamo, Honda, 9:12:31 (Class 22)
3. Kurt Caselli/Mike Brown/Ivan Ramirez/Marc Coma, KTM, 9:18:39 (Class 22)
4. Kendall Norman, Honda, 9:49:38 (Class 22)
5. Jim O’Neal/Shane Esposito/Scott Myers/Ricky Brabee/Morgan Crawford, Honda, 9:54:05 (Class 21)
6. Mark Samuels/Ian Young/Matt Eddy/Max Eddy, Honda, 9:58:24 (Class 22)
7. Francisco Arredondo/Ryan Dudek/Matt Karlsen, Honda, 10:04:15 (Class 22)
8. Francisco Septien/Roberto Villalobos/Brandon Prieto/Eric Yorba, Honda, 10:12:24 (Class 21)
9. A.J. Stewart/Justin Morgan/Corey Freeman, Honda, 10:15:02 (Class 22)
10. Jeff Kaplan/Ron Wilson/Johnny Campbell/Louie Franco, Honda, 10:35:26 (Class 40)