Engines are revving on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula for the 50th edition of the famous SCORE Baja 500. The desert race sees drivers on two and four wheels tackle the arduous 500-mile looped course to and from the town of Ensenada.
The pre-running of the hazardous circuit is already underway ahead of the race taking place on Sunday, June 3. There are Baja heavyweights such as Andy McMillin gunning for glory as well as Dakar convert Cyril Despres in the mix.
« Throughout my career I’ve always been interested in trying out different bikes, cars and buggies because that is a great way to learn and improve » – Cyril Despres
This is definitely not a race for the faint-hearted and the 50th anniversary edition is being billed as the toughest yet. The terrain is sandy and rocky, and features high-speed dirt trails, canyons and coastline. At points it runs at 915m above sea level. There will be four checkpoints and competitors will have 22 hours to complete the race, following staggered starts for different classes of vehicle.
Last year Andy McMillin, a third generation offroad racer, was victorious for the second time. Andy returns to Mexico behind the wheel of his Trophy Truck looking to add to an illustrious list of titles.
« It’s really a family legacy and a heritage thing for us. My two cousins Dan and Luke both race their own Trophy Trucks, my whole family comes out and supports me and chases me around Baja, and it’s really a family sport for us » – Andy McMillin
While racing Baja is second nature to Andy, this year’s race is going to present five-time Dakar Rally winner Cyril Despres with a steep learning curve. Despres first tackled the Baja 500 on his bike more than a decade ago. Now he’s preparing to head back to Mexico to race in a Bryce Menzies-prepared four-wheeler on the perilous tracks around Ensenada.
« In terms of a running race I would say the Dakar is a full 42km marathon and the Baja 500 is the 110m hurdles. You need to go faster at the Baja 500, but there are still plenty of hazards that can trip you up » – Cyril Despres
Andy McMillin: « My dad and I set a goal in 2009 after we won the Baja 1000 that we wanted to win five of them in the next 10 years. I’ve won four, so to hit that old goal I’ll need to win one more by 2019. I think what keeps me motivated and what keeps me pushing is just wanting to be the best at what I do and wanting to be the best that has ever done it. I want to win every race I enter; I’m just a super-competitive person. Even playing my grandma in a game of cards, all I want to do is beat her [laughs], as sad as that is to say. So when it comes to racing, you know, it’s easy to be competitive. When it’s something that you’re naturally gifted and talented at and you know your skill level and what your potential is, you hold yourself to a really high standard.
« The over-arching goal is to win 10 Baja 1000s and put my name down in the record books as one of the best to ever do it. I just want to win every race that I enter and I’m on a pretty good platform now to be competitive and put myself in a place to win every race. So I just want to keep doing that and if I can put myself in that position that’s really all I can ask for. »
Cyril Despres: « A big reason I have targeted the Baja 500 is because it’s a race that I already have experienced before, even if that time it was on a bike and this time I’ll be racing on four wheels. Back in 2007 I travelled out to Mexico with KTM to race the Baja 500 and it was great to experience something new after all the time I spent being involved with the Dakar.
« I can’t say right now how competitive I will be at this Baja 500. If you think about the challenges Bryce has had getting to grips with rally-raid racing then I think we can expect I will find it similar when trying to transition to Baja racing. I’m going to up against some really experienced guys who eat, drink and sleep Baja for 52 weeks a year. These guys race the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. I’m going there and racing a truck for the first time so I’m going to have to learn quickly that’s for sure.
« I want to be able to perform at a respectable level but I have my eyes open. This will be my first shot at it so I’m just going to stay humble. My first aim is to cross the finish line and if I can do that then we’ll see what position I’ve taken.
« Thanks to Team Menzies for giving me the opportunity to be there driving their truck. Bryce is unfortunately injured right now. I’m very fortunate to have this team with their wealth of experience there to help me out. »