The 56th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE International Baja 1000 race, presented by K&N Filters, capped off a momentous occasion of epic proportions. Not only was this SCORE International’s 50th season, and this Baja 1000 event challenged competitors with the longest course, but it was also the first time the event ran backward starting in the south and finishing in the north.
The 2023 Baja 1000 encompassed 1,310.94 miles and started in La Paz, Baja California Sur, and ended in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, opposite its usual direction. Some 335 teams from far and wide gave it their all to compete in the race, with only 178 teams successfully finishing the unforgiving run within their allotted time of 50 hours.
Digging Deep Into The Baja 1000 And BFGoodrich Tires
With over half of the desert racers running BFGoodrich (BFG) tires, I dig deeply into why this type of racing drives tire innovation and product performance. BFGoodrich uses desert races, like the Baja 1000, as test beds for developing products. New products we’ll soon be seeing on the market for light-duty trucks and SUVs.
Matt Hanlon, a BFGoodrich tire development engineer, thinks off-road racing “keeps the closest synergy with the road-going counterpart products, like KM3s, KO2s, etc. The reason is because we see an exaggerated version of what they see.”
“We see these trophy trucks with 1,200 horsepower and terrible aggression on the tires with big sidewall impacts,” Hanlon said. “By working with these race shops and competitive teams that are very capable, we can develop really out-of-the-box innovations and advanced solutions.”
Hanlon said BFGoodrich must perform tests to assess if we made an actual improvement or not, and sometimes they’ll find an unexpected improvement. “We’ll find something crazy; we’ll implement it in a race tire and have great results. Then we sit in the same facility with the guys doing KM3s, KO2s, etc., and we’ll say, ‘Hey, Jay Jakupca [of the BFG-supported BC team], found something that works really well for sidewall aggression or tread aggression.’”
BFGoodrich Tires Finds The Right Rubber For The Baja 1000
According to Hanlon, BFG’s rubber compounds get interchanged on numerous occasions. “We’ll make a new rubber compound that offers tremendous sidewall protection against rocks, is ideal for rock crawling and [racing], and will carry over to use in the desert racing tires because they have a similar need. Maybe not quite as dramatic as our need, but it’s a very close carryover. What works for us usually works for them.”
However, some areas aren’t interchangeable for all applications. Desert racing technology isn’t necessarily looking for highway mileage. Highway tires need to go 40,000 to 60,000 miles and have to meet noise requirement standards. It’s a symbiotic relationship to find the best answers for both segments while helping each other progress in their respective areas.
Tire Types And Innovation
“Innovation is never force-fed,” Hanlon stated. “Teams can find things from what we’re already doing. It’s a really interesting trade-off. When it comes to tire design, there are us designers who put together the internals of the tire, and how it’s going to look. Our tread pattern designers are a mixture of half artist and half engineer. They do a little bit of both because it has to look good, as well as perform. We have a very key group of people: motorsports, KM3, etc., they’re the same guys. They’re really good at picking up elements that are happening in KO2. They might solve a problem and say, ‘Hey motorsports, you guys have this problem too. What do you say?’”
Hanlon said BFGoodrich tries to incorporate some of the same elements between different tires. They try to stay synced up as much as they can between tire types. “It’s kind of a two-way street when it comes to design.”
BFGoodrich Tires Is In It to Win It For Every Baja 1000
BFGoodrich has a rich desert-racing history, especially when it comes to the legendary Baja 1000. Of the four-wheel vehicles that raced in the 2023 Baja 1000, 135 (nearly 60 percent) of them ran on BFG rubber. Seven of the top 10 overall winners were on BFGs, with the UTV overall win earned by Cayden MacCachren on the Polaris Factory Racing Team.
Jason Anzalone, director of motorsports for BFGoodrich North America, said putting a tire through the most grueling conditions is what really drives the company.
“We find the way to have a tire perform in the desert under extreme conditions. We take key learnings, whether that is carcass or compound development, take that type of learning and translate it into building tough street tires that the light-truck consumer wants, and needs.”
To Anzalone, the Baja 1000 is a test lab for the BFGoodrich brand. “It is a way for us to innovate, but then also we want to win as well. There’s the competitive spirit, with the desert racing that we do here in the Baja Peninsula. We’ve been doing this for over 40 years.”
BC Cars And Baja Champion Logos
For BFGoodrich, proving innovation and technology is important. Anzalone said they take what they learn in the desert and translate it into their street tires for consumers to enjoy, whether they’re taking it off-road on a trail or driving around on the street. “It’s a way for us to connect with the consumer enthusiasts in the light-truck community,” he explained.
“When we talk about light truck terrain, we have used this [Baja 1000/desert racing] platform to be able to stamp Baja champion on it because we run [BFGs] on BC cars. So, the BC car really gives us the way in to prove the technology,” Anzalone said.
In previous races, BC cars were equipped with KO2s and/or KM3s, which now have the Baja Champion logo. KO2s and KM3s, as well as future evolutions of BFGoodrich tires, must earn the Baja Champion logo for the tire to bear that logo. To earn that insignia, BFGoodrich must win a Baja race.
BFGoodrich Tires And Its Relationship With SCORE And The Baja 1000
“We have a very tight relationship with the SCORE organization,” Anzalone explained. “While we haven’t been around for all  years [of SCORE], we’ve been partnering together for over 40 years. It’s very important to maintain relationships.”
Anzalone said SCORE provides BFG the opportunity to partner in different ways beyond being a sponsor. “We are embedded in the [desert racing] community and because of that, we’re able to translate technology because we use this as a testbed.”
In short, BFGoodrich helps to further technology and helps the SCORE organization. It helps Baja 1000 racers—creating a holistic program for the betterment of desert racing and product development. This comprehensive approach helps drive tire innovation.
Anzalone said, “We want to give back. Our pit support crew, with our mapping program, drives innovation, product improvement, product performance, etc. We want to showcase what the BFGoodrich brand can do for the community.”
All photos by Mercedes Lilienthal