Baja is a fickle place. RPM Offroad came into the race with four of the best trucks ever built by the crew at Geiser Brothers and have arguably the most experienced and talented line up of drivers with a crew second to none.
With sponsors like BF Goodrich, KMC Wheels, Mastercraft, BDS, King Shocks, and Titan Fuel Tanks on board with some of the industries top parts, it would seem like the race may be a walk in the park, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The RPM Racing team do things their own way and they do things that many consider crazy while others would call them innovators.
Case in point, a couple of their trucks are running two engines, each driving the front or rear wheels. Now, 4WD in a trophy truck is not a new concept, but it is a concept that has virtually no success. But again, Baja is fickle.
The first RPM Racing truck, driven by Apdaly Lopez took the green flag just after 10 am Thursday morning with nearly 1,200 miles to go. Apdaly put the hammer down but maintained his composure, the remaining three RPM trucks left soon after and all ran well while making up time.
Justin Matney in the second truck, this one being 4WD and powered by two engines, and Apdaly ran almost nose to tail for the first 100 miles chasing the likes of Robby Gordon and Rob MacCachren. The first 250 miles are very familiar to anyone who has raced Baja before as the same routes have been used many times in previous races. While it may be familiar, it does not mean easy.
Those 250 miles are filled with the fastest, slowest, most technical, and dangerous miles of the entire course. Those factors led to nearly every racer having issues of some sort. By race mile 120 Gordon had his first of many issues, after a quick repair he was back on course, but now way behind on time and now having to contend with dust from other racers.
Trouble then hit the RPM team. Justin Matney while pushing hard made the smallest mistake going off course which then led to hitting a pole. The truck while being damaged was able to continue, Justin though had broken his foot.
He was able to continue but was not able to push as he had before and then soon ran into more trouble as a bearing support failed which ripped a hole in one of the engines oil pans which had to be shut off thus making the truck 2WD. Clyde Stacy in another twin-engine RPM truck was having a great drive, he was on pace though he had started back in the pack.
At race mile 492 Andy McMillin, Rob Mac, Luke McMillin, Bryce Menzies, and Apdaly were all running within one minute of each other up front. The physical lead on the course was swapped back and forth, but on time the three were within 10 seconds of one another while Cameron Steele was charging hard and catching them.
Within the next 60 miles, there were a number of shakeups at the front. Both Roc Mac and Andy McMillin had troubles putting them off course and essentially ending their race. With the sun down, the desert even with LED lights became a very dark place.
The next 10 hours would be trying for each and every competitor in the race. The fourth of the RPM drivers, Armin Schwarz while having issues of his own and having to battle through the pack, pushed hard all day and was ran quickly through the night.
Schwarz’s skills and knowledge combined with others having issues put him running 7th at race mile 545. The veteran driver with experience in almost every form of off-road racing including being a factory Toyota driver in the WRC.
The sun finally started to peak at about 6:30 am, while many had issues through the night Apdaly and the RPM team remained focused and unlike many others, they stayed trouble free. Coming to the finish in La Paz, Apdaly was met with tremendous cheers, celebration, and excitement.
“It was a very rough race and the course was very dusty but we are here,” Apdaly said after finishing the race. “Just before the sunset, the fog on the beach was very bad. We have been looking forward to this for a year and everything went as we planned it. Next year we are going to try and win another championship.”
“This win is significant to me because I’ve always dreamed of winning the BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 and to win with my dad is amazing,” Apdaly continued. “Baja is family and my little brother is driving a Class 1, so my whole family is racing in the 1000. My mom was even on the highway chasing for us.”
He had done it, Apdaly and the RPM Racing team had won the 50th running of the SCORE Baja 1000 in 19 hours and 53 minutes, the win also secured the 2017 championship for the young driver. Apdaly has been making a name for himself and is going to be looking to do it all over again during the 2018 season.