Off Road Xtreme has been following the Chinolas Motorsports race team in the days leading up to the 48th Annual SCORE Baja 1000. We have been able to witness what the team does to prepare for such an adventure like the Baja 1000.
Chinolas Motorsports is based out of Ensenada, Baja California. Some may say that being based out of the area where the race happens gives you a home field advantage, but in Baja, no one has an advantage.
We caught up with the team before the start of the race to see the vehicle being ushered off by the team, making its way out of the headquarters. The buggy made the quick drive to the starting line to get in place for the race.
Standing at the starting line we saw the bright lime green paint scheme make its way to the top of the podium and down in front of the green flag. The flags were raised and the number 1075 Class 10 buggy was on its way to the beginning of the roughest terrain in off-road racing.
Making our way with the team to the chase truck, and getting on our way to the first pit, a distress call rang over the radio. The buggy had lost all power only two miles into the race. Roy Rojas, driver of the number two chase truck, took us on the quick route using the strobe on his light bar to get people and vehicles to move out of the way.
After the short drive, we found the vehicle pulled off to the side of the wash that leads racers out of the city. The crowd had almost surrounded the buggy and the other chase truck that was there. The panels came off just like they did the night before to, try and figure out what the problem was.
Being surrounded by people, and not having every tool at the tip of your finger tips, made it difficult to figure out the gremlin. With the help of bystanders the vehicle was pushed out of the wash and towed off the course to a nearby shop.
One benefit of living in Ensenada is knowing where everything is. The downside of pulling the race vehicle off the course is the amount of time that is lost. The diagnosis of the problem was the computer was not receiving power.
A short while after playing around with the wires, the computer received the signal it needed and fired right up. With the help of the local police, traffic was stopped and the buggy got back onto the course.
The first stop, so we thought. Another distress call on the radio alerted that the buggy was now 10 miles out, had the same issue. Navigating the city streets, the rush of chasing an off-road race kicks in. No one cares that you are in the middle of the race, as everyone goes about their business as usual.
Eliseo Garcia said, “We played with the cables and got it going at race mile two, and had to call Turnkey (the company that set the motor up) to figure out what else it could be when the vehicle shut off again at race mile 10. They said to check all the connections. We did that, and found the possible short. Securing it we got the buggy restarted and went racing again.”
One thing that is different between the races in Baja and those in the United States is being able to go where-ever you need to, which includes on the race course. Another difference is the locals who tend to lend a helping hand, and in this case, they helped find the short and get the buggy back on the dirt.
It was then onto the first major pit, which included refueling, in Acámbaro. There are no mandatory pits like the U.S. races; teams can pit whenever and where-ever they would like. The vehicle got everything it needed and was back on the road. The next couple of miles were all pavement and the chase truck we were in followed until the buggy made a right back onto the dirt.
Once the buggy left us it continued heading south to the next visual pit stop, where the race vehicle does not need to stop, but it is more for the team to get a visual and determine if they see anything that requires attention, when the driver and navigator do not.
This pit we headed to the coast near Colonet. By this time the sun had set and the Baja darkness was more than you could imagine. Heading down the dirt road to get to the pit location, the fog became thick to the point you could not see more than 10 yards in front of you. The fog, coupled with the dust made visibility extremely difficult.
No more than 15 minutes after we pulled up next to the race course, the radio went off with the navigator letting us know that they needed rags to clean their visors. Rushing to the chase truck to scavenge for anything that they could use, we found two rags that would work and hustled back to the course.
Standing back on the course, we could hear the 1075 Chinolas Motorsports buggy coming. We flagged it in using flashlights, handed them the rags and they were on their way. This pit was a close call, with the poor visibility the race vehicle almost passed us.
The gremlins would not get any easier as the race progressed. After grabbing some food, a more serious call came in. The buggy had bent both upper control arms, and they were attempting to fix them in San Jacinto with the sound of waves crashing in the background. The team only had one replacement, the driver side’s control arm would need to get bent back into place. “This is true Baja,” Rojas said, as the team used a torch to bend the arm and a tire iron to thread on the hiems.
Not only was the team fighting the issues of the race, but they were now fighting to beat the clock. The next checkpoint was closing in one hour, and missing a check point would mean the end of the race. Rushing to finish fixing the buggy, the team came together with everyone pitching in.
Loctite was added to the last bolts completing the Baja fix, along the coast in the middle of nowhere, at night. Being resourceful with what you have when a situation like this occurs, is what makes off-road racing and in particular racing in Baja so exciting. The buggy had a little over an hour from the time they left before the next check point would close, all they had to do was travel approximately 50 miles in the dark.
Nighttime off-road speeds drop tremendously compared to racing under the sun. It was close, but the buggy radioed that they had made it through the next check point. Hearing the good word we headed through the mountains, cutting across the peninsula to the east side for the next pit at race mile 670.
This was going to be the largest down time of the race. The buggy was originally supposed to head through that area around 4:00 a.m., but with the mechanical failures, that was pushed back to 7:00 am. Extra time meant rest, and the ability to check out some of the other race vehicles coming through.
Making it to San Matias, near the access to Laguna del Diablo near race mile 690, close to midnight allowed us to catch the first Trophy Trucks passing through the sections. The first one to pass us was Adaply Lopez in the number four RPM Offroad Trophy Truck. Standing near the course when the trucks drive by going around 80 mph, is truly exhilarating.
Rob MacCachren and Andy McMillian’s truck passed a few minutes later. Hearing the roar of the motor along with headlights in the distance brings excitement to the teams. The fire pit and cell phone camera flashes were the only things bringing light to pitch black of the Baja desert. It was time to get some sleep as we all knew there was still plenty of race left for the team.
Some people may not like to be awoken earlier than needed, but hearing a Trophy Truck fly by at 6:00 a.m. makes it a little easier. An error in the calculation of the time meant the buggy would be pushed back, allowing more time to check out the vehicles passing during the day.
Packing up camp, the team headed to what would be the last stop of the day. We headed to race mile 670 to set up for another visual pit stop. Sitting there caused the anticipation to build up, waiting to see the race vehicle once again. That anticipation would soon go away as it was radioed in that the buggy had blown the transmission at race mile 600, only 20 miles after the last driver change.
The mood instantly changed in the chase truck, defeat was in the air. Starting driver, Eliseo Garcia said, “It may be time to invest in a better transmission.” Loosing is never something anyone wants, but this is Baja, and things are unpredictable due to the harsh terrain.
It was time to recover the vehicle and head back to Ensenada for some much needed rest. We would like to thank Chinolas Motorsports for the opportunity to ride along with them during this year’s Baja 1000. It was definitely an experience that will not soon be forgotten.