Off Road

“Cat and mouse” game ends with Luke McMillin scoring San Felipe 250 victory

6 Mins read
Credit: McMillin Racing

The 2022 SCORE International World Desert Championship began in dramatic fashion as the opening San Felipe 250 came down to a matter of minutes. The Trophy Truck class’ Luke McMillin and defending winner Bryce Menzies arrived at the finish together, and McMillin officially took the overall victory by just two minutes.

McMillin, who finished runner-up to Menzies in the 2021 edition and qualified third for Saturday’s race, completed the 277-mile course in four hours, twenty-five minutes, and 20.573 seconds with Jason Duncan at his side. Pole winner Menzies battled with second-fastest qualifier Justin Lofton in the early stages until McMillin passed Lofton and the latter’s engine expired after eighty-eight miles. A downed tyre from hitting a rock and questionable engine performance for Menzies allowed McMillin to close the gap, and the two traded the lead for the rest of the event in what McMillin described as “cat and mouse.” McMillin kept Menzies at bay in the dash to the finish to defeat his time of 4:27:29.269.

Despite the narrow defeat, Menzies described the run as a “solid day. Me and Luke just went back and forth, but he’s on top of his game. We tried everything we could do to track him down, but we also knew that this is qualifying for the Baja 500. Just stoked to back down here in the Malecón.”

The overall win is the 100th in Baja for McMillin’s tyre supplier BFGoodrich, continuing a legacy that began with Bob Gordon winning the company’s first at the 1979 SCORE Mexicali 250. McMillin is now on a three-race streak of podium finishes that includes winning the Baja 1000 as a co-driver to Rob MacCachren last November. MacCachren overcame a sixteenth-place starting spot, which topped off a difficult qualifying day in which his Trophy Truck got beached in very fine silt, to finish fourth.

“We ran clean today. We had no issues, no close calls. We just kept moving all day,” McMillin told the SCORE broadcast. “We picked off Lofton going up north, caught him on some lines, passed him moving which was really cool, and then worked our way right up to Menzies. Got up behind him on the lake bed and they were changing the tyre at the end and we got out front. We were out front for a while and then got to our pit, we had a little hiccup and Menzies got back by us. We were heading to Matomi (close to Route Mile 220) and we got on the high road, and I was probably thirty-eight seconds behind Bryce. I know the game on the high road, so I took it easy and he pulled over right before we got to Matomi, and from there we just drove it in. Amazing.”

Joining McMillin and Menzies on the overall podium was the Trophy Truck of Mike Walser and Jax Redline. The 17-year-old Redline showed impressive pace upon taking over the truck at the RM 126.9 checkpoint, bringing it from fourth to the lead by RM 200 before hitting a tree and blowing a tyre. In spite of the mishap, Redline secured his best SCORE finish to date.

Similar to what happened in Trophy Trucks, Gus Vildósola won the Trophy Truck Legends by two minutes over defending SF 250 winner Rolf Helland. Vildosola’s triumph came despite dealing with a transmission problem throughout. His son Tavo, a TT driver, retired after sixty-four miles.

Trophy Truck Spec saw a duel for the win between Christopher Polvoorde and Christian Sourapas before the latter’s hopes evapourated when his fuel ran out with seventeen miles to go. Sourapas endured a chaotic day prior to his fuel tank going empty as he suffered a pair of tyre flats and ran out of spares, forcing him to slow his pace. Polvoorde was the only driver of the class to record a time below five hours. The reigning Great American Shortcourse Pro Lite champion, he has enjoyed a strong start to 2022 with a win in King of the Hammers’ Toyo Tires Desert Challenge T2 in February.

Credit: Ronny Wilson

Kyle Quinn, who is among a handful of drivers in the racing world with Type 1 diabetes, took the Class 1 victory. Quinn raced alongside Scott Mahelona before handing off the #138 Jimco machine to Ronny Wilson and Craig Darrow, who brought it home with a forty-nine-second advantage over Damen Jefferies after repairing a damaged alternator.

Chase Warren won in Class 10 for the second straight year and third in the last four 250s; the lone non-victory was a runner-up finish in 2019. Warren started at the back but reached the front by halfway and never looked back. Cesar Cuevas, who defeated Warren for the 2019 win, placed second.

Scott Brady secured his first SCORE victory in Class 7 with nearly eighteen minutes over Randy Bluth. His previous best finish was a runner-up in the 2021 Baja 400, while he had finished sixth and last in the class—albeit still running to make Class 7 one of two four-wheel divisions where everyone completed the race in time—in last year’s SF 250.

The Volkswagen Beetles of Class 11 captured many hearts at the Baja 1000 when an astounding eight entrants (over twice as many as the previous best since 2010 of three in 2018) finished. Of the six in San Felipe, three completed the race led by Fernando Prado with defending World Champion Hector Sarabia trailing by forty-one seconds. Eric Solorzano, an eleven-time SF 250 class winner including six in a row from 1999 to 2004, was among the retirements.

Of the four UTV division winners, Wayne Matlock (Pro UTV Open) and Justin Lambert (Pro UTV Forced Induction) set times below seven hours. Matlock, the first UTV racer to win the SCORE overall WDC in 2018, was the highest finishing UTV in forty-fifth overall. 2019 Baja 1000 class winner Lambert rebounded from a retirement in the 2021 250.

The Moto and Quad classes raced an alternate route from the four-wheelers that broke away at RMs 80 and 230 but finished together at El Malecón; four-wheelers faced immediate disqualification if they encroached on the Moto course.

Much like their four-wheeled counterparts, the Moto overall culminated in a close battle separated by two minutes. Pro Moto Unlimited’s Juan Carlos Salvatierra, who claimed three of four legs in the 2021 World Desert Championship‘s Pro Moto Ironman class with a second in San Felipe, barely held off Pro Moto 30’s Jano Montoya as his time of 6:01:34.172 trumped Montoya’s by two minutes and nineteen seconds. Montoya has won Pro Moto 30 in back-to-back SF 250s, while defending Pro Moto Unlimited winner Derek Ausserbauer was third in class.

“This is a project that we started last year, and today we harvest making history,” proclaimed Salvatierra on Instagram. The race did not go without incident for his team as co-rider Shane Logan was involved in a crash that tore the bike’s seat and rear fender off, forcing him to ride a stint without either component. Nevertheless, Logan traded off with Salvatierra, Santiago Creel, and Arturo Salas without further trouble.

Credit: Juan Carlos Salvatierra

Fernando Beltran triumphed in Pro Moto Limited for the second year in a row, while defending SCORE Pro Moto 40 World Desert Champion Ryan Liebelt secured his fifth straight class win after sweeping the 2021 WDC. Liebelt also hit double-digit SCORE victories with his third consecutive SF 250.

In the one-man Pro Ironman divisions, Brandon Wright and Luis Ernesto Villafana respectively won the Moto and Quads. Wright, the defending Pro Moto 40 World Desert Champion as one of Liebelt’s lieutenants before moving to Ironman racing, faced a stiff challenge from Aaron Richardson until the latter crashed on RM 220. Villafana was the reigning Pro Quad co-champion.

The five Sportsman divisions were classified in a separate overall than the rest of the grid. Sportsman Moto rider David Navarro led the overall with a ten-minute, thirty-one-second advantage over fellow classman Filiberto Garcia. A pair of Gonzalezes went 1–2 in Sportsman Quads with Fidel Gonzalez beating Juan Gonzalez by five minutes.

Of the twenty-nine classes, thirteen saw every competitor finish all 277 miles; by comparison, the 2021 race had eight. Baja Challenge boasted the most of the four-wheelers with three (Barry Thompson, Edward Muncey, William Jordan), while Class 7SX was two-for-two with Dario Serrano and Armondo Duron. Three had just one entry that finished: Cesar Gutierrez in Class 3, while Troy Stone and Lawrence Rust respectively did so in 1400 Sportsman Unlimited Truck and Buggy achieved the feat. The remaining eight came in the Moto/Quads led by ten in Sportsman Moto, followed by Pro Quads (seven), Pro Moto Limited and Pro Moto 40 (five), Pro Moto 30 (four), Pro Moto 50 (two: Vance Kennedy and defending Baja 1000 class victor Giovanni Spinali), Pro Moto 60 (one: Scott McIntosh), and Pro Quad Ironman (one: Faelly Lopez).

Four entrants were disqualified. Among the four-wheelers, Steve Allen (Pro UTV Forced Induction) and Fernando Ponce (Class 5 1600) were respectively penalised for cutting the course and an illegal engine. The lone punished rider Jose Lozada (Pro Moto Ironman) had the same infraction as Allen, while Dario Rabago Morales (Sportsman Quads) went backwards on the track.

The second round of the World Desert Championship will be the Baja 500 on 1–5 June. Larry Roeseler, who was one of nine Trophy Trucks to not finish the San Felipe 250, is the defending overall winner.

Class winners

Full results, including overall classification, are available on the SCORE International website.

ClassOverall FinishNumberDriverTime
Baja Challenge132BC1Barry Thompson8:31:48.910*
Class 125138Kyle Quinn5:22:41.971
Class 1/2 16001031626Martin Rangel7:44:06.650
Class 10271088Chase Warren5:27:26.999
Class 111641155Fernando Prado10:28:00.922
Class 3172319Cesar Gutierrez11:44:31.448
Class 5 1600142555Jose Enrique Gutierrez9:12:16.302
Class 744703Scott Brady6:07:58.201*
Class 7F127701FBrandon Walsh8:21:54.298
Class 7SX145744Dario Serrano9:20:52.239
Class 8DNF818Jessalyn SellsN/A
Heavy MetalDNF8044Brett MaisterN/A
Pro Moto 3042325XJano Montoya6:03:53.694*
Pro Moto 4084400XRyan Liebelt7:14:59.160*
Pro Moto 5083522XVance Kennedy7:14:15.742
Pro Moto 60143600XScott McIntosh9:14:04.550*
Pro Moto Ironman87750XBrandon Wright7:21:20.300
Pro Moto Limited72180XFernando Beltran6:51:07.247*
Pro Moto Unlimited4110XJuan Carlos Salvatierra6:01:34.172*
Pro Quad Ironman15683AFaelly Lopez9:47:10.354*
Pro Quads627ALuis Ernesto Villafana6:26:38.395*
Pro Stock UTV1023910Brent Stowell7:43:36.888
Pro UTV Forced Induction492918Justin Lambert6:13:15.198
Pro UTV Non-Aspirated1071957Joe Bolton7:52:12.945*
Pro UTV Open451871Wayne Matlock6:08:50.068
SCORE Lites661216Matt Ferrato6:31:51.945
Trophy Truck183Luke McMillin4:25:20.573
Trophy Truck Legends821LGus Vildósola4:46:43.418
Trophy Truck Spec11204Christopher Polvoorde4:53:34.351
* – Received a time penalty

Sportsman

ClassOverall FinishNumberDriverTime
1400 Sportsman Unlimited Buggy111533Troy Stone8:17:04.085*
1400 Sportsman Unlimited Truck181468Lawrence Rust9:51:14.012
Sportsman Moto1214XDavid Navarro7:07:01.957*
Sportsman Quads4111AFidel Gonzalez7:27:48.117
Sportsman UTV Open161809Jim Borden9:17:00.753
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About author
Justin is a History major at San Jose State University and lifelong racing fan who has worked for The Checkered Flag since 2018. His coverage mainly focuses on NASCAR, the Stadium Super Trucks, and off-road series like Extreme E and SCORE International. He also dabbles in other disciplines such as IndyCar, rallycross, and sports cars.
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