Off Road

Rob MacCachren, Juan Carlos Salvatierra win brutal Baja 500

6 Mins read
Credit: BFGoodrich

Before race day, the 54th SCORE International Baja 500 was regarded as a challenging and technical circuit in both design and atmosphere, owing to the inland-exclusive layout with no coastal run. Fears of not finishing—for a litany of reasons beyond weather—were realised for many as attrition and other misfortunes eliminated many front-runners including Four-Wheeler pole sitter Luke McMillin.

As the competiton around him dropped out, Rob MacCachren drove off to his third Baja 500 victory in the Four-Wheel category. San Felipe 250 Bikes winner Juan Carlos Salvatierra won his division’s race to start the 2022 SCORE World Desert Championship two-for-two.

Previously winning in 1996 and 2018, MacCachren secured victory #3 with a total time of nine hours, twenty-two minutes, and forty-seven seconds. Broc Dickerson placed second among the Four-Wheelers with a two-minute deficit to claim his maiden SCORE podium. Trophy Trucks occupied the top twelve overall positions, ending with Trophy Truck Legends winner Gus Vildósola. Defending 500 winner Larry Roeseler, making his fiftieth career start in the event, joined MacCachren and Dickerson on the podium.

The triumph caps off a strong day for MacCachren, in stark contrast to his Trophy Truck rivals San Felipe winner McMillin, Bryce Menzies, and Mike Walser. Although McMillin and Menzies were the early favourites, the latter’s engine expired after eighty-five miles; Menzies’ Red Bull compatriot Andy McMillin also suffered a blown motor. Andy’s cousin Luke would lose the lead after his steering box failed (a problem that also plagued other Mason-built trucks like Walser’s), but was able to salvage a sixth-place finish.

“Just kind of picked our way through it with experience and had great pit stops and had no issues, and everything went good,” MacCachren commented.

Salvatierra of Pro Moto Unlimited dominated the Moto/Quad race from start to finish, starting on the pole and not losing the lead at any point as he set a total time of 11:02:33. Forrest Minchinton provided the biggest challenge to the Bolivian, but fell short by less than two minutes at 11:04:04.

“Thanks to all of BOLIVIA for trusting my team and me today we managed to finish the race achieving a VICTORY,” Salvatierra posted on social media. “First Latin American team to achieve a victory in the Baja500. Making history for BOLIVIA AND LATIN AMERICA.”

Outside the bigger names, the 261-strong grid was riddled with wrecks, retirements, or worse. Even before race day, various driver and rider changes occurred like Andy McMillin replacing Eric Hustead in the #38 entry after Hustead could not make it to Baja for personal reasons, Class 7F’s Justin Park being substituted out for Todd Fasching due to illness, and Vildósola’s son and support crew member Tavo Vildósola testing positive for COVID-19.

The #6 Trophy Truck of Dan Myers was stopped at RM 102 after his co-driver exhibited heat exhaustion symptoms that necessitated a helicopter evacuation, and said navigator has since recovered. Nevertheless, the situation resulted in a bottleneck that saw those like John McNeil‘s Trophy Truck Spec get beached in a ditch.

Elsewhere, Pro Moto racers James Avery and Jacob Nieder were caught in crashes that led to hospitalisation, while Pro Moto Limited rider Christopher Gil was involved in an especially horrific accident where he fell off his bike and his (helmeted) head was run over by the Pro Quad of Steven López. All three were not seriously hurt and Gil eventually rejoined the race before finishing second in his class; Gil and López have since made amends. Class 1 racer Ryan Hancock‘s car was hit head-on by an non-race vehicle going backwards on the course, though also with no injuries. Of grave concern was an incident near the BFGoodrich pit area at RM 145 where three spectators were hit by a Trophy Truck Spec that was trying to find a line unobstructed by dust. The three injured, which reportedly included children, were airlifted to hospital. The Sportsman categories was not entirely clean either, as RM 90 saw the #245X Moto of Brian Wipperman crash with the #104A Quad of Juan Pablo Gonzalez, resulting in head injuries to Wipperman and a broken kneecap for Gonzalez.

As the hours progressed into the night, many drivers were sent off course or into plants and trenches such as the TT Spec of Carlos Ibarra and Pro UTV Stock of Justin Smith, leading to chase crews being summoned to extract them. The dry lakebed on RM 430 was the site of a massive logjam following Brad Wilson‘s rollover, and Walser’s race fell apart when his team’s truck broke down here, leading to a lengthy delay for repairs before resuming; the Walser/Jax Redline duo would finish fifteenth in class. To aid those caught in bottlenecks or reward helpers during emergencies in said conditions, SCORE issued twenty-two time credits, with Christian Sourapas, Jordan Brenthel, and Gary Magness getting credits of over an hour long to erase the delay from their total times.

Amid the turmoil faced by some, others were more fortunate. The #299 Trophy Truck Spec of Charles Dorrance and Larry Job lost its body and obscured the former’s vision during a run across a dry lakebed, while the latter had to drive with a damaged brake line in a moment he quipped caused his eyes to be “this big [creates large circles with hands around eyes], I was scared, I was thinking about my mom.” Despite the tumultuous day, the entry was able to finish.

Credit: Juan Carlos Salvatierra

Other class champions included Shelby Reid (Class 1), Dan Chamlee (Class 7), Armando Durón (Class 7SX), and Alex Gonzales (Class 11). Kyle Quinn was the first Class 1 to reach the finish like in San Felipe, but a thirty-minute penalty for Virtual Checkpoint infractions relegated him to third. Durón dedicated the victory to his five-year-old son Favian, who is battling lymphoma cancer. Gonzales previously won the 500 in 2021, and this year’s win meant the Beetles achieved back-to-back finishes in the event for the first time since 2016/17 with Noe Gutierrez and Pancho Bio. Chamlee’s victory snaps a four-year win streak by Jeff Proctor in the 500 as Proctor’s gearbox failed. Despite Proctor’s exit, his Honda Factory Racing team still secured a class win in Pro UTV Naturally Aspirated with Zach Sizelove.

Three entrants were disqualified, most notably Class 10 driver Chase Warren; Warren explained in a Race-DeZert.com forum comment he had already retired from the race and went to drop off his transponder via his vehicle, which SCORE ruled as him cutting the course. He remarked that it “[w]ould have been nice if they just wrote dnf but doesn’t matter”, while adding that only rewarding a fraction of those caught in the congestion (“19 out of the 100 cars in it”) with time credits made “absolutely no sense”. Also disqualified were Karl Edbrup (TT Spec) and Oliver Gamez (Pro Moto Unlimited) for course violations.

Warren’s sentiment about the supposedly arbitrary nature of the time credits was shared by Branden Sims, who physically finished second in the Pro UTV Forced Induction class but was relegated to third in the official results as Brandon Schueler got a twenty-five-minute time credit for the bottleneck. Sims denounced the credit assignments as the sanctioning body “randomly pick(ing) and [choosing] which vehicles received a ‘time credit’ for sitting in an emergency situation logjam where over 50+ vehicles were stuck not able to do anything except sit and wait. Some teams received a time credit for this and others did not, feels like I was penalized without doing anything wrong. […] This will be my last race with @scoreinternational if they don’t fix this issue, I work too hard to be robbed of the position my team and I earned.”

In the Sportsman division, Baja 500 newcomer Chael Pável Avilez Urcadiz of the Sportsman Moto class edged out Eduardo Larios by one minute and five seconds for the overall. While Moto and Quads made up the bulk of the field, the UTV duo of Gerard Kelly and Dave Miller were respectively the last running entry and a retiree. Jorge Rivas Jr. (Sportsman Quad) suffered a disqualification for using an illegal road.

The third leg of the 2022 World Desert Championship is the Baja 400 on 13–18 September.

Class winners

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

ClassOverall FinishNumberDriver of RecordTime
Baja Challenge108BC4Edward Muncey15:08:27.313*
Class 114168Shelby Reid10:36:35.504
Class 1/2-1600771616Eli Yee13:30:18.369*
Class 10241006Stan Potter11:01:01.079*
Class 111451100Alex Gonzales18:13:26.054
Class 3DNF319Cesar GutierrezN/A
Class 5104507Ramon Fernandez14:54:23.657*
Class 5-1600124558Luis Herrera16:00:27.720
Class 779700Dan Chamlee13:32:45.954*
Class 7FDNF714FTodd FaschingN/A
Class 7SX157740Armondo Duron19:46:01.983*
Class 8107818Jessalyn Sells14:57:40.201
Heavy MetalDNF8044Brett MaisterN/A
Pro Moto 3031325XJano Montoya11:23:52.891*
Pro Moto 4041400XRyan Liebelt11:53:34.198*
Pro Moto 5057500XGiovanni Spinali12:43:29.593
Pro Moto 6087649XGuy Laycraft13:47:52.092*
Pro Moto Ironman84739XAaron Richardson13:45:36.051*
Pro Moto Limited32180XFernando Beltran11:27:01.191*
Pro Moto Unlimited2510XJuan Carlos Salvatierra11:02:33.012*
Pro Quad Ironman14883AFaelly Lopez18:35:45.927*
Pro Quads3910ASaid Sanchez11:50:11.942*
Pro Stock UTV893919Anibal Lopez13:55:18.402*
Pro UTV Forced Induction402954Austin Weiland11:50:59.667
Pro UTV Naturally Aspirated561925Zach Sizelove12:42:46.729
Pro UTV Open1011867Mike Pratt14:46:54.290*
SCORE Lites461203Oliver Flemate12:02:43.327*
Stock FullDNF8103John MarshallN/A
Trophy Truck11Rob MacCachren9:22:47.163
Trophy Truck Legends1221LGus Vildósola10:30:07.699*
Trophy Truck Spec13297Jorge Sampietro10:34:34.390*
* – Received a time penalty

Sportsman

ClassOverall FinishNumberDriver of RecordTime
Sportsman Moto1246XChael Pável Avilez Urcadiz12:21:11.167*
Sportsman Quads5111AFidel Gonzalez12:45:18.999*
Sportsman UTV Open171805Gerard Kelly15:35:51.148*
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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