On 12 April, The Checkered Flag sat down with Rodrigo Ampudia to discuss his San Felipe 250 victory and plans for the 2023 SCORE International season and in general.
Below is the full transcript of the interview. Some text has been altered from the actual dialogue to improve readability and remove verbal pauses.
TCF: How much confidence does starting the SCORE season with the win give you and your team going into the Baja 500?
RA: It’s definitely a confidence booster. It’s something that we’ve always felt sure that we could do. It was very exciting to be able to have a plan, execute it, and deliver overall win for Can-Am.
TCF: You started pretty far back into class because of the draw, but what was your strategy throughout the race?
RA: That draw position was on purpose. I wanted to start towards the back but not be the last one, so it worked very well. We were the first car on the road by Mile 69 but we had a pit stop there and that’s when the other car passed us, but we were second car on the road all day. Just ran smooth. Kept within five minutes ahead of us and just stuck to our plan. We were happy with the plan and I feel we have enough experience to be able to come up with a plan, deliver results, and accomplish our goal to win.
TCF: How difficult was the course compared to previous years? I’ve heard a lot of people mention the course being a lot harder than usual.
RA: I feel it’s as hard as it’s always been. San Felipe is always a super hard course. It’s super tough on equipment. This is the first year that I have a race that I don’t have to get out of the car in San Felipe, so that was kind of our goal to, you know, not have to get out of the car, keep going. Unfortunately, we had some issues with the vehicle towards the end but we were able to troubleshoot them from inside the car and keep going. So yeah, we were really excited on our day and the course. San Felipe is always rough.
TCF: Can you break down specifically what the issue was with the car by the end of the race or other part?
RA: I don’t know, something came loose. I don’t know what happened but the car would shut down, the dash, so everything connected to the car’s ECU would turn off basically. It happened four times where the car would just shut off completely and the first time I was like, ‘Oh, it was a… I thought it was an electrical problem.’ But then I realised that the GPS and the radio were on, so I was like, ‘Okay, it’s something with the car’s harness,’ and we figured out a way to troubleshoot it. The first time it took us about three to four minutes to figure it out and get it going, and then after that, we already had a plan and we’d go through the process to fire it back up again and keep going.
TCF: To return to the course a bit, I remember there was a lot of talk about the Mini Summit but they ended up not letting UTVs run it. What were your thoughts on the Summit if you had pre-run it or even on rule change?
RA: The plan at first was it was going… that was a race course, and then they changed it to where there was going be an alternate line. That’s what we ended up racing on.
The night before the race, or the day before the race, they let everyone know that it wasn’t going to be an alternate line. All four-wheel vehicles were going to have to take the alternate route and not go through the Mini Summit. My plan was to go through the Mini Summit the entire time. It was about forty-five minutes faster to go through the Mini Summit, so I was like, ‘I can almost lose an hour there and still be good on time instead of going all the way around.’
My plan was to go through there just to have to drive less miles in the whoops.
TCF: Did you get to go through it during pre-running?
RA: Yeah, I mean pre-running was fine. We went through there three times, and then we went through the bypass lane, we pre-ran it twice. We were ready for either option.
TCF: Looking at the UTV overall, you beat two Polarises to win and by six minutes at that. As a Can-Am driver, how good does it feel to begin the season by beating a rival manufacturer, especially Polaris having a new factory programme this year?
RA: Definitely, I feel very proud of my team, Team Papas and our in-car chassis builder RAMP Side-by-Side. I feel that we have a solid platform and we’re there to capitalise on their mistakes. It came down to time and penalties, but whoever comes up at the end, if you win by a minute or a mile, winning’s winning, and we’ll take the win over all our rivals with the new factory teams and also the competitors in our class. The class was heavy. We were running in second place on corrected time for most of the race. Our plan was to have a solid car towards the end and push if we had to, and that’s what we did and we came up on top, so we’re really happy with the result.
TCF: I feel like UTV racing is getting bigger and more competitive each year. What are your thoughts on how it’s grown and what the future holds for it?
RA: It’s exciting. The more competitors the better. I know a lot of people look for the weaker classes, and I want to race against the best in the world and I want to prove that our Can-Am programme, our builders, and our partners are the best in the industry and that we have what it takes to win. We delivered on the first weekend and our plan is to keep delivering on that same page.
TCF: Combined with your win and then your brother Alan (Ampudia) finishing second in Trophy Trucks, how big of a day would you consider that for your family as a whole?
RA: It was really good day. Our first race with the Mason all-wheel drive truck, it was definitely nerve wracking. We had quite a bit of things going on with the Trophy Truck programme coming up to this race. My dad was just happy the car finished and to be on the podium, it just made it extra special. To finish in the Can-Am, I’ve never finished the San Felipe race without issues, so to be able to finish without an issue, finish on the podium, get the UTV overall, it was the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. It made it extra special. The spirit of the team is extra motivated, we know we have what it takes to win and we’re working harder to improve on the little things that we know we can make better.
TCF: For this race, your UTV had a Ken Block tribute livery. How did that idea come about and how special was it to win in it?
RA: Since he passed away, we were heartbroken. There were plans to race with him in the Baja 1000, for him and Alan to race the Trophy Truck. I’ve had a very, very nice relationship with his family, his wife. When I was at his service, I had a conversation with his wife and she’s like, “Just send it, you know, like I want you to go for it.” And I was like, “Alright, we’re going to go for it, but we’re going to do a tribute. We’re going to have, we’re going to tribute his legacy, his honour, what he’s done with motorsports.”
I was only going to do it for the King of the Hammers race, but after not being so successful, I was like, ‘You know what, we’re going to bring this to SCORE. We’re going to have the Mexico fans be able to see the car that, for me, looks amazing, and we’re going to pay tribute to his legacy, putting it up top.’ And that was what we ended up doing.
It was very special. I hope I made the Block family proud. Their foundation and everything that Ken Block has left for us, we’re definitely going to keep paying tribute to him and keep honouring his legacy.
TCF: Do you plan on running that for the rest of the season or do you have anything else planned?
RA: I’ve been debating it. I’ve been thinking of just adding Ken Block golden stickers to the car every win we get or doing Ken Block-inspired liveries with more of my colours. I’ve been debating it. I really like how the car looks.
I don’t know, maybe we just keep adding golden Ken Block stickers to every race we win.
TCF: Looking ahead, what are your plans and goals for this year? Like, what else do you plan on doing besides SCORE?
RA: We’re doing quite a bit of stuff outside of racing with Can-Am, and coming right up, we’re doing a TV show with a Mexican network that they want to come visit Baja and take him on a ride through Baja and see those hidden spots and get to know more about our sport. And then we’re going to do Trail of Missions with Cameron Steele, so that’s kind of what’s coming up right now and hopefully we can. I have some personal video projects that I’d like to be able to accomplish this year as well.
So yeah, we have quite a bit on our table and it’s just a matter of attacking one by one and and just just having fun in our Can-Ams. It’s such a fun platform to run. I spent so many miles in a bone-stock car that just, to me, it’s the ultimate weekend fun-haver, go-getter.
TCF: It’s probably a little too early to think about all that, but what about the Baja 1000? Do you plan on perhaps teaming up with Austin Jones again? Or do you have anyone else in mind?
RA: Definitely Austin Jones is out of the question since he went to Red Bull. I mean, it was awesome racing with South Racing, I definitely learned a lot hanging out with that team. It’s the biggest Can-Am factory international team in the world, so I definitely went with open eyes and open mind of learning and seeing what they have and being able to spend quite a bit of time in that car. I feel I learned quite a bit as well, so it was really exciting and hopefully we can come up with a plan for the Baja 1000.
As of right now we don’t have any plans of running the Baja 1000.
TCF: Speaking of Red Bull, of course with them switching to Can-Am this year, how exciting is it for you and for Cam-Am in general to be seeing like this sort of expanded programme in international rally raid for them?
RA: I mean, I’m a Monster athlete so he’s a rival now. I feel that we have a very good Monster Energy Side-by-Side Can-Am team with the individual racers, so hopefully we can get together with Dustin Jones and Phil Blurton and (Matt) Burroughs, maybe do some more stuff with Monster Energy that’s always been a leader in this side of the world and in off-road racing.
TCF: Before we wrap this up, is there anything else you’d like to add?
RA: I’m just super excited about how we’ve been starting this season. Excited with our new partnership with KMC Wheels and hopefully we’re able to see everyone down in Baja desert having fun on the weekends and supporting us on race day.