It started with a challenge from a friend. It ended with him becoming a legend.
Wouter-jan Van Dijk, a Dutchman who lives in Australia, was talking with his buddy Shane Moss about racing the 2023 Baja 1000 when Moss, who ran the 2019 edition, suggested to try it solo in the Pro Moto Ironman class. Despite having no prior SCORE International experience, Van Dijk took him up on the offer. Over forty-eight hours of traversing the Baja California desert and other misadventures, he finally completed the race just past midnight on Saturday in easily the biggest story of the week.
“My mate’s done it before in 2019. We were planning to do it again and maybe doing it with a team, then he said, ‘Why don’t you do it Ironman if you can? You reckon you can?’,” recalled Van Dijk. “I was like, ‘I guess I can.’ That started the ball rolling. I think that was six months ago. Just trying to make it happened and planned it—sort of, not too much, and it worked out in the end.”
How it all transpired was a series of events that exemplified classic desert racing. Van Dijk primarily hails from an enduro background, competing in events like Red Bull Romaniacs, and had never raced in Baja when he accepted the gauntlet thrown down by Moss. A month before the 1000, he reached out on social media to parties like the Pro Moto Baja Racing Facebook group inquiring about shipping tyres to La Paz, where the race was to begin, writing that he will “be doing the trip down slowly on a bike and then prep the bike while I’m down there. Anyone that comes trough San Diego might be useful. It shouldn’t be much stuff just a set of tires probably and [mousses].”
After arriving in San Diego, he purchased a used and unbadged KTM EXC 500 bike off Craiglist, upon which he scrawled his number #741X on the front and side by hand. Van Dijk and Moss brought the bike across the border into Mexico and to the southern tip of Baja California, carrying with them the bare necessities to race in saddle bags. Although the bike was intact while in San Diego, they discovered the subframe broke on the way to La Paz, which he surmised occurred due to the weight of their luggage. SCORE required him to make the necessary repairs along with other safety changes before the bike could pass contingency, which he achieved with the help of friends and contacts he made there.
With everything squared away, Van Dijk took off in the early hours on Thursday. Although he had not pre-run the course beforehand and did not have a GPS on his bike, he quickly made his presence felt when he set the fastest time among Pro Moto Ironman riders through the first physical checkpoint 233 miles in. By the second waypoint at RM 599, his time was second quickest and just a minute behind eventual class champion Edgar Cota. Cota built some distance on Van Dijk by Checkpoint #3 at RM 922, though the latter was still setting top-five times.
While he did not have team-mates to share the bike with for the full 1,310 miles, he still found his supporters in unusual places as locals and other teams happily lent their assistance such as food. He stopped by OXXO convenience stores to replenish himself, and at one point even crashed at a pit area for a snack of tacos before rejoining the race.
As the race continued into the late hours, his bike began to take a beating. His Stella navigation system snapped off after he tried to adjust the brackets connecting it to the vehicle, which had been hastily put on to make the race, causing it to come off. His front bike rim was also cracked, forcing him to limp along to the final pit with less than a hundred miles to go. Van Dijk credited those working the pit with cobbling together the broken pieces with zip ties, a common and affordable tactic for motorcycle tyres in place of a full replacement.
“I didn’t even know they were doing it,” he admitted. “I stopped somewhere to check where my mate was, if we meant to meet there, I wasn’t really on point with that. I went to the map to look at it, and before I knew it, they filled the tank and started zip tying the wheel and all over the bike.”
Back on the road, he simply needed to reach the finish in Ensenada before his fifty-hour time limit expired at 2:27 AM. He ended up doing so with more than enough time to spare, setting a final time of 48:27:03 (he received thirteen minutes and eighteen seconds in time penalties for speeding and missing Virtual Checkpoints) and good for seventh of nine finishers in Pro Moto Ironman.
“It is definitely a challenge and especially being awake that long,” Van Dijk commented. “You just get a bit weird riding and doing everything. I’ve been half a zombie for the last five hours and in the last bit I woke up and was like, ‘If I want to finish, I need to put some bearings on it because otherwise I’m probably not going to make it.’ Luckily, the rain stopped for a bit and I could ride a bit faster. I’m happy I made it in the end. […]
“Thanks to Shane for being there all the time. Without him, I wouldn’t have done it. I probably wouldn’t have been in Baja.”