Off Road

PREVIEW: 2024 SCORE World Desert Championship – Baja 500

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Credit: Art Eugenio/Red Bull Content Pool

The solstice typically marks the beginning of summer unless you’re a desert racer, in which case the Baja 500 will do that. The 56th edition, once again the second round of the SCORE International World Desert Championship, kicks off Thursday with qualifying followed by race day on Saturday.

Bryce Menzies and Arturo Salas Jr. enter as the defending four- and two-wheel winners, respectively.

The Course

Once again, the race will be a single loop starting and ending in Ensenada. At 483.06 miles (464.64 of which is timed), it is ten miles longer than the course used in 2023 but maintains a similar design.

Two physical checkpoints will be located at Race Miles 245.64 and 354.71 that mandate speed limits of 37 and 65 mph, respectively.

The Sportsman course will be 456.91 miles (438.49 mi timed) with bypasses RMm 76.59 and 275.42. Pro Moto Adventure, a new class for rally raid bikes, will take both shortcuts as well.

Racing begins at 2:30 AM for bikes while the first Four-Wheeler takes off at 6:15 AM. The early start is intended to allow for cooler weather in the morning before the summer heat arrives as the day progresses. Teams will have twenty hours to complete the race.

Credit: SCORE International

The Grid

Perhaps the biggest absence from the grid is reigning bike champion Juan Carlos Salvatierra and his #1X team, in response to their disqualification from the season-opening San Felipe 250 in April.

“After being disqualified and not receiving points in Baja San Felipe 250 2024, our chances of defending the championship were eliminated,” reads a statement from Salvatierra. “We hope to be part of the World Desert Championship again, as long as the rules, communication and actions are clear and equal for everyone by SCORE.”

While Salvatierra and many of the top bike teams were disqualified, Salas and Carter Klein escaped San Felipe unscathed with the bike win, and will look to repeat in the 500.

Teenagers and best friends Austin Farley and Jack Miller will make their Pro Moto Unlimited débuts on the #44X Husqvarna. Both are Best In The Desert regulars while Miller is new to SCORE, whereas Farley returns for the first time in two years after skipping 2023 to focus on university. Another SCORE returnee comes back after an even longer absence as Armando Carrasco will run his first SCORE race since the 2002 Baja 1000 on Steve McQuerry‘s #643X Pro Moto 60 Beta.

2021 500 bike winner Jason Alosi was supposed to race alongside Travis Flateau, but will watch from the sidelines instead after suffering a C6 spine fracture in an accident.

Offshore powerboat racer Nigel Hook will share the #1888 Pro UTV Open with Roger Norman. A week later, Norman will enter his first powerboat race at the Ocean Cup’s Gateway Marathon in Florida. Ronnie Anderson enters his first SCORE event of the year, less than three months removed from his first desert win at the Mint 400 in March, in the class.

Cayden MacCachren, who spoke with The Checkered Flag shortly after being the top UTV in San Felipe, headlines the vehicles for the 500 alongside his Polaris Factory Racing colleagues Brock Heger and Max Eddy Jr.

Diego Blas, the 2023 South American Rally Race T3.2 winner and reigning Campeonato Argentino de Rally y Navegación UTV champion, will pass up his native Argentina’s Desafío Ruta 40 in favour of entering the Baja 500. He will share the #2890 Can-Am in Pro UTV FI with Dakar Rally alumnus Brad Salazar.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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