The SCORE World Desert Championship resumes its 2023 campaign this weekend with the 55th edition of the Baja 500, the second-longest (and second-oldest) race on the SCORE calendar. Following a full day of tech inspection on Friday, the race kicks off at 3:30AM local time on Saturday with motorcycle and quad racers, while four-wheel entries will get rolling at 8:15AM. This year’s loop course takes pro racers 473.67 miles from Ensenada and back, with a shorter 440.72-mile loop for sportsman entries.
Last year’s Baja 500 saw Rob MacCachren outduel Broc Dickerson by less than 90 seconds over more than nine hours of racing for the overall win, with Larry Roeseler completing the overall podium. Other major class winners included Jorge Sampietro in Trophy Truck Spec, Shelby Reid in Class 1, Austin Weiland in Pro UTV Forced Induction (posting the fastest time across all UTV classes in the process), and Juan Carlos Salvatierra—whose margin of victory over Forrest Minchinton was just as narrow as MacCachren’s—in Pro Moto Unlimited.
Unfortunately, this year’s race week started on a tragic note when Argentina’s Juan Zunino passed away on Monday afternoon following a pre-running accident. The 28-year-old was scheduled to compete in his second-ever SCORE race on Saturday; he had won the Pro Moto Ironman class on his series debut in the San Felipe 250 in April.
The entry list for Saturday’s action numbers more than 230, with 33 Trophy Trucks and 32 Trophy Truck Spec entries headlining the group. Defending champion Luke McMillin kicked off the season with a comfortable, seven-minute win over Alan Ampudia in San Felipe, with Bryce Menzies completing the podium. All three will be back to go for the win this weekend, but the kind of superteams that normally come together for the season-ending Baja 1000 are already starting with the 500, as MacCachren has been listed as competing with Adam Householder’s #24 on the side of his truck this weekend after a disappointing run in San Felipe.
In the UTV classes, Pro UTV Open and Forced Induction continue to split many of the top drivers, with 20 Open entries all running off the Polaris RZR platform—including the brand’s factory team that runs with the Pro R model—and 22 Forced Induction entries that are mostly Can-Am Mavericks. While the Open cars start first on the road, it was Can-Am’s Rodrigo Ampudia in an FI car that drew first blood in the overall results in San Felipe, beating Open class winner Craig Scanlon’s time by more than six minutes in the season opener. On the bikes, Salvatierra will look to bounce back from a sixth place finish in class at San Felipe, as Ciaran Naran enters with the points lead thanks to a win in that race.
As with the opener in San Felipe, the SCORE website and YouTube channel will carry live coverage from throughout the event, including tech and contingency on Friday and coverage from both the start/finish line and on the race course over the weekend. Following the Baja 500, the 2023 SCORE World Desert Championship returns to Ensenada on September 12-17 for the 4th SCORE Baja 400; Menzies is the defending overall winner of that event.