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2013 Mexican 500

Race Day 1 - Saturday September 28, 2013

It's time to race!

Day 1 would have the NORRA cars and NORRA bikes take different routes for the first part of the course. The cars would begin in Ensenada with a liaison (paved) route to Santo Tomas to begin their first special which would head to the coast, go through Erindira, San Vincente, and head to Valle de Trinidad. Then they would liaison north on Hwy 3 to run the same second special as the bikes.

Here's the bike course...

As it turns out, only 5 bikes entered and only 3 showed up to race.

Octavio (Chivo) Valle is a professional off-road and enduro racer. He won the 2012 NORRA Mexican 1000. He's a 3-time Mexican National Enduro Champion. He's medaled the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) four times. He finished the 2010 Dakar Rally (51st overall) and is entered in the 2014 Dakar. He's a hell of a good racer, and an extremely nice and personable guy.

Tibi Imbuzan is not a professional, but he's another fast guy. He's raced several SCORE Baja races, including soloing the Baja 1000 more than once. Originally from Hungary, he's also a very friendly person.

And then there's me - total amateur, old and out of shape, but I do like to ride fast.

Anyways, it was a joy to race and hang out with both Octavio and Tibi.

The bikes needed to travel east to just before Ojos Negros to begin the first Special of about 30 miles, and then have a very short liaison to begin the second special of about 120 miles.

It turns out the first day of the NORRA 500 is not a typical NORRA race course. Although the NORRA Specials (racing stages) often share some of the SCORE Baja race course, NORRA courses typically avoid the most technical sections as NORRA caters to both vintage race vehicles, as well as modern machinery. But the Day 1 course for this race is being shared with the CODE Mexicana Logistics 300 - an all-out Baja race (similar to a SCORE Baja Race) - with an extremely technical and rough course.

My race bike is a Husaberg 570 built to be a Rally Bike (similar to a Dakar bike).

Rally bikes are typically meant for a faster, less technical course. In other words, they're really not intended for big whoops. My bike can carry over 8 gallons, and that's a lot of weight for large whoops or large jumps, so part of what I need to do (especially in technical sections) is take care of the bike - you can't finish if the bike breaks.

Anyways, it's an early start to Race Day 1. We need to be out to the start of the first Special by about 6am, with racing schedule to start at 6:30am. We're up very early (I forget what time, but I think around 4:30), and leaving Ensenada by 5:30am.

Getting the chase truck loaded and ready to roll...

Then we head east towards Ojos Negros. I ride my race bike out, and Cory and Joel head out in the chase trucks. It was dark leaving Ensenada, but starting to get light by the time we reach the starting area.

After arriving at the start, it's time for last minute prep and get ready for racing.

While Cory, Joel and Chris were making sure the bike was ready, I'm eating powerbars and energy gels...

The CODE race bikes were schedule to lead off, followed by the 3 NORRA race bikes, followed by the CODE ATVs, and then three hours later the CODE race cars, buggies, and trucks. CODE is an off-road racing organization that organizes races in Baja California (very similar to SCORE). They run bikes, ATVs, Cars, Buggies, Trophy Trucks, etc. in races similar to the Baja 500 or Baja 1000 (all-out off-road races).

CODE has the supporting organization that helps NORRA man a lot of the checkpoints used in their races. For example, virtually all checkpoints in the NORRA Mexican 1000 held this last April/May were manned by CODE personnel.

For the recent NORRA Mexican 500, CODE ran their Mexicana Logistics 300 race on Day 1 of the NORRA rally. So the NORRA bikes ran the same course as the CODE race (except for about an extra 30 miles at the end of the course that NORRA didn't run). The NORRA cars ran a separate first Special, but did run the same second Special as the bikes.

Organizationally it probably made sense for NORRA to share the course, but it made the 1st day's course for NORRA much more rough and technical than is typical for a NORRA race. - as I mentioned it suited a lightweight racing bike much more than my heavy rally bike. But NORRA is dependent on the support from CODE, and the CODE workers did a great job throughout the NORRA 3-Day Rally in manning checkpoints and assisting NORRA with the race logistics.

Getting psyched for the start...

Here's Octavio Valle ready to race...

Final prep and getting the start times entered by the race officials...

Octavio races off...

I'm next - one minute after Octavio...

You can tell that the course was going to be a bit dust and silty. But the initial short straight that I could see (maybe 200 to 300 yards) looked relatively flat, so I go ahead and try to haul a$$. Probably got up to about 60mph or so, and the course makes a right turn, and then I spot the sudden 3 foot deep whoops! Had no idea they were coming up, and all of a sudden I'm flying through the air and trying to negotiate the whoops at way too fast of speed. I know I gave the spectators in that area quite a show, but I kept it on two wheels - and realized I'm going to be taking my Rally bike on a very tough race course!!!

So within few hundred yards of the start, I'm flying through the air trying to survive a set of 3 foot deep whoops that totally caught me off guard. The first Special Stage for the bikes is about 30 miles. Turns out to be one very whooped out, and very silty course.

NORRA provided the road book in roll chart form for the bikes - which was great as it means we didn't have to spend time taping pages together out of the car-style roadbook to fit in our road book holders. NORRA used the new Rally Navigator software to create the roadbooks, and it worked out very well. Except, they didn't get around to marking any hazards. Thankfully, they're going to correct that for next time, but it led to some very scary moments at times - especially when you're on a bike. Racing at speed, and then coming up on a sudden washout, or deep whoops, or some other hazard can be dangerous on bikes.

Anyways, I survived the first set of deep whoops, and started riding pretty well. I hit one very steep downhill sandy turn, and dropped the bike. No big deal, I was up and riding again before anyone else caught up to me (which would have been either Tibi who started one minute behind me, or the CODE ATV racers starting behind Tibi).

Here's Tibi at the start...

Hit some more whoop sections, that I was more careful riding through and a few rocky sections. Then hit some silt sections. I've ridden in silt before, but it's always exciting. The silt has a certain color to it, so you kind of know when it's coming but you never know how deep it's going to be. Some of the silt sections were not too deep, you just ride into it and are instantly surrounded by a cloud of dust. But there were a few silt holes that were probably about 4 feet deep - you hit the hole and have no choice but to try and motor on through not being able to see exactly where it leads and definitely not what might be hiding in the holes. The Rally Berg handled it pretty well though.

About 1/2 way through the special, the first of the CODE ATVs started to pass me. Some of those guys just haul a$$! We gave each other plenty of room to pass, but now I'm riding in dust and silt that just hangs in the air.

Following one ATV into a silt hole, I again dumped the bike. But turned around and there was Tibi, who had just caught up to me and helped me lift the Rally Berg back up (Thanks Tibi). By this point in the course, the whoop sections had pretty much stopped, but there was still plenty of silt sections to get through.

The course routes back up to Hwy 3, but then is supposed to head east on some dirt tracks just off the side of the highway for a few miles before the end of the Special. Coming up to the highway, I see my crew waiting there and so I stop (but the end of Special is actually a few miles away). It's a little confusing and I probably lose a minute or two figuring out that I'm still supposed to be racing, and head back on track and telling my crew to meet me down the highway at the actual end of the Special.

The first special was a pretty tough beginning - just rougher technically than I expected, and much more suited to a race bike setup then a rally bike setup. Octavio, being the talented rider he is, flew through the course in 52 minutes, Tibi finished in 1:05, and I finished in 1:11. All in all, I felt pretty good with my ride through a rough course.

My pit crew showed up just a few minutes behind me at the end of the Special, and started checking out the bike and filling with gas for the next Special. Turns out all of the bolts holding my rear Safari gas tank were loose; and one of the bolts holding on the exhaust can was missing, and the other was completely loose and just hanging in the hole. Red locktite to the rescue!

A few pics from the stage...

So I made it through the first Special of the day in relatively good shape. It was tough, but the Rally Berg handled it well. My crew took care of the loose rear gas tank and exhaust, checked out the rest of the bike, and we added a bit more fuel just to be sure.

This was at the end of the 1st Special...

The next Special is about 120 miles, taking off from Hwy 3 around San Salvador and heading east into the pine forest. Then it crossed the mountain range to drop into the south end of Laguna Salada, and then heads north towards Hwy 2 (in between La Rumorosa and Mexicali). Unfortunately, there's no easy way for my support trucks to meet me anywhere along the way. Joel had actually left the start area to proceed directly to the end of the 2nd Special. Cory and Chris left from the end of the first Special to also get to the end of the 2nd Special. They had to backtrack all the way to Ensenada, then head north on the cutoff to Tecate, and then east on Hwy 2.

I've ridden a fair amount in Northern Baja, but other than the northern part of Laguna Salada I was completely unfamiliar with today's course. The first short Special had clearly caught me a little bit off guard, and was rougher than I expected. I wasn't sure what to expect for the 2nd Special, or how we were going to get across the mountain range because I wasn't aware of any roads over the mountains in the area we were crossing.

But about the first 30 miles of the 2nd Special were fantastic. Primarily over local farming roads, the course rose into the pine forests, and it was really pretty. NORRA and CODE had also graded a few miles of brand new road that the course ran over; and there was a little 2-track mixed in. This was perfect for the Rally Berg, and I was riding well and I think making pretty good time.

Towards the top of the mountain range, it got a bit rockier but not bad at all. I was feeling pretty good at this point, and then it turned into 15 miles of hell. Although the west side of the mountain range had been pretty easy to go up, going down the east side was the complete opposite. It was a long, very rocky downhill run that just kept going and going. Lots of curves, steep drop-offs, and extremely rocky. Oh, and there were a few rocky uphill sections to get through as well.

Due to the curves (and the rocks), I had to go fairly slow. That meant a lot of clutch and front brake in order to keep my heavy Rally Berg from picking up too much speed; and I started to get severe arm pump before too long. I came to one of the uphill climbs - not super long, but with a very loose surface covered by small boulders. About 1/2 way up, I got a bit out of shape, and ended up getting turned into the side of the hill (which was better than getting turned towards the cliff drop-off). But it was a steep section, and as I tried to maintain by balance my downhill leg just couldn't reach and I dropped it. So now the bike is on the ground, with the wheels on the upside of the trail and the bars on the downside. $hit! It's tough enough to pick up the Rally Berg, but super tough in this situation. Luckily, a CODE ATV rider came along and helped me get it back on 2 wheels and pointing up hill. It was a little tricky getting going again on the loose uphill surface, but I did.

Now it is surprising how much energy you lose during a fall, even just a little tip-over that I had just had. It seems to me that even a little fall probably robs me of as much energy as 3 hours of riding. Nevertheless, I continue on but can tell I'm getting tired, my arms are aching from arm pump, and I'm just not riding as well as I should. And the course just keeps going down, and down - more slow corners, rocks frickin' everywhere, and steep drop-offs that I'm trying not to look at.

Due to the arm pump, I'm finding myself stopping about every 1/4 mile to a 1/2 mile for awhile, to try and rest, relax and drink some water. This downhill is just beating me up! But knowing that eventually the CODE and NORRA race cars and trucks are behind me, I also know that I got to keep going. I don't want to be caught by them. I come to another uphill section, and I think this is the one that was mentioned in the rider's meeting as being a potential tough section. It was a very steep section of granite outcroppings, with some steps and boulders scattered across it. Lucklily I cleaned that section without a problem, and then continue the long rocky downhill.

I had one more tip-over about 3/4 of the way through this long downhill. By now I'm stopping pretty frequently trying to get over my arm pump. Then come to one section where the cliff had washed out, and it looks like an Enduro-cross boulder field. It wasn't a long section, but I didn't want to take any chances and just got off the bike and walked it through that section.

If you're familiar with Death Valley, this long downhill is like 15 miles of Lippincott (only about twice as rough). I finally made it to the end, and was never so happy to see a nice sand wash to ride. I stopped at the bottom for probably at least 5-10 minutes just trying to recoup my energy. I'm sure that I had probably wasted much more than an hour on stops to rest during this damn downhill; but I didn't want to take any chances because finishing is the goal.

Then it was time to start racing again. Now it was mainly sand washes and dirt roads. It took me probably around 10-15 minutes of riding before I was in form again, and then I was riding pretty well. I really do like the higher speed riding. I started to pass a lot of pits that had been set-up in the middle of nowhere that were waiting for the race cars and trucks to come through.

There were a few deep whoop sections and a little bit of cross country riding to get through, and then finally onto a fairly flat road that led into the finish.

I think the NORRA and CODE officials were as happy to see me as I was to see them. I think they were getting concerned that the cars/trucks might catch up to me.

About all I could say to them was that was a bitch of a course for the Rally Bike! But I finished, and I knew the course for the next 2 days would fit me a bit better.

Octavio was flying again through this Special. Here he is at the finish...

Octavio finished the 2nd Special in 3 hours and 25 minutes. Tibi finished in 4 hours and 19 minutes. And I finished in 5 hours and 6 minutes. Although not particularly happy with my overall time, my moving average was actually pretty good (just a few mph slower than Octavio), but my many rest stops on the long downhill had definitely affected my result.

That finished the racing for the day, but I still had to finish the liaison stage and reach the final checkpoint in Mexicali. So after a quick rest, I follow my chase truck out towards the highway to Mexicali...

After the final checkpoint at the Bullring in Mexicali, we got checked into the Colonial Hotel. And then Chris started immediately to wash and prep the bike for the next day - there's 2 more days of racing to come...

I survived Race Day 1, and have hopes for a better Race Day 2!


Pre-Race          Race Day 1          Race Day 2          Race Day 3