“The BajaLite is a good entry-level race truck,” they said. “You’ll have fun,” they said. Then somebody went and signed us, the website you are currently reading, Jalopnik, into the 2017 Baja 500 in the same class as Honda and Toyota’s freaking factory teams. So, you know, hope they’re ready to be run down by a few goofballs in a four-cylinder.
Dear automakers: you are going down. And in Honda’s case specifically, we’re doing this for you, Fernando.
Actually, just about every team that’s registered in Class 7 at the 500 looks fierce. I don’t know any of our competitors on this list personally, but there are some pretty serious sponsors on this list even outside the factory teams.
I’ll be joining the same crew I raced with in the 2015 Baja 1000- which is currently known as Desert Race School, run by Baja vet Ron Stobaugh, his son Austin, and business partner Mike Jams who’s leading the charge as our driver of record.
Their company, Off-Road Brands, operates a shop in Orange County, California building, prepping race vehicles, making Jeep axles, and coming up with other off-road ideas.
Jams sought Stobaugh out a few years ago to fulfill a lifelong dream of learning how to race off-road, and he’s been ratcheting up his skills and commitment to the sport since.
These guys are putting up the money, R&D time, training, logstical responsibility and driving for our 2017 Baja 500 effort. I’m just rolling up to crack beers and slap a giant “JALOPNIK” sticker on the bedside before I hop in and navigate for a hundred miles or so of the race.
Two years ago we ran the Baja 1000 in a rented TrophyLite, a very compact rear-drive four-cylinder race truck that sits on relatively small tires. In the last year, Jams has bought his own rig- a BajaLite. This vehicle is slightly more capable than the TrophyLite, but significantly more comfortable. So I’m told.
Like the TrophyLite, the BajaLite is powered by a four-cylinder GM Ecotec engine which is hooked up to a manually-activated automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. The footprint is a little bigger, the suspension is more compliant and perhaps most importantly, the wheels are a bit taller than the last truck I raced south of the border. So I am sincerely hoping we don’t spend as much time digging the car out of sand bogs as we did in 2015.
But as decent as our BajaLite is, it’s going to have to work pretty hard to catch the factory-backed Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma. That Honda’s race-built 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 is rated north of 500 horsepower, and I think our EcoTech inline-four only makes triple-digits on its best day.
Regardless, we’re obligated to talk a truckload of trash to both of them. After all, nobody’s going to be surprised if they stomp us. But if they break down, I mean, if we pass them, I get to tease my PR contacts at those companies next time I have to sit through one of their marketing decks at a press launch!
The race is June 3, and you’ll be able to catch coverage afterwards here on Jalopnik and on Univision’s El Rey Network, both online and eventually on TV.
There are something like 275 vehicles entered in the 513.67-mile race, with drivers hailing from 28 U.S. states and 14 countries. Our class is small but competitive, apparently.
I guess “underdog” is not the worst place to be, but it sure does mean we’ll have our work cut out for us. Or we’re about to Caswell the hell out of some automaker factory teams.