Melissa Eickhoff is embedded with the Honda Off-Road Racing Team for the Baja 1000 as they race 1227 miles down the Baja Peninsula. She and photographer Al Arena, will chase the Baja Ridgeline in a 2022 production HPD Ridgeline from start to finish. The team is fielding IndyCar star Alexander Rossi, team owner/driver Jeff Proctor, Richard Glaszczak, and Baja legend Steve Hengeveld.
The long awaited return of the point-to-point race course for the 54th SCORE Baja 1000 got official on Wednesday for the Honda Factory Off-Road Racing Team. The agenda was all about wrapping up the details: running the Honda Baja Ridgeline team through tech, updating and uploading course notes into GPS systems, getting pits and drivers in position down the peninsula, last minute supply runs, and maybe even a few minutes to relax.
Logistics for the point-to-point course stretches even the biggest and best funded teams’ resources to the limit. This year it has been compounded by the impact of COVID. The usual volunteer numbers just aren’t here – local or U.S. citizens alike. The result is an amplified Baja spirit. Most folks have taken on more responsibilities. The thread of helping and safety is as strong as ever. Everyone has to invest something to make sure this celebrated race continues. And they do.
The Honda Factory Off-Road Racing Ridgeline entry No. 709 is no different. Despite months of prep, many plans didn’t come together until days or hours before tech and contingency. That’s a heavy load for Team Principal and lead driver, Jeff Proctor. And as they prepare for the race start tomorrow, everyone is feeling confident and ready for redemption after the 2019 and 2020 campaigns were sub-optimal.
Proctor says, “As always, I’m really proud of my crew and everyone here helping the Honda Ridgeline maximize its performance. They’ve more than put in the hours of work required to bring the Ridgeline across the finish line. Over the past year, we’ve fine-tuned our program, in particular, we switched to 40” Maxxis tires which is a game changer. And with Evan Weller’s prep and expert navigation, I feel like we’ve covered our bases.”
As the team rolled through tech, Matthew Niles, Principal Engineer HPD, and Dr. David Salters, President HPD, looked on and shared some development history of the Baja racing Ridgeline.
“In 2015, HPD connected with American Honda and Jeff [Proctor] and developed the predecessor to this truck,” he said. “We were looking for a powerplant to help American Honda and Jeff race the Ridgeline. Fortunately, we’d been developing our 3.5 liter V6 twin turbo charged engine for sportscar racing and the same engine comes in the stock Ridgeline, without turbos. It was kind of a perfect fit, and we’ve been racing ever since.”
Salters adds, “The nice thing about this amazing truck is the way Jeff and the team runs it and does a brilliant job. But it’s also got the people at Honda Performance Development sorting out the powertrain for this. So inside it’s a real racing engine derived from real road car stuff. And it’s just cool.”
IndyCar star Alexander Rossi is once again sharing driving duties in the Ridgeline. Unlike previous years, he wasn’t able to pre-run his section. It’s the first time he’s raced a course that he hasn’t seen, but it doesn’t faze him.
“It’s weird,” he said. “But here’s the thing. Being able to pre-run the whole section would have been awesome, but ultimately when you’re talking about 200-ish miles, you’re not going to remember everything. We were fortunate enough to have some good relationships in this community and the Honda Talon guys to share notes and at least mark down the dangerous areas, which is your biggest concern. With the performance advantage the Honda Ridgeline has, we really shouldn’t be worried about 20-30 seconds here and there. I feel good about it, considering my section is all going to be at night. The team has their best foot forward and hopefully we’ll give Honda another Baja 1000 win.”
This year’s course is roughly 1227 miles of the infamous varied Baja California terrain, featuring high-speed dirt trails, sandy, rocky and silty terrain, Baja washes and canyons, stretches along the ocean and the seashore and elevations from sea level to over 3,000 feet. There are three physical checkpoints, 236 virtual checkpoints, including 23 speed zones (37 or 60 miles per hour) for a total of 196.18 miles.
Follow along here on RACER.com and on social media for team updates.