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, in a Honda Ridgeline.
As the 54th SCORE Baja 1000 continued into the night, attrition and carnage was in full swing. Making driver and team principal, Jeff Proctor’s, driver pep talks more poignant. Just get the truck to the next driver change. Conserve. Survive. Finish. Despite a rough first section for Proctor and navigator, Evan Weller, they were in the lead or close to it for the rest of the race.
The second driver, Richard Glaszczak said, “My section was a lot slower than we expected. We knew the course really well but the dust and fog didn’t give us any breaks. Thankfully, we weren’t feeling much pressure to push, so we were conservative and made sure we handed off the Ridgeline in good shape to Rossi.”
The team stayed on strategy and on course… mostly. Next in the Honda Baja Ridgeline was Alex Rossi and Evan Weller. They got in at 3:15am, in the fog, in a very dry, silty landscape. As expected, visibility was an issue. The conditions slowed the twosome down, but it also concealed some course features. Rossi said, “We had a few misses. We blew a corner with some serious boulders that could have been a race-ender, but we saved it. I wish I could say the same for the cactus in another corner. I’ll be picking needles out of strange places for awhile, I think. Just another nature lesson courtesy of Baja.”
They made it through the fog, dust, cactus, boulder corner, nighttime, sunrise, and probably things they didn’t want to admit to, with the truck still strong for the final section with Baja racing legend Steve Hengeveld behind the wheel. Hengeveld has raced 20-some Baja 1000s and won 12 times — mostly on motorcycles, and even has a couple overall wins. Even so, this race had a unique twist for him. It’s the first time he’s finished in the day time.
Once again as Hengeveld got in, Proctor advised, “You don’t need to be fast. Just be consistent and get it to the finish.” At this stage of the race, most race vehicles are closely managing their equipment to ensure a finish. The Ridgeline was no different, but any problems they encountered were more maintenance than misery.
For the chase team, it was a long fast run to make each scheduled pit and driver change. Our HPD Ridgeline proved to be reliable and nimble in our quest. It was a right-sized vehicle for this adventure. It was our office, kitchen, bedroom, and transport for our 32+ hours of chasing the Honda Off-Road Racing Ridgeline from Ensenada to La Paz, Baja, Mexico. And we’re still talking to each other.
The finish for the team was sweet indeed. Hengeveld crossed the line first in Class 7 (unofficial) just before 3pm, adding another Baja 1000 win to his resume. Jeff Proctor is up to five Baja 1000 class wins as a driver and also has two wins for the Talon as a team owner. Alex Rossi now has won three of North America’s most iconic races — Baja 1000, 24 Hours at Daytona, and the Indianapolis 500, and all with Honda power.
As one of the longest Baja 1000s on record, the usual “just get it to the finish,” had more meaning, and many are falling short of that goal even with a 50 hour time limit. The Honda Off-Road Racing Team did it with hard work and humility. Beyond professional, they are just plain good, fun people to be around. Congratulations!