Five hundred miles of Baja terrain is always a huge test. At the 48th annual SCORE Baja 500, Mother Nature threw another hurdle into the mix. Not only would competitors travel up and over the summit, run the San Felipe loop, then race back to Ensenada, but they would have to do it in blistering, triple digit temperatures. The heat presented a very serious condition that nobody took lightly. Mechanical parts failed, helicopters broke down, many racers were sidelined with heat stroke; one unfortunately lost his life. The Honda Ridgeline team had to manage the temperature of their race truck, and their bodies.
The team has been very busy between races getting their Honda twin turbo HR35TT V6 engine and Albins ST6 sequential six-speed transmission dialed in for off-road racing. The unique Ridgeline truck has many moving parts including the best from Honda, General Tire, FOX, Rigid Industries, KMC Wheels, Sparco, Eibach Springs, NEO Synthetics, RPI Racing, PCI Race Radios, K&N Air Filters, and FiberwerX Off-Road Fiberglass. Turnkey Marketing also contributes to the huge effort. After the Mint 400, the team focused on increasing airflow through the engine compartment so the twin turbos could expel the heat they generate while stuffing the cylinders full of air and fuel.
The work paid off immensely at the Baja 500. Not only were they able to survive the heat, they thrived in it. At only race mile 24, there was a huge bottleneck of cars and trucks trying to get up a steep silt-laden hill with a big hole that high-centered several trucks. A four wheel drive recovery truck was pulling each competitor to the top of the hill one at a time. When it was Jeff Proctor’s turn to go, he pointed the Ridgeline towards the top and let the twin turbos eat. He and co-driver Robert Zeman crested the hill and kept the throttle down as they headed to Ojos Negros and then towards the summit.
Jeff Proctor knew it was going to be hot and that they would lose 8-10 lbs. of water weight during the race. “This was the hottest race I have ever seen,” said Proctor, “When we dropped down the back side of the summit it was 150 degrees in the truck. It was tough out there; Baja never disappoints when it comes to a challenge.” The sand washes were especially hard; they had to back off the pace when the oil temperature started climbing. As soon as they dropped into the shadows cast by the mountains, it cooled down and they returned to race pace. The air temperature went from 124 to 104; a big difference. The slight relief from the heat was welcomed as they crossed the highway and headed out into 50 miles of San Felipe whoops before they would make the driver’s change.
Co-driver Robert Zeman had his hands full in his first race in the Ridgeline. He had to keep track of the various parameters monitored by the motec computer, check the mirrors, call out the turns and cautions noted on the GPS, and also keep tabs on the driver. “I had some jitters at the start, my life is in Jeff’s hands but after the first few turns, I could tell I would be fine,” said Robert Zeman, “We got some temperature alarms a couple times but we could either increase the rpm’s or back off a little and it would self-correct and reset. We got stuck in some silt but there was a local right there to help us out. We only lost 30 seconds at the most. It was so hot, I kept reminding Jeff to drink water. He did a great job; he really nailed it!”
When Jason LaFortune and Karl Ambrust took over, they maintained the same race pace to the finish with no issues. As the sun went down, and the course headed back towards the coast in Ensenada, it cooled down even more. The two still looked fresh on the podium.
Jeff joked that he and Robert drew the short straw but he would not have wanted it any other way. With another Baja win in the books, the Honda team heads to the Best In The Desert series Vegas to Reno race August 17-20 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For all the latest on the Honda Ridgeline Off-road team go to: http://www.hondaoff-road.com/ or HondaOffRoadRacing on Facebook, Instagram: @HondaOffRoadRacing or Jeff Proctor on Personal Instagram: @proctor_race.