May 1, 2024

Stage Three Delivers a Prickly Pair for NORRA Mexican 1000 Competitors

Day five of the NORRA Mexican 1000 included an incredible stage three of racing that travelled from Bay of Los Angeles to San Ignacio for the four wheeled competitors and Guererro Negro to San Ignacio for the bikes. The stage had two distinct characters; one was fast, silty, dusty two track roads, the other was fast but narrow trails lined with every kind of cactus imaginable. Any slight deviation would result in a trip through hundreds of spikes. Imagine one of those automated car washes except it was needles instead of bristles. Despite the congratulations everyone deserved, there was no shaking of hands at the finish line. Not at least until you’d had a chance to pluck out the cactus needles. You would think the bikes would have an advantage being so narrow, but they were less protected. The UTV’s were not much better and the big trucks had zero room for error. Fast and flowy fun could turn into pure torture in seconds. The driver of the HP Helicopters truck commented at the finish how they did a huge service to everyone behind them by making a little more space as they brushed both sides of the truck at the same time on the narrow track.

The bikes course was unique from the cars, but they still rode the same cactus lined section into San Ignacio. Matt Sutherland was the first to come into town with date palms and citrus orchards that were planted by the Jesuits who also built the beautiful mission back in 1728. He had a tough day with navigation and after getting off course a couple times decided to just ride with second overall Alex Smith on the Ducati. Matt appreciates the navigational challenges that NORRA motorcycle race director Jimmy Lewis provides, but even the best riders in the world can struggle sometimes. Matt says that the NORRA Mexican 1000 will soon be discovered as one of the top rallies in North America. He remarked about the dunes, the ocean and the cactus as all being stunning; it’s Baja.

Alex Smith won the day and was able to take two minutes of Matt Sutherland’s time advantage away. The battle between these two will probably go down to the final miles of the rally. Joel Dewitt is in third place in the Pro Rally class. As they have reached the halfway point the strategy may change from survival mode to attack if they are going to come out on top. It’s always a matter of finding that balance when you are racing every day for six days in Baja. The challenge is immense. Matt is going for his third straight overall win while Alex is on a brand new bike. In an official statement Ducati said, “Ducati North America's participation embarks in a new direction for off-road competition in North America while embracing the spirit of motorcycling adventure.”

Larry Engwall had a third place finish during stage 3; ahead of Alex Ritz in fourth. Ritz said he had been looking forward to being in San Ignacio since the rally began. Both these riders have been consistently in the front pack and are having great races so far. Chris Auerbach rounded out the top five in stage 3. In the class designations, Engwall has a big cushion over second place Simon Edwards in the 60+ class; over 3 hours. Jay Bartoli is third. The 60+ class has six riders still in the mix. Alex Ritz leads Shane Wallack who is second in the Amateur Rally class by 2 hours and 58 minutes as well. Justin Dawes is in third place in the Amateur Rally class on the Suzuki V-strom 800de trailing Wallack by 18 minutes. Tomorrow the bikes will be on their marathon stage with no outside support.

In the Pro four-wheeled classes Steve Menzies has taken the overall lead from Larry Roeseler. Bryce Menzies took the wheel in the first special section and then Steve Menzies got in for the next stage. Larry commented on the fact we pointed out the day before about being the first vehicle on the road. It is much more difficult. There are no course markings and no tracks to follow. It’s all up to the navigator. Pat Dean made a point of this when talking about his navigator Tricia Reina at the finish line. Pat said the navigator is everything. Larry kept everyone behind him, but they got him on corrected time. If a driver starts a minute ahead and the next driver finishes right behind; they never made a pass, but they picked up a minute of time advantage over the truck or car ahead. Elapsed time is what matters, not physical position. Steve Menzies and the Butch Jensen car will start ahead of Larry Roeseler tomorrow and he will have the same opportunity.

The overall positions have changed, Menzies is leading with Larry Roeseler second and Butch Jensen third. In the fourth spot is Joe Black followed by Dave Mason in fifth. Sixth place is Lightning Larry Ragland. Larry is still very fast at 82 years of age. In the seventh spot is Maxime Losier whose enthusiasm is off the charts. Their team is having a blast. Eighth place is held by the Stronghold team of Scott Bailey. Like many other teams, the rally format at NORRA allows them to put different drivers and navigators in on different days. Crew member and class 10 racer Jason Dudley was driving stage three for Stronghold and did an amazing job getting the big ID designs truck through the narrow course to San Ignacio. The top UTV is still Wayne Matlock. He holds the ninth overall position and Zak Langley is now in the final top ten position.

There is an update on the situation during stage 2 when Steve Menzies co-driver had to get out and open a gate. They were credited with a 36 second time bonus for the amount of time it took. 36 seconds to stop, unbelt, climb out, open the gate, climb back in, and get going. No wonder guys like Oren Anderson can change a tire in only a couple minutes. The drivers get most of the credit, but everyone on the team is so crucial in Baja racing. Like Pat Dean said, the navigator is everything. The crews spend long hours working on the vehicles when the cameras aren’t around (like our heroes from the Fab School Repair Team). The harsh conditions add to the sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that every team develops along the way. That and the scenery in Baja that takes your breath away can’t be beat.

Win or lose the adventure is worth every minute. Some ask why anyone would want to go 1371 miles through Baja driving a Vintage Short Wheelbase 4x4 like Rápido Randy Ludwig does. Or to take a Chenowth Dr3 Light Strike Vehicle through the silt, sand, rocks and ruts as Robert Blanton and his crew of vets does. It’s for people who crave a challenge. The people who don’t get it, probably never will. For those who are up for the challenge, it only takes once and then you are hooked. There is a reason why they call it “The Happiest Race on Earth” and we’ve only made it half way so far.

There are plenty of surprises to come so don’t miss any of the action on the NORRA live feed found on YouTube and Facebook. After experiencing the Mexican 1000 just once, you too will be hooked. Everything you need to know about the Mexican 1000 and NORRA 500 can be found at Go to the site and find out for yourself why NORRA has exploded in popularity. You can experience the same wonder and sense of achievement those pioneering thrill seekers sought in 1967 when you join NORRA in Baja. NORRA events honor the past, while forging the future. Don’t miss out on the fun and action.


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