A New Kingdom: 2019 Ultra4 El Rey de las Bajas Recap
First is important. We remember the first people to do things and stand in line to be the first to buy the latest tech. Even in the small things, it means more to be the first one to do it. Ultra4 just got a whole batch of people who could say they were the first to compete—and one who can say they were the first to win—the newest “king” race in the series, El Rey de las Bajas.
Perfect Track, Perfect Atmosphere
As the title of the race may lead you to believe, this was the first race in Mexico for Ultra4, and the fanfare was immense. The weekend in San Felipe started on the waterfront, where the cars were lined up on the street for fans to check them out and meet the drivers. It had a fun party atmosphere and the Mayor of the city welcomed the drivers to the town. The racing would soon begin, and fortunately, this was only a taste of the excitement to come.
The race course was set up as a mix of rocks, whoops, canyons and open desert. However, they didn’t have to do all of that on each lap. One of the major elements of strategy for the 4400 class was that within four laps, everyone had to both go through the toughest rock section and a long desert bypass section twice, but when they went through them was up to the drivers. If you’re wondering, yes, track strategy came into play at the end of the race.
One thing that added a lot to the atmosphere was where the start/finish line was located. It was placed at the bottom of a canyon, and fans lined the top all weekend to watch. It felt like a natural stadium. The weather was perfect, too, with temperatures in the 70s and just enough of a breeze to sweep away the dust without picking up dirt.
Queen of Qualifying
Qualifying kicked off with some excitement, and unfortunately, it was the scary kind. Both Chuck Crossland and Jason Bunch broke their axles after clearing a jump near the start/finish line, taking out the cars. Everyone was alright, but Jason and his co-driver got pretty banged up. They weren’t able to race on Saturday, but they came out to the track to show that they were ok.
When it came to who ran the fastest in qualifying, it wasn’t a king, but a queen. Bailey Campbell used her Nitto Trail Grapplers to outrun everyone else, including her father, brother, and new fiancé Bryan Crofts (congrats!) to take the top overall spot. The fans in San Felipe really got behind her and loved seeing her beat all the boys. Qualifying second and third in 4400 was Paul Horschel and Loren Healy.
The other top qualifiers were Josh Atteberry in 4600 stock, Scott Lesage in UTV, Team Nitto driver Bailey Cole in 4800 and Dan Fresh in 4500. The races the next day were grouped into a morning 4600 and UTV race and an afternoon 4400, 4500 and 4800 race. With the lineups set, the drivers prepared themselves and their cars for the beating they would endure the next day.
Crowning el Primero Rey
Raceday started out strong, with all 13 UTV and five 4600 stock drivers finishing the race. Josh Atteberry won the 4600 class from the pole, and since the stock class did one less lap than the UTVs, he technically was the first Ultra4 winner in Baja. Congrats to him on the achievement! Following behind him in second and third were Dawson Allington and Albert Contreras. Young Chayse Caprara won the UTV class with his 4400-driving dad Brian as his co-driver. With how competitive Chayse is in the UTV class, his father is certainly helping mold him into a formidable off-road racer. The 4400 drivers of the future should watch out. Coming in second and third in the UTV class were Trey McKinley and Casey Scherer.
Remember that thing about strategy? It was about to come into play as Baily Campbell raced off the line to start the afternoon race. The top five drivers battling for the lead quickly became Bailey, Paul Horschel, Loren Healy, Wayland Campbell and Shannon Campbell. However, not all of them took the rocks at the same time. Bailey decided to mix up the sections by going rocks/bypass/rocks/bypass. Paul decided to get the hard stuff out of the way first and went rocks/rocks/bypass/bypass.
As the race wore on, attrition began to take hold of the 4400 class. Out of the 30 starters, only 21 finished, and Wayland was one of those who could not make it to the end. A broken belt ended his day after three laps.
As the drivers began their final laps, their strategies came to fruition, for both good and ill. Bailey Campbell started out in the lead, but she still needed to run through the rocks. Paul Horschel was right behind her and able to pass her as he took the bypass through the desert. Loren Healy followed behind him in second, but he misjudged his fuel mileage and ran out with just two miles left to go. That paved the way for Shannon to roar into second, followed by Bailey in third. That order held until the end, crowning Paul Horschel as the first Rey de las Bajas.
Following them was Jeff McKinlay, Byran Crofts, Darren Henke, Jade Wickham, JP Gomez, Mike Bou and Alex Wacker rounding out the top 10.
The underclasses were also very exciting with Jeremy Jones taking the win from Baily Cole in 4800, who finished second. David Hartman finished third. Dan Fresh won the 4500 class from the pole, followed by Shawn Rants and Kevin Sterns.
All in all, 67 drivers, who are now known as the “Bandidos Originales,” competed in the inaugural race weekend. Each of them who finished are now qualified for the King of the Hammers and even permanently qualified for all future San Felipe races. Being first was kind of a big deal.
Going back to the great atmosphere mentioned at the top of the story, Saturday night ended with a party full of fireworks, music, food and friends. From this, Ultra4 moves on to Oklahoma, a quite different course from this one.