Trophy Hunting—Baja Style: Casey Currie Dominates the 51st Baja 1000
They say in life, nothing is perfect. Such is the same when it comes to off-road racing, and even more so, when racing Baja. With unlimited variables, surprises around every corner and a lack of infrastructure all taking place on some of the most dangerous terrain on Earth, it’s a miracle anyone finishes this race unscathed. But for Team Nitto driver Casey Currie’s team, their bid for the top of the podium at the fifty-first SCORE International Baja 1000 was about as close to perfect as it gets.
Unlike last year’s race, the fiftieth Baja 1000, the course this year took the shape of a loop, rather than a point to point. Beginning in Ensenada as usual, the course heads across the peninsula to San Felipe, then heads south along the coast before crossing back over to the Pacific side and heading north to Ensenada for the finish line. All in all, the 806-mile course posed new challenges for even the most seasoned Baja racers.
Casey and his team set out to pre-run the course in the weeks before the race, utilizing their Can-Am X3 UTVs and fully-built Jeeps to course mark and plot caution zones. Where the Jeeps allow for comfortable pre-running over several days, the Can-Ams provide a much more realistic view of the course at higher speeds. This proved to be crucial to the team, as their ability to accurately anticipate obstacles and dangers along the course greatly increased their chances of a successful race.
While pre-running, or “doing your homework” as it’s known in Baja, is vital to surviving the Baja 1000, it is perhaps paralleled in importance by having a fully prepped race car. In the weeks prior to the Baja 1000, we paid a visit to Casey Currie Motorsports to see just how deep their race prep gets. What we found was the “Trophy Jeep” stripped down to its bare chassis, and every component, down to the wiring harnesses being inspected and/or replaced. For Casey and his team, this step of the game is crucial to their success. In the final hours leading to the start of the Baja 1000, we caught up with Casey and his team at their rental condos in Ensenada to get some insight on their efforts before the green flag dropped, while his crew went over a few final details on the Trophy Jeep checklist.
Finally, Friday had come. Race day in Ensenada begun with the motorcycle and quad classes leaving the line at 4:00 a.m., a full 6.5 hours before the first four-wheeled vehicle took off. After the Trophy Trucks, Class 1 buggies and Spec TT trucks left the line, the “Unlimited Hammertrucks” (known as Ultra4s in other sanctioning bodies) were next to stage. The green flag dropped for the 4422 Trophy Jeep, followed 30 seconds later by Team Nitto driver Shannon Campbell in his 4405 Campbell Enterprises race car.
As the Hammertrucks entered the wash in Ensenada and headed out of town, they had in front of them a stacked field of Spec Trophy Truck racers. In years past, this class of race truck was traditionally faster in Baja than the Hammertruck class, but thanks to suspension innovation and further development driven by Ultra4 Racing and King of the Hammers, these IFS cars can now easily keep up with the Spec TTs, and even some Class 1 buggies. Leaving Valle de la Trinidad, Shannon Campbell picked off several Spec TT trucks in front of him, as he made his way through the pack nearing the Sea of Cortez.
Trials of the Course
Unfortunately, Shannon’s race car suffered a race-ending mechanical failure just south of San Felipe, which meant Casey’s was the only Hammertruck team still in the race. As Casey piloted the Trophy Jeep down through Coco’s Corner, night had fallen over the Baja peninsula. Just past Coco’s Corner, the race course crossed Mexico’s Highway 1, where Casey handed the controls over to his brother, Cody Currie, to finish the last half of the race. Cody’s section was riddled with silt beds, mountainous terrain and even some beach driving.
The Finish Line
As Cody made his way north along the Pacific coast towards the finish line, Casey and his chase team headed back to the Ensenada on the highway. The Baja 1000 carries a heavy attrition factor, and it was evident that the herd was thinning as the night went on. Around 3:00 a.m., roughly 16.5 hours after leaving the line, the first Trophy Trucks were pulling across the finish line. Veteran Baja racer Cameron Steele of Desert Assassins took first place overall on corrected time, which earned him his first ever Baja 1000 win.
A short while later, the sun began to rise over the Baja peninsula again. Even with no class competitors remaining, Cody Currie was pushing hard to reach the finish line, proving just how competitive these four-wheel drive race cars can be in the Baja 1000. Passing pit after pit 19 hours and 43 minutes after the green flag dropped, the 4422 Trophy Jeep crossed the finish line. Casey Currie Motorsports had taken the win in their class by default, but perhaps more impressive, finished twenty-fourth overall, passing dozens of race vehicles traditionally known to be faster over desert terrain. This was Casey’s second Baja 1000 class win, defending his title after taking first place during last year’s fiftieth Baja 1000.
After an interview with SCORE International announcers, broadcasting live across social media platforms, the champagne broke out and the entire team came together to celebrate the fruits of their hard efforts.
One of the factors that Casey and his chase team attributed to their successful race was the fact that they didn’t suffer a single flat tire, or need to do a single tire change over the 806 mile course, meaning their team finished on the exact set of tires they began the race with. One glance at the 40-inch Trail Grapplers on the Trophy Jeep at the finish line would show just how well these tires can handle unforgiving terrain over long distances. With no tears, no signs of chunking and tread blocks that remained intact, the Trail Grappler has proven itself once again as a dominant tire in some of the harshest terrain in the world.
Even before the Baja dust settled, Casey Currie announced he will be competing in the 2019 Dakar Rally. He has proven himself in every kind of off-road motorsport, from short-course racing to King of the Hammers to endurance races like the Baja 1000. Casey cites racing the Dakar Rally as having been a dream of his for over a decade, and the natural next step in his career. And in true Casey Currie fashion, the preparation for the next race begins the day they return home from their win at the fifty-first SCORE International Baja 1000.