Slam Life Racing (SLR) Honda is no stranger to success in the desert. In fact, they entered this year’s event as the defending champions. They’re consistently the team to beat in the desert endurance discipline, and to start this year’s running of the Monster Energy SCORE Baja 500 they took full advantage of a leg up they earned over the rest of the field. The tandem of Justin Morgan and Mark Samuels, who were forced to race without an injured Justin Jones, know the key to success in any desert race, and Baja in particular, is the ability to race with a clear, relatively clean track. Thanks to a victory at the recent Monster Energy SCORE San Felipe 250, which opens the four-race SCORE World Desert Championship, the SLR boys were awarded with the opportunity to be the very first competitors in the entire 245-vehicle field to roll off the line at 4 a.m.
While they were forced to begin their journey under the cover of darkness, being the first competitor on the course guaranteed Morgan saw the track at its absolute cleanestwhen he got the green flag. When the faster Trophy Trucks eventually caught and passed their two-wheeled counterparts as the race wore on it certainly added a layer of difficulty for Samuels, but being free from the chaos at the crucial opening stage of the multi-hour race ultimately proved to be the difference between winning and losing.
A dense morning fog slowed the pace initially as Morganhad to take extra precaution to not go off course and avoid any dangerous obstacles in his path. On top of that, the thickness of the fog forced him to ride without goggles, making things even more treacherous. However, with the advantage of starting first it minimized the damage done in the overall elapsed time. Morgan didn’t have to worry about other competitors slowing him up, or making conditions harder than they already were. He simply took his time aboard his Monster Energy/STI Tires/Lava Propane CRF450X and proceeded to establish an insurmountable lead that only grew as the race extended into the afternoon hours.
“I couldn’t even ride with goggles on for the first 80 miles. It was definitely unexpected; I pre-ran at the same time for a couple days, and it wasn’t even close to being like that,” Morgan said. “It was a pretty difficult section going into daylight, but luckily we got the win at San Felipe, so we got to start first. I think that’s a huge advantage, and I’m very thankful for that.”
By the time they had reached their second pit location, the SLR Honda squad had built a lead of nearly 20 minutes. While that margin was considerable, it could quickly evaporate with one mistake. Since they certainly had time to play with, both Morgan and Samuels collectively decided to decrease their pace and manage the lead.
“At that point I started riding extra-smart, trying to conserve the equipment and myself as much as possible,” added Morgan. “I had 130-something miles to go, and it was the toughest part of the day coming up.”
Morgan piloted the Honda for the first 240 miles of the 487-mile layout before handing it off to Samuels for the second half of the race. While the latter half of the course was arguably the most treacherous, especially when you consider the beating the bike had taken for nearly 250 miles leading up to that point, Samuels rode flawlessly. It ended up being a drama-free outing for the most dominant mototeam in the sport. They cruised to a second straight Monster Energy SCORE Baja 500 win in Moto Unlimited, and ended up finishing sixth overall, sandwiched in the middle of a slew of Trophy Trucks.
With a time of 10 hours and 50 minutes, the SLR Honda ended up with a winning margin of over an hour in Moto Unlimited, with second place coming in at 11 hours, 54 minutes. It’s the sixth straight SCORE victory for the team, which has gone undefeated since last year’s Monster Energy SCORE San Felipe 250.
“Each race, we’ve gotten a lot better and a lot better [getting the new bike dialed in], and I think we learned a lot this race on making a few more changes, too, to make it even better for the 1000,” concluded Samuels.
Monster Energy landed a pair of bikes on the Moto Unlimited podium when the Monkey Business Workshop/Monster Energy/Nitro Mousse KTM effort of Santiago Creel, Brandon Prieto, Taylor Stevens, Massimo Mangini and Mitch Anderson crossed the line in third. Creel was also the lead rider of the Monster Energy-backed, class-winning Pro Moto Limited squad, accompanied by Alejandro Sardi, Larry Serna, Carlos Casas, and Alvaro Miller.
In the Trophy Truck class, Tim Herbst and his Monster Energy-backed, custom-built Terrible Herbst truck raced to a fifth-place overall result to lead the way for the Monster Army with a time of 10 hours and 40 minutes.