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Baja 1000 Race Report

For a race known year-in-and-year-out as the most grueling motorsports event in the world, the 2003 Baja 1000 will be etched perhaps unfavorably in the minds of the 272 car, truck and motorcycle entries as the toughest Baja 1000 ever. One by one, most of the 119 entries that failed to complete the 805-mile trek feel victim to some of the harshest terrain known to Mexico, and others simply got stuck in quicksand-like silt on the west coast of the Baja penninsula.

For Robby Gordon and his Red Bull Chevrolet trophy truck, which was designed and engineered at Robby Gordon Off-Road in Anaheim, Calif., the tough course was no problem for the two-time Baja 1000 winner and his 5,000-pound beast of a truck.

Instead, it was one unthinkable mistake and one unpredictable mechanical failure that added Gordon and his navigator Greg Till to the list of 119 non-finishers.

After starting the race 10 minutes behind the first truck in line, within two hours Gordon had passed all but five of the 19 trophy trucks that started in front of him. After working hard to pass truck after truck in a shroud of dust and debris, Gordon approached race-mile 106 and radioed his team that he had a flat left-rear tire after a rock had bent the wheel and ripped a huge hole in the sidewall of the massive BFGoodrich off-road tire.

What started out as an incredible stroke of good fortune with the truck loosing a tire at a point so close to his team gradually turned into disaster when the crew was forced to borrow a fellow competitor’s air gun. For the next 100 miles that Gordon drove, the team thought it had saved the race, but instead, as Gordon’s truck ran at full song along the coast of the Baja Peninsula, the wheel that the team had changed came loose from the truck, breaking several studs off the hub and bending the others, preventing Gordon and Till from replacing the tire easily.

More than two hours later, after pounding the bent studs off with a rock found in the desert and machining an axle cap at a local pit, the truck pulled back on the course more than two hours behind the leader.

"From the start we were passing trucks at will, and when the tire went down we lost five positions on the course," Gordon said. "I thought that was our biggest problem until we lost the whole wheel. We’ve tried to make sense out of how a wheel can come off, and the only thing we can imagine is that the air gun that my guys borrowed to change the tire didn’t have enough air pressure to put the lugs back on tight."

With more than half of the race still left to be run Gordon still felt he had a chance to make up ground and run down the leader. However, at 3 a.m., with more than 100 miles remaining to the finish, valves in both rear shocks of the truck leaked all of their air and subjected the truck to rear suspension damage if he had continued.

"I know we had a truck that could win, and I’m proud of the fact that our RCR Chevrolet engine ran well and that we were competitive when we were on the course," Gordon said. "Both of the problems that we had during the race were easily avoidable, and we’ll learn from our mistakes and come back next year and give it another run.

"I desperately want to win a third Baja 1000, and after that I’ll want to win a fourth. I know we built a truck that was probably the most technologically advanced in the desert, and even though we only had 70 miles on it before they dropped the green flag, it performed great. We’ll run it a few more times before next year’s race and we’ll make it as close to perfect as possible."