Ridgeline takes on Baja 1000!!!!
Ridgeline Competes in the Baja 1000
The following story and photos recounting the racing of the Honda Ridgeline at the Baja 1000 are courtesy of Doug MacMillan of Hondata Inc., a supplier of hardware and software solutions for tuning Honda and Acura engine computers exclusively. MacMillan works alongside many race teams, such as H.A.R.T (Honda America Race Team), to provide tuning and support. Hondata is in no way affiliated with Honda Motor Company.
Last weekend, I embarked on a trip to Ensenada, Mexico to participate in the Baja 1000 - the most demanding off-road race in the world. Always one for challenges, Honda, in conjunction with Clive Skilton's California Race and Rally, entered the newly released Ridgeline.
With less than 90 miles on the odometer and 15 miles worth of testing, the Ridgeline lined up in class 7S (Stock mini trucks) for a 709 mile 30 hour race. This year saw over 320 competitors - the largest number ever.
The truck left at 12:20 p.m. Friday morning, as it howled down the groomed riverbed surrounded by thousands of spectators. Thanks to an aggressive automatic transmission reprogram by Honda engineers and custom-built race headers by Prototype Racing, the Ridgeline sounded awesome. So much power was on tap that the Ridgeline caught up to one of its class competitors, a Hummer, in three miles!
As Clive attempted to climb the first hill out of town, he encountered a number of stuck trucks, including one truck reversing down the hill. A second attempt failed, so this time the weight was reduced to the tune of one co-driver. Newly unencumbered, the Ridgeline sailed up the sandy mountain ... only to have to wait for the co-driver to complete the climb the old fashioned way.
Soon after, the Ridgeline hit a booby trap. Unfortunately the locals find great amusement in digging and disguising holes on the racecourse. Into one such hole the Ridgeline dropped, bending the drive shaft. This had to be removed, thus dropping the truck back to front wheel drive only. This did not impede progress too much, but a puncture did, slicing a five-inch gash into the sidewall. After changing the tire, the Ridgeline made it to the first pit stop at the 86-mile mark at 4 p.m. While checking the tires it was found that two of the wheel studs had stripped. This would be the longest pit stop. But a straight drive shaft was installed, the stripped wheel studs replaced, the truck refueled, and it was sent on its way into the night again. Fuel consumption was measured at six miles per gallon, fairly typical for this type of driving.
Later into the night, the team came down off the mountain to encounter the feared silt beds. As fine as talcum powder, the silt beds form from the infrequent rains that wash material off the mountains into the riverbeds. Silt beds can be as little as one foot, or as deep as three feet, and there were five miles of silt beds to cross. Hitting a silt bed throws off visibility entirely as none of the vehicles have windscreens, thus allowing a curtain of silt to blanket the hood and enter the cabin.
Jason Lafortune, the second shift driver, encountered the silt beds in the dark at 9 p.m. As he ventured into the murky dust cloud he saw a number of stuck trucks. What to do? Rule 1: Do not stop or else you will be digging yourself out for the next hour. So full throttle it was, and around the trucks he drove, as if on a Sunday drive to the corner store - albeit at 6000 rpm in second gear at wide-open throttle. For the next 5 minutes Jason weaved around firmly stuck Fords and Hummers, sometimes having to drive blind through eight-foot tall bushes to avoid impact with them. At times he was driving completely blind for 10-20 seconds at a time. When the dust had cleared, about 25 vehicles had been overtaken. It was then that the Hummer team managed to find the team's radio frequency. "Two questions," they said. "How did you do that," and "how far to get to clear ground?" "It's a Honda," Jason replied, "and you've got about another four miles to go."
The combination that helped the Ridgeline across the silt beds were its relatively low weight in comparison to some of the 6-8000 pound trucks, its relatively flat underside, the torque, tires and transmission improvements.
"The engine and top end power delivery is better than any other vehicle I have driven in the Baja," Jason later expounded. "The sound of the V6 howling through the open exhaust is absolutely awesome - especially while overtaking others on the fast sections. Up to the top of the mountain we had the Ridgeline easily climbing over two and three foot rocks. All we had to do was engage low gear and the VTM lock."
At midnight Gavin Skilton took over and from here on it became clear what the team's Achilles heel would be. While the tire choice was excellent for the silt crossing and high-speed sections, the sidewalls of the tire were not strong enough to resist the constant battering and slashing from the bigger rocks in the infamous Matomi Wash south of San Felipe. Punctures were occurring about every 50 miles, which put the team further and further behind. By early Saturday morning the team missed reaching a timed checkpoint before closing time, resulting in a retirement. At that time the team had traversed over half of the 700-mile course.
Mechanically, the car was in perfect condition. All the CV joints, ball joints and suspension components were still in the right places and doing what they should. In addition, the vehicle improvements made by California Race and Rally performed flawlessly.
"This vehicle has the best 4-wheel drive system I have used," Gavin Skilton revealed after the race. "With a better tire choice and a little more ground clearance and wheel travel, the Ridgeline would be tough to beat."
Technically the race was a great success. Nothing on the Ridgeline failed. This is what racing is about and this is how to improve the breed. Get out there and push the limits. Find what breaks and fix it. Currently Clive and Gavin are preparing the Ridgeline for more racing a little closer to home in early December. I have no doubt they will do very well.