KTM Prepares Baja Assault on Honda

September 30, 2010
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

KTM is preparing to give the big dogs a run for their money.

Honda is the current king of Baja. Aside from a one-off effort last year from Kawasaki and KTM dabbling a few years ago, there hasn’t been a major effort by a manufacturer since Team Green left after Danny Hamel died in 1995. Thanks to some ambitious financial backing by private individuals, KTM is poised to make a factory-supported effort that might have the steam to run with Big Red in this year’s point-to-point Baja 1000.

Dean Potts, owner of Bonanza Plumbing, was the driving force behind this project and has kicked in a reported $40,000 for the effort. His financial backing was only going to be provided if KTM could put up an equally impressive support effort from the factory. A long story short, the negotiations were made, along with $15,000 from THR, and KTM is suddenly looking to assassinate the long-standing king.

The Bonanza Plumbing/FMF/KTM Factory Off Road Racing Team entry is guided by a tight group of top-notch desert racers. David Pearson, Mike Childress, Shane Esposito, Ivan Ramirez and Steve Hengeveld (who teamed with Johnny Campbell for all those Honda wins and participated with the Kawasaki squad from last year) will be piloting a KTM 530 XC-W. With THR providing 20-22 stationary pit locations and chase mechanics with factory supported KTM parts, this squad looks to be the best challenger for the JCR Honda teams.

Potts offered this five-step explanation for why a plumbing company would pony up heavy dough for a shot at winning a single desert race:

“1. The economy is awful and hardly anyone can afford to race so there is much less competition. Even Honda is on a tighter budget; 2. The Honda 450X is really a 2000 motocross bike (10-year-old technology) and you want to beat them before they build a new bike; 3. The 14-year winning record will probably never be duplicated so the team that finally beats them (KTM, Kawasaki, or whoever) will have bragging rights to the end of time that they broke the one of the longest winning streaks in racing history, sort of a David and Goliath thing; 4. I really believe that KTM builds a superior motorcycle; 5. I am nuts.”

Early tire testing was not successful, but the Dunlop D908 is better. The extra groove helps inline stability in sand. The team is keeping track of their test results and bike perormance very closely in preparation for the Baja 1000.

Crazy or not, hopefully the Austrian/plumbing-backed team can make a dent. Baja racing at the top level is definitely a little boring with a single manufacturer dominating for over a decade. Our desert-racing correspondent and regular off-road test rider, Chilly White, is following the KTM team throughout testing and the race. He recently went on a pair of initial tests, the first of which was not promising, and the second only this past week. The bike’s top speed is up to 113 mph on the GPS and they’ve found some preliminary success with Dunlop D908 Rally tire which can withstand the heat and abuse of such hard riding and high speeds. Previous tires were throwing knobs and disintegrating during early testing, though the team will continue to evaluate traction. They also have trick parts like double-stacked radiators for increased cooling and custom suspension.

Chilly checked in with this brief report:

Top: Stacked radiators. Center: Custom shock work. Above: Mike Childress prepares for a morning test session.

I have just returned from spending a long day of testing with the KTM riders and crew that will contest the 2010 edition of the famous SCORE Baja 1000 in November. This year’s event will travel the entire length of the peninsula making it a particularly grueling challenge.

While KTM has made some modest attempts at Baja in the past few years, this time it will be an all out effort to go for the win, a direct challenge to unseat the powerful JCR Honda team who carries an incredible 14 year win streak coming into this event.

The team will feature a group of all-star desert racers. Factory rider David Pearson will be teamed with Mikey Childress, Steve Hengeveld, Shane Esposito and Mexican rider Ivan Ramirez. The combined desert and Baja race resumes of this group are amazing.

The team will receive support from KTM North America as well as the Factory in Austria. Yet, it has been the efforts of the two outside sponsors that has really allowed this project to come together. Bonanza Plumbing and THR Motorsports have both stepped in with significant amounts of support for the team.

The 530 XC-W test mule has been undergoing a tremendous amount of development and endurance testing. This includes a successful extended dyno run and a desert race simulation this week. Next up will be another race simulation that will include running at night to test all the lighting.

It is incredible to watch all the myriad of preparations needed for an event like this. Not only does everything on the bike have to be challenged to its very limit, but all of the spare parts and contingencies have to be considered also. So stay tuned. We plan to bring you all the play-by-play of the team’s race preparations and then the Baja 1000 race.

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