Grid talk – Chris Warwick | Columns | Gassit Garage
We spoke to the Aussie enduro ace, Chris Warwick as he prepared for the Baja 1000 – solo
Off-road desert races like Dakar are usually accomplished with one bike ridden by one rider, typically in tough, hot and dusty conditions. How is the Baja 1000 different?
In a desert race like the Baja 1000, race distance is over 1100 miles and the winner is usually part of a team effort. One bike and as many as seven riders can take turns to race the same machine to the finish line. This is how most riders take on an event this huge, but I wanted to tackle it a little differently. I thrive on big mental and physical challenges so I’m going to take it on solo.
You’re from Humpty Doo, near Darwin, so you’re used to rugged terrain, but what does this race involve exactly?
This is the 50th running of the Baja 1000 and they call it the granddaddy of desert races. I’ll be on a Honda CRF450 starting in Ensanada, Mexico, and we ride all the way down the Baja Peninsula and arrive at the finish line in La Paz. It’s 1825km with about 22 refuelling stops, and you have to complete the course in under 48 hours to be classified a finisher.
What are your goals? Will just finishing be good enough for you?
I’ve already got two Baja finisher’s medals, this time around I’m really looking for a win. I first rode it in 2012, also on a CRF450R. I had no support and arrived at the startline with the CRF in bits stuffed in the back of a station wagon. I paid for fuel stops to be organised, but the rest was up to me.
So the race goes through the night?
The race goes nonstop, so the CRF was fitted with LED lights for the night sections. It adds more weight and makes the bike more difficult to ride.
Teams usually have pit crews along the route and they remove the lights during the day. Then before dusk, they fit them again during a refuel. When you’re on your own with no support, that’s not an option, so I rode the entire race with lights attached.
What about injuries and fatigue? How do you cope with that?
It’s pretty intense. I think it was about the 700-mile mark, I pinched a nerve in my neck and that was pretty painful for the next 500 miles to the finish. I managed to reach La Paz in 42 hours, 43 minutes and 37 seconds. I don’t even know how I stayed awake, let alone raced. That first time I ended up in second place in the Ironman class and fourth in Class 21.
And you went back in 2013 to try and improve on that result?
Yes, still with no support and using the same racebike as the previous year. I started in 16th and by the 550-mile mark I’d made it up into ninth position outright. I just couldn’t maintain that pace and I was eventually passed by Alexander Smith (Malcom Smith’s Son) who went on to win the Ironman title that year. I had to settle for second again.
Is it only the Baja that takes your interest or have you had a crack at other extreme enduros?
In 2013 I managed a gold medal at the Red Bull Sea to Sky Hard Enduro. In 2015 and 2016 I travelled to Romania to try Red Bull Romaniacs and brought home a Silver Class finisher’s medal both times. I think it’s okay for my budget level but I’d love the chance to do better.
Interview MAX SULLIVAN