Following a highly successful opening round of the 2018 season, the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, presented by GEICO, now heads south of the border for Rounds 2 and 3, which will be held at the gorgeous Estero Beach Hotel & Resort in beautiful Ensenada, Baja California, México. Round 1 in Chandler gave us our first taste of the potential for 2018, and in combination with what's happened at Estero Beach in the past, we can at least speculate as to what might go down next weekend on the sandy, wide open track along the Pacific Ocean.
In Pro 4, Carl Renezeder stole a highly popular win while coming out of retirement and filling in for the injured Bryce Menzies in Arizona last month. Renezeder will again be the likely candidate to fill in for Menzies in México, while Menzies continues to recover, and the Huseman brothers-built truck of Menzies has always been quick at and well suited to this track. However, don't expect to see Renezeder having it all his own way, as defending champ Kyle LeDuc has been more dominant here than at perhaps any other track. Having won five of the six rounds of racing held here in the past three years, LeDuc and his new Evvo 2 truck should be expected up front, as they were for most of Round 1. Doug Mittag has also been quick here and should be a solid podium contender, and Greg Adler, RJ Anderson, and Bradley Morris could all be real dark horse bets to stand on the box on either afternoon. A big X factor is Rob MacCachren, who wasn't slated to race Pro 4 in Chandler, but did qualify on that Saturday morning, before missing the race itself due to mechanical issues. Will MacCachren be there in México? We'll find out in about a week and a half...
MacCachren will, however, certainly be there in Pro 2, and while he did win Round 1, and has also done very well in the Baja desert, MacCachren has yet to win at Estero Beach in Lucas Oil Off Road- could this be his year? Menzies would ordinarily be a big favorite, having won three of the past six rounds here, but again, he's out with injury, and while Renezeder did great filling in for him in the Pro 4, Renezeder looked less at home in Menzies' Pro 2. Two other usual frontrunners, Jeremy McGrath and RJ Anderson, are the other two past winners here, with McGrath having taken two wins and Anderson his first win in this class; look for both to do well here. Brian Deegan has struggled to find his rhythm here, but is always a threat, as is Jerett Brooks, and local favorite Rodrigo Ampudia has shown well here in the past, and could easily do so again.
No single driver has been especially dominant at Estero Beach in Pro Lite, but with two wins here in the past and another at Round 1 this season, Ryan Beat could be considered something of a favorite when the series heads south next weekend. Brock Heger and Brandon Arthur have also won here before, and were both looking strong in Chandler, so they should again be in the hunt. Drivers like Christopher Polvoorde and Mickey Thomas were also running strong in Chandler, yet have not seen the top of the box in Baja, and will be out to prove that they can compete with the big boys here, and a big dark horse could be Ronnie Anderson, whose brother RJ has won here in this class and could provide valuable setup insight.
2018 has seen the addition of several new faces to the Pro Buggy ranks, and with four-time past winner Kevin McCullough unlikely to show in Baja this year, defending champ Darren Hardesty Jr. is the only other previous winner likely to be in the field next weekend. This makes for a very interesting possibility of a wide open show amongst many of the new young guns, and leading the charge amongst them will likely be Eliott Watson, Sterling Cling, and class rookie Trey Gibbs. Other outside contenders for top finishes will be guys like Matthew Brister and Chris Nunes, and Baja veteran Sammy Ehrenberg could slide in and steal a podium finish as well at this unique track, which may just fit more with his past experience in the Baja desert.
UTVs will be running here for only the second time, and only one of last year's two winners, Brock Heger, will be back this season in Production 1000 UTV. With the most dominant margin of victory, championship-wise, in any class last season, Heger looks like a good bet for the win again next weekend, but a well-earned win in Chandler for Myles Cheek means that Cheek's huge potential in this class may finally be starting to be realized. Consistent drivers like Paul O'Brien and Jason Weller should also fair well on this tricky track, which has a tendency to degrade quickly, and the rapidly-improving Mickey Thomas is also a good bet for a top finish. Over in the new Turbo Production UTV class, regular frontrunners have yet to be established, but all of the top five finishers from Chandler (Trevor Leighton, Ronnie Anderson, O'Brien, Robert Van Beekum, and Corry Weller) should all be ones to watch in Ensenada.
As for the track itself, this one is very unique within our series. With a highly sandy surface, most classes quickly dig deep grooves down the preferred racing line, turning the track into a one-line affair. This, in combination with the heavy sand roost that is prevalent throughout the race, but which is especially noticeable in the early laps, makes starting position and early passing very important; once the grooves are worn in, drivers generally find it very tough to jump up out of the ruts and onto the loose sand to try and make passes. Learning how to utilize these ruts for fast cornering is key, and those who do it well make it look like art on wheels. With no appreciable elevation gain, this track has wider, more sweeping corners, but also has a trio of hard, nearly-hairpin turns as well. Also, the jumps here are flatter, keeping the vehicles on the ground more of the time, which puts more emphasis on cornering. Without much in the way of k rails, drivers weave their way between huge tractor tires, which can suddenly become race-ending roadside markers when drivers are racing blind in the roost, and the rhythm section has been known to catch out many a driver, especially in Pro Lite. Overall, this is a flat and fast track, one that really showcases how truly impressive these vehicles are through the corners, and is a big favorite for many of our drivers.
The fans in Ensenada love off-road racing, and will likely fill the stands in droves as they have in the past, so if you haven't gotten your tickets yet, be sure to head on over to lucasoiloffroad.com now to get yours before they're gone. Get yourself down to the beach to enjoy a day (or two) at the races; you won't be disappointed.
About the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series:
The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is the evolution of the long-standing support of short course racing by Forrest Lucas and Lucas Oil Products. Steeped in the midwest tradition of short course off-road racing infused with a west coast influence, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing brings intense four wheel door-to-door action to challenging, fan-friendly tracks. Our events can be seen on CBS, CBS Sports Network, MAVTV, and Live all season long on LucasOilRacing.TV. Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series: This is Short Course! For more information, please visit www.LucasOilOffRoad.com, and be sure to sign up for our newsletter in our Newsletter Signup section of the home page.
Written by Scott Neth for the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series