Autoblog got its feet muddy – and did its best to avoid the cow pies – at the Baja 1000 a few weeks ago with Volkswagen. While things could have gone better for the 550-hp diesel Race Touareg2, finishing in 13th position with a relatively untested truck is a fine result. Finishing the Baja 1000 at all is a fine result, in fact. Check out the full story and video after the jump, and the gallery of high-res photos below.
After the fireworks of last year's Baja 1000 – killings, kidnappings, general mayhem – this one went without the proverbial trailer hitch. While the starting area was filled with competitors lined up to take the start at their various times, VW had a couple of helicopters on hand to airlift us into various points during the race,
From the start line, the trucks race through the sprawl of Ensenada, and we didn't realize how much that city colonizes the terra firma like Los Angeles until we got up in the air. It's massive. Yet once it ends, there's nothing. No multi-lane highway bearing motorized civilization to another illuminated metropolis in the near distance. No lights. No villages. No nothing. Maybe a house. Maybe. Otherwise, it's just an empire of dirt. And that's shot through with earthen tracks that go everywhere and nowhere, all of them being plowed, maimed and mercilessly vandalized by tens of thousands of horsepower.
Inserted like a special forces team at mile 45, we took up position at a 90-degree left turn just beyond one of the first places where support trucks waited for their racers to, hopefully, drive right on by. We stood on a berm about three feet high in the direction of the turn. We had been told not to stand there because if the trucks overran the turn, we'd be what you call "roadkill". Or dirtkill. Whatever.
For extra protection, we stood in front of a Monster-branded support truck, because even if racers didn't mind running over one soft, squishy human that they probably wouldn't even feel under long-travel suspensions, they wouldn't want to end their races by clobbering a Silverado. But we figured we were fully protected by mother Earth – if the trucks overcooked it, they'd just slam into the berm.
Trophy trucks don't know anything about three-foot berms, don't care about three-foot berms. They gobble them up and go "Yum. More." The 800-hp scrabblers get on the power immediately after the turn, and more than one truck not only slammed into the berm, a few of them even hopped over it. And one of them ran so close to the aforementioned Silverado support truck that if we hadn't left our spot literally seconds earlier, well, we wouldn't be writing this post right now. If there are any competitions for jumping backwards for distance and accuracy, we would win. We got very good at it.
So we took up a slightly safer spot in a ditch that ran right next to the course. It felt almost like getting run over... then living to tell the tale. And that's what Baja's really all about, isn't it?
When the VW truck came through, we almost missed it. It has that eerie quiet diesel thing going, so all you hear is a mild whine, and then it's gone. And, sadly, gone it literally was for a while. The VW truck passed our stop without incident, but encountered its first issue not long after, and the problems escalated so that we didn't get to see it again until it came in to the finish. But finish it did, which is a good start for any first-time entrant to the Baja 1000.
Having had time to really check things out now, Clark Campbell, Motorsport Manager for VW of America, said of this year's race and VW's plans for domination (our words) of future editions of the Baja, "Well, we had the goal to finish our very first Baja 1000, and we did that. Disappointed that we had a small technical issue that become a big issue as the race unfolded, but it was a good effort of such a limited amount of testing time -- only had a couple of weeks to test this year, but we really felt we had the vehicle and team to finish the race, so we wanted to run the 1000 in 2008. We finished the vehicle and started it for the first time in mid-October, did one overall test session in Lucerne Valley CA, made some tweaks and then did a short functions test before preparing the Baja Race Touareg TDI for display at the Los Angeles Auto show. We used the 1000 as a 'race conditions' test, and now we have all the data we need to prep for 2009. Otherwise we would have kept doing standard testing and would have waited until the 2009 Baja 500. But with the timing of the LA Auto Show, and the 1000, it was a good way to get some great exposure for our TDI and get some miles under our belt before 2009.
"Overall we are pleased with the performance of the vehicle and very pleased with the entire team operations. We have only a small area to focus on for improvements, and then do some fine tuning based on driver input. Basically the package is very sound.
"Since we are in this for the long term, and since this was our first race, we were not in a position to win the season championship, or even able to start in the top 10 spots for the race. (You have to be in the top 10 in points for the season to draw for one of the top 10 starting spots). Our plan is to be in the top 10 in 2009 and then be able to start up front and contend for a win during the season.
"Our next steps will be to complete our testing in late 2008 and early 2009 and then get ready for the Baja 500."
Volkswagen TDI Touareg at Baja 1000 -Behind the Sc
Transportation, food, and lodging for this trip were provided by the manufacturer