ENSENADA – Baja California, Mexico: It was a season of firsts for the factory Polaris RZR Factory Racing team in their maiden voyage in the Pro UTV Open class with Brock Heger winning the championship. It was also the first time Heger competed for the season championship in one of SCORE’s divisions when after 37 hours and eight minutes he walked onto the podium in Ensenada, 1,310 miles from the starting line. He was 26 minutes behind winning teammate Cayden MacCachren.
“I knew we’d put up a fight; I wasn’t sure when or how or what,” Heger told NBC Sports after the grueling endurance race. “I took off and I felt good; I felt confident in being able to push so I went for it.”
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Championships are not easy; no one expects them to be. They are even harder when a manufacturer debuts in a class. First seasons are often about identifying and fixing issues, but the Polaris RZR dominated the 2023 season.
And a 1,000-mile race certainly has nothing in common with a walk through the park. To add to the challenge and in celebration of the historic nature of this edition, SCORE tacked on an extra 310 miles to the credited distance, making it the second longest race in series’ history.
In the often-brutal world of desert off-road racing, Heger and his co-drivers would be forced to overcome multiple adversities that cost them more than an hour for mechanical repairs and a crash on the course.
Heger rolled away from the starting line alongside the Sea of Cortez in La Paz at 10:02 a.m. Thursday morning, drove sedately through city streets and along a highway lined with fans for about 16 miles and then headed into the desert.
For the first time in its history, the Baja 1000 was run in a northerly direction and the citizens of the sleepy resort town were in place well before dawn to watch the trucks, cars and motorcycles begin their journey.
As Heger headed into the sandy and rocky terrain, a convoy of support trucks stayed on the highway and began their own march northward to Ensenada. Direct and general support trucks stayed close enough to render aid if needed. Pit trucks leapfrogged one another to create portable stations in often remote areas of the Mexican desert.
It didn’t take long before Heger experienced his first challenge of the 37-hour race. Around noon, a leak from a rehydration system caused a belt to slip. Heger was forced to slow his speed to keep from damaging the car. Quick repairs got him back on course having lost only a few positions.
Perhaps as a result of the belt slipping or perhaps it was a fluke mechanical issue, Heger’s clutch broke soon after. The team will have to get the parts back to the shop to find out precisely what caused the failure, but the championship hopeful was forced to watch all but one of his competitors drive by. With the two issues, Heger lost an hour to repairs.
There was a lot of ground to make up, but more than 1,000 miles remained in which to do so.
The championship was still in reach if Heger could finish 11th or better, but that was not on his mind. He wanted the Baja 1000 win or a podium at the very least.
Heger passed one of the 14 UTVs in his class quickly. At the 200-mile mark, he had the position needed to clinch the championship.
But Heger kept moving forward through the field until 300 miles later, he closed the gap to within 20 minutes of the leader Justin Lambert.
Heger then turned the driving duties over to Ronnie Anderson for the next 500 miles. JD Marsh was tasked with bringing the Polaris RZR to the finish line.
“(After the early problems) I gave the car back in striking distance,” Heger said. “Ronnie went into the night, played it very conservative and gave JD a very good car, which is all he wanted. As the closer, he brought it home.”
Soon after the second driver change, the No. 96 cut a tire, headed into a makeshift pit supported by one of the chase trucks and got a new shoe.
Hoping to make up the time he lost, Marsh rolled the UTV minutes later. Heger unloaded his pre-runner, another Polaris UTV used to recce the course, and dropped in behind the RZR in case the drivers needed help with repairs. Before Heger reached them, Marsh and his navigator tipped the RZR back onto four wheels and headed for the finish line.
“It’s crazy; Just to finish the race alone is a huge accomplishment,” Heger said. “I believe we’re the third car in, which is amazing. You always want to win but at the end of the day everyone is here safe so what more can you ask for.”