If you have ever dreamed of blasting across the desert, Wide Open Baja is unlike anything you have experienced. Rob Ward and his team of off-road instructors have been involved in our events for years, so he decided to pull back the curtain on their most exclusive vacation package and share it with some of our team members.
Our 3-day excursion was all-inclusive. We started with being transported in a new Ford Raptor that took from the San Diego Airport across the border. We then arrived at Horsepower Ranch, which is located in the hills above Ensenada. Our guide Darren had the chef prepare Sonoran-style Machaca – perfectly aged beef that is sun-dried and rubbed with a secret blend of spices grown on-site. Once inside the hacienda, we were overwhelmed with the history on the walls. Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Ivan Stewart and many others have left their mark in the dining room. From Paul Newman to Patrick Dempsey, the walls of Horsepower Ranch could tell stories for decades.
After dinner, we had a safety briefing that included radio communication to other teams along with contingencies for broken axles and flat tires. Having basic knowledge of their cars from being around them at the event didn’t stop Darren from showing us what to look for and how to keep the Subaru 2.5 liter flat four in its powerband.
About the cars: Subaru provides the engines and Wide Open builds everything else. The car is built from thick-wall DOM tubing by fabricators who make TIG welding look like child’s play. Fully independent suspension consists of 2-stage coil springs and 3.5″ remote reservoir shocks. No sway bars allow for freedom to push deep into corners and smooth out the washboard trails at high speeds. Four corner A-Arms with 22″ of travel soak up almost anything. BF Goodrich makes the world’s best Baja tire, and their 33″ x 12.50 are amazing on pavement or in the sand.
Ok, back to the story. After learning how much engineering goes into the suspension, we left Horsepower Ranch to become acquainted with the car. Darren guided us to the historic trails of the Baja 1000. The cars have 5.43 ratio Torsen differentials. This makes 1st gear strictly a granny-low, and it allows these machines to climb steeper than anything you have driven. Ascending a vertical wall, my coworker and I were looking at the sky while relying on GPS and Darren’s voice to keep us from falling off the mountain.
After the first elevation adventures, the trail transitioned into a high-speed run across the desert. It is littered with obstacles, hairpins and a series of jumps that hide in plain sight. At slow speeds, the car’s bouncing is amplified by the washboards, but Darren told us to put the hammer down.
The Wide Open Baja car really comes into its own at speeds above 50 mph. As we bounced across the dusty wasteland, it was necessary to minimize brake and steering inputs. The tires are only touching the sand for fractions of a second, so your focus needs to be far ahead.
Saturday’s lunch was a mom & pop taqueria. After some amazing local cuisine, we took a 15-mile highway trip through picturesque Mexican villages. Our destination was top-secret, and very deep into the high desert. We came up to a mountain spring and Darren said we needed top speed in 2nd gear to make it across…the joke was on us, soaked to the bone in rapidly decreasing temperatures, we came upon the most iconic location in off-road racing.
Mike’s Horsepower Rancho is a rite of passage. It takes serious skill and incredible machines to even reach this secluded spot. Every inch of the hotel and bar are covered with signatures and stickers from the world’s best racers. It seemed like we were the only ones at this altitude until I came across an old man sitting at the bar. The kind man introduced himself as Mike Jr, the son of legendary racer Mike Leon. Far removed from any urban anxieties, the absolute lack of sound is incredibly peaceful. The proprietor has enough wild stories to last a lifetime, with pictures to prove it. This location made the trip worth it and it should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Sitting around a fire, we were surprised to see a group of Honda Enduros appear out of the narrow trails. They joined us to compare stories of how we all got there and joined us for yet another amazing meal. At 9:30 pm, the generator went off and we were cut off from the outside world. It was nice to be disconnected, without a worry in the world.
Leaving Mike’s on Sunday morning, we were greeted by an arduous 10 miles of rock climbs and nerve-wracking descents. It is the most technical portion of the Baja1000, but our car never skipped a beat. Pushing the machine past what we thought it was possible of, the trail eventually transformed into a high-desert plateau. Running flat out, we briefly hit 77 mph heading toward the Pacific Ocean.
After a brief highway run, we headed down a steep canyon to the ocean. Instead of sand, the beach was comprised of round rocks, relentlessly pounded by the Pacific. The water temperature was inviting, but we had a schedule to keep. Sunday night we arrived at Hotel Paraiso Colonet, overlooking the beach in Ensenada. It was nice to have WiFi and cell service again, but honestly, coming back to civilization was a bit of a letdown. Our trip took us through villages and farms that look like something you would have seen in the 1800s. And they were filled with happy people, who lived mostly hand-to-mouth. Nobody was posing for Snapchat or Instagram. Nobody was talking about North Korea or Kneeling. It was a perfect way to get back to basics.
Monday was our last day of driving, so Darren saved some amazing trails for us. Some of the big sweeping curves have deep ruts, so the side bite from our BFG tires allowed for incredible grip. After another day on the trails, we arrived at Wide Open Headquarters to get a tour of their new cars. Next year’s cars will have integrated iPad and GoPro connections along with even more suspension travel. We would like to thank Rob, Darren, Gary, Miguel and the entire team who provided concierge service around the clock. If you need more excitement in your life, Wide Open will reset your priorities. You won’t take anything for granted once it’s over, so don’t miss this opportunity of a lifetime.
Article Originally Published on October 6, 2017