Like many other Canadian motorcycle enthusiasts, my winter includes counting down the days until the snow melts as well as scouring YouTube for motorcycle content to help scratch the 2- wheeled itch. I had stumbled across the “Obsession Engineering” YouTube channel which features gentlemen from the United Kingdom who build and race motorcycles. The video that particularly caught my attention had two Isle of Man TT veterans, Dave Hewson and Eric Wilson who had come across the pond and raced in the Baja International Tourist Cup in Baja, Mexico. While motorcycle racing on closed roadways in Canada and the United States no longer exists in 2023, there was a relatively new road race just a little further South of the border.
As someone who has always been a fan of the legendary Isle of Man TT road race, I dreamed of being able to ride the Snaefell Mountain Course like famed racers Joey Dunlop and John McGuiness. While this dream was not very realistic, I still always wanted to be able to experience the feeling of competing in a motorcycle race on closed public roads. When I found out the 3rd annual Baja International Tourist Cup was to be held in Mexico in October 2023, I felt like I had to go. All I needed to do was to bribe my fiancé with the promise of taking her to Disneyland on the way and we packed up my bike and gear. It was then just a quick 3,000-kilometer trip from Saskatchewan to Mexico.
What is the Baja International Tourist Cup? The temporary road racing circuit is located about 20 minutes South of the Mexican border city of Tecate. The circuit is a 16 km loop that is made up of parts of the Mexico Highway 3 as well as some narrower, more rugged sections of road. The course features 22 turns and has fast and flowing roads as well as a large amount of changing elevation as you snake your way through the hilly Mexican landscape. While there are not many buildings along the course, there are steep drop-offs on the edge of the road as well as jagged rock faces which makes the circuit sufficiently spine-tingling when being ridden at speed. Local law enforcement and the National Guard are present and responsible for blocking traffic to ensure there is safe and unimpeded racing.
The event format includes one day for practice and qualifying sessions as well as the actual race the following day. The event is broken up into two races with one being for middleweight and lightweight bikes (Group A) and the other race being for 1000 cc superbikes and 600 cc super sport bikes (Group B). Each race is broken up into 2 heats of 5 laps with a break for refueling in between. The final race times are based on the total time of the heats added together.
Who is eligible to participate in this race? The requirements for this event are pretty straightforward with the rules stating you must be 18 years old, have a valid motorcycle racing licence from a recognized sanctioning body, and be in good health. My experience includes a couple of years of club racing in Canada. Overall, I would consider myself an average club-level racer.
So what machinery did I bring with me? I had my 2021 KTM 690 SMC-R Supermoto that I also used for track riding and short-circuit racing. The bike was almost completely stock except for an aftermarket slip-on exhaust. I do acknowledge that a supermoto was not the most ideal bike for this race due to the high speeds and lack of any sort of aerodynamic bodywork, but it’s what I had so it was going to have to do.
The long journey South took a couple of days but we eventually hit the Mexican Border. We had arrived in Tecate, Mexico a day before the event started. We drove the course in our vehicle to scope out the track. I quickly realized that some parts of the pavement were rough and were starting to break down. A rider’s meeting was held that evening to go over the race format and the different safety procedures in the event of a racing incident. My nerves about what the next day would bring were starting to set in.
The first morning started early with the first practice session setting off at 8:00 AM. It was a brisk morning which made me apprehensive about going out on cold Dunlop Q5 tires. Learning the course took some time as there were many dips in the pavement and parts of the road with dirt and gravel on them. I found that I had to hold the throttle wide open for the majority of the lap due to the roads being so fast and open. I was trying my hardest to squeeze out all 74 horses out of the 693 cc single-cylinder engine. I slowly got more comfortable with the course and learned what level of grip I was getting from my tires. During the qualifying session, I started to pick up the pace a bit more. I found myself riding the bike closer to the edge of the road, occasionally clipping small shrubs with my knees and elbows near some of the corner apexes. I ended up qualifying with the second-best time in Group A.
The race day started with Group A completing their first 5-lap heat. The race format was a time trial with riders being started in 15-second intervals. The first heat went well but I was unable to get any closer to the quick rider in first place. Group B’s first heat was stopped shortly after it started due to a rider crashing on the course. The rider was taken to a hospital in the United States with a broken pelvis. Due to the delays in dealing with the injured rider, Groups A and B were sent out together for the second 5-lap heat. The second heat was again pretty uneventful as I was unable to gain any ground toward the frontrunner, but I was able to maintain my lead over the riders behind me. My main goal for the race was to do consistent laps while not reaching a point in my riding where I would feel like I was out of control. I ended up finishing second in the Group A race as well as second in the middleweight class. My fastest lap for the event was 6:07 which equals an average speed of 157 km/h. A well-earned shot of tequila was taken as soon as we had returned to the hotel and the race day was officially over.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in this event. I am also proud to say I am the first Canuck to have competed in this road race. It was great to meet riders from different parts of the world and to be able to visit another country. Being able to ride a bike flat out on closed public streets is a phenomenal feeling and I only want to be able to do it again. Any motorcycle racer who wants to try their hand at a real motorcycle road race should strongly consider this event in the future.
- From Logan Barker