Cognito & Justin Lambert Conquer The 2019 Baja 1000
By: Justin Lambert, 2918 Cognito/Monster energy/Polaris RZR // Photos by Daniel Curiel Photographic.
In 2011 I ran across a documentary film called ‘Dust to Glory’ by director Dana Brown. If you are competitive in nature, a gear head, and like the desert you can’t help but watch that film and think to yourself how awesome it would be to win the Baja 1000 let alone race in it. I had heard of the Baja 1000 but didn’t know much about it, after watching the film I had a dream of winning the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000 one day, I just didn’t know it was going to come true yet. Coincidentally, I got my feet wet with my first desert race that same year piloting a UTV.
In 2013 we entered the Baja 1000 and it was a whole new ball game from racing in the USA. This was the first year that SCORE launched a legitimate “PRO” UTV class, 19 UTVs entered. We didn’t pre-run, ran out of fuel once, I didn’t know the lay of the land, the terrain was crippling, the silt was nuts, and we made it to the finish line in 5th place as the final finisher in the class, which was a win in itself. From then on, we raced the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 every year grabbing a 2nd here and a 3rd there, still working hard toward the dream of winning big in Baja. We learned a lot every single race and got better and better, sometimes having bad luck but never with an excuse, rather always a having our chin up and figuring out how to get better and acting on it. In 2017 we picked up our first Baja 500 win, not just a win, but with a gap of 49 minutes it was a statement that our team and equipment had what it takes to win in Baja, a dream had come true.
Every single SCORE race in Baja is the roughest ever, it somehow just gets tougher and more challenging. The 2019 Baja 1000 was tough, grueling, punishing, ridiculous, relentless, and challenging! The challenge and the competition is why we race, and the Baja 1000 is the biggest race of the year. This year the course was 800 miles, reportedly one of the toughest Baja 1000 courses to date and I agree. I have never seen it rain in Baja and it rained 4 inches in 2 days just before race day, it definitely got everyone’s attention, but after a 24-hour race delay it was time to get-it-on. Our Cognito/Monster Energy/Polaris RZR and our team were eager to get started!
A little about our race car, this is the 5th Polaris RZR desert race car we have built for myself, and the best yet. It is a Polaris RZR XP 4 Turbo S, with a whole lot of Cognito components to do things with this machine that it was not intended to do. Upgraded Cognito suspension components are one of the most important aspects of the car to get thru a race like this with no failures. I love it, we design and build the parts at Cognito and I get to go out on the race course and test the limits so our customers can have the confidence in buying the same upgraded components for their machines. Play or race, our customers deserve to have proof that what they buy from Cognito is worth the money.
The first 340 miles, Victor Herrera drove with Adrian Orellana co-driving. I can’t even explain to you how pointless it is for a racer (me) to tell another racer (Victor) to take it easy, especially when the race is on. We had a game plan, but in the heat of the moment it is really hard to talk yourself into holding back and use patience, you have to realize it is a long race, sort of a chess game, and you just have to win at the end of the last mile, not all of the miles.
The game plan was to get me the RZR in the top 5 within 20 minutes of the leader at race mile 340, and these guys did exactly that even after some bottlenecks and 1 flat tire. I drove the rest of the race with Jesus Navarro co-driving, we were fast where we needed to be, and conservative in the nasty stuff, we stuck to our game plan while working our way into 2nd place physically by race mile 460. The grueling course was taking its toll on many other racers, our game plan was to keep the tires rolling and pour it on the last 200 miles to get to the front. The leader, Wayne Matlock, had some mechanical issues and we got passed them around race mile 630 putting us 1st on course, but not knowing who was at the back door chasing us down. The next check point reported to us we had a 4-minute lead, and we ran the last 70 miles pretty hard to make sure we had the win covered on corrected time. Crossing the finish line, we found we had the win covered with a gap, my first win ever in a Baja 1000, and this was literally a dream come true! Proud of our whole team on this accomplishment!