Below the Border and Above the Clouds: San Pedro Martir Hillclimb

I’m from Southern California so the topic of Baja California, MX comes up every now and then. Whether it’s about Cabo San Lucas or Ensenada, one of those big tourist cities is usually mentioned when a friend of mine wants to head out there on some sort of vacation. But being that I’m a photographer who shoots cars for a living, I can only really think about one thing when Baja is mentioned: trophy trucks.

Baja is kind of the perfect place for desert racing as there just so happens to be a lot of dirt and sandy surfaces. It’s some of the most exciting racing anyone can watch. 900hp trucks drifting through silt beds before blasting onto a dry lakebed at 130mph. I mean, it’s kind of awesome in every way possible. It made me wonder if there were any other cool forms of racing down south aside from desert racing. That’s when I heard about the San Pedro Martir Hillclimb.

To tell you about it, I need to throw it back to a year ago. In May 2017, Hoonigan was on the hunt for some new female driving talent in the automotive industry and started the ‘Hoonigans Wanted’ driver search in the hope to find someone to pilot an extremely fast and well-built all-new Fiat 124 Abarth rally car for them.

As you guys may already know, Sara Price ended up winning the event and took the 124 to its maiden race at the Mt. Washington Hillclimb in New Hampshire. The venue is known to have some of the most erratic weather conditions on the planet.

Unfortunately, the race didn’t go her way as she was having issues with the car running in limp mode halfway up the narrow mountain road.

Sara and the Hoonigans were determined to get her up a mountain again and when they heard of the first annual San Pedro Martir Hillclimb taking place in Baja, of all places, they knew it was going to be a chance for redemption.

Because the San Pedro Martir Hillclimb was going to be a venture into the unknown, Scotto brought along veteran hillclimb racer Rhys Millen to help out and drive alongside Sara and her co-driver Erica Sacks. She had driven Mt. Washington solo, but it was decided that a co-driver would be best for the upcoming hillclimb.

Also, since the course was going to be 20 miles long, it was decided that they should run stage rally notes in order to get the fastest possible time. But rally pace notes are no joke, and this task proved to be challenging for Sara and Erica as they both come from a desert racing background where they use a GPS unit and a simpler note system. It was going to be a steep learning curve.

Knowing this, everyone left a day early so the girls and Rhys could spend a day to recce the course to create, refine, and practice their notes.

While the three drivers were out setting up for the race days, the video and photo teams were out on our own recce for shooting locations.The course itself is 20 miles long so we had to carefully pick out the exact spots where we wanted to shoot as each race day only allowed two runs up the mountain.

This Porsche 911 driver didn't have the best of luck on his recce. He was having an electrical issue that prevented him from continuing. I used Larry's FJ to tow it down the mountain where his crew met him.

After learning as much as we could throughout the mountain, we called it a day and headed back down to base camp, which was at a remote motel/ranch/farm, called Rancho Meling.

That night, Rhys learned that Sara had never used the car’s launch control so a quick lesson right outside the ranch was the only logical thing to do.

As the sun dipped, the media team laid everything out to make sure we were all good to go for the two race days.

Also, cats. There were stray(?) cats and dogs roaming around the farm the entire time we were there. They weren’t hesitant to climb onto us. This guy was pretty attached to Will. He got a little fussy when anyone else tried grabbing him.

All the meals were had at a mess hall. Everyone staying at the farm had their meals there, including us. Nothing but authentic Mexican food for 4 days. No one was complaining.

After a breakfast and some quick prep, we were ready for Day 1.

Right as I walked outside, I noticed this Ford Thunderbird. I don’t know what it was, but I hate that I loved everything about it. This homegrown-style racecar was the exact type of car I was hoping to see at this hillclimb.

As this was the first running of the hillclimb, and there weren’t too many competitors; 10 to be exact.

Towards the end of the course, about a mile from the finish were these insanely large rock formations that only existed in that single location. Larry and Will planted themselves there.

I was about 5 miles south of them at a more traditional scenic spot that overlooks the central Baja valley. You can see the Pacific Ocean further back in the photo.

Rhys was first off the line and laid down a 15:24. Sara laid down a 17.32.

There was plenty of room for improvement for not just Sara, but also Rhys, as they stated.

On the second run, after Rhys and Sara passed, things kind of fell silent for a few minutes.

Those few minutes became another few and soon we realized that a car went off. The afternoon runs ended and we made our way down the mountain only to find this Porsche 911 down a ditch off the side of the hill, the same one with electrical issues the day prior.

Scotto’s face kind of says it all. After an hour of everyone working together, the 911 was pulled out. Needless to say, it was out of the race.

Back to the girls, they chipped off 42 seconds off their first run. Rhys dropped from his 15:24 down to a 15:07.

Rhys was definitely surprised as the two girls were learning fast. Talking to them later, they said it all about being confident in each other’s skills as driver and co-driver.

Day 2 proved to be just as exciting.

About a mile from the start, was a lump on the road that we didn’t really think too much of on the first day.

That was until Rhys told us that he was going full send of said lump and actually getting proper air over it the day prior.

Being the media guys that we were, we had to go find out.

Sure enough, both drivers flew over the jump.

The day ended with Rhys with his 15:07 and Sara with a 15:43. And what a day - and event - it was.