June 2nd, 2006 – Baja 5B climbs Saddleback Mountain
Daydreaming about the coolest places to run a Baja 5B, HPI’s Thad Garner and Rodney Wills took a look at the local mountains surrounding Orange County and plotted an extreme “R&D test” for the Baja 5B. The nearest mountain sits in HPI Racing’s backyard, hovering above the factory at 3,800 feet in elevation. Rodney pointed out the window of his office to the distant peak of the mountain. “See those microwave relay towers way up there? That’s where we’re going. You, me, and the Baja 5B.” A quick crunch of the numbers…the nearby base of Saddleback Mountain sits at approximately 1,200 feet, the peak is 3,800 feet, a steep 9.1 mile stretch of dirt road separates the base from the peak…sounds like a perfect test for the Baja 5B.
The plan: Rodney pilots his full-size turbocharged Subaru WRX while Thad is in charge of driving the R/C Baja 5B from the Subaru’s co-pilot position. Wills stated, “It’s rough, rocky and a whole lot of fun on a motorcycle or in the Scooby, we want to see if the Baja can do something like this.” Garner stated, “I’ve tested the Baja 5B on a bunch of different tracks, but the challenge of the mountain is different. Driving on the fly inside the Subaru with the Baja 5B screaming at top speed up the mountain? Sign me up!”
The dirt road to the top of Saddleback Mountain, while public, is not always open to local residents, so the local off-road enthusiasts jump at the chance when the road is open. Rodney, HPI’s official off-road guru, is into more than R/C. His stable includes his Subaru WRX, a full-cage Escort rally car, a Honda XR400 dirt bike, and a variety of mountain bikes. He knows the schedule. The gate is open. The time is NOW!
Friday June 2nd, 2006 was the date for the Saddleback Mountain assault. The Southern California weather delivered a perfect sunny day with temps in the high 80’s. Wills and Garner drove to the base of the mountain to where the dirt road starts. Videographer Thuy Dang of LiveSockets Entertainment was there to document the attempt while testing the procedure of filming from the Subaru and capturing the Baja 5B. Thad stated, “This is going to test the Baja 5B in extreme conditions, let’s get this thing going!” Rodney countered with, “Hey man, I need to concentrate on keeping the Scooby on the road and avoid ripping the oil pan or gas tank off my car…and not run over the Baja 5B!”
The road up Saddleback Mountain is an unpaved wilderness trail with all of the hazards that come with it: sheer drop-offs, dirt, rocks, ruts, and lots of twisty turns. The crew was ready to go, so Thad filled up the Baja 5B gas tank and fired up the engine. With the video camera bolted to the hood of the Subaru, the run up the mountain was under way. Thad and the Baja 5B were quickly at home on the dirt road, spraying the Subaru chase vehicle with rocks and dust. So much so that Wills was nervous for his windshield. A quick stop to inspect the top-mount radiator of the Subaru resulted in a handful of gravel! Thuy Dang used the stop to move his video camera to a safer location on the roof of the Subaru.
Back on the trail, the Baja 5B tackled the tough terrain with ease, ripping up the mountain with controlled aggression. Thad and Rodney had both vehicles working in unison, with the Baja 5B stretching out a lead when the going got rough, and the Subaru catching back up on the wide open stretches. 9.1 miles and hundreds of turns later, they reached the 3,800 foot peak of the mountain. The climb was achieved with one tank of gas and no damage to either vehicle, a testament to the durability and off-road agility of both cars.
Of course, with off-road you can never bank on the conditions being so friendly. On the run back down the mountain the Subaru punctured a tire on sharp rock. The Baja 5B, while filming some additional video footage, came around a corner at warp speed and a slid into a very large rock hiding in the bushes. The impact was squarely on the pullstart housing. With 20+lbs of mass flying at approximately 30mph, the impact with the immovable rock resulted in a cracked pullstart.
“That’s a wrap!” stated Wills. Time to edit the video and write the story…and dream up the next Baja 5B adventure. Did I hear someone say “Barstow to Vegas?”