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AEM-Sponsored Team ATK Wins 1st Place at the 2009 Baja 500 in the JeepSpeed Wrangler

Team ATK's notable finish at the 2008 SCORE International Baja 1000 seems to have been a launching pad for the race crew. In an extremely competitive lineup of nearly 400 entries, the JeepSpeed Wrangler of Team ATK finished 31st overall, a remarkable finish for such a racer-saturated race. The winning momentum carried the team well into this year as Team ATK took the 1st place spot at the 2009 Baja 500 in Ensenada, Mexico.
Jon Krellwitz and Skyler Gambrell passing bystanders at the Baja 500
Jon Krellwitz and Skyler Gambrell passing bystanders at the Baja 500

Team ATK parades their JeepSpeed Jeep Wrangler through the streets of Ensenada, Mexico
Team ATK parades their Wrangler in the streets of Mexico before the Baja 500
The Jeep Wrangler of Team ATK jumping through an inflatable at the 2009 Baja 500
The Jeep Wrangler of Team ATK jumping through an inflatable at the 2009 Baja 500

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Before starting the Baja 500, the Team ATK Jeep is paraded through the streets of Ensenada, Mexico

To begin the race, drivers Darren Skilton and his father Clive Skilton (20-year Baja racing veteran) were the first off the line in their class. The temperature was 70-degrees with a light breeze which created the ideal weather for a Baja race day. The perfect racing conditions followed through as the duo charged through droves of Limited Buggies, Mini Trucks, and Full-Size Stock Trucks that started ahead of the Jeep. As the team began approaching Class 7 Unlimited Mini Trucks, they were about 80 miles into the race and looking strong.

Keeping up the momentum, the father and son team blasted through the desert. As the Jeep whipped around a blind turn, Darren noticed a large rock in the middle of the course. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to avoid the obstacle and the Jeep struck the rock with both driver's side wheels. The impact was substantial enough to crack both wheels. Luckily for Darren and Clive, they had set up their race truck with two spares. As they jumped out to swap the wheels, spectators crowded the truck eager to help with the repair. Well, the spectators ended up doing more bad than good and a few of the wheel studs were stripped in the process. Darren still managed to get a couple lugs on to secure the wheels and jumped back into the Jeep to make it back to the next pit stop.

After carefully maneuvering a few miles from the location where they struck the rock, Darren and Clive arrived to a BFGoodrich Tires pit. At the BFG pit stop the Jeep was fueled up with Sunoco unleaded race fuel and Team ATK filed the damaged threads to the rear hub in order to properly mount the wheels. Once the vehicle was back in good working order, Clive decided to switch seats with Skyler Gambrell. Skyler suited up and got in the co-pilot seat to help navigate through the technical crossing of the Sierra De Juarez mountain summit.

Heading through the summit, Darren and Skyler made good time and recovered most what they had lost due to the rock incident. As the team pulled into the second BFGoodrich pit, they estimated a comfortable 30 mile lead on the second-place Land Rover entry. Even with their lead, the team was not in the clear as of yet and more mechanical repairs were needed. This time, the crew noticed that the transfer case was leaking a considerable amount of fluid from the rear seal. The team weighed their options and decided to go for the repairs since they were already at a pit stop and had the spare parts on hand.

The transfer case swap cost the team about an hour and a half. By the time they were back on the road, the Land Rover entry was hot on their trail. This time driver Darren Skilton gave up the wheel to teammate Jon Krellwitz with Skyler remaining co-driver. Across the peninsula they went directly into the setting Baja sun. Jon and Skyler counted the minutes until sunset so they could stop squinting at the horizon. The blinding light lasted for about 50 treacherous miles of driving. Aside from being blinded for the entire time, the Wrangler made it across the peninsula smoothly and safely.

Once Team ATK reached the Pacific coast they were due for a refuel. So the team made their third scheduled pit stop to fuel up the Jeep in preparation for the last stretch of desert. By the time the team left the pit stop, it was pitch black in the desert. Jon flipped on the newly-equipped carbon-fiber KC HiLites POD light rack to ensure visibility of the ruthless terrain. With a sizeable lead over the Land Rover, Jon and Skyler made a decision to take it easy.

Taking the last stretch of the course easy proved to be a good decision and the team cut out any risk of crashing. In the end, the JeepSpeed Wrangler crossed the finish line at about 1am on Sunday morning taking the class win of the Baja 500! The team's elapsed time came out to 14 hours and 4 minutes with an average speed of 30.74 miles per hour with roughly two hours of downtime. Once the official time was released however, the team was penalized by adding 60 minutes to their time for a course deviation in San Vicente. Even with the hardships of the race, Team ATK still came out over two and a half hours ahead of the next competitor.

With a Baja 500 Class win under their belt, the team is looking forward to returning to Baja for the SCORE Baja 1000 later this year. With their continued success and determination, we look forward to hearing more good news from our friends at Team ATK. Congratulations guys!

Team ATK Crew:
Clive Skilton
Darren Skilton
Jon Krellwitz
Skyler Gambrell
Matt McCallum
John Zambo
Keg Parker
Jerry Krellwitz
Bill Frey
Patrick Smith

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