When BF Goodrich decided to offer automotive writers the ultimate test opportunity (the chance to explore the abilities of the new KO2 All-Terrain with a drive of the same off-road course that plays host to the Baja 500 every year) the tire maker couldn’t have anticipated an unexpected visitor.
Hurricane Odile rocked Mexico – while its weaker tendrils sent a heavy downpour over the Baja 500 course. That made for some brutal, challenging driving. But, it also provided an ideal variety of road surfaces for an All-Terrain tire.
The KO2 is the latest and most ambitious all-purpose, off-road tire. With thicker side walls, improved materials and newly designed treads, the tire is designed to go from pavement, gravel and dirt to mud, snow and sand without blinking. As I arrived at the Mexican border to join the Baja 500 simulation, I never expected we’d encounter every terrain type that can exist north of 32 degrees.
When the tail end of Hurricane Odile clipped the Baja Peninsula, it spared the race course the full brunt of the storm. But, a steady torrent of rain settled over the desert. When that much water hits a region that languishes in desert conditions most of the year, the immediate effects are intimidating. Dry washes become rapids. The very road you were driving moments before become rivers. The entire countryside slowly transforms from well-packed dirt to sliding layers of mud.
The sun was still shining when I took the wheel of a specially built BC car (a simple, high-powered buggy) with my partner and coach, Justin “Bean” Smith. He was an ideal wingman, considering he is a Baja 500 champion and has been on racing winners’ podiums 75 different times (winning more than 35 races and seven Championships in Desert and Short Course Racing).
The vehicle controls are simple enough — open wheel suspension and steering married to an engine that give you about 75 mph on open ground while married to a straight shift manual transmission. There are no creature comforts besides an air purification system for the racing helmets and a five point safety harness.
The suspension is heavy and the ride rough. In the midst of keeping the machine on the rocky dirty roads, I was so focused on managing speed and road positioning, I lost track of the toll this kind of racing takes on the body. The endless dirt coats every inch of you, and the heat of the Mexican desert blends with the searing engine’s constant baking to dehydrate you. After a few hours, your back aches and your arse cramps up sharply. I had to remind myself to relax into the driving to make sure my arms and wrists didn’t ache.
Then, the rains came. The floods built up quickly as the dry earth couldn’t soak up the moisture quickly enough. Soon, I was powering across rivers so deep with muddy water than it the overflow would cascade inside the car — soaking driver and guide. Mud beaded through the air, coating my helmet’s visor and reducing visibility. If I stopped or spun out, the car would be stuck in the mud immediately. There was nothing left to do but plow ahead until we reached our camp.
All along, the KO2 remained steadfast. In fact, it no doubt held up better than I did. I headed to my bunk that night walking gingerly, hoping a night’s sleep would put some life back in my body — because all that waited me for the next day was hundreds of miles more along the Baja 500 road.