The weekend’s track in Indianapolis might have been one of the slowest tracks we have seen in a while and certainly one of the most rutted. These days, supercross venues that were once plagued by soft, wet, dirt have changed, with the track builders using drying agents more effectively to reduce moisture and cut back on ruts. But with the NFL Draft Combine taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium just days before the supercross—and with so much of the country dealing with an especially cold and wet winter—the Indy dirt was extra wet, and the crew was left with less time than usual to dry things out. This left a softer track, which broke down and slowed down.
When tracks slow down, strategies will change accordingly. The typical mantra of "momentum at all costs" is de-emphasized and different lines become viable. This seems simple in theory, but being aware enough to change your line choice is actually quite complex. Instead of railing berms to carry momentum, using the excess traction on the inside line can shorten the racetrack and thus lower lap times.
James Stewart was using this opening to lower his time in practice, and ended up with the fastest time in the session—proof that this works. Just before the second set of whoops, there was a triple-double section that become incredibly rutted, technical and slow at different times during the day and night. When landing off the last double, riders were moving at a slower speed than usual before accelerating back out to the berm. After leaving the berm, they would then head toward the whoops, but since the whoops were so deteriorated, they would then jump back on the brakes to lower their entry speed. So in review, they would land, accelerate toward the berm, decelerate entering the berm, accelerate out of the turn then decelerate again entering the whoops. That’s a lot of unnecessary action when compared to the line that Stewart started using in practice. Also, Andrew Short found in the main event. They would land off the double on the brakes and barrel into the inside line. Because the soft dirt offers plentiful traction, they could turn quickly, and by the exit of the turn they were virtually already at the base of the first whoop.
Sure, they weren’t entering the whoops with much speed, but there really wasn’t a need for it in what had broken down to a barely recognizable whoop section. They were immediately prepared to hop, skip and jump their way through the rutty whoops. It was a move that only works in these conditions, but is incredibly effective when possible. They were cutting off 15 feet of track, and since they were riding where others weren’t, the passing opportunities were obvious. Plus, the inside didn’t get as much attention, so it stayed smoother. The outside line became rough and rutted on Saturday night, but, as Lionel Richie would say, the inside line stayed easy like Sunday morning.
As the tracks have become faster and more manicured, techniques like this are becoming a lost art. On a typical hard-packed track, the inside would be virtually unusable because it would leave you without any speed coming into the whoops. Saturday night, however, the inside became a trick up a few riders' sleeves. These are the subtle, yet effective, moves I enjoy keeping an eye out for and that make supercross a continually evolving, learning process.