New Jersey played host to the penultimate round of Monster Energy Supercross last Saturday and for the first time ever, MetLife Stadium. Bringing supercross back to the northeast was very popular among riders and fans alike and many anticipated the return all season. Of course, the nearby Manhattan attractions were high on everyone's list of things to see and most of the teams and riders took part in their share of sightseeing. Although there were plenty of distractions, the race was still the event we all came for.
With a 48-point lead, Ryan Villopoto didn't need to do anything crazy to wrap up his fourth consecutive championship. He just needed a safe 20 laps to seal the deal. But for those who thought he would ride cautiously to assure that happened, I would like to introduce you to Ryan Villopoto. RV proceeded to absolutely run away from everyone (including runner up in points Ryan Dungey) in the heat race. If there was any hesitation or pause, he surely wasn't showing it. As the track deteriorated during the intermittent showers before the main event, I wondered if that would change RV's approach. One mistake on the rain soaked course could prolong this series into Vegas and that was what he wanted to avoid at all costs.
What became interesting to me was technically not part of the real race. It was the parade lap.
When it's muddy, whether in supercross or outdoors, riders must make a choice about whether to partake in the standard parade lap. The benefits of taking the parade lap are obvious. Being able to see the track and pick lines before the actual race is an incredibly valuable tool. Knowing exactly where you are going to go and also having secondary lines figured out is very comforting. The downside is that when one does venture out for the parade lap, the motorcycle begins collecting mud immediately. Mud sticks to the bike literally everywhere. The mud has many negative impacts but the biggest one comes off the start. First, the bike gets heavy with said mud collection and extra weight is a huge no-no for getting good starts. Secondly, the rear tire is not going to be fully cleaned out from the mud on the track, therefore lessening the footprint it will have in the dirt. That footprint is key for maximizing acceleration and getting in front of your competitors.
There are a few ways to combat the mud accumulation, however. You can spray the bike's vulnerable spots with some sort of silicone solvent to lessen the mud "stick". The mechanic will also make a last ditch effort to scrape any off while the rider is getting set in the gate. The rider can also help by removing dirt from the rear tire, using an unlikely tool. There is a steel railing behind the starting gates that is used to ensure that riders don't get a running start for the gate drop. This railing can also be used by the rear tire to spin dirt off. The rider simply pulls forward, places his rear tire on the railing and slowly spins the tire. The mud will sling off fairly easily and as long as it's not overdone, no wear will be placed on the tire. Most of the riders have perfected this maneuver and coupled with the mechanic's help, this can nullify a good amount of mud.
The other side of this coin is the approach Mike Alessi chose to employ. He simply skipped the parade lap altogether in hopes of keeping his bike and tires clean. For Mike, the start is everything. He is perhaps the most proficient starter in history and any advantage he can get, he is going to use. I don't completely disagree with his choice to skip the parade lap in this instance but I do think it was a trade-off. While his start was solid, rounding the turn in the top three, he made a couple of mistakes on the first lap that cost him positions. I think had he taken the parade lap, he may have known what pitfalls lay ahead and not made those mistakes.
The catch, of course, is had he taken the parade lap, would he have gotten a good start? History says yes, but one can never be sure—even Mike doesn’t get every start.
All in all, it seemed like the choice paid off as he finished seventh and I don't think he would have beaten any of the top six regardless. It was still a bold move and Alessi was the only rider to make it.
The parade lap was always very important to me in terms of value. Since I usually struggled in the whoops, I would really study them intensely, looking for a fresh line or a jumping rhythm scenario that I could use as they deteriorated. I wanted to know exactly where I was going on that first lap and as I sat behind the gate before the gate fell, I tried to envision the entire lap and the lines I would choose. As I watched Villopoto's first lap, I saw that he also benefited from what he saw on that parade lap. He changed his line in the whoops, specifically. He had been blitzing them during practice and his heat race, but on that first lap, he switched it up and launched five or six whoops deep, hopping all the way through. He made a conscious decision to jump the whoops on lap one, and that was based purely on what he saw on that parade lap. Had he skipped that lap, he wouldn't have seen the line open up, much like Alessi didn't. He gapped Alessi significantly on that first lap, which he typically would, but even more so because he was prepared for what he would encounter. It was the ultimate trade-off: A good start for Alessi but also a struggle to find the right lines on the first lap.
Which decision was wiser? That's anyone's call but I can make an argument for both sides.
For casual fans, the parade lap is what it sounds like. A parade of the main event riders slowly circulating the race track. For the riders, it is a valuable tool not only for safety purposes but seeking out those new lines that develop as the night evolves. Finding a new line on that parade lap can make a huge difference in the outcome of the race even though most would assume it is simply a formality. Utilizing these tools to maximum efficiency can make all the difference in a sport separated by so little.