By Wil Hahn, as told to Aaron Hansel
When you pair our list of regular features with yesterday’s race day coverage, there’s a lot of information and multiple angles to be found here at Racer X after each National. Of course, we’re always looking for ways to add fresh new ideas, which prompted us to reach out Wil Hahn. Yup, we got the skullcracker to give us his take, and here’s what he had to say. Enjoy!
Unadilla. It’s definitely one of the most brutal races of the year. With its rough and rocky characteristics it’s one of the toughest tracks to prepare for and is very tricky to go fast on. It’s super rutty, has all kinds of different lines and bike setup can be a moving target. It’s definitely a track that requires patience, something that Dungey is very good at, and if you’re not careful, this track can bite you.
The rocks at Unadilla are always a factor and seem to come out of nowhere. And not just in the form of roost, either. They come out in ruts, and you may have trusted a rut the lap before, but the next time around all of a sudden there’s a rock in there that can knock you out of the rut or simply take the wheel out from underneath you. They get kicked up in the air too, and they’ll bounce off your helmet, goggles, body and hands. One way or another you’re dodging them the entire race. A lot of people run hand guards there, but that can be a gamble sometimes. I’m not a fan of running them. I’m fully against them actually. We’re already banging bars out of the gate, and hand guards are a good way to get snagged on the start. Also, if you crash they can end up jamming your clutch or front brake. At the same time, they can prevent broken fingers and knuckles, so it’s kind of a catch 22.
Track hazards aside, finding places to pass is always important and this year it looked like a lot of people were making moves coming out of Gravity Cavity. They’d set up early in that corner and get good speed coming out. And behind the Sky Shot was a good place, too. You set up before; you hit that tabletop and come down the hill and there’s the right-hander before the double as you go up the hill. You can lose a lot of time there, especially on a 250, by casing that double, so if the guy in front of you makes a mistake it’s a good place to be ready to pounce. Another good passing opportunity at Unadilla comes just from being patient with your lines, which was a big thing this year. And speaking of this year, let’s talk a little bit about how things played out in the top five in each Class.
1. Ryan Dungey 1-2
This is the problem with giving Ryan Dungey a little bit of confidence. You can see that in what he’s doing right now. These last several weeks he’s gotten his confidence back, his swagger, per se, and you simply can’t let him have that.
2. Trey Canard 4-1
Awesome return to the winner’s circle in the second moto! There’s not one fan or person in the industry who wasn’t happy to see the #41 get a win. And just like with all of us, all it takes is a little bit of confidence, and Trey will definitely get a boost off this. In the broadcast I think they may have announced that he switched to KYB suspension too, so maybe that was part of it.
3. Eli Tomac 3-3
Eli has been solid since he’s returned. I feel like after Washougal he may not have been as comfortable as he would like, though. I think he may have had more in the tank, speed wise, but never really got going. He hasn’t had a bad race since he’s come back though—his lowest moto finish has been fourth and he’s fifth in the points after missing the first four rounds. That’s all that needs to be said!
4. Ken Roczen 2-4
I don’ t know about this. He was right there in the first moto with Dungey, he was within that range the whole time. But like I said, it’s tough to give Dunge that confidence. They’re both such good athletes and they’re both so fit it’s going to take a mistake out of one of them. It’s tough to say whether he’s struggling in the second half or if Dungey is just on it right now. I haven’t been in that position where I’ve raced a whole season in the 450 Class. Maybe he’s a little burnt out. Who knows? The thing you can’t take away is that they’ve both been so fast all year. Kenny had the edge at the beginning of the year, but now Dunge has that confidence. You can’t give that confidence to him.
5. Justin Brayton 6-7
Awesome performance out of JB. Fifth I think is his best overall of the year. Solid all day long and putting himself up front with holeshots. You can’t ask for much more than that. He’s definitely got those starts figured out.
1. Christophe Pourcel 1-2
Man, he looked so effortless all day. You hear his bike and it sounds like he’s a gear higher than everyone, he’s standing everywhere and is just riding his dirt bike perfectly. That’s all you can say about it, and Unadilla is a track that really suits that style.
2. Jeremy Martin 3-1
Another strong day from this kid. You can tell he knows what he wants and the championship obviously isn’t getting to him at all. He just wants more and more. He may have backed off a little bit in that first moto, but not at all in the second. He was the Jeremy Martin I saw at Glen Helen in that second moto. Even though he doesn’t necessarily have to win motos now, he’s still doing it and he’s still the guy. His pass for the lead in the second moto was awesome too. It was effortless. He went inside, then checked out. It was the kind of thing you dream about.
3. Marvin Musquin 2-5
I thought Marv was going to get that win in the first moto. In the second moto he got a bad start and got stuck behind some guys for a while. It looked like he got kind of frustrated and just kind of settled into a pace. And once you get frustrated and start trying too hard at Unadilla it becomes a very hard track to push through. In the broadcast you could hear his frustration on the onboard camera when he was yelling at Joey Savatgy. He probably felt like he should have been in front, but Joey was just riding well, so it was one of those things. It’s tough to not let the adrenalin and frustration get to you, and that was an example. I think that’s where it started and it looked like it lingered the whole moto.
4. Justin Bogle 5-3
Awesome day. He continues to be solid and consistent, and in that second moto I really thought he was going to close up on Pourcel. Another great day and what a great year for him. Without a doubt he’ll be one of the guys to beat in the class next year.
5. Blake Baggett 6-4
Quiet day for Baggett. He struggled with starts again, which I still don’t understand. He doesn’t weigh very much and his bike isn’t slow. I don’t know. He’s always fast though, and he’s that guy who is always there at the end. He just trains, he never stops working and it shows at the end.
Since Unadilla follows closely on the heels of Loretta’s, there’s frequently a few rookies making pro debuts at this round. This year was no different, and all three of the high profile guys did well.
8. Chris Alldredge 13-8
That is an A+ showing! As hard as that track is, and I don’t know if he’s familiar with that track or not, but I don’t care if he is, either way, it’s a tough race to show up to. He’s on Mitch’s team so he probably puts a lot of pressure on himself to do well, and he did very well today. That was a solid, solid performance.
13. RJ Hampshire 11-16
It was a good day. The second moto, without that tip over, he maybe could have had a top ten. But that’s the way it goes. He’s learning and he went out there, started up front and got good experience.
17. Luke Renzland 18-15
That was my exact moto score in my first National so I have to give him props! To come out of the amateurs and get thrown into the pro ranks a week later, I think it’s pretty huge to get points in both motos. All three of these guys got points in both motos and I think that’s amazing.
There’s a couple other guys we should mention here as well. First off, Mitchell Oldenburg from Texas (I’m biased because I’m a fan and know him well) went 13-13 for 12th overall on a 450. For a full privateer effort I’d say that’s very respectable. Also, Andrew Short went down in the first turn in the second moto and started in fortieth. Then he came all the way back to eighth, and amazingly ended up sixth overall. That’s unreal!
Of course, there’s more to what happened at Unadilla than what happened at Unadilla, namely in the 450 Class. I’m talking championship implications here. As I said before, Kenny had the edge early in the season but now Dunge is coming on hard every week. There’s a lot of pressure on both guys. Not from the team so much probably because either way that team is going to get this championship, but Dunge is trailing and Roczen is probably thinking, ‘Man, I was winning so dominantly at the beginning and I just want to do that again. What do I have to do to own that podium again?’ And with four motos left, Kenny has to win. Dunge took seven points of Kenny today, which puts him only seven points out of the lead. So if Kenny takes second to Dunge in the last four motos, that’s twelve points. So he has to get a win or flip flop 2-1 and 1-2 with Dunge somewhere.
Being in that position is tough. It was the same thing for me last year in supercross when Musquin kept clicking off wins. You just try to figure out what you have to do to get back to winning, and it’s hard. But Kenny is a world champion, he’s a supercross champion, he’s won multiple Nationals and if anyone can figure it out he can. But the biggest problem for Kenny is Dungey. Like I said from the beginning, he’s not a guy you can give confidence to. In my opinion, Kenny really needed to win a moto today. If he could have done that, it might have changed the situation, but since he didn’t I feel like all of the momentum is in Dungey’s lap.