Observations: Ironman

Observations Ironman

August 31, 2016 10:30am

It’s over. Fini. Dunzo. The 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship ended when Ken Roczen took the checkered flag for his twentieth moto win of the year (out of 24 by the way). Will the series be remembered as an epic one? No, I think missing nine 450MX riders and seven 250MX riders from the top twenty at the opening round at Hangtown was a bummer. But that happens now and then, whether it’s supercross or motocross—some years are like mashed potatoes. Which are just okay. This was one of them.

Indiana was a tough race. Rain in the area turned an already soft surface even softer and made for a difficult track. Lap times were the longest all year long and the first 450MX moto lasted 38 minutes! That’s the longest moto all year and I was watching in the manager’s tower and a few of the big guys in there were a tad worried about fuel.

We’ve never really seen primo Ironman MX conditions in the three years they’ve had a national. First year it rained and was a mess; last year someone got way happy with the hose and watered the poop out of it which made it rutty and not ideal; this year the rain made it again rutty and soft—almost sand track-ish. Lots of riders struggled trying to find lines, get traction and stay straight. I think Ironman looks like an awesome track but I’m just waiting for the weather to give us an ideal one.

Short raced his final professional race on Saturday.
Short raced his final professional race on Saturday. Cudby

I thought Jason Thomas’s column on Andrew Short captured my thoughts on the guy as well. Indiana was the last race of his illustrious career and he wrapped it up in style by pulling the holeshot (something he’s been known for) in his last-ever moto. His bike had air shock issues on the line and unfortunately he was forced to DNF the final moto of his career. I saw a WP Suspension guy come up after the moto and apologize profusely for the failure and you know what Andrew said? “That’s all right, man, it’s not your fault. Stuff happens.” Which is SO Andrew Short, it’s not even funny.

Thanks to Troy Bendgen for adding the numbers up: In sixteen years Andrew’s got nine wins, 49 podiums, 141 top fives and 238 top tens. What a career for the guy and I think he’ll be around at the races next year working for Fly Racing and I believe as a test rider/R&D guy for an OEM that will be announced soon.

Through the years lots of riders had run-ins with Short on the track, because he rode aggressively and took no prisoners. Broc Tickle and Weston Peick are just a couple of guys that have had feuds with Andrew. But off the track, you couldn’t help but like the guy. James Stewart called him the “Smiley Faced Assassin” on the Pulpmx Show and that fits pretty well. I remember Shorty winning the Vegas 125SX East/West shootout as a total underdog. I remember Chad Reed grabbing him by his helmet in the tunnel in Indianapolis and yelling at him for causing a crash when he was part-time 450 guy. And now, he’s hanging it up and I’m still at the races. Help me.

Well, what more can I say about Ken Roczen? He went 1-1 with huge leads both times out. Justin Barcia kept him honest early in both motos but Roczen eventually pulled away to win them. Barcia closed up on the last lap of moto one so the race wasn’t as close as the six seconds gap indicated it was. About the only complaint I have about Ken is that he’s not lining up for the upcoming USGPs to, I think, whip up on everyone and show everyone he’s the world’s best motocrosser right now.

Roczen was an animal this year. Even when Ryan Dungey, Jason Anderson and everyone else were still racing he was whupping up on them so don’t give me the injury excuse and lack of depth of the competition this year. This title is the first one (out of four tries) that he won since leaving Aldon Baker and Roczen took the time last week to let everyone know that he believed in himself and leaving Baker was the right move, etc., etc. I know from talking to Kenny privately that this was a huge deal. I’m sure he’s read it over and over on his social media how that was the biggest mistake ever and I know he’s heard myself, JT and Weege discuss it on our post-race podcasts.

Roczen dominated the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season.
Roczen dominated the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season. Cudby

I awoke last week to texts from Kenny at 6:30 a.m. my time wanting to tell me more about his decision to leave Aldon. I’m not going to out those private texts, but let me just sum them up: he’s got tremendous confidence in his abilities on the bike and he believes, as do I, that a trainer does not make a rider. I think too many fans/industry people think it’s the other way around. By the way, I don’t think Baker thinks the trainer makes the rider, either (he’s a pretty solid dude with not much ego) but Roczen’s heard that over and over and over and now…it was his turn to speak. And his riding this summer basically should shut everyone up. As I said, he’s the best motocross rider in the world right now. Everything else is just background noise.

It’s been a while since the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team has been “The Team”. For so many years they’ve just been so dominant that everyone was green with envy (see what I did there?). But injuries, other bikes catching up to them, and some curious rider selections have left Mitch Payton’s crew without the number one plates they’re used to. Lots of blue, some orange and a pinch of red lately.

Well, the sleeping giant may be back real soon and adding some number one plates to that door. Austin Forkner, a kid in his rookie year (he didn’t even race supercross), won Indiana with a stunningly good first moto and a second moto that saw him tip over while in the lead. His 1-3 was good enough for the overall and he finished fourth in the points with two moto wins. This kid was a huge surprise in his learning year.

Great ride by Forkner, and look at what Savatgy did (pre-RedBud crash) with three overall wins and third in the points. Heck, Adam Cianciarulo collected 25 laps led, and between all three they scored five pole positions and captured 11 out of 24 holeshots (Bonus: Savatgy led the most laps this year). In short, this team had a good season.

Rookie Austin Forkner took his first career overall 250MX win on Saturday.
Rookie Austin Forkner took his first career overall 250MX win on Saturday. Cudby

And they’re adding the mercurial Justin Hill to the squad next year. Would it be a shock to see either Forkner or Savatgy win both 250SX and MX next year? Not at all, right? Don’t you think AC will be better? Of course, right? I asked Mitch Payton about the 2017 squad after the race and he had this to say: “I think next year we’ll have a kickass team. I think we’re going to have guys that supercross and outdoors, we’re going to be for sure winning lots of races.” Which is code for: “I feel silently VERY good about my team next year.”

Lets take a look at the results shall we?

250MX Results

1 214 Austin Forkner Richards, MO Kawasaki KX 250F 1 3- Maybe Webb and Herlings get beat by this kid this Sunday at the USGP? Hey, don’t laugh, bro.

2 23 Aaron Plessinger Hamilton, OH Yamaha YZ 250F 8 1- I’m done trying to figure Aaron out. If you’ve read this column you know how I feel about him. He might be the next Robbie Reynard and his 8-1 score proves that to me.

3 17 Cooper Webb Newport, NC Yamaha YZ 250F 5 2- Webb rode well to come from the back in moto one but it’s funny how the last four motos of the year featured more adversity for Coop than the other twenty combined. He ate some serious roost the last two races.

4 26 Alex Martin Millville, MN Yamaha YZ 250F 3 4- A-Mart was solid in Indiana and it was really him, Webb and Forkner that were the three best riders. Then Plessinger went full “Reynard” in the second moto to bump him off the podium. He rode just behind Forkner and Webb all day long.

5 44 Adam Cianciarulo Port Orange, FL Kawasaki KX 250F 6 5- The first thing Adam told me after the race was “it was better than Hangtown”, meaning he improved as the year went on. He finally has a full 24 moto year under his belt. Did I mention his career 250SX record is three wins in five races? Did you see how tall he is now? You know the whoops are a huge factor in 250SX, right? Okay, good.

6 66 Arnaud Tonus Switzerland Kawasaki KX 250F 4 9- Hey, he finished both motos! I hear that Tonus is going back to ride for Everts team in Europe on 450 Suzuki, but other people tell me that it’s not done and he’s going to stay in the U.S. next year.

7 289 Mitchell Harrison Brighton, MI Yamaha YZ 250F 10 6- Season-best finish for Harrison in the second moto and that’s awesome for him going into the off-season. I know I said this before but it was kind of amazing the transformation of Harrison from a kid that couldn’t hold it together in supercross to a dude that, for the most part, was solid in the motos outdoors.

8 42 Mitchell Oldenburg Alvord, TX KTM 250 SX-F FE 7 13- Tenth overall for Oldenburg on the year. Nice work for Freckle who saw his buddies McElrath and Nelson go out with serious injuries, which one would think might affect you a bit.

9 37 Joseph Savatgy Thomasville, GA Kawasaki KX 250F 2 34- Another great ride by Joey in moto one and another pull off in moto two due to his illness/sickness he’s got going on. Too bad, the end of the season is going to leave a bitter taste in his mouth after what was shaping up to be a great season. He was supposed to race the USGPs but I can’t see that happening with this problem he’s got.

10 36 Justin Hill Yoncalla, OR KTM 250 SX-F FE 15 7- Lots of tension with Hill and the TLD KTM team all season long but people over there tell me that since he came back at Washougal things have been great with everyone. I guess when he knows he’s out and they know he’s out everyone has to just start working together.

11 31 RJ Hampshire Hudson, FL Honda CRF250R 14 10- This year wasn’t good enough for Hampshire. He knows this and hopefully he does better next year. He’s got the skill, he works hard, he’s just got to put it together.

12 296 Bradley Taft Nixa, MO Yamaha YZ 250F 12 14- Silently the rookie has been getting better and figuring things out as he goes. Got himself somewhere around national number 75 at that!

13 16 Zachary Osborne Abingdon, VA Husqvarna FC250 11 15- Osborne’s win last week was great, but he also talked about how his bike problems before that race had him on the verge of losing his mind. Well, one week after his biggest win the bike issues haunted him again! He had motor issues all day long that held him back. What I don’t get is the Husky guys are basically using the same motors as TLD KTM and they’re not pushing bikes off and neither is Wacko’s teammate Martin Davalos.

14 403 Tristan Charboneau Tenino, WA Honda CRF250R 16 12- I think GEICO Honda has one spot open next year and it’ll be interesting if they go with Tristan for another year. Having a dude go one outdoor season (and miss a bunch of races with injury) and then clipping him is not a usual GEICO move. But then again, The Bear [Tyler Bowers] is lurking out there for a team like GEICO.

15 49 Martin Davalos Ecuador Husqvarna FC250 22 8- Marty made all twelve rounds for just the third time in twelve years. No, this is not a backhanded compliment, I swear. He should be congratulated. No, stop it. For reals.

16 35 Christopher Alldredge Powell Butte, OR Kawasaki KX 250F 18 11- I don’t wish it on him but I have a feeling Alldredge is going to go the Brian Gray route in the sport. Don’t remember him? Well, back in 2003 and 2004 with Suzuki, Gray had his very first pro ride on one of the best teams in the pits, but then nothing when that ended. Chris is very fast here and there but he just can’t seem to find consistency.

17 39 Jordon Smith Belmont, NC Honda CRF250R 9 36- Smith’s farewell ride for the GEICO Honda team (he’s going to TLD KTM) seemed to encapsulate his entire time there. He showed some speed, ran up front and then DNF’d a moto with a bike issue. I like Jordon a lot, seems like a good kid, but he’s got to figure this thing out soon. You can’t teach his speed but his program is definitely in need of some change.

18 45 Kyle Cunningham Aledo, TX Suzuki RMZ 250 13 18- Nice second half of the season for Kyle. He averaged an eighteenth place in the first ten motos of the year and then averaged a fourteenth from there on out. In a class of kids that can’t always hold it together, Kyle seems to be able to do that. Funny because, to me, he was once a kid that couldn’t hold it together.

19 223 Dylan Wright Canada Yamaha YZ 250F 21 16- I’m taking credit for (you should all be used to that now) Wright qualifying third overall! Last week I saw him in Walton and we were talking about him racing Ironman. I said he’ll be in unseeded, first practice of day and the track was never going to be any better. So when that green flag drops, I suggested he go balls out to make sure he’s in. Well, he certainly did that! Anyways, it was a nice U.S. national debut for Wright who is on track to be the next big thing in Canadian moto. Bonus points for Dylan as his dad is a big Pulpmx Show listener!

20 73 Nick Gaines Ringgold, GA Kawasaki KX 250F 35 17- Gaines rides for Traders Kawasaki (who may switch to 250SX West next year) who has Skip Norfolk as the Race Director. You may remember Skip as Jeremy McGrath’s mechanic for a long time. The amazing thing was that even when he was the mechanic to the baddest dude in the world, he was also always very cool to talk to and hang out with. It’s good to see Skip back at the races again.

Jason Anderson returned from injury and finished fifth overall.
Jason Anderson returned from injury and finished fifth overall. Cudby

450MX Results

1 94 Ken Roczen Germany Suzuki RMZ 450 1 1- Roczen’s going to Honda but when I asked a Honda guy about its new rider he said, “What new rider?” Yup, they’re playing it cool, folks. Oh, hey, one last thing on #94 is that this year he brought Chad Reed’s long-time mechanic Oscar Wirdeman on to work for him and I think Oscar, who’s really a suspension guy, was a big part of his success. He’s been there, done that, is super smart about the bike and I would bet Roczen’s not as dominant this summer without the Swede. When’s the last time we saw a German/Sweden super team?

2 51 Justin Barcia Madison, FL Yamaha YZ 450F 2 2- Barcia was great at Ironman and pretty good last week also. Earlier in the year Tomac and Musquin (among others) were clearly better than him. But the JGR team has been trying to make him happier with the bike and seemed to have found something last week that worked. At least that’s what they’re telling people. Barcia and Cooper Webb might be the only riders to be excited to race this USGP this weekend. I would ask Justin about it but something I wrote or said earlier this year hurt his feelings and he’s no longer talking to me.

3 3 Eli Tomac Cortez, CO Kawasaki KX 450F 3 3- Tomac made a nice charge in the second moto to catch up to Barcia (who tipped over) and I thought it was going to be WWIII for second overall. But Justin regrouped and pulled back away a bit the last three laps. So, Tomac’s first season on the Kawasaki: fourth in 450SX, second in 450MX, three wins and a bunch of podiums. What do we think?

4 25 Marvin Musquin France KTM 450 SX-F FE 4 4- Marv was just okay in Indiana. I never got the sense he had much for the top three guys but he ends the year third overall in the points, got better as the year went on and was, at times, really fast.

5 21 Jason Anderson Rio Rancho, NM Husqvarna FC450 5 5- Anderson came back probably because he needs to get some racing under his belt for the MXDN and I thought he was fine. He was way ahead of the sixth place guy both motos but not close enough to Marv to make a move. It’s been a while since he raced so good to see him back and nothing wrong with these finishes.

6 34 Phillip Nicoletti Cohocton, NY Yamaha YZ 450F 6 8- Phil really wanted to get fifth in the points and came in two points back of Benny Bloss for that spot. And he rode great all day to get that spot from Benny who fell in the first lap of the second moto. When I told Phil that Benny said he was lucky that he fell, Phil replied that Benny can “suck it” and that if he hadn’t had bike issues and some crashes earlier in season he’d be way in front of the kid. Which is true. Anyways, Phil Nicoletti finished fifth in the 450MX points. Think about that for a bit.

7 28 Weston Peick Menifee, CA Yamaha YZ 450F 8 7- Nice quiet ride for Peick who, like Nicoletti, really buckled down and rode solid the second half of the season. He had a DNF last week that wasn’t his fault but outside of that, if he stayed up and his bike stayed together, he was good.

8 32 Matthew Bisceglia Tualatin, OR Suzuki RMZ 450 11 6- That second moto ride was hella-good for Matt who, like a shipment of weapons to the Afghans to fight the Russians back in the day, parachuted in like a Christmas present to a team that had lost riders to injuries and were like some downtrodden shelter dogs at this point.

9 43 Fredrik Noren Sweden Honda CRF450R 9 9- Freddie rode well despite a second moto crash that left him twenty-first after the first lap! I was a little bummed that he passed the Canadian Kaven Benoit on the very last half lap to rob him of ninth. Noren’s not good enough in supercross to get a factory 450 ride but he’s WAY good enough to get a factory ride in 450MX. So what in the heck is he gonna do?

10 167 Benny Bloss Oak Grove, MO KTM 450 SX-F FE 7 11- Bloss had an okay Indiana as he was down with Noren on the first lap of moto two and fought up to an eleventh. The first moto he needed to get Nicoletti and was right there a few seconds back for the entire moto. He was the easy choice for 450MX rookie of the year.

11 926 Kaven Benoit Canada KTM 450 SX-F FE 12 10- OH CANADA! Benoit, one of my country’s best up and coming riders, raced Ironman last year and went 19-18 which I thought was pretty sweet. This year he knew more about what was going on (he had the mighty JSR helping him out also) and rode VERY well. I was impressed because late in moto one I watched him for a bit and he looked tired. Second moto, though, he came out and again looked fresh and peppy. There was a race late in the Canadian season where Kaven caught and passed Davi Millsaps so he’s definitely the real deal.

12 15 Dean Wilson United Kingdom KTM 450 SX-F FE 10 12- Dean-O told me he struggled all day with the track and making mistakes. He wasn’t making excuses.

13 68 Cole Martinez Rimrock, AZ Yamaha YZ 450F 27 15 14- Filling in for Tommy Hahn, Cole showed that he’s not just good at 250SX West Region with nice finishes all season long. His endurance was good, his speed was good and I was impressed with his year.

14 74 Ryan Sipes Flaherty, KY Husqvarna FC450 19 13- Nice to see Sipes back at moto and just jumping in with a thirteenth is pretty good. Once you’ve got it, you don’t lose it, bro.

15 761 Cade Clason Chesterfield, SC KTM 450 SX-F 14 18- Clason was much better this week than last and was higher in the second moto before he had a bit of a fork problem and was forced to nurse his bike home.

16 29 Andrew Short Colorado Springs, CO KTM 450 SX-F FE 13 35- There goes my hero…watch him as he goes…

17 90 John Short Pilot Point, TX Yamaha YZ 450F 20 15- The just-beginning-his-career John Short finishes right behind ending-his-career Andrew Short. Can’t top that.

18 96 Noah Mcconahy Spokane, WA Husqvarna FC450 24 16

19 11 Kyle Chisholm Valrico, FL Honda CRF450R 16 40- Chiz’s bike let go on the first lap of the second moto and he was forced out. Two-thousand-sixteen is not a year that Kyle is going to look back on fondly.

20 72 Hayden Mellross Australia Yamaha YZ 450F 33 17- I had Mellross in my fantasy league and I was very angry after moto one. I was much happier in moto two. Like Martinez, Hayden showed that he’s more than a one-trick pony, or kangaroo in this case.

Well, folks, that’s a wrap. I hope you learned something from this column week to week. I know I have a lot of fun typing it out and I try to not take everything so seriously. We’ll be back for some USGP, Monster Energy Cup and MXdN columns but for now this is the year that was in American supercross and motocross. Hit me up at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat about Indiana or anything else.