Observations: Monster Energy Cup

Observations Monster Energy Cup

Yeah the Monster Cup! We’ve had the two USGPs, the Motocross of Nations, the SMX Cup (although no one was really there to witness it, trust me—it did happen), and now the Monster Energy Cup. This week is the Red Bull Straight Rhythm, the week after that is the Rockstar Hula-Hoop Jump Competition, then the Jolt Cola Shark Tank Jump, followed by the Yoo-Hoo Hot Mudder Competition where riders have to drag race down a 100-yard pit of mud that’s been heated to lava-like temps. I may or may not have made some of those races up.

As you all know, the Monster Energy Cup has some cool ideas like the Joker Lane that you have to take once per main event (can we try and make it faster instead of slower, to make it a passing opportunity?). Speaking of main events, there are three of them and they’re only 10 laps.

I love all of this, spice it up, baby! But I’d like to see it done on a, ahem, real track. The MEC is a tamed down supercross track because of the fact there are superminis and amateur riders also racing. So there are no whoops, no giant quads, and everything is pretty simple for riders of this caliber. But I’m not going to bitch and moan about it, I think the powers that be are thinking of changing up the supercross format, points, etc., and hopefully one day they come to their senses and we try something, anything to help our sport.

I’m not going to go on and on about how the actual supercross racing on the track has never been worse than it is now. I’m not going to go on and on about how bike displacements have outgrown stadium sizes. I’m certainly not going to go on and on about how outside of 1985, we’ve changed virtually nothing in our racing series in 40 years and the sport badly needs some new ideas to try and stimulate better racing.

Nope, not going to do it. You’ve all heard me say it but the Monster Energy Cup gives me hope. It’s like a pond in a desert for me. I get to see something different. Heck, they even score the race differently. Who would ever have thought that would happen?

I guess I did kind of go on and on. Sorry.

The big news at the MEC was the start. It was on top of the stadium and the riders reached over 70MPH before hitting the brakes for the first turn. It was a very cool visual and I thought there was going to be way more carnage than what there was. The big debate was whether to use second gear or third gear off the start. Ken Roczen said he planned to use second but clicked up to third after a practice start, Eli Tomac used second gear, Jimmy Albertson used second, Kyle Chisholm used third, and Chad Reed used third all the way.

By the base of the start, the riders had already clicked into fifth gear.
By the base of the start, the riders had already clicked into fifth gear. Rich Shepherd

I’m bummed with  Roczen, and I’m a tad angry at Honda as well. We knew Roczen would be good at the MEC, but man, he got on a bike that’s ALL-NEW to Honda and himself and he looked so damn awesome on it. Frankly, that kind of sucks. I was hoping for an offseason of, “Well Roczen didn’t look that great at the MEC, so let’s see how he is with more testing time” and “Honda’s got some work to do on the bike, hopefully it’s not like the 2009 CRF450 that most people hated” but nope. Roczen was amaze-balls and the bike looked almost as good. Kenny should have gone 1-1-1 and collected the Monster Million. Are we sure that Feld’s Todd Jendro wasn’t hiding on the backside of that jump with a banana peel to stop Kenny from collecting the money?

Kenny’s been on the bike for three weeks and he looked that great? That’s not even fair. All we hear about is bike set-up problems and how riders need more time on their bikes. This is trouble for everyone else come Anaheim 1. Roczen’s full of confidence right now, the dude probably should’ve been hurt badly from his endo in the second moto. Instead, he down-sided a jump with his body and pounced back up like a damn German cat or something.

So what happens after that? Nothing much, he gets the last gate pick on the outside and comes within half a bike length of pulling the holeshot, then takes off for the win. He’s like Drago versus Apollo right now, as in nothing can hurt him.

Speaking about the bike, Honda’s race bike will have electric start, which is an option available for the production bikes. It seems like there are some issues based on what happened after that crash, and apparently Roczen couldn’t turn his bike off before the second main because of some E-Start problems. The bike got hot and started puking coolant, and of course after it did shut off from cartwheeling later in the second main, Honda’s fears proved to be right and the bike wouldn’t start. Somehow, I think the Red Riders will figure this out before the real races but for now, that was the only blemish on Roczen’s Honda debut.

When I was in Italy earlier this summer I was talking to an OEM guy who told me that Honda is not fooling around with the new bike and its racing program. I tried to dig around some more at the MXoN but didn’t get far with anyone in red. There have been some strange electronic boxes on the bikes right above the tank and sources say that HRC is using MotoGP type electronics on its CRFs. With its commitment to hire Roczen and Tim Gajser, the all-new bike and the (rumored) advances in electronics, Honda has some other teams worried, no doubt about it.

Earlier this year I was talking to a VIP of an OEM at a supercross and they told me that KTM has caught them all by surprise with their advances and new models and that the Japanese weren’t going to take this lying down. So maybe this is an answer to Austria from the Big Red Machine?

The actual race winner—Roczen just felt like the winner, people—was Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac, who really ended this year with a bang. He dominated the two USGPs and then won this race. Tomac admitted afterwards that he got a break with Roczen crashing but at the same time he rode himself into the overall win. He got a terrible start (you had to know Tomac couldn’t nail three-straight starts, right?) in the third moto and moved quickly through the pack to cinch the overall. All in all, it was a positive race for the #3.

Let’s take a look at the results.

Monster Energy Cup Results

1 #3 Eli Tomac Cortez, CO 7 2-1-4 – Extra props to Tomac for doing something that no one else was—tripling out of the stadium onto Monster Alley. Yes, it was slower, but I love to see a guy thinking outside the box and trying something like that.

2 #5 Ryan Dungey Clermont, FL 8 3-2-3 – Of course Dungey was in position for the overall win in the third moto. He wasn’t his usual stupendous self, but he’s Ryan Dungey, and being in the hunt while being fast is what he does! It’s weird he’s never won this race, right?

3 #25 Marvin Musquin Corona, CA 9 4-3-2 – Musquin was a bit overlooked at this race, but he ended up a very respectable third overall on the night. Marv, like Dungey, raced in Germany last weekend and I’m sure they weren’t feeling 100 percent ready to race. I noticed the KTM guys weren’t at the press conference so that tells me they were in relaxation mode.

4 #14 Cole Seely Sherman Oaks, CA 17 6-5-6 – Seely told me after the race that he might have overdone it when it came to training and didn’t feel great at this race. He rode decent, but was never looked awesome or anything like that. But he still won $15,000 for his so-so night. Not too shabby. I think Seely could be a real sleeper for 2017 supercross. I don’t think he’ll win the title but multiple wins and top-three in the points … sure.

5 #800 Mike Alessi Hilliard, FL 19 8-6-5 – Hey … Mike was good!  Nice work for the 800, who didn’t have a great 2016 supercross season, to get fifth overall at the MEC and beat riders like Baggett and Bloss. We all know Mike’s weakness indoors is whoops and there were no whoops at the MEC so I’m sure that helped, but this finish is a good way to start the offseason.

6 #4 Blake Baggett Grand Terrace, CA 21 5-7-9 – BB4 debuted his new Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM ride with a holeshot in the first main and a nice top-five. Second main he was buried and had to charge up to that seventh. Baggett could be sneaky-good this year if he can stay away from injury.

7 #1 Ken Roczen Clermont, FL 23 1-21-1 – Roczen told me after the race that the plan was to start in second off the gigantic ramp but then did a practice start in third, liked it, and stuck with the third gear. I’d say him starting on the far outside in third moto and almost pulling the holeshot was a good move.

8 #22 Chad Reed Dade City, FL 23 7-4-12 – Reed was furious with Alessi after he pulled the holeshot in the third main and was then bumped off the track and jumped onto a Tuff Block. Not a good way to end his night but before that he was … just all right. He told me he was going to try at this race (something he hasn’t really done before), but a practice crash might have held him back.

Reed wasn't too happy with Alessi after the final moto.
Reed wasn't too happy with Alessi after the final moto. Ray Archer

9 #34 Benny Bloss Oak Grove, MO 24 9-8-7 – Benny rode well. He beat who he should and probably wasn’t beaten by anyone that shouldn’t beat him. He did about what he should do out there and took home $6,000 for a nights work. I’m not sure about Benji riding 250SX next year, hope he proves me wrong.

10 #61 Vince Friese Cape Girardeau, MO 31 11-12-8 – Nice work with that eighth place in the third moto by Friese. I was talking to two different riders that told me they thought Vince would be the guy to cut over from far left to right to take the Joker Lane and cause an explosion. The pro pits can be a bit like high school at times.

11 #38 Shane McElrath Canton, NC 32 12-10-10 – Shane rode the 350SX-F at the Cup and was the first non-450 in the main event. It’s good to see him back on the track after a hell of a digger at Southwick. TLD KTM needed some good news.

12 #44 Jordon Smith Belmont, NC 33 13-9-11 – Jordon was the first 250F in the main event. It was Smith’s TLD KTM debut and if I was a rider like Jordon or J-Mart [Jeremy Martin] at GEICO, who raced the Glen Helen GP, it would be a bit of a relief to have one race on a new bike/team before the real stuff starts in January.

13 #75 Nicholas Schmidt Lake Elsinore, CA 36 10-11-15 – Schmidt’s first two mains were great and he started up front in main number three before dropping back. If he had been able to stay where he was then he would’ve cracked the top-10 overall and doubled his purse from $2,500 to $5,000.

14 #67 Jimmy Albertson Shawnee, OK 40 14-13-13 – Top Jimmy decided to race the MEC just two days before the event, so he drove from Oklahoma with his wife and put in some good rides on a well-used practice bike. He couldn’t get his graphics done in time so he was the yellow bandit out there. I interviewed him and it didn’t sound like his team was coming back so he might be back to being privateer Top Jimmy next year.

15 #11 Kyle Chisholm Valrico, FL 44 16-14-14 – Chiz showed up on his old 2016 Rocky Mountain Honda bike and rode pretty well. He sounds like he’s going to stay teamed up with Bracken Hall for 2017 and stay on Hondas.

16 #726 Gared Steinke Woodland, CA 47 15-15-17 – Stank Dog gets himself a Kawasaki KX450F and puts it into the night show and takes $2,000 for his efforts. When things get serious and Stank wants to actually, you know, do good, he puts the lobster claws away and gets himself a real bike.

17 #374 Cody Gilmore Omaha, NE 53 20-17-16 – When it comes to Gilmore, I left it to the “Cody Gilmore expert” Denny Stephenson to comment and he said, “First race back from breaking his jaw in SX. Spent summer promoting his new Best of Midwest series and basically coming off the couch to have solid three mains. Kid finally got some decent starts. Melted down Vegas after the races. Heads to California for winter to decide if he's going privateer SX'ing for 17.”

18 #154 Brandon Scharer Gardena, CA 55 21-16-8 – Anyone else surprised that Scharer just rode himself into the main straight from qualifying? No need for an LCQ for him. Great work.

19 #447 Deven Raper Mesa, AZ 55 17-19-19

20 #211 Tevin Tapia Menifee, CA 57 19-18-20

21 #181 Dustin Pipes Madera, CA 59 18-20-21 – Pipes knocked the rust off (get it?) from injury and rode himself into the night show with a good ride in the LCQ.

22 #801 Jeff Alessi Victorville, CA 66 22-22-22 – Jeff did three laps in the first main and then I never saw him again. Not sure what happened.

There were a couple other races at the MEC too. Cameron McAdoo won the Amateur All-Stars race with a 7-1 score. Cam was third in the first moto but got taken out on the last lap and dropped to seventh. One would think that his chance to win the overall was gone but nope, there are kids racing under the lights in front of tons of people. You had to know there would be carnage! Nice work for McAdoo who’s really come on lately to surprise the amateur motocross “experts” of which I am not. And good for MotoConcepts to devote some resources to the amateurs as well.

McAdoo took the Amateur All-Stars class win with 7-1 moto scores.
McAdoo took the Amateur All-Stars class win with 7-1 moto scores. Rich Shepherd

In the Supermini class I couldn’t quite figure out which bikes were 112cc or maybe some were 100cc and there was a 150cc four-stroke out there as well, so I was confused about the whole thing. I do know all the bikes had big wheels and that back in the day my dad bought home big wheels and a 105cc kit for my KX80 and I couldn’t keep the front end down. So I could somewhat relate to these kids. Carson Mumford’s bike, the Honda 150, was super-trick. In the end a kid named Stilez won it, but another one named Hammaker was the fastest one there.

Thanks for reading the MEC OBS, bros. I appreciate it and email me at matthes@racerxonline.com if you want to chat about this or anything else.