Between The Motos: Anaheim News

Between the Motos Anaheim News

By Chase Stallo and Jason Weigandt

We’ve told the story of those who did well at Anaheim—with stories and quotes from the podium men. But when the field is super stacked like it is early in the season, there’s much more to report. Here’s the rest of the story.

Last year’s Anaheim 1 winner Jason Anderson came from 10th (after lap one) to grab fourth, making for a Baker’s Factory 2-3-4 finish with Ryan Dungey and Marvin Musquin ahead of him. “Anaheim 1 was pretty decent,” said Anderson in a team statement. “I struggled with setup earlier in the day but we made some changes and I was able to come through the pack to get fourth. All in all, it wasn’t too bad."

A few riders, like race winner Ken Roczen, remarked that it was a strange week in California due to all the rain, which cut into the regular riding schedules. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team owner Bobby Hewitt told us after the race the schedule might have impacted Anderson’s riding, too, because he does best when he’s able to stick to a routine.

Anaheim 1 is a pressure cooker, and like many riders, Honda HRC’s Cole Seely admitted the nerves of the opener got to him. Seely qualified well (third) and transferred directly to the main event from his heat and finished sixth overall. “I’m okay with how tonight went. It was good to get the first one out of the way, shake the nerves off and still come away with a pretty good finish,” he said in a Honda HRC press release. “If you were to ask me where I put myself against everyone, I’d say that us top six tonight are in another league and going really fast, so it’s going to be a constant battle with those guys this year. I was really loose in practice and able to lay down some good laps to come out third, which is really rare for me because I don’t always qualify the best. I was happy to transfer directly into the main event from my heat race and not have to deal with a semi at the first round. I don’t really know what it was, but I was really nervous before the main. Other than Monster Energy Cup, I haven’t really raced these guys since June. I rode tight but loosened up a little bit in the middle after [Jason] Anderson got around me. Toward the end I was catching [Eli] Tomac but I just didn’t have enough time.”

Seely let the pressure get to him this weekend, but still worked his up to sixth.
Seely let the pressure get to him this weekend, but still worked his up to sixth. Rich Shephard

So the new Honda CRF450R won its first AMA Supercross race. Honda folks were pleased, of course. “I’m really happy to see the new CRF450R win the first race of the year!” said HRC executive vice president Shuhei Nakamoto in a team statement. “I would like to thank everyone on the development team as well as the race team for getting the machine ready in such a short time, as we were feeling the effect of the earthquake right when this machine was being developed. I was also incredibly impressed by how Roczen rode the whole race. He was completely in control and he looked like he had more to give if needed. Seely also rode tenaciously and did not give up. I’m convinced his results will continue to improve as the season progresses. I’m very pleased to see us win this very important race but we should not be too content. HRC promises to give more support to the team and I hope the team keeps giving their best for the championship!”

In his 40th Anaheim appearance, Chad Reed was forced to pull out of the main event early after colliding with Weston Peick and breaking his water pump. Peick held on to take eighth. In the Fly Racing Racer X Podcast, Steve Matthes said Reed told him he hit Weston as hard as he’s hit anyone ever and Weston didn’t move. Jason Weigandt talked with Peick about the incident after the race.

Racer X: What happened there with Reed? You guys were close a lot of the race.
Weston Peick: I was in front of him pretty much the entire race and we were going back and forth. Half the track he was faster than me, half the track I was faster. So we just kept going pretty hard. He ended up running into me because I went outside after the sand and he went inside and he thought I was going to back down, and I was not backing down. So we collided super hard. I freaking looped out. I think he almost went down. That happened and then the red cross flag was coming out. It was the second time coming around and I was slowing down. He saw that coming, saw me slow down, and he T-bones me in the turn.

He hit you again?
He hit me again. That’s when his radiator blew.

So you hit the first time and then you kept going, both of you and then he hit you again?
Yeah, because the red cross came out. The second time around he came right into me and T-boned me again. I think that was when they said his radiator blew.

Just behind Peick came Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Josh Grant in ninth. “My day didn’t quite go as planned after having to qualify out of the Last Chance Qualifier,” said Grant. “It is always so hard to concentrate at A1 because I’ve got the added pressure of all my family and friends here watching. I’m looking forward to moving on to next week and having everything settle down a bit.”

Autotrader.com/Monster Energy/ JGR Suzuki was without the riding services of Justin Barcia, who will have to sit out a few weeks due to a broken wrist (Barcia still attended the race to sign autographs). Jake Weimer got the call from the team as a fill-in on Tuesday and after just two days on Barcia’s bike, rode well, winning his semi and taking 11th in the 450SX main event. Weimer told us he had been riding and training all off-season while hoping a deal would materialize with RCH Suzuki, the team he rode with for part of 2016. About three weeks before Anaheim, the team informed Weimer that despite their best efforts, they wouldn’t be able to make anything happen for him. So Weimer then expected to sit the opener out, until the phone rang. Luckily he’d put in enough work in advance, and on a Suzuki, to where he could jump back into things fairly quickly.

It was a good night for the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM team. Davi Millsaps came into the race with an illness and sore ribs—not to mention limited off-season time after wrist and thumb injuries incurred while racing the Canadian Nationals. Despite all that, Davi was a strong seventh in the main event. New teammate Blake Baggett showed good speed, hanging with Eli Tomac for much of his heat race. He started well but then crashed early in the main event. He came from 21st on lap two to finish 14th.

Scary moment for SmarTop/MotoConcepts’ Mike Alessi in the 450 main event. In talking with Racer X’s Aaron Hansel after the main, Alessi said he hit false neutral going over the triple. He cased the jump hard and collapsed off the side of his bike, and had to be attended to by the Alpinestars Medical Unit. Alessi said he should be back next weekend.

“It was just kind of a freak thing. Going off the face of the triple I hit a weird false neutral and lost all drive on the face and cased it,” Alessi told us later in the pits. “I took the whole impact of the handlebars to my stomach. I got the wind completely knocked out of me so bad that I pretty much blacked out. I hit so hard. As I rolled down the backside of the triple I was checking my wrists, my ankles, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m fine.’ Then as I rolled to that right-hander I just went down. Nothing’s broken and I should be back next week. It was just a gnarly impact to the abdominal area. It’s a good thing my core is in good shape.”

New to that SmarTop/MotoConcepts Honda team is Justin Brayton, but it wasn’t a sparkling debut, with 15th in the 450SX main. Team manager Tony Alessi told us there are some bike setup issues to sort out for Brayton and the team.

Brayton and the MotoConcepts team are reportedly struggling with bike setup on the new Honda.
Brayton and the MotoConcepts team are reportedly struggling with bike setup on the new Honda. Jeff Kardas

It was a tough start to the year for Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Christophe Pourcel, who failed to qualify for the 450 main event after finishing fifth in the LCQ behind Trey Canard.  

Justin Bogle made his debut for the RCH/Yoshimura Factory Suzuki team, and finished 12th. “It wasn’t the result we were looking for but our Suzuki RM-Z450 was fast and I’m happy the first race with my new team is in the books,” commented Bogle following the race in a team PR. “I didn’t get the best start in my heat or the main but I’ll get that cleaned up and be better as the season goes on. I was definitely hoping to be better than 12th but you have to start somewhere. We’ll work hard this week so we can put together a better effort next weekend. On to San Diego.”

Bogle’s teammate Broc Tickle finished 16th after a late crash while running 12th. “I’m pretty happy with the way the season started out Saturday night,” explained Tickle. “I put in a lot of work over the off-season and we worked on the bike a lot. I put in a ton of work training and I felt like I was well prepared coming into the race. I was confident and in a good place. Overall, it was a good weekend. We won our semi and I felt really good heading into the main. I was having a pretty consistent night and was able to move up and make some passes. Unfortunately, I fell late in the race but my speed was better than it has been so I’m in a good place to improve.

“My goal for the year is to finish top five in points and I think that’s realistic,” continued Tickle. “I’m looking for some podiums and top fives. I know the class is stacked and there are a lot of good guys on the track but I don’t feel like those goals are out of reach. I’m feeling really good on the bike and we’ve done a lot of work. The team and I have grown together and I’m in a good place to take advantage of that.”

The spotlight will understandably focus on his teammate, Shane McElrath, who won his first career 250SX race at the opener, but Mitchell Oldenburg rode to a solid fourth, giving the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM two top-five finishers. The fourth matched a career high for the Minnesotan, who recorded two fourth place finishes (Oakland and Glendale) in 2016. “Ready to build off of my 4th place last night and get on that box!,” he wrote on Instagram. “Huge thanks to my team @tld_moto @redbull @ktmusa for believing in me and giving me everything I need to succeed!”

Oldenburg matched his career best finish with a fourth at A1.
Oldenburg matched his career best finish with a fourth at A1. Jeff Kardas

Starts were the undoing for Jeremy Martin in his supercross debut for GEICO Honda. After qualifying first ahead of Justin Hill, Martin finished second in his heat race, but couldn’t get off the gate in the main and was buried. He rounded the first lap in 12th and worked back to sixth. “It was a bummer, didn’t get the start,” said Martin in a GEICO Honda PR. “That was the biggest thing, it’s not a matter of speed, fitness, or anything else, it’s just a matter of execution, and I just didn’t get it [the start] tonight. We started the day at A1 out great in practice logging the top spot in qualifying, and then felt solid in the heat race going into the main. But I made a mistake on the start in the main which affected my whole race. Ultimately, it made me just go into damage control. San Diego [round two] can't come soon enough.”

Justin Hill was solid in his return to Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki. After qualifying second to Martin, Hill finished fifth in the main event. In a post-race Kawasaki statement, Hill said he still has work to do and fifth will serve as motivation. "I felt really good all day. My practice times were pretty good and qualifying went well, but at the end of the day I still have some work to do. I need to improve my fitness and to make my riding more fluid so it’s easier to race at the pace I’m capable of. It’s difficult when I know I have the speed and the bike to be at the front but I come home fifth. I’ll take this as motivation, go home and put the work in."

Two 450 vets—Phil Nicoletti and Kyle Chisholm—made their respective returns to the 250 Class on Saturday and had mixed results. Nicoletti, who last raced 250SX in 2012, had rear brake issues after he said another rider hit him and his rear brake pedal “must have got stuck in the dude’s spoke and was touching my peg.” He had to pull into the pits and came back to finish 17th. He later talked with Steve Matthes and said: “I was trying, I just didn’t have enough leverage so I pulled in. Murph [mechanic] moved it about an inch just to give me some wiggle room. I’m okay if we’re risking it for the biscuit but I’m not going to be dragging my rear brake off triple faces. So I put myself in a good position. I think everything would have been good. It is what it is. Didn’t show much. Heat race obviously had a bad start, made a little bit work.”

As for Chisholm, who secured a late ride with SmarTop/MotoConcepts, he said on his Twitter account that he got “tight” in the main event en route to a 10th place finish. “I rode a bit tight & tense so I didn't ride my best. But it was a decent result for the short time I've had on the bike,” he wrote on Twitter. “There's definitely more in me & I learned a lot yesterday so I'm looking forward to improving each week and getting in the top 5.”

This is what @filthyphil37 was dealing with in terms of a rear brake in the main @lissimorephoto

A photo posted by Steve Matthes (@pulpmx) on

It took a trip to the LCQ for GEICO Honda’s Jimmy Decotis, but he made the main and finished a respectable ninth. “This weekend was pretty stressful for me,” said Decotis in a team statement. “I had two crashes in the heat race which sent me to the LCQ. I had a terrible gate pick for the main which resulted in a bad start. The track was really basic and hard to pass, I felt I laid down solid and consistent laps but the whole night snow balled from the bad heat race. I put myself in bad positions and it cost me my main event. I've been working so hard with my trainer Seth and GEICO Honda has put in so much work during the offseason. I feel we are much better than what the results say on paper. I'm looking forward to next weekend and getting back up to the front of the field.”

Tough start to the year for the 51FIFTY Energy Drink Yamaha squad. Hayden Mellross got a top-three start in the 250 main event, but his bike suffered an electrical problem and he was forced to pull out of the main event. "It was great to finally be out there racing and see where my speed actually was against that stacked West SX field," said Mellross in a team statement. "I felt great all day and the bike was working amazing in qualifying and the heat race. I put the 51FIFTY Yamaha up front early; was pumped to be inside the top-three and felt I had the speed to stay with the lead pack. It was a freak issue with the bike when it just died. I was frustrated for few seconds but have already put it behind me. I rode solid, my speed was there, and I was up front. Wish San Diego Supercross was tomorrow night." 

New addition Tyler Bowers didn’t have a great debut with the team, finishing 11th overall. He said post-race in a team PR, that he didn’t feel like he rode “anywhere near as fast” as he was leading up to A1. "Consistency is key in my book," said Bowers. "I don't feel I rode anywhere near as fast as I've been riding leading up to Anaheim.  No excuses, it just was not my night and know it'll be a different story in San Diego."