What in the world was that about? And when I say that, I mean the entire night of racing. The last time I saw so much carnage and chaos between all of the races was well, never!
The 450 heats, semis, and LCQs in New Jersey were all high drama with take-outs, cross-jumping and huge crashes. The 250 main event saw the points leader crash, then rejoin the race on a different lane of the track and lose the points lead in the process via a five position penalty. Not to be outdone, 450 points leader Eli Tomac threw away the lead and then was only able to salvage an eighth place finish and in doing so, gave a nine-point lead back to Ryan Dungey.
Was it a full moon or something? I don’t even know where to start, but I am going to take a stab at all of these incidents and share my opinion and perspective. I may have more questions than answers but I am sure everyone will set me straight in the comment section, right? Okay then.
First, let’s talk about all of the qualifying craziness. Josh Grant and Malcolm Stewart got into a nasty altercation in the heat race with both riders ending up on the ground. It started with Mookie seemingly cross jumping and almost taking Josh out mid-air. It looked very close but I don’t think it was intentional. It appeared that Mookie caught a rut wrong and shot sideways toward JG. I really don’t think JG cared if it was on purpose or not. Mookie’s had some iffy moments this year and I think JG just snapped. His takeout move in the next turn was swift and lethal. Unfortunately for him, he hit a soft spot in the sand on exit and took himself down in the process. Nasty ordeal but both of them qualified out of the semi and moved forward.
In each semi, there was some serious contact involving Dakota Tedder, Alex Ray, AJ Catanzaro, Tyler Enticknap, Deven Raper, and Ronnie Stewart. These guys were out for blood!
The first incident saw Tyler Enticknap absolutely send it into the final turn behind Raper. The problem here was that Raper had decided to dive inside and Tyler was going too fast for even the outside line. Tyler removed Raper from his bike and looked to be on his way to his first ever main event! That is until Raper fell into Tyler’s rear wheel. Tyler tried and tried to ride out of the chokehold that Deven’s leg had put on his rear wheel but it was not to be.
I wonder how much further Tyler could have gone if he had zero conscience and was willing to do serious harm to Deven? In any case, those two were locked into a standstill and Bryce Stewart was gifted a spot in the main event! Semi 1 was a wild one, but nothing compared to semi 2.
Semi 2 was easily one of the craziest races I have ever seen. All day long, hometown boy Ronnie “The Candy Man” Stewart was the heartbeat of the local fans. Semi 2 was his first realistic chance to move into the main event after the four elite level riders qualified from the heat. As the first lap unfolded, Ronnie had some work to do. He had to find a way around Dakota Tedder and AJ “The Cat” Catanzaro if he wanted that fifth and final transfer spot. He made a good move on Tedder near the finish line jump and found himself in fifth with only two laps to go. Unfortunately for New Jersey’s rabid Ronnie Stewart fans, Tedder got to the inside of Stewart after the first rhythm section and blasted him onto the next straight away. Stewart found himself going backwards in the whoops and in what was one of the most bizarre incidents I have seen, he blitzed the whoops backwards, hopped across the lanes and got back into the fight! I have never seen a move like that in the history of supercross and in the moment, almost passed out from laughing.
Stewart, though, was now several seconds behind the brewing Catanzaro/Tedder battle for that final spot. As they entered that final turn, it looked like Tedder had it as The Cat didn’t have a good angle and was too far back for even a dirty pass … or so I thought. AJ went for broke, plowing through the Tuff Blocks in spectacular fashion and taking Tedder down in the process. It was a pick-up-pass in every sense of the phrase and as they hit the deck, the race to get up first was on.
A few seconds back, Stewart had to be bordering on cardiac arrest as he saw those two crash in front of him. All three of them were racing to the checkers and Stewart pulled it off! He jumped the finish line, grabbing the last spot and sending the fans into sheer chaos. At this point, I was completely mesmerized. I was watching with Jason Weigandt and Steve Matthes and we couldn’t stop laughing and yelling and cheering. It was as if Tedder had chugged 10 Monsters, Ronnie had choked down a family size bag of candy and AJ had partaken in a bit of catnip. They had all completely lost their minds and in doing so, put on the most entertaining semi race in the history of racing. Stamp that.
To set the scene by now, the press box now looked like a comedy club. I could barely catch my breath from laughter, fans were cheering, and most were simply flabbergasted by the two semi races we just watched. The utter chaos we witnessed was enough to send everyone home satisfied and we hadn’t even gotten to the main events!
The 250 main event drama was big and lasted well into the night. Zach Osborne passed everyone, took control of the race and knocked a dent into Joey Savatgy’s points lead. That was the easy part.
Where it got crazy was on the 14th lap when Savatgy made a huge mistake and landed in the next lane (the same lane that Ronnie Stewart ended up in). Instead of rejoining the race in the lane he was supposed to be in, he skipped several jumps, a bowl berm and the first section of whoops to continue on in the next lane. As we watched this unfold, everyone took a collective gasp as we knew this would come down to an FIM ruling to sort out. Savatgy would provisionally finish third in the main event behind Osborne and Dylan Ferrandis, but John Gallagher would be the final word on that.
As we now know, the decision was to move Savatgy five spots back from his provisional finish. Many times, these decisions are without precedence and the rulebook is vague enough to allow the FIM to make rulings as they see fit. This scenario was a bit different, though, as there was a formal protest involved and the rulebook was much more specific. This ruling basically boiled down to a few related things: John Gallagher ruled that Savatgy absolutely gained an advantage by continuing on in the next lane. Based off of that ruling, the penalty is plainly stated as losing the positions gained in the move, plus one additional position for good measure. When they reviewed the tape it was deemed that Savatgy would have lost four spots from the crash, plus the penalty position, and voila, there’s your five spots.
Harsh? I could see that conclusion but this was also one of the rare times that the rule is very cut and dry. The appeal was heard and the ruling was upheld very quickly due to the specific nature of the incident and related rule.
So, what do I think about the move? I think Savatgy panicked a bit and realized that if he climbed back into the other lane, he would lose a crazy amount of points and time in doing so. He had the other lane right in front of him, could “save” a bunch of time by just going, so he did. I am sure he realized there would be some sort of consequence but I would bet he also hoped for the “re-entering the track in the safest spot” clause.
In any scenario, I would be willing to guarantee he didn’t expect a five-position penalty. My guess is at worst he expected a time penalty or to lose a spot or two, which would have been the smartest move to make if true. The fact that it could have been the smartest move is precisely why the rulebook is harsh in this scenario. The rule is to prevent/discourage riders from taking this option because the penalty is simply too damaging to consider. I can’t imagine Savatgy knew this rule off-hand (I am positive he didn’t) so he was seemingly taking the lesser of two evils.
It didn’t pay off this time. Now we have a three-way fight for the title on Saturday, a rejuvenated Zach Osborne, an opportunistic Jordon Smith, and a very pissed off Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. Game on.
As for the 450 race, this will be debated for a long while. Unless Eli comes out and tells us what was going on with him on Saturday, we may never know. One thing is for sure, he didn’t look great all day. His qualifying was off the mark per his usual, his heat race was one mistake after another, and he had an epically dismal main event. If he indeed loses this title, his crash while leading last weekend’s main event will forever haunt him. His ride after the crash was even more puzzling as he was simply unable to move through the pack and looked to be struggling to focus on the task at hand. Whether it was the pressure of the moment or panic due to the crash, he didn’t look like Eli at all.
The other part of this story was the Marvin Musquin “mistake”. On lap 11, Marvin made the pass on Ryan Dungey for the lead, shocking most of the racing world. I, for one, fully expected Marvin to sit in Ryan’s hip pocket and play security guard all the way to the checkers. Marvin had other ideas as he wanted to get out front and lead the way for a bit. I think this was motivated by a couple of factors.
First, he wanted to make sure that everyone, including Ryan and KTM, knew that he was easily capable of winning the race and deserved the race win bonus (100k or so). Second, he is looking to be KTM’s #1 chance for a 2018 title and leading races is good experience for him. In the end, though, he knew that Ryan’s 2017 title is bigger than any of that so he had to get out of the way and let Ryan get the full 25 points. He could have executed the position swap a bit better, but he got the job done and Dungey won the race.
I personally don’t have a problem with the move or tactics. KTM spends tens of millions of dollars a year in pursuit of a title. Marvin and Ryan are very close friends and in that position, I think most people would do exactly the same thing. The 450 Supercross Championship is arguably the most prestigious title on two wheels (maybe MotoGP could make a valid claim here, but stay with me). With so much money, prestige, friendship, etc. at stake, who would expect any different? If you’re on Team Eli, of course you hate the move but for anyone objective, this should be expected. Team tactics in motorsports is nothing new, not even for motocross/supercross.
To think about it another way, would everyone have been happier if Marvin had simply followed Ryan around and never even challenged him? The result would be the same, Marvin would have been “laying up” on purpose, and we would still be going in with a nine-point gap. That’s my takeaway.
Musquin’s move was dramatic and I would even say poorly executed but in the grand scheme, those two were going to finish where they did whether Marvin played it safe behind Ryan or wanted to lead a while. Fans may not like it but teammates are usually going to help each other when possible, especially with a championship in the balance. Add in the fact that they are training partners and close friends and this was a no brainer.