Feld Entertainment announced changes to Monster Energy Supercross on Monday. Those changes were announced at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, to build the hype around supercross’ first race in Tampa since 1999.
Our own Jason Thomas competed in supercross for 15 seasons and raced in that ’99 Tampa event—he’s raced in most of the venues covered by the series—and he’s also experienced the highs and lows and most of the rules and structures. Here’s what he thinks of the changes.
New Points Structure
The points structure change is relatively small and I don’t foresee it having a huge impact. Yes, Eli Tomac would have tied Ryan Dungey with this format last year, but that is not something we can count on happening very often. The major result of this points change is tightening the gap between a win and a decent finish. Off-days won’t penalize riders quite as severely and will help to keep the points chase tighter down the stretch. Maintaining suspense as deep into the schedule as possible is the undoubtedly main goal of this change.
A Second East/West Showdown
We have long had East/West Shootouts in our history, it’s just been a while since we’ve seen more than one per season. Back in the 1990s, supercross hosted several each year, usually in the centrally-located rounds like Houston, Dallas, etc. Since then, Las Vegas has been the lone remainder. In 2018, Indianapolis will join in the fun. Other than the exciting aspect of having all of the 250 riders at one supercross, which is exciting enough, the big change is how much the points can be shaken up at an event like this. In a typical regional supercross event, the results can be somewhat predictable within reason. Huge points gains are unlikely due to half of the elite 250 riders being split between two coasts. If a rider has a bad night, he will still usually be able to manage a top five finish due to the talent differences in the class. With the combined coasts, however, points swing can become much larger. The winning rider might see his closest rival finish deeper into the pack and create an opportunity to pick up big points. This shakes up the dynamic, adds talent to a regional series, and puts more emphasis on the opportunity in front of the riders.
This is my favorite change of the group. Three of the 17 rounds—Anaheim 2, Minneapolis, and Atlanta—will see the series adopt the format used at the Monster Energy Cup. Three main events will be raced by each class after timed qualifying in the afternoon sets the field. Those three main events will be tiered in their lengths from shorter to longer, putting more strain on the field as the night goes on. In the shorter main events, we could see some unexpected variance, much like we see in heat races in the normal format. The elite starters have a chance to put together a strong “moto” score if they can sprint in that shorter run. As the races get longer, the cream will surely rise to the top as it does in a full-length main event. The combined score of those three main events create the overall finishes and points payout. A greater emphasis will be put on those initial “motos.” A poor start will almost guarantee a less than ideal score, which didn’t matter as much back when the sprint was race a heat, which didn’t count for points. Now a bad race at the start of the night will impact the overall results, and the points scored. Said rider would have two more chances to right the ship, but in any case, the chance for wild swings in results goes up exponentially versus a single 20-minute main event. Every start creates a chance for an unpredictable result, and also for two star riders to get off the gate side-by-side and create great racing. At these three events, those odds just tripled.
Removing the semi races is another significant change for 2018. This isn’t necessarily new, we are just returning to the format we used a few years back. In practical terms, this change means riders will have less margin for error. The heat races will be critical for qualifying. Avoiding the first turn crashes and tip-overs are a must as no one wants to ride an LCQ with a title at stake. The semi races offered a safety net against any of these incidents, getting riders into the main event with a still-decent gate pick. Now, if a rider has an issue, they will be on the outside for the LCQ and main event, almost ensuring a bad start. This scenario nearly cost Ryan Villopoto the championship in 2011 as he didn’t qualify for the Jacksonville round after being taken down in an LCQ first turn crash. This is just an additional piece of the puzzle to navigate for riders each weekend. It will bite one of the contenders this season.
Racing amateur supercross is a great memory for me. Back then, we would race incredibly early in the morning, half asleep, but it was still fun. Being out on the same track as my heroes was a great experience that I still can draw a smile from. Most riders will never make it to the pro level and this is their only chance to race in these legendary venues. How many people can say they have raced at Anaheim’s famed Angel Stadium? There will be many now. Whatever the cost, whatever the amount of laps allowed, that’s just a cool opportunity. The four rounds of amateur racing will be held at Anaheim 2, Glendale, Atlanta, and Tampa. That gives the West Coast and East Coast two opportunities to enjoy supercross action and do some racing of their own. Sounds like a good weekend to me!