For a second straight year, Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM’s Shane McElrath won the opening round of the 205SX West Region. And for a second straight year, it was over Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the podium in Anaheim.
All three riders spoke with the media after the race.
Racer X: Adam, there is a lot of energy in the building, it being A1. But for you, this was your first experience with that. Take us through the day and some of the emotions you felt dealing with this atmosphere.
Adam Cianciarulo: For me, rolling out of the tunnel before the heat race, I didn’t expect it to be completely sold-out. I’ve been coming to Anaheim probably since 2008, 2009 pretty much every year. To see it this packed, I was so nervous in that heat race, even in the main event. I think the whole energy around this year too in supercross, it seems like, even just leading up to the event, it just seems bigger than normal. The moment just feels bigger. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to be a part of it.
Do you like Anaheim?
Cianciarulo: Yeah, I loved it. I thought the track was really good too. A little bit slicker than I thought it was, especially in that heat race. I went out there and it looked a lot better than it was. I was sliding all over the place. But overall good experience, first Anaheim.
Aaron, congratulations. The heat race and the main event looked pretty similar. Adam was able to get you in the heat race, but in the main, he sat behind you for most of it. Did you feel him back there? Did you know it was him?
Aaron Plessinger: Yeah, I definitely felt him. He was right there. I could feel him hounding me down. I just stayed consistent. I just kept my eyes forward and didn’t look back and ended up second.
Shane, congratulations. A little déjà vu?
Shane McElrath: A little bit, but this year like Adam and Aaron were saying, this is a big year. The West Coast has got a lot of competition from a lot of teams, too. Coming into this, you’ll hear it more times tonight, but I’ve never really felt that much nerves. It just was the first one. It was just for the heat race. After the heat race, it was like, “All right, we got the first one out of the way.” These guys are going to put up a fight all year. I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a good off-season. We’ve put in our time and I’ve really learned a lot. Just looking forward to keep growing.
Shane, compare yourself this year to last year. Is this the same, or do you feel you’ve elevated your game? If you have, what area do you think you’ve gotten better?
McElrath: Yeah, this has been a good off-season. I actually feel confident on the bike, feel aggressive. That’s the big difference to last year. Last year I was halfway through it and Aaron was behind me and I was trying to go forward, but I was like, “Dude, this is real.” But this year, this is what we train for. This is what we do routinely during the week. These guys, they were pushing and I was trying to just not let them catch me. But at the same time, I feel aggressive. I feel good on the bike. I just feel more in control and a little less star-struck this year.
Aaron and Adam, in the heat race, as he was talking about, you guys had sort of alternate thing last lap. He got you in the heat race, Aaron. Adam, when you’re coming out of a heat race and you had done that, you got him on the last lap, for you, I’m wondering, what does that tell you in the main event? Did it make you maybe a little more patient thinking that you could get him later on? For you, losing the spot late in the heat race, did it light a fire under you at all?
Cianciarulo: I think for me, first of all, I was just happy to be alive. Somebody landed on me on the on-off. I don’t know who it was. I just saw a yellow fender. The whole first half a lap I was thinking to myself, I could be laying on the ground. My whole series could be over right now. I’m so happy to be alive right now. So, that was nice. Then after that, really I was just trying to… obviously I had to make passes quick. I had a few guys that I passed. I don’t even remember. I was just trying to get him the whole time, honestly. I didn’t really look too much into the heat race. He made a mistake coming out of the whops. I almost did the same thing a couple times. As far as fitness and all that goes, I feel like I’m pretty confident that most of us out here can do 15 plus one pretty wide open. So, I wasn’t waiting for him to get tired or anything like that. I figured he’d be pretty strong all the way through, regardless of the mistake in the heat race. So, for me, it was just I was trying to get him the whole time. I ended up getting arm pump, so it didn’t work.
Plessinger: To be honest, I actually thought it was Joey [Savatgy] for the longest time, then I realized it was Adam. Then I just tried to be consistent and not make the mistake I did in the heat race. Just kept my head on straight and charged forward and keep looking forward.
Anaheim 1 is typically a pretty mellow track to ease you guys into it, but there were some things like that quad down the first base line that you could do, but it didn’t seem like any of you guys did it in the main event. What were your thoughts on it? Pretty safe? You guys didn’t do anything that was too risky at all, it didn’t seem. Just consistent.
Plessinger: The track was actually pretty mellow, but at the same time, you had to push so hard. It got your heart rate up so quick. There were some things that were pretty big, but overall, it was pretty mellow. The track was really fun actually, I thought. I had a blast.
Cianciarulo: I think when the obstacles aren’t that difficult, like you saw tonight, I feel like we have to bring the intensity up. When the obstacles are a little bit gnarlier, you’re more racing the track. Tonight, I feel like we were all just kind of sprinting. I felt like we went kind of the same speed we did in the heat race, to be honest. Normally you see a little bit, just maybe a percent or two slower. It feels that way. The intensity comes out a little bit during the main, just because it’s a little bit longer. I feel like if you did that tonight, it probably wasn’t going to be good for you.
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy, who finished fourth at the opener, steps in to ask a question.
Savatgy: I just want to know, you found out that it was Adam. Did it make it better?
Plessinger: [Laughs] I kind of felt the same.
Shane, having the points lead again, I know last year that was something you kind of wrestled with. A whole lot more attention, a whole lot more pressure being out front. Is that something you’re more ready for this year?
McElrath: Yeah. Like I said, to come into A1, I didn’t have a clue where we were. I’d come off a five-month off-season because of my crash at Southwick during outdoors the year before. Even the whole month of December, I was just going through the motions. I was like, dude, I’ve been doing this same thing for so many months. I just want to go race. I remember a week and a half before A1 last year, I had a meeting with Tyla [Rattray] and TK [team manager, Tyler Keefe], and TK was like, “Dude, what’s wrong? Are you even sure you’re ready to race?” In a sense, it’s like, I understand where you’re coming from, but it’s like I’ve been doing the same thing for so long. To come out, and like I said, the whole main event I was out front and I was trying to race forward, but at the same time everything is going on around you. I’m about to get my first win, and everything is happening really quick. So then to get the red plate, it’s one of those things where you’re like, now what do I do? Now we’re here to race and we’re here to bring everything we have every weekend. Like I said before, these guys are not going to back off. Everybody’s just going to continue to get better. It’s going to be really hard, but we’re ready for the challenge.
Adam, it seemed like you had a difficult time finding places to make up time. You had mentioned you guys were kind of pushing the limits of the track. Was there anything about the way the track broke down that didn’t allow you to make up that time?
Cianciarulo: No. I really feel like I found my groove there in the middle of the race. I briefly talked to my mechanic after the race so I could be wrong, but I think I had some faster lap times. I think I was kind of clicking there in the middle. I think it’s just you kind of get off your flow a little bit. You kind of start pushing the front end. It’s just here and there. Once you lose a couple—it seems like if you have a bad lap and you lose a half a second, it kind of takes the wind out of your sails because it was so hard to make up time, partly just because these guys were going really fast, but also the track. Like we said, we were all pushing pretty hard. That heat race, I was going as fast as I can in the beginning of the race, and I was like, dude, they were pulling me. I was like, man, I’m about to get roasted in front of 60,000 people. Right away it’s like that. So, I was happy I was able to at least keep it close. I felt pretty good about my main event even though it’s a third, I think we’re in a good spot moving forward. I feel good.
Shane, the second timed qualifying session, you had a pretty big one. Obviously you’re not hurt, but how are you feeling?
McElrath: That’s one of those where it kind of brings your focus back in front of you. It just was kind of silly. I just jumped six inches a little too far to the left and landed on the hay bales. It’s one of those times where you just got to get back up and keep going. This is going to be tough. These guys are going to take advantage of weaknesses just like I would.
About three minutes left in the main, you almost did the exact same thing. Did it spike the heart rate?
McElrath: I did almost do that again. I felt like the line was kind of getting farther and farther inside. It was a little soft there. So, I didn’t jump as far out as I did in practice, but I was like, oh no. It’s one of those things where you just leave it there and keep pushing forward.
Aaron, I always kind of think of you as an East Coast guy. Obviously, you’re from Ohio. I think you raced the past couple seasons, maybe, on the East Coast. Coming into 2018, were you always slated to race the West Coast series? Or did that happen late in 2017?
Plessinger: It actually happened when Colt Nichols broke his arm. I was supposed to race East Coast and he was supposed to race West, but things happen. I’m kind of happy I raced West now. The challenge is going to be pretty big, and I’m up for it.
Shane, with the new testing facility in Temecula with KTM, are you able to use that facility? How much is that a benefit to your program right now?
McElrath: I’ve been there once and I don’t ever want to go back until there’s a few changes. I know that the KTM and Husky guys have been breaking it in. It wasn’t much of a 250 track, but it’s good to train on. It sucked training on it. It’s cool that KTM is bringing what they have. They are really investing in their riders. It’s pretty crazy to see and to think I’m just a guy that likes to ride my motorcycle and you’re doing that for all your riders. I think it just speaks loudly for KTM and their brand. They really want to do good and give their athletes the best things that they can, and they’re really doing good at it.
Big change to the track that not a lot of people could see is that metal grate behind the starting gate. Maybe you, Shane, have raced on it before at Monster Cup. How big of a difference is that compared to dirt in the past? You’re all three pretty tall so you didn’t need starting blocks or anything
Cianciarulo: I used starting blocks actually. It added leverage. I’m basically flat foot on the bike anyway, but I just wanted the extra weight on the bike. Maybe Shane could talk about the starting pad, because he seemed to kind of have it dialed. I was not so good.
McElrath: For me, I kind of see it as like a 450. When I get on a 450, I’ve got to respect the bike. With the dirt, you could just do what you wanted, but the metal grate, you’ve got all this traction. You can start on it as hard as you can, but you’ve just got to be able to manage it to get a good start. For me, it’s all about respecting it.
Plessinger: I actually didn’t get it down until probably three days ago. I was still wheeling off of it.
Cianciarulo: I don’t know about you guys, but I was kind of self-conscious about my practice grate at home. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the same. I didn’t know if I was going to use blocks, or if the grate was the same, if I was going to get the same traction. I kind of feel like I got it halfway decent down in practice today, and that’s pretty much it. I just feel like you’re always double clutching off that thing, trying to get the front end down. It’s just all about managing it, like they said.
Adam and Aaron, you guys have raced each other a long time, 80s and as kids. How weird is that to end up here? You are battling for a podium in Anaheim, as you said, in front of a sold-out stadium, biggest race of the year. But you’ve been doing this against each other at any level at any age. It’s kind of crazy.
Cianciarulo: It is crazy. I remember racing Aaron probably 2008 or 2009 the first time I kind of remember racing. He was always huge. I was always jealous because I was super small. I just wanted to be tall so bad. That was pretty much. I was just jealous of him, honestly. It’s the nature of the sport. We kind of all grow up together. We all go to the same races. We all travel. In a way, we’re kind of bonded together because we kind of sacrifice our lives for this sport. We all have to do it the same way, through the amateur nationals and through all that stuff. We all don’t like each other in a way, but in a way, we kind of got that special bond. I think it’s neat. I thought it was weirder that it was literally the heat race and the main event, the same thing. That was more weird than actually seeing Aaron up there. I expected that.
Plessinger: I think it’s pretty cool. I think our generation has grown and it’s obviously one of the faster ones. I think it’s awesome to see us grow and to see us get faster. I look forward to racing these guys for years to come.