Saturday was a tough test for the motocross world. The Hangtown track was rutty, rough, and in a word, brutal. The 90-plus degree temperatures were a warm welcome to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship (pardon the pun). The second half of each moto was painful for many of the riders. They had no energy and no real intensity left to offer. It was survival mode for most of the pack. Sure, some were stronger than others, but as a whole, the riders were just trying to get through it. There were still plenty of storylines leaving Sacramento and I would like to share a few things I learned along the way.
Zach Osborne is for real. After winning his first AMA Motocross overall in 2016, and picking up his first title two weeks ago, he sent a warning shot across everyone’s bow that he is the man to beat. His speed and fitness merged on Saturday and that meant bad news for 39 other 250 Class racers. His confidence is surely at an all time high after his supercross championship and working with Aldon Baker seems to be the boost he needed to put him over the top. How this summer shapes up is still yet to be seen, but that was a serious statement from the #16.
Eli Tomac, as expected, will be the 450 sheriff. With Ken Roczen injured, and Ryan Dungey’s recent retirement, Tomac has a paved path to his first 450 title. Marvin Musquin put up a valiant fight in the second moto, but Eli simply has too much. I can’t see him going 24-0, but he is going to dominate this 2017 narrative. He has the patience and confidence to methodically move to the front of the pack on his own timeline, just as he did in Saturday’s second moto. Marvin will win a few, as will some surprise winners, but Eli will be the dominant force for the next few months.
Interestingly, the script has changed from supercross on who to expect up front. Riders like Dean Wilson, Justin Barcia, Josh Grant, and Broc Tickle have asserted themselves as 450 front-runners. It’s not that they did poorly in supercross but when comparing their results to Saturday’s, the jump forward is apparent. Outdoors, especially when the conditions are rough and tumble a la Hangtown, presents a completely different challenge than supercross. Instead of the finesse and redlined heart rates that supercross demands, outdoors is about strength, preparation, and will power. Outdoors is affected by “want to” much more than supercross ever will. There is always a mental monologue during the hot outdoor days, riders asking their body to keep pushing and to overcome the conditions.
The 250 Class is interesting with so many different potential winners, but I noticed something else, too. When was the last time we had so many different manufacturers in the hunt for a title? Husqvarna (Osborne), KTM (A-Mart), Kawasaki (Cianciarulo, Forkner, Savatgy), Yamaha (Plessinger, Nichols, Ferrandis), and Honda (J-Mart) all had riders in the top five or better. Suzuki was the only team to really suffer on Saturday as Kyle Cunningham had issues in both motos. He will be up there, though, giving us every manufacturer with a top-level rider. That doesn’t happen very often in an outdoor championship. The OEMs are fiercely competitive so watch for the hard feelings leaving Vegas to spill into this summer’s affairs.
Blake Baggett had a lot of self-imposed expectations going into Saturday. He has been so fast in testing leading up to the season that most figured he would jump right into the top five and battle for the podium. I fully believe that will be the case; he just had an off day Saturday. Pressure can make riders think too much and ride tighter than normal, not allowing them to ride to their capability. I think that’s what got the best of him on Saturday. Now that he got the first one out of the way, I think he will be able to go into Glen Helen with a clear head and a loose throttle hand.
Cole Seely fought through a big crash in practice. I wondered if he would even race after coming into the race at less than 100 percent. He fought through that adversity, though, and put in two respectable finishes. Honda HRC needs Cole in the worst way right now, so good on him for rising to the occasion.
Dylan Ferrandis was looking good for a top five finish after timed qualifying. He had a buzz leaving the pre-season testing and brought it on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, he suffered a huge crash in the first moto, leaving him concussed and in doubt for Glen Helen. Tough break for a rider many had squarely in the title conversation.
As we move into Glen Helen, these storylines will change. The weather will be much more favorable on Saturday and riders will be on a track they know all too well. Glen Helen is tough on equipment, though, so look for a shake up from the DNF fairy. Wheels and engines seem to buckle under the Glen Helen demand, putting teams under pressure to keep their riders on track.
As much as we think we learned at Hangtown, Round 2 usually shows us that we really didn’t know much at all. These first few rounds are typically very high on variance as riders try to find their proper place in the pecking order. The top riders all think they can still win or at least be a podium guy, and that means there will be some fantastic racing for the fans. Glen Helen is the home track for all of the teams and these riders have been on this track every Thursday for months. Every rider will be confident with cooler temps and a familiar feel. Look for fireworks when the gate drops.