The off-season racing season has officially begun! The Montreal SX this past weekend represented the start of the moneyball part of the calendar for the racers—as in, the USA-based riders saying, “Yes, I will take that ball of money to go race in another country.”
After a few years of only having big races in Paris and Geneva, promoters in Europe have also scheduled events in Barcelona and Italy this year that are going to have some great racers. Also, there’s talk of an event coming up in Japan that’s probably 50/50 at this point, but if it goes off, there will also be a good contingent of riders there. Jeff Stanton told me that he used to make more in a month or two of traveling to Europe than his entire Factory Honda contract! Clearly it’s worth it for these guys now and then.
Back in time, Montreal SX was a staple in the off-season schedule and at one point was the longest-running supercross in North America before economics took hold and it went away. For a long time, the promoter gave away a pound of gold! I think Jim Holley still has his, by the way. This race paid a lot of riders a lot of money for over 30 years.
Now it was back! The new promoters decided to kind of stay in the lane and make sure they didn’t bite off more than they could chew. Olympic Stadium in Montreal is huge and has a massive floor. With the race having been on hiatus for a few years, the promoters wisely decided to use just half the floor, with the pits on the other half. And, therefore, only half the seats were available to sit in. I think this was a good decision—tighter track equaled better racing. The building wasn’t full by any means, but having the fans in mostly one part looks better and also keeps the costs down for the track. The lap time was still 40-some seconds long, so it’s not like it was arenacross.
It was a good track, also; pretty challenging. The whoops had to be tamed down even after practice one because they were, uh, pretty big. There were also a few big rhythms for the guys, and even tamed down, the whoops were still challenging. The dirt was weird; it was like Unadilla GNCC stuff. Rocks, sticks were in it, and it was soft. But it held up okay.
This race was supposed to be a standalone race with a field of Americans, a couple of French indoor specialists (Cedric Soubeyras and Thomas Ramette), and Kaven Benoit, the hometown hero. But the promoters realized they’d need more than, say, 12 dudes, and they would also need, like, rules and officials and stuff like that. They did have uber-promoter guy Eric Peronnard to help out, but he can only do so much. So in stepped Jet Werx, the Canadians who run the series up there and already have a three-round supercross series scheduled to start the weekend after Montreal. So Jet Werx came on board, which is a good thing, but that opened up a new can of worms because the Canadian-based teams now had to go to an extra race, and some people’s noses were a bit out of joint at not getting paid to race like many of the Americans who were also on the line.
For an example of that, here was Canadian champion Colton Facciotti about racing an extra round after the race: “I think it’s retarded, to be honest with you. I’ll tell you the truth. At the beginning of the season, they told us we had three supercrosses, and now there’s four. And it’s with another bunch of guys that are getting paid to be here. I don’t think there was one Canadian that was paid to be here. That was a bit of a kick in the balls there, or whatever you want to say. For the overall good of the sport, it was good to race with those guys.”
And because the race operated under Jet Werx rules, Autotrader/Yoshimura Suzuki’s Alex Martin was not eligible to ride the MX2 class because he holds a number in the top 30 in the USA, and he couldn’t ride his 250F in the 450 class because there’s a rule against that to prevent guys double-classing (to chase the higher series-ending purse in the 450 class). So there were meetings about this, and thankfully Martin was allowed to race in the 450 class. After all, his deal to go up was done before Jet Werx came on board, and he agreed to not be given any points or purse.
I mean, I’m Canadian, so I get these guys being a bit bent at riders getting paid and all that, but then again, Malcolm Stewart and some other riders there sell tickets, and I’m not sure any Canadian outside of Benoit does. Sooooooo, yeah.
By the way, the Jet Werx guys had live streaming at their nationals this year, and it worked pretty good. I guess the costs of doing Montreal were too much for the promoter ,so they didn’t have it at this race. It’s 2018, everyone; these things have got to be streamed for people if at all possible. You could sell the streaming for a one-time event like this. It will be on French TV at some point and maybe in English in Canada if they can sell it, but too bad we didn’t get live streaming.
Well, Malcolm Stewart showed up to debut his new Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda ride, and he was probably the slight favorite to win going into the race. Well, change that “slight” to “heavy,” because he was the man on this weekend. Stewart swept all three mains with relative ease, including a great charge from around 14th to first in just nine laps in the second main event.
This may shock you, but Mookie was WAY better than other guys in the whoops (sarcasm alert). And he scrubbed like crazy. And he was good in the corners. Heck, he was just better, bottom line.
I was talking to Tony Alessi, Stewart’s team manager, about the deal, and he said he’s been so impressed with Stewart’s talent. Until you work with a guy day in and day out, you see them but you don’t really pay super close attention to them, you know? Well, Tony said he’s been blown away by Stewart’s talent and hoped that Mookie would win Montreal to help the teams push to get enough funding to help out Malcolm all year long in SX. As of now, Mookie’s MotoConcepts deal is for off-season races, but Alessi seemed confident that 2019 could happen, and Montreal was just a taste of what might be coming.
I was telling Tony that we know Stewart has the talent; that’s never been up for debate. The issue with Mookie, in my opinion, is that he and some of his people don’t think much of the nationals, so he doesn’t do much racing after the SX season is done. So, he’s not in the shape he needs to be in for when Anaheim 1 kicks off. It doesn’t get any better after that for Stewart (he hasn’t had a deal locked up early enough in the off-season, either, but then again, why does a ride matter for you to be grinding out the miles on a road bike?), and the circle continues. Maybe this promise of a deal (done early enough) will be enough for Stewart to get into the kind of shape he needs to get inside the top five. The talent is there, no doubt about it.
As good as Stewart was, Colt Nichols was the second best guy going—wait for it—2-2-2 on the night. Nichols probably could’ve won the second main event when Malcolm got a garbage start, but the problem with that is that Nichols was even further back! He worked through the pack impressively, just like Stewart. Nichols is pretty underrated; he’s very talented but can’t get going due to injury. I’d like to see him just stay healthy. I bet he could do some real damage.
RJ Hampshire had a rough weekend. His day started off almost in a disastrous way when his bike cut out on an on/off (bikes NEVER cut out going around a turn, right?) on his first lap of practice, and it was an ugly crash, I guess. I didn’t see it. The bike was brand-new and that on/off was two turns into a lap. The EFI system was probably like “What the hell is this?” as the gravity laws were immediately weird just ten seconds into the start of its life.
RJ shook that off, and I think he crashed again in one of the other practices. Then in the first main, Josh Hansen cut the inside of the first turn and slammed into Hampshire, taking him down. Afterwards, Josh told RJ that he missed his brake, and I guess it was apology accepted. Hampshire rode well in one main when he lurked outside the top three, but other than that, he didn’t have the weekend he would’ve liked, and it wasn’t all his fault.
Oh yes, Hanny was there! That was bizarre, but hey, whatever, man. Hansen’s got a marketing deal through Honda and showed up in Montreal on motocross suspension because he said it was a late notice to come up. So, you can probably guess how his night went. Hanny more or less rode around, threw some whips, had fun, and took out RJ Hampshire.
Filthy Phil Nicoletti debuted his new Rockstar OTSFF Yamaha ride that he’ll be racing in Canada for the next two years. Phil has given up on the American dream after two years of fill-in rides for nationals and supercross (in 2017, he was supported by JGR for 250SX) and headed north. It’s a good team with good bikes, and Phil will be in contention for wins and titles up there, which could make him a few hundred grand or so. Anyway, Phil had a decent night going while also working on setting up his new bike. He was top five-ish before crashing before the finish line and getting drilled by Hampshire. Ouch!
Alex Martin was there—the JGR guys drove up Justin Hill’s 2018 250F race bike from North Carolina for him, and although he was at a deficit, he rode well. He was surprisingly good in the whoops on the 250F. He was lurking for a podium in the last main before making a mistake in a turn and having a few guys get by him.
Martin was telling me that he rode the 2018 bike for a day before Montreal and that he’s very surprised at how good the 2019 Suzuki is. I don’t think it was typical rider-speak; I think he really is excited to race the ’19, and even more so after he rode the 2018. He may or may not have said to me that his level of respect for Justin Hill went way up for winning a 250SX on the ’18 Suzuki.
I was sitting with Martin and Nicoletti when a fan came up to them and told them he was pulling for both of them. They said thanks, and then the fan said, “Who’s going to win tonight?” to which Phil replied, “I’m just here to survive,” and Martin said, “Probably Mookie.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard, like, real racers say these things to fans before, and it made me laugh.
Nicoletti is so cheap, he was trying to get these free breakfast coupons from the front desk like his life depended on it. Weege would’ve been proud.
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This is Alex Martin on his new @jgrmx ride and then here’s Filthy on his new Yamaha ride. However Alex is using tools from Phil’s mechanics toolbox and also has Phil’s wheel on so if anything bad happens to Alex, we know why. Also Alex had to borrow some backgrounds from GDR Honda and they should look familiar to @jgn45 !
There was a rider there who was telling me that their trainer wouldn’t want them to go to Montreal and it was the only race they would be allowed to go to, and I have to laugh at this. A mid-September race where the rider can make $10-20K is going to jack up their Anaheim 1 prep? Or Paris in mid-November? LOLZ to that. Nothing can get a rider ready to go and gauge their prep like a real-life gate drop, and there’s nothing like a race to know if your bike is heading in the right direction. It makes me laugh to hear these guys tell the riders they can’t make extra money when it’s the RIDER who PAYS the trainer. I’d tell my guy to pound sand and grab all the cash I can while I have this great (and short) opportunity to do so.
French hero Kaven Benoit, probably best remembered by most of you reading this for his incredible MXoN rides two years ago in Italy, didn’t race the arenacross portion of the Canadian series. This was partly because it wasn’t in his contract and partly because he isn’t a fan of the tight stuff. Benoit suffered a serious injury in Geneva last year and is still dealing with the effects. Well, his fans got to see him for all of half a lap in Montreal, as he went down after the start of main number one and busted up his thumb. So that was it for him, and that’s also it for him representing Canada this year at the MXoN. Poor Kaven; he’ll probably never sit on a motorcycle indoors ever again.
I was calling French SX hero Cedric Soubeyras as a sneaky podium contender before the race, but for a guy who walked his way into supercross main events this past year without trouble, he wasn’t very good in Montreal. He got one start and led a lap or two, but was quickly shuffled back and didn’t do much in the other mains. That was weird.
Speaking of Soubs, he was on a Suzuki, as was the other Frenchman, Thomas Ramette. When you add in Alex Martin, that makes three Suzukis in the main event, which is about three more than in any other pro race in Canada this year. Suzuki’s doing a good job in the U.S. of getting back into pro racing, but Canada is a ghost town with no team or rider support. But in Montreal, there was a full RMArmy in the main!
Thanks for reading, everyone. I appreciate it, and it was good to be back in my native land of Canada.—even if just about everyone spoke French and things were a bit weird. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about this or anything else.