We have changed the format to Breakdown this year. The Racer X staff will pose some burning questions from the weekend and I'll take my best crack at them.
All of these opinions are my own and usually in stark contrast to anything Steve Matthes would believe.
What a difference a week made for Eli Tomac. We heard some minor changes were made to the bike. Can it really make that big of a difference?
Well, tricky question because I think it can make a difference, but I don’t think it did in this case. I think Eli’s Arlington troubles were purely mental. I think he got into a funk once Ken Roczen passed him and then the crash compounded it. I am sure they worked to make the bike better this week, as they usually do, but I don’t think it was the deciding factor whatsoever. Eli maintaining his poise and remembering exactly how good he is—that was the difference.
What did you see different in Eli’s riding style?
It was just a return to the “normal” Eli. He was much more aggressive, confident, and decisive. He wasn’t reacting, he was the aggressor. That is the Eli we see most weekends. I don’t know who rides his bike on nights like Arlington but it’s not anyone he wants to see again soon.
Shout out to the old guard of SX: Reed and Brayton. What did you see in their performances?
The starts were huge but they both had great speed, too, especially in the first main event. Their strength was the whoops and they were significantly faster than everyone else around them in that one section. Anytime they were feeling pressure, they would blast down their preferred side of the whoops and make time on their competition. Their skill set is a throwback to the days of big whoops and on nights like last Saturday, it can be a huge benefit. Most modern tracks have very mild whoops and there isn’t much separation to be had amongst the elite. Detroit had a throwback set of whoops and the riders with the ability to capitalize rose to the top.
Who is stopping Austin Forkner?
From what I can see so far, the only person who is going to stop Austin Forkner is Austin Forkner. He is getting the holeshot almost every time and he is going faster than everyone. That’s a tough combination to beat. What he hasn’t been able to do is eradicate his practice crashes, however. If one of these tumbles goes the wrong way, he may find himself in trouble at an inopportune time. If he does avoid catastrophe, this series is over. He will need to take himself out of this to open the door for anyone else.
Thoughts on the split lanes?
I am usually not a fan of split lanes. Too often they result in one line being the preferred choice and everyone fights for that option. The racetrack then becomes even narrower because riders abandon the slower option.
This one was fairly even so it worked. I give the track crew credit for adjusting the jump angles until they were close to the same speed. Having them be similar is critical to good racing and they got it right. There were passes made there and riders had to make quick decisions accordingly.
Did the track rut up as much as feared without lime?
It was soft as expected. The saving grace was the ability for track crews to go work on it after every race. With the gap in between Triple Crown events, they immediately went to the trouble spots and started from scratch. If there had been four heats in a row before maintenance, it would have been much worse. The last few laps of the 450 main event would have been very scary as well, judging from how it looked at the 12 minute mark. With lime being such a sensitive subject, Feld Entertainment caught a break with this event landing where it did. It was the right format for the right situation. Mission accomplished.
Cooper Webb showed resiliency, bouncing back from a tough start to the day. Where did you see improvement?
He was really struggling with the whoops in practice. It was visually a problem compared to his rivals. He still wasn’t the fastest through them by any means, but he found a way to hold his own during the main events. His starts were critically, too. He put himself in position to succeed in the second and third main events. He has the confidence to win every time and will try to do just that if he starts up front.
The start didn’t prove to be a big problem. Are you surprised? Many thought this configuration would cause pile-ups.
I am surprised there wasn’t more carnage, but pleasantly surprised. I will give credit to the track crew for realizing what was potentially hazardous and making subtle changes. The jump that was in the first corner was made very small, keeping riders from going airborne in the braking zone. Further, they really spaced out the single jumps after the corner. Giving riders room is what it’s all about. They must be able to maneuver when and if necessary. I still don’t care for that start setup, but it worked out this time.
Who had an under-the-radar performance in 450SX that we may have missed?
Dean Wilson’s result on paper wasn’t ideal but he was fast all day and night. He was near the top of timed qualifying each session and was in the battles most main events. He was taken down in a racing incident with Ken Roczen but I thought his riding was very impressive. He has had a few up and down weekends but if he brings that level of intensity, it will pay off sooner than later.
With the soft dirt, how does the track change from the first lap to the last lap of a race?
The first lap is a full sprint on a perfect track. Riders push into the corners with crazy aggression and on tacky dirt like Detroit, simulate a slot car careening through a corner. It’s high intensity and heart rates are maxed. As the track deteriorates, though, that intensity comes down a bit and the emphasis changes to precision. Rider technique is critically important as the corners grow deep ruts. To keep their pace up, they must get in and out of those ruts perfectly. Having their leg lifted, finding the right lean angle, and trusting what they know. Not only do they have to rail through these quickly corroding corners, they will also have to trust deep ruts on the take-offs to jump big rhythm sections.
The triple before the finish line was a perfect example. In the opening laps, even the elite 250 riders were able to execute it. By the end of the 450 races, it was a who’s who of seat bouncing to clear the third jump. Everything had to be perfect through the corner with full commitment into the take-off to clear the jump, and even then, most riders clipped the top. I haven’t seen a jump that difficult in a while, but it was mostly due to the soft dirt. If that jump was on a hard track like Anaheim or Glendale, most riders would jump it without much fuss.