Viva Las Vegas! It’s time for round 17 and I couldn’t be happier for it to arrive. For those on the traveling circus like me, it’s been a grueling spring. The season is relentless, grinding on for months. Las Vegas is a great landing spot for the series, though, as riders and teams can enjoy the desert sun and finish out the season on a high note. Some riders will be hoping to get their best finish of the season or grab their first win while others will have their mind on the Hangtown National already. It’s a weird dichotomy.
Everyone will be out there racing together but some might be more willing to take chances than others. It’s usually easy to tell who’s racing for the moment or who is simply hoping to leave unscathed and ready for a championship summer.
Dirty Little Secrets
In true Las Vegas fashion, this track has a bit of everything. The start is very long, bending to the left before a quick 180 right. It will be interesting to see how this start plays out. The riders on the outside are going to push deep into the first corner, putting them on the inside of the second corner. The riders coming from the middle/inside will have to account for that, making a decision on how deep to leave their breaking, too. We have had this set up many times before (Detroit 2006 comes to mind, possibly Houston 2010 also) and it always gets dicey in the second corner.
The first short rhythm section has two basic options. Rail the outside and triple-table-to-single, or stay inside and double-double-single to the inside again in the next corner. I think the latter will be the race line as it allows riders to protect the inside in both corners and requires no “set up” in the corner to execute.
The next 90 right leads to the longest rhythm section on the track. These sections are always dependent on the build but on paper, I think it will go something like this: double from the inside, triple, step-on step-off, step-on step-off, and single out. Riders could also double out of the section as the final few jumps look to have a split option. The main factor will be finding options to stay low, stay fast, and triple where possible. The Dartfish video software and Lit Pro info are both very helpful in figuring out the absolute fastest option. Teams will study this data and know the ideal line and riders will act accordingly by main event time.
The next section heads outside of the stadium, a staple of the Las Vegas layout. It’s fast and furious out there and what I always remembered most was how quiet and dark it was out there. Most of the main event is complete focus and the outside world is a noisy blur but that ten or fifteen seconds was a totally different feeling. Instead of hearing the crowd and several other bikes within proximity (even if going opposite directions), you can really only hear your own bike. I can remember that distinctly and it makes Vegas unique.
Coming back into the stadium is usually a fast, basic straightaway. This year, though, there is a legit section that riders will have to respect. Riders will single that first jump but I can’t decide if they will step-on step-off or downside the tabletop. My gut tells me they will simply double through these because the sand will spread, making this a rutty mess. If a triple is possible, riders will go for it, but it’s hard to say how this section shapes up. Doubling into the corner will be critical, however, allowing riders to carry that momentum into the fast sand 180. If they single into that corner, riders will be unsettling the suspension before then burying the front wheel into the berm. All of this is assuming that the sand 180 actually stays, as riders have been very vocal with their displeasure in the past.
The finish line jump is up next and should be very basic other than the sand corner leading up to it. Upon landing, riders will accelerate into the first of back-to-back whoop sections. These two sections will be the most important sections (other than the start). Las Vegas whoops are notoriously tough. They get slippery and cupped out as the night evolves. We have seen huge crashes in Vegas whoops over the years and it’s absolutely attributable to the difficulty that the dirt presents. If they are built big, look for these two sections to determine who wins and loses. The first set is going to be interesting as riders will have a lot of speed from the finish line jump. Who will grab a gear and lift the front wheel? Conversely, who will grab the front brakes and give up valuable entry speed? This first set is all about confidence.
The second set comes just after a bowl berm, changing the dynamic a bit. Riders will need to build speed out of the corner in hopes of blitzing efficiently. A rider like Cooper Webb or Marvin Musquin, who like to jump whoops, will have a better chance in a section like this. To jump through, they wouldn’t be forced to scrub all of that speed that the first section of whoops would require. If they can manage the first set, the second set will be a tad less taxing.
Watch for the most proficient whoops riders (Tyler Bowers, Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Blake Baggett, etc.) to barrel down the inside of the first set of whoops and hope to block pass before the second set. A less confident rider may check up just a tiny bit entering that first set and open the door. Riders are acutely aware of this and will play offense/defense accordingly. With a very simple and fast layout otherwise, these two whoops sections will be make or break.
After the whoops, riders go under the bridge and cross the start diagonally. Next up is a 120-degree left that will force riders to roll through with momentum, hoping to clear the next supercross triple with no berm to pivot from. The 250 guys might struggle here, especially in the muddy times of the day and night (practice and the heat races). Finally, riders bend left and back onto lap two.
Questions I Want Answered
How will Webb approach this main event? My guess is he goes for the start and then just finds a safe pace, allowing riders to go by if needed, but never putting himself in a jam.
Who is fully engaged in this race and who is just hoping to get out safe and healthy for Hangtown?
Will we see drama in 250SX? Both titles are single digit point leads.
Can Zach Osborne back up his podium last week?
Do any of the 250 teams play games with their gate picks? (Strategically lining up against certain riders.)
With temps in the 90’s, will the track crew be able to keep any moisture in the dirt?
Webb won his seventh race of the year and holds a huge lead heading into Saturday. He has done everything right this season. Congrats.
Chase Sexton executed a perfect game plan, capitalizing on Austin Forkner’s injury and taking over the red plate.
Wacko Zacho snagged his first ever podium, nearly winning the East Rutherford main event.
Justin Bogle’s finish last weekend doesn’t indicate the level he’s on right now. He is back, folks.
Mitchell Oldenburg’s runner up finish was puzzling for the team tactics side, but he rode incredibly well.
Alex Martin starred in his own Troll Experience, holeshotted the main, and then everything fell apart.
Forkner gave it one hell of an effort but his knee injury was just too much to overcome. He will be the title favorite come the 2020 SX season.
Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM can’t buy a break lately. Their riders have been fighting the injury bug all season, losing both of their title contenders mid-season.
Blake Baggett holeshots the main event.
Eli Tomac sets the fastest lap of timed qualifying, wins his heat race, and wins the main event.
Steve Matthes, Jason Weigandt, and I all pepper Zach Osborne with advice, criticism, and useless tidbits throughout the day and night via text.
I seek therapy after the berating Chad Reed lays on me at the live Racer X/Pulp MX Show Friday night—get your tickets here.
The words “let’s take it outside” are muttered 5,472 times after the main events Saturday night. Each and every time, that person thinks it’s clever. Okay, maybe that’s just me saying it and thinking I am clever.
Adam Cianciarulo holeshots the 250 main event.
Steve Matthes spends Sunday at Home Depot, stocking up for a deep clean at the Pro Circuit race shop.