Due to the broadcasting schedule, the 450 Class had the opportunity to race first this weekend, so that’s where we are going to start. Four rounds down in the 2019 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and it’s all tied up in the 450 Class. Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac each have 176 points in the championship and two overall victories to their name. Here’s how we got there.
For the first time in 2019, a rider not named Roczen or Tomac won a moto. The name’s Baggett, Blake Baggett. That’s right, the ole El Chupacabra took his first moto victory in two years—at the 2017 High Point National was actually when he won his last moto and overall. Baggett started his day by qualifying third—Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson took the top spot and Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin edged out Baggett by 0.3 seconds—but really got it going when the gate dropped for the first moto. He grabbed the holeshot and within a quarter of the lap he had several bike lengths between himself and the rest of the pack.
“It’s not very often I get a holeshot and lead the whole thing, so it felt good to just get out front,” Baggett said on the podium after the moto. “I haven’t done much the first three rounds so we’re just in a little bit of a slump and struggling so it feels good to get a holeshot and lead the whole moto and get a win. So we’re going to try and repeat that and be up here more often.”
Baggett returned to his old, fast 2017 form, leading all 17 laps of the moto before getting the victory. He was untouched and unbothered for the entire moto, and even created a ten-second-plus gap over the field. However, the second moto was a different story. It seemed as if someone had tamed El Chupacabra similar to when the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner. Baggett simply wasn’t the same in the second moto and it was evident from the start, as the #4 aboard the 450 SX-F was deep in the pack. Even then, once the first few laps sorted themselves out, Baggett was off. He made a few mistakes before finishing 15th, giving him seventh overall on the day.
In the second moto, it was all #94. He made key passes on several championship contenders, including Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson, and Red Bull KTM’s Webb, all of whom are championship contenders and were fast all day. Roczen seems to carry the speed into and out of the corners better than anyone all day, as all three passes on Osborne, Anderson, and Webb were completed in turns. Roczen said he didn’t feel good on the bike early on with the new settings they had ready coming into the day. Roczen said after the race that he was going to test the new settings in Florida on Thursday but was only able to ride them for a few laps due to bad weather. When he started riding in qualifying, he still wasn’t comfortable so he went back to the setting from Thunder Valley National two weeks ago—when he won his second overall of the season. He said they had to make a few clicker changes after the first moto when he finished sixth and it paid off.
“Second moto I just went back to what I had in Colorado and felt pretty comfortable on it,” he said in the post-race press conference. “I kind of like what I’ve been riding, aside from a little bit of a clicker difference in Florida, but it just really worked out for me way better in the second moto.”
Tomac said in the post-race press conference that he couldn’t remember the last time he won an overall without winning a moto that day, as that’s exactly what he did at High Point. When you look at last year alone, he won 15 out of the 24 motos and eight of the 12 overalls. This year hasn’t been that way, although it had been just him and Roczen coming into round four, but with so many elite riders able to push the envelope and on the verge of taking a win in any given moto, we might see more overalls won without winning a moto. Tomac tipped over in a rut while trying to get to the front of the pack and lost several positions. But he said he was able to regroup and regain several spots to finish third. He also fixed his mistakes for the second moto.
Although qualifying fastest in the 450 Class, Anderson said getting back up to race speed hasn’t been easy.
“For me, the racing is coming back and it’s sometimes a little fast for me,” he said. “I’ve basically been off… a good amount of time. …All in all, we’re getting better from weekend to weekend. I’m trying my butt off and yeah, coming back into the speed that these guys are doing and expecting myself to be right there with them and it’s tough but that’s my goal, so we’re going to keep trying and keep striving and working our butts off and enjoying it.”
While Anderson missed out on earning his first overall win, he did score his second podium of the season after recording moto finishes of 2-5. And in typical Anderson fashion, his laid-back style came out during the post-race press conference.
“Honestly, the fans here at High Point are pretty wild and I think they give RedBud a run for their money so it’s cool and it’s good,” he said on the crowd. “I like the enthusiasm they have and sometimes I wish I was out there having a good time with them.”
Even with his laid-back style off the track, it’s his style on the track that has been a hot topic all of 2019. In the first round of supercross we didn’t see it, he was solid at Glendale even though Baggett took the main event win, but since his return to racing at Hangtown, his on-track style has become even more of a talking factor. Aside from his untucked, loose-bottom jersey, he seems to find a different gear physically when riders try to pass him. At Thunder Valley, we saw Justin Bogle move out of the way for Tomac, even though he wasn’t being lapped, but when someone tries to pass Anderson it seems to light a fire underneath him.
Roczen made quick work of him in a turn during the second moto, but at High Point we saw another display of Anderson riding the wide bike, not allowing riders to get around him. Tomac struggled to make moves around the #21 early in the second moto. At one point, going over the wall before the downhill rollers, Tomac was only inches from catching the back tire of Anderson as he had nowhere to go. Anderson did fade to fifth by the end of the moto, but on several occasions—one with Roczen as well—we saw Anderson really battling back with the top contenders who haven’t had the time off from injury like he has. Maybe having some time off the bike has kept Anderson from becoming burnt out. Maybe he is just fresh. He said earlier in the season that coming into the season that he basically skipped outdoor testing so he could put more focus into his physical shape. Either way you look at it, for a guy who says he’s still struggling with the race pace of the leaders, this has to be a positive weekend for Anderson going forward. He’s tied for third in the championship with his teammate, 450 Class rookie Osborne, but more importantly has the speed to bust out his first overall win any day.
Although he got life at the end of supercross after struggling when he returned from injury, Osborne’s 2019 Pro Motocross premier class debut has been nothing short of great. He’s gotten some solid results so far and has the speed to run with his teammate and the other title contenders. Even though it hasn’t played out exactly this way, it’s entertaining to see that similar to Red Bull KTM with Musquin and Cooper Webb, Husqvarna has two solid championship contenders in the class. Not many teams can say that. Tomac’s teammate Joey Savatgy came into the season late, after missing the first two rounds from a lingering supercross injury, and he battled a little bit at High Point, he hasn’t had the seat time to get the results that show he’s a championship contender right now. He finished 8-6 for eighth overall but really didn’t show the signs of speed like the top contenders have. That’s okay he doesn’t have it now in his second appearance of the championship, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come this season.
Speaking of Red Bull KTM, man, Musquin’s day didn’t turn out to be what we had thought. After nearing the top qualifying spot, Musquin’s bad start in moto two forced the Frenchman to charge through the pack. Then he went down hard in the first turn of the second moto and was basically last when we got going again. Somehow, he managed to make his way up to 21st by the end of the first lap. He kept charging and managed a seventh-place finish, giving him sixth overall after a fourth-place finish in the first moto. Musquin sits fifth in the 450 Class points standings with 139 points. He did a good job of salvaging points on a day where he was fast in qualifying but faced adversity come the points-paying motos.
High Point - 450
High Point Raceway - Mt. Morris, PA
|1||Eli Tomac||Cortez, CO||3 - 2||Kawasaki KX450|
|2||Ken Roczen||Mattstedt, Germany||6 - 1||Honda CRF450|
|3||Jason Anderson||Edgewood, NM||2 - 5||Husqvarna FC 450|
|4||Cooper Webb||Newport, NC||7 - 3||KTM 450 SX-F FE|
|5||Zach Osborne||Abingdon, VA||5 - 4||Husqvarna FC 450|
Turning to the 250 Class, after qualifying this morning, it seemed like a GEICO Honda rider would dominate the day. Chase Sexton recorded a blazing 2:02.698—the fastest qualifying lap of either class. So, naturally, we expected Sexton to build his own gap, similar to Baggett’s in the first 450 Class moto, and run away with at least one win. But once the gate dropped for the first moto, it seemed that first moto star Justin Cooper might run away with another first-moto win. But The GEICO Honda start had different plans. When the checkered flag came, we did see a GEICO Honda CRF250R win the first moto by a 7.177 second gap over second place, but it wasn’t Sexton. It was Sexton’s teammate, Hunter Lawrence, who avenged his costly mistake at Fox Raceway at Pala to edge out Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo for his first U.S. win. When Cooper jumped out to an early lead, Lawrence made a pass on Cooper’s teammate Colt Nichols to take over second place and then used the same line the next lap to pass Cooper and take the lead. He then cruised for the next 11 laps before bringing home his first U.S. win. Heading down the rollers with a little over six minutes and two laps left, Lawrence got a little crazy and almost threw away the win. A trademark of High Point Raceway, those downhill rollers were problematic for riders in both classes. Webb had a gnarly get-off in the same section and Anderson and Roczen were bar-to-bar at the end of it—but somehow neither of them went down—and Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Garrett Marchbanks went down hard early in the moto and was landed on by his own bike. (Note: We will provide an update on Marchbanks once we learn more.)
Lawrence got another solid start and finished third in the second moto to earn his first U.S. overall podium, a second overall. Lawrence said he would have liked to go 1-1 for his first overall win but said it was still the “best day of his life.” Lawrence has had a solid start to his rookie campaign in both the U.S and the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, as the Australian sits seventh in the points standings.
“Stoked to put two good motos together today,” he said. “It’s a big step forward so looking forward to going back this week and not changing anything, just keep on doing what we’re doing and, yeah, coming back swinging next weekend.”
Unlike most of his competitors, Lawrence is unfamiliar with the tracks in the series, aside from Fox Raceway at Pala where he trains at and WW Ranch Motocross Park where he raced the 2017 U.S. GP.
Lawrence, who competed in the MX2 class of the FIM Motocross World Championship in 2018, has had to become adjusted to the differences between the FIM Motocross World Championship and the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Aside from the differences in the U.S. tracks, Lawrence has to now qualify and race on the same day in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, as opposed to a separate day for each in the MXGP. For him, switching lines to go around his competitors isn’t as simple as it seems.
“I just close my eyes and hope for the best, taking a new line, to be honest,” he said with a laugh.
Late in second moto, Lawrence knew that if Sexton passed Cianciarulo for second-place that the overall would be his, but he said he’s not going to count on others to help him, he’s just going to take care of what he has to.
“It’s awesome, it’s just a moto win but it’s a big milestone in our journey…this is huge for all of us, [I’m] so stoked,” Lawrence said.
Cianciarulo, who entered the 2019 season with only one 250 Class overall win to his name, now has four consecutive overall wins to start the season. On Saturday, he became the 32nd different rider to win in the 125/250 Class at High Point.
After Lawrence’s strong performance in the first moto, Cianciarulo knew he had to get a better start in the second moto if he wanted to prevent the GEICO Honda rider from gapping the field. While he did just that, he almost went down in the first turn, which could have been costly. However, he saved it and continued to push past several riders until making the pass on the leading Nichols before leading the last 13 laps to the checkered flag, his fourth second-moto win of the season.
Even though he did show some emotion following the race, holding up four fingers as he rode around the track, he did remain humble in the post-race press conference and really showed where his focus is.
“It’s really one moto at a time, that’s my goal,” he said. “I think as soon as you get complacent, as soon as you get comfortable, and you’re like ‘Oh man, I’m crushing it,’ that’s when you’re going to get your ass kicked, in my mind."
At the same time, Cianciarulo knows he is on a big run.
“To win four nationals in a row, I’m so grateful for each one of these wins,” he said. “It’s so hard to do, everyone wants it so bad, everyone’s programs are so good these days so I know it’s taken me a while for sure, I’m a veteran in the class, but I’m proud of myself, proud of my team, and it just makes you want more.”
Although Sexton was fast all day, he couldn’t get the positioning he needed off the start to allow himself to get to the front of the field.
“I really gelled with the track at practice, obviously qualifying fastest,” he said. “But my bike setup was really good today and I think that helped. I kind of struggled here the last two years, my first pro race here in 2017. And I honestly never really liked the track that much but for some reason today it clicked and I felt good.”
Cooper and Dylan Ferrandis, two of the heavy hitters coming into the championship, were quiet on the track today, Cooper finishing eighth overall and Ferrandis finishing fourth. Ferrandis was starting to catch Sexton in the second moto but ran out of time as it was too little too late. He will need to get his starts dialed in and get himself into a better position early in the race. Once he does that, he’ll have the ability to lead the pack. Now, four rounds down Cianciarulo has a 26-point lead on Cooper and a 42-point lead over Ferrandis in third place.
That’s a wrap on the first East Coast round of the 2019 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Follow along next week as the championship continues in Jacksonville, Flroida, for the inaugural Florida National at WW Ranch Motocross Park.
High Point - 250
High Point Raceway - Mt. Morris, PA
|1||Adam Cianciarulo||Port Orange, FL||2 - 1||Kawasaki KX250F|
|2||Hunter Lawrence||Australia||1 - 3||Honda CRF250|
|3||Chase Sexton||La Moille, IL||4 - 2||Honda CRF250|
|4||Dylan Ferrandis||Avignon, France||3 - 4||Yamaha YZ250F|
|5||Colt Nichols||Muskogee, OK||5 - 5||Yamaha YZ250F|