We’re once again firing off questions at long-time pro Jason Thomas for some opinions on the fourth round of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
1. Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Blake Baggett, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson, Zach Osborne, and Cooper Webb all had impressive moments at High Point. Is this the strongest 450 field we’ve seen in a long time?
I do think it is the strongest but there are layers to it. First, most of the field is healthy. Every OEM’s #1 rider is out there and riding well (minus Suzuki). Further, KTM and Husky have two guys each that are capable of winning, adding to the depth. Teams usually only have one rider at the sharp end so that’s a new wrinkle for 2019. We aren’t even at full tilt, yet, is the best part. With Justin Barcia still banged up, Aaron Plessinger working towards a return, and Joey Savatgy showing his potential, the future is bright.
The other point I want to make is that there is no clear top dog right now. Even with Tomac winning the last two titles and sharing the points lead currently, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will win each weekend. Going back to Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, and Ryan Dungey, there was a long stretch of time where we could pick the winner before the race with pinpoint accuracy. For the good of the sport, I hope we continue to get the parody we are seeing right now. If Webb can take another step, Musquin finds some luck, the Husky boys find just a touch more, and Baggett brings that first moto level more consistently, this is wide open from moto to moto. That’s a lot of “if’s,” I know, but I will take those possibilities over the unlikely scenarios we faced for the last 15 years or so.
What the heck changed for Kenny in moto one to moto two?
He mentioned that they went back to the Colorado settings, so I will take that at face value. I was a bit confused as to why or how they got so far from what was working at Colorado, but with different dirt and a weekend off to test, maybe they felt like they improved the bike. Testing isn’t always productive, though, and it’s easy to go backwards. I don’t know if that was the case here but at least they were proactive in changing it back to a proven setting. Technology has given riders so many variations with their setup. It’s opened up a bevy of tools and allows riders to go faster than ever but it’s also very easy to go the wrong direction if the track changes. With over two hours (plus several more practices and two LCQ races) between qualifying practice and the first moto, the track can change quite a bit. It’s always a slight guessing game as to how the track will be in the first moto so maybe they just guessed wrong that time. That second moto should have every other rider hoping for more issues with settings moving forward, though. Kenny was amazing in that race.
This was the first second moto of the year where Roczen had Tomac covered. Big deal, little deal, or no deal at all?
I don’t think we can draw and hard conclusions just yet. Kenny has been able to run away in a couple of first motos this year, but the second moto eluded him. This time, the first moto was not ideal, but in the second moto he was lights out. It still seems like a bit of see-saw with each guy unable to find his best self consistently.
We are about to enter very different conditions in both soil and climate so we will get more information to draw from. This weekend’s Florida National at WW Ranch Motocross Park will feature blistering heat and humidity, a big change from the moderate conditions we have seen thus far. Most of the field trains in the Florida heat already but racing is a different animal. How the conditions alter the results will be this weekend’s storyline.
The other factor is our two-week dive into the sand. Both WW Ranch and Southwick comprise the sandiest races of the season. They are back-to-back, giving us a nice change-up in the look and feel of the series. I think WW Ranch will be much more brutal on riders because of the heat but Southwick is always demanding regardless of the New England weather. How Roczen responds in the second moto in Florida could be a great indicator of how this series could go once the heat is a week-in week-out happening. If he can manage his health and neutralize any deficiency, we could see a battle royale all the way to August.
Please describe Roczen’s insane pass on Cooper Webb in moto two.
I would love to give you the detailed explanation of it, but suffice to say it was technique that most riders will never understand or experience. To enter a turn with that much momentum, standing on the pegs, and that much lean angle, is not for the faint of heart. In theory, riders want to avoid braking for each turn. The ideal approach would be to use the inherent momentum to “roll through” the corner. That’s a pipe dream for most as those brakes just magically seem to get engaged somehow. For Kenny to just disregard physics and corner at that speed is just ridiculous. My favorite part of the whole scenario was Webb’s reaction. Kenny came in so fast and unexpectedly, Webb hesitated a bit. He didn’t make a mistake necessarily, but it was more like “Whoa, what happened?”
Kenny has such an elite level of balance and talent; most riders will never pull off anything close to a move like that. He does things like this on his Instagram from time to time but to execute something that incredible in a race and even less likely, while passing for the lead, is something to remember. There are many riders who are capable of winning motos but there are not many on earth capable of a move like that.
Webb was much better after working off his supercross hangover. What do you think changed?
That first weekend off is a big opportunity for riders in Webb’s situation. All of his mental and physical focus was put onto ending the SX season on top. Just like he mentioned at the Vegas press conference, he really didn’t care about the upcoming outdoor season yet. A month later, though, it’s time to get serious about the summer. He is still behind the curve on the other riders who were putting in dedicated focus way back in April. He might not be able to close that gap for a while but the improvements were already noticeable. Riding with Osborne, Musquin, Anderson, and co. will help him get on par quicker than usual. That whole group has their work cut out to deal with Roczen and Tomac but they do have the benefit of feeding off of each other. That four pack of riders pushing each other is a powerful weapon. I think we will see that group make this an interesting series. Tomac is on an island somewhat, riding and training by himself most of the time. Roczen has Adam Cianciarulo and Chase Sexton to push him but across town, that Baker pack is hungry.
Thoughts on Justin Cooper’s day?
Weird day, for sure. He didn’t seem to “have it” all day. His qualifying was worse than usual, he had a decent crash in the second session (probably trying to find the pace), and went backwards in both motos. Some days just go that way but I think most expected to see him firing after the Thunder Valley fiasco. He now sits over a moto’s worth of points behind Cianciarulo and is also entering AC’s home state of Florida. He needs a bounce back performance or this could get out of hand quickly.
What’s the difference between Adam Cianciarulo and everyone else right now?
It just feels like AC has the whole package figured out. His fitness is as good or better than anyone, he has elite level sprint speed, he is able to neutralize poor starts (or holeshot some), and most importantly, his confidence is at an all time high. He is going into each moto believing he is the best guy. That’s an incredibly valuable mindset and while most say they believe they should win, there is still a lot of doubt in every rider’s mind. Winning four overalls in a row is a clear indicator that Adam is in a different place than he’s ever been, both physically and mentally.
Chase Sexton and Hunter Lawrence were much better. How about their rides?
Sexton was on fire in qualifying practice. He was the fastest rider in either class, which very rarely happens for a 250 rider. He just needs that extra little bit to find a win but he was much better than he has been. He rides with AC every day so I would expect those two at the front more times than not.
I was very impressed with Hunter Lawrence. Not just because he won but because he dominated the first moto after only riding the track for 20-25 minutes total in practice. To learn the fast lines and nuances in such a short amount of time speaks volumes as to his adaptability. The unfamiliarity with these tracks was my biggest concern for Lawrence’s success but he was able to handle it with relative ease, it seemed. Going into WW Ranch, he gets to ride a track he’s been on before, so let’s see how he responds.
How can Lawrence learn a track so quickly?
I believe that necessity has forced him to develop this skill. He moved from his native Australia to Europe, completely changing everything about his program. That put him on new practice tracks, new training environments, and racing on new MXGP tracks each week. He had to visit a new country each round, deal with the food variation, culture shock, and still find a way to succeed. All of that molded him into a very adaptable racer. This 2019 season is just more of the same. He is facing new tracks each week but he has developed the ability to figure things out quickly. He hasn’t had a choice. His biggest asset was formed from his biggest challenge. Moving away from everything familiar created a chameleon like quality in his racing approach.
Cameron McAdoo was good. Shot in the arm for the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM team?
This was a surprise for me. I figured McAdoo would finish in the top 15 somewhere, adjusting to his new bike and team, but also jumping into the series in which the others are in their groove. He exceeded my expectations, though, running inside the top ten all day. The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM team needed something, anything, to turn their frown upside down. This wasn’t a win or a podium, but it was a reason to feel positive about a season that simply hasn’t felt that way.
Who crushed fantasy this week and who killed it?
Nick Gaines was the big surprise and for those that picked him, let me be the first to say something nasty to you. He was unable to even finish the second moto at Thunder Valley so to see him rock solid all day at High Point is a bit puzzling. Fantasy is never easy! Congrats to him, though, he rode very well.
Challen Tennant bounced back from a horrible Thunder Valley, also, scoring huge fantasy points and battling for championship paying points, too.
In the 450 Class, Joey Savatgy raced more and tested less, scoring the highest of any big bore riders. He was good, especially in that second moto.
Tyler Bowers is another rider to mention here, finally finding the form we expected this summer. His 12-12 was good for second highest 450 rider in fantasy points. I don’t know what his ceiling is but I knew he was due for a better day than his first three rounds. Maybe moving east was the change he needed.