Once again we've fired off questions at our resident former pro Jason Thomas. This time, it's track-focused topics from Glendale's round of Monster Energy Supercross.
Try to describe how this track evolves throughout the day and night. It looked wet in practice but dried out—as per usual in the desert—as the races moved on. What's the sensation like and how do riders adapt?
With dirt like this, the only chance for good traction is to keep it soft and pliable throughout the day. To accomplish that, they will need to overwater in the morning. That makes it muddy, unfortunately, but it’s necessary. Once they get the water “in” the dirt, they can manage it throughout the course of the day. If they allow it to get hardpacked, though, it’s very difficult to regain the ideal moisture. Adding water at that point just turns it into a slip ‘n slide. The water won’t soak in, it just sits on the surface and becomes more hazardous than being dry would have.
How much can you pick up during the sight lap? Do you remember literally seeing a hole, bump, rut or slick spot and knowing to abandon a line you used earlier in the day?
The sight lap is really valuable. I would choose my line all the way around the track based on the sighting lap. I was usually one of the last riders back to the starting line because I would study the track more than most during that opportunity. Literally every line I chose would be based on what I saw on that one lap.
In fact, the most stressful times for me were in races where we didn’t get a sight lap, such as the 250 opening heat races of the night. There is a big level of trust that has to occur when jumping big rhythm sections on the first lap after track work occurs. At least for the second heat or for the 450s, the riders have already seen the jumps hit and lines work in. Ask Grant Langston about Orlando 2006 if you want to see how this can go poorly.
Are riders fully confident they know what the track will be like when the gate drops, or is the first lap somewhat of a guess?
I answered this a bit prematurely above but yes, there is some guessing in those races without a sight lap. Another scenario is in a mud race, most riders will forego the sight lap in hopes of keeping their bike light and in contention for a good start. That first lap is a complete wonder as to what lines are full of water and mud, etc. Experience helps in times like those but it’s still a bit more nerve-racking than getting to see the track ahead of time.
What made these whoops so tough?
The Glendale dirt is adobe clay and when it hardens, it’s basically cement. Those whoops harden throughout the day and night, lessening the traction level and also becoming sharper. The rear tire is not able to drive forward from the sharp angle of the whoop face and the lack of traction wreaks havoc on the straight line drive riders are looking for. The general rule is this: soft whoops with lots of traction will be easier than hard, slippery whoops. Riders want predictability when entering a long set of whoops. When whoops become slick and square edged like Glendale, predictability goes bye-bye.
Super-fast start straight—but you usually say the longer starts feel safer than the short ones. Explain that theory.
I don’t know if they “feel” safer to everyone but I don’t think that the typical “faster is more dangerous” theory is necessarily true. On short starts, riders are still close together and vying for handlebar positioning. With them so bunched up entering the turn, entanglement is almost unavoidable. Riders tangling handlebars is the single biggest reason for first turn pile-ups, bar none.
On a longer start, the speed is higher, yes, but there is also more time and room for riders to maneuver. That long start creates space and space usually lessens the chance of a pile-up. The one caveat is that if someone makes a mistake (AC9) and drives in too deep and makes contact, that higher speed can certainly create chaos. Most of the starts went off without a hitch but that one incident certainly left a mark on Justin Bogle. Overall, I don’t think longer starts are the issue but this was also the longest start I have seen in years. Most stadiums don’t even have the possibility of a start that long. Ninety-degree first turns with a shallow run off is the most likely culprit when it comes to pile-ups but the simple fact is that every first turn design can go wrong.
We actually saw a sand turn with two lines. Did you see something special to make that happen?
Yes, a bulldozer happened! The Dirt Wurx crew created an inside and outside berm with their equipment. The inside line was still the optimal choice for most of the night but the outside was usable, at least. I still don’t care for sections like that in theory but at least in Glendale it wasn’t a glaring problem, either. I will always believe that sand is best used on straightaways that allow riders to pull alongside their competitors. It makes the section incredibly difficult (Tampa 2018 for example), but it’s fun to watch.
Still pumped on the Triple Crown format?
I love the Triple Crown! I don’t have to work on the bikes, pay for the parts, or put myself at risk anymore, but as a fan, they are great. Triple the meaningful racing is always going to raise the entertainment factor for me. There are plenty of talking points as to why they are problematic but I think they are a cool addition to the series.
Cooper Webb is still solid but the whoops continue to be problem. Any worries there?
Last year, his starts were so spot on that he was able to hide the whoops deficiency. Even in the races where he lost spots or time, he would still be around the podium and maintain a great, points-earning weekend. This year, his starts have not been quite as good and he is battling for fifth in some of those scenarios. His results have been solid so far but unless he can suddenly improve his whoops liability (see: unlikely), nailing his starts is the next best thing. He puts so much pressure on the field last year by starting up front. Last year, he holeshot seven out of 23 races (including Triple Crown) and was inside the top eight at almost every other round. Starting up front makes managing the whoop liability much easier. Also, as we move east in the coming months, the whoops will become much more conducive to jumping and finding a competitive rhythm. That’s one of Cooper’s specialties.