Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac took the win at round 11 of Monster Energy AMA Supercross, the first of a seven-race run in Salt Lake City, Utah, that will complete the season. He was passed, and then had to re-pass, his title rivals Cooper Webb, of Red Bull KTM, and Ken Roczen, of Honda HRC.
Webb and Roczen took second and third, respectively. All three riders spoke about it in a post-race press conference, held via a Zoom conference call. NBCSports’ Daniel Blair hosted the virtual press conference.
Daniel Blair: This is a question for all three of you. We came into this race knowing that things were going to be different, but now we’re through it. What was the biggest challenge today with all the variables that you faced? Kenny, I’ll start with you.
Ken Roczen: I think the biggest challenge was, from practice on I felt right at home so there was nothing really weird about that, but I feel like we never raced during the day like this obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever ridden… Maybe Vegas every now and then, but we hardly ever race conditions that are like how they were today. So I think that was probably one of the biggest differences for me personally.
You okay after your almost spectacular get-off?
That was not good. There was a little rut on the downside of a table-top and I kind of got squirrelly in there. I shot off to the right. I was in the air and I said, I’m done. I literally just hunkered down on the bike and on the handlebars. I don’t know how I rode it out, but then I literally rolled everything the last lap. I was like, all right, let’s just bring this one home.
I’m glad you’re all right. Cooper, second place on the day for you. The challenges—what stood out?
Cooper Webb: I think like Ken said the track conditions were mega, for sure. It was real warm today, windy. Obviously we knew it was going to be dry, but it was a tough main event. It seemed like probably the driest one I’ve ever raced. The track was definitely challenging. I’d say the weirdest thing was no fans. On the gate and all day, getting ready for practice, you could hear a pin drop. So that was a little different than what we were used to. That was for sure.
Eli, congrats. For you, biggest challenge throughout the day?
Eli Tomac: Our routine was different, right? Just the whole routine of the day, and then not having the people in the stadium was a little bit weird. You had to tell yourself this is real. It’s so easy to get fired up for the main event and the night show and then when there’s no one there, it kind of feels like practice. So that’s what I had to really focus on. Like, man, this really means something right now.
It took you a little bit to get going, too. Your first few laps were a little rough but then you found that gear. Was that kind of just adapting to the race conditions again? Coming in maybe a little flat because of the energy?
Maybe a little bit, and then trying to… I don’t know what I was really doing. I was a little bit slower that finish line, and then Coop got the slingshot on me. Then Ken made the next pass right there. So I don’t really know what the cause was early on. It was just maybe feeling out the conditions and those guys were just a little bit better early.
Eli, qualifying. We don’t have the scoring tower. I don’t know if you had pit boards or if you could see. I think they were trying to do pit boards. Just give us an idea. In qualifying, do you even know where your lap time is? Because normally we have that big board to watch.
We didn’t have the [score] board today, but I think we got a pit board in the first qualifying. So I could see the pit board, so it wasn’t too bad. But not having the tower was a little bit different. It was kind of nice. At least we were able to look at the big screen for our total time. I looked up there once and it was fifteen minutes to go and I’m like, “Wow, we’re going to do a lot of laps tonight.”
Eli and also Cooper, you were kind of keeping each other honest to the end. I know Kenny had that mistake there. Cooper, it seemed like you weren’t giving up. So let me ask you this first. How hard was it to keep pushing to the end in these conditions? Was it a real balance? It seemed like it would be really hard to push on this track.
Webb: Like you said, it was tough to find that balance of, like I told the team, you want to go faster and you try harder but you make mistakes because it’s so dry. So it was really about being patient but trying to carry the momentum and hit your marks. I felt like I made a charge there at the end. I made a mistake where I missed the rhythm that really kind of took me out of it a little bit. But overall, like you just said, it was a long main event. Once he got around me we played kind of cat-and-mouse. I was still a good way’s back, but it seemed like one lap he would kind of gain, and then the next maybe I would gain a little bit. I knew it was going to be a long one and I was just hoping to try to click off as many good laps as I could. Then at the end that mistake, I think he got an even bigger gap with a few to go. So it was a hard charge, but definitely a long, long main event.
What were the final laps like there for you, Eli? Same situation with him three seconds back and the track going away.
Tomac: It was just tough the whole time. The pressure was there the whole time. It was hard. Adam’s thing was just crazy. I watched that again and the way his bike bounced, luckily the rear wheel was coming down and then I rode over the center of the bike. That was just pure luck to make it through that thing.
Quite a few laps on a basically very simple track just to ease you guys back into things. How did it feel, even though it is a twenty-minute race? How much did the track change and break down when you guys got into those later stages?
Roczen: Honestly, you start up and they try to fix as much as possible. I honestly feel like we didn’t have really that much time to think. The track is breaking down and we kept cutting down, and the power of the bikes are down out here a little bit. So it for sure made that kind of things a little bit tougher. The rhythm where I almost crashed on, I don’t know how many times I went over the table and then three and cased that one and double-singled. Probably five or six times. So, that side of things, I feel like once the bikes get a little bit hot they actually lose a little bit more power. It’s not significant but in altitude you notice it even more. Our bikes are so powerful during regular altitude. It was getting so bad and so dry that like what Cooper said, it was such a fine line of pushing and not pushing. You go around the start straight, that long left-hander. You could literally sip a coffee right there because we were going so slow around that thing. It broke down. It got rougher and we tried to move out of some of the rough stuff, but then you could barely make the jump. So it was a challenge.
Webb: It seemed like they didn’t prep it too much before the main event. They left quite a bit of stuff. It was quite a bit different than I think most races that break down and you just kind of go lower and lower and lower. With the altitude and the bikes being slow, you can’t go much lower and make the jumps. So it was definitely tricky. It felt like the rocks kind of came out as well. It was definitely a rough main event, but more just the lines just having no traction. You’re on that fine line of it almost blowing every time you came around it. I think the slickest turn was the first turn. There at the end we got down to the concrete. So you hit that… I hit it one lap and you’re like, just barely holding on. So that was the hard part.
Tomac: I’m with these guys. It kind of did the typical, but it was dry. It required some two-wheel drifting. That first turn was crazy. It was like you were on a flat track bike. Sometimes it was actually kind of cool.
Eli, how similar is this dirt to what you ride on in Cortez, and what does your week look like now? You got Monday, Tuesday, race on Wednesday. What are you going to do?
Tomac: Our track at home, it gets dry and hard so it’s somewhat similar. This place has more rock in it. There was some marble, especially in that last turn before the finish line. There was some serious marbly, rock coming up. It’s hard and dry at home. As for during the week, probably off the motorcycle, just because we only have two days. There’s really not much we can do, just recover. These race days are big efforts. Just about recovery.
For both Eli and Cooper. Eli, you already touched on it a little bit regarding Adam’s crash there. That was pretty darn close for both you and Cooper. Can both of you kind of describe what happened there?
Tomac: I’m not exactly sure what happened to Adam, but he got bucked a little bit forward and then he went sideways and slammed down and the bike popped up. That was the worst part was the wheel came up. I was already in the air, so there was nowhere to go. The way it just happened, it just fell down at the right time, right place and I rode over his bike. That was it. Pretty sketchy.
Webb: I didn’t really see anything besides the back end and someone crashing. Like you said, Eli and I were both in the air. He kind of went left to try to miss the bike, so I went a little left. That’s where his body went. It just kind of was unfortunate. We both didn’t really have anywhere to go. I hope he’s all right. I didn’t really see exactly what happened. Just was trying to avoid the chaos.
Eli, have you by any chance heard how he’s doing?
Tomac: He was walking under his own power back to the truck, obviously sore. I don’t know exactly what he was feeling like. He was walking back. That’s all I got.
Eli, we talked a little bit about the benefits of you having a background with racing in altitude or practicing at altitude. Do you feel like that really helped in this race? Do you think that it will keep helping as races go on, or do you think it won’t as guys get their altitude in their lungs?
Tomac: I think early on it’s going to help us just for the general feel of the bike. They’re quite a bit slower up here. I know when I go to sea level the bikes are really fast, so when you come up here they definitely are slower. We’ve been able to practice a day or two up here, but I would think there’s some sort of advantage being a little bit used to it.
You previously were talking about just how quiet it was on the track before the races. What did you guys miss the most? Was it the sound of the crowds or the hype or the music beforehand? Was it just the pyrotechnics? Any of that kind of stuff?
I think it’s a little bit of everything. We kind of call it the gladiator effect where you have the crowd and the people. That’s what we were missing. The lights, the noise, the music getting you fired up on that gate drop.
I know you guys kind of touched on this a little bit, but for you 450 guys, how surreal was this experience just getting out there, seeing the lay of the land, seeing banners in the stands as opposed to fans? How surreal was that? Did it feel differently in terms of how did it affect your race? Did you feel like you had to manage it a little bit differently because you didn’t have something there to give you that extra oomph for the remainder of those twenty minutes?
Roczen: It’s just different. I feel like we’ve talked about it a lot. While we’re racing, we’re under our helmet and we’re in our zone. Supercross in general is a lot more of a show, I think. With the crowd being there, all the music and all the things, the fireworks, all that kind of stuff. So now not having that is simply just different. It feels like a day at the practice track.
Eli, it seemed you were able to remain pretty composed towards the beginning of the race when Cooper and Ken made their way through. What was the mindset at that point?
Tomac: At that point, I didn’t really know what was going on. I knew we had a lot of time left. I was still comfortable with that. I just wasn’t pushing as hard in general, I don’t think, early there. That was it. I was just banking on the amount of laps we had and no one was really running away too fast too early, so I wasn’t totally panicking.
Ken, I know obviously you want to win races. You’re on the podium but you lost a few points. Is there anything you’re looking at now that you’ve seen the conditions or the schedule or anything that you’re thinking maybe I can change these things to try to get the win that I’m sure that you want in the next rounds?
Roczen: Obviously not ideal, but I’m not stressing by any means. Even though we’re doing all these races in three weeks, there’s still a lot of racing to go, six rounds. So I think the team and I got a good plan going. I left my bike the same as on sea level, so we have a couple little ideas I think just to give it a little bit more oomph to make it a little bit easier with some of the rhythms and stuff, especially once we’re racing at night. Hopefully the traction will get a little bit better, things like that. I’m okay with it. I’m just honestly glad to be on two wheels and be healthy after that little almost get-off. So, not ideal, but I’m also not super bummed and getting down on myself. Like we talked about, it was really hard to make a big difference. Obviously Eli was really good for what the conditions were and passing us. I made a mistake and he went by and I couldn’t really latch onto anything. Everybody was riding pretty much their own race at one point. Third place is not horrible, not awesome. But we have six more races to go to redeem ourselves.
Ken, don’t tell anybody at Feld but I talked to some riders and teams after the race today and everybody said the track was so challenging, whether it was the ruts or dry and slick or all the things that all of you have talked about in this press conference. Kenny, six more weeks on this. How is it going to hold up and how is that going to change, if at all? Do you think can it change?
Good question. In general you would think that if we’re racing on the same dirt six times in a row, same with Anaheim 1, Anaheim 2, Anaheim 3 that used to happen. It would just get worse and worse and worse. I don’t think it can get worse than this, so the fact that we’re actually starting to race hopefully a little bit later in the day and at night, maybe keep some more moisture in it, and them turning the dirt around. They have to water it a lot. It can’t get much worse, so I don’t really know what to expect. Hopefully it will just go the other way and get better, but who knows? The challenging side of things was just that the conditions were so tricky. The track in general was pretty basic, and then having the bikes being slower so obviously it was a little bit tougher to make some of the jumps. I just think the other half of the track, for example, where I almost crashed, everything basically after the finish line, the whoops were okay but that whole section right there with those rollers I was wondering what they were doing because it’s really nothing where you can make up time. It’s not in the air. I’ve never ridden a supercross track that’s that short, I don’t think. Or that fast, I should say. I feel like they could have maybe done a couple of things better just to not have low 40-second lap times. Hopefully they’ll do some changes here for the next few rounds and maybe it will get a little better.