The surprising thing about Chase Sexton logging the fastest 450 qualifying time in his first 450 race ever? That was his goal, actually.
“I was excited to qualify first, that was one of my goals, I just wanted to go out and show that my speed was good,” he said in a press conference on Monday night. “I knew I would make mistakes in the motos a little bit. That was a big confidence booster for me, but to the able to translate it into the motos was good, too.”
We chatted with Sexton’s father on Saturday morning, and he said Chase knew the actual racing part would be tougher than simply logging fast times. The word from the Southern California “Stopwatch Nationals” is that Sexton has been flying, but actually racing and battling the established stars is different than just going fast on your own. When Sexton got a bad start in moto one, he expected to have a struggle. Instead, he rocketed toward the front of the pack. This time, he surprised himself!
“It was easier going through than I thought it would be, there’re a lot of fast guys out there,” said Sexton. “I got up behind Cooper (Webb) around third, I kind of got caught off guard and I settled in a little too much. I should have kept going forward, and that’s when I started making mistakes.”
Then the 450 transition began in earnest.
“I think I crashed four more times so it wasn’t very good.”
Sexton finished 13th. He made bike changes for moto two and tried a different strategy. It paid off with a third-place finish in the moto, enough for eighth overall.
“My speed is really good and I knew I would be in a good spot,” he said. “They race different. The front guys in the 250 class don’t get tired, but the 450 guys, it was just a freight train the whole time. Second moto I rebounded really well. I was in second when AC crashed, then I got passed by a few guys. I actually mounted a charge late in the race and passed Jason (Anderson) and Marv (Musquin) back. Track was good and technical, it bit me in the first moto, but I made a few bike changes and overall I felt really good. I’m looking forward to another weekend in Tennessee.”
A fast qualifying run for a 450 rookie? Sounds familiar. Remember, Adam Cianciarulo was fastest qualifier at Anaheim 1 this year, and then the race after that, and after that, and after that…
“If he does it nine weekends in a row like AC then yeah, it’s going to bother me,” joked Eli Tomac of Sexton’s top qualifying time. “But I don’t know. If it’s one or two then whatever. There’s always a big learning curve that way. We’ll see what he does.”
Cianciarulo now seems like a veteran compared to Sexton, since he jumped on a 450 way back in October at the Monster Energy Cup (with a win, no less). He’s still trying to translate his obvious raw speed into a race win in a points-paying race. Loretta’s looked like another chance, as he seized the lead early in moto two and began pulling away. Then he crashed, spectacularly, and his race was over.
The learning curve continues.
Zach Osborne has almost completed this step, now with two wins in the last two 450 races, over two disciplines. Back in supercross, Osborne explained that one of the main differences between fast practice laps and translating it to racing results, is the ever-evolving 450 bike setup. The big bikes are much more sensitive to change, and the window for getting it right is much smaller. Sexton is already experiencing this.
“The 450 is a lot harder to set up,” Sexton said. “We’ve been playing a lot with different setups, and I was going back and forth with what I wanted to do when I got to the race track. It was nice because some of the things I felt in testing I also felt in the race. So I flew back to California this week just to get in some more testing. We’re at the same track so it will be nice to go back to back and hopefully we get it better this week.”
Specifically, Sexton said he made small changes and he was surprised how much of a difference it made, which is the common refrain from riders moving from the 250s. He said he was working on getting more fork hold up, because in the rutted corners the bike was diving more than he wanted, which led to oversteer.
“To be honest I really didn’t know where I was going to be at,” said Sexton. “Adam is the only guy I’ve ever raced in that class. I just wanted to give myself some time up in the front, so it was either get a good start or really make something happen in the first laps. I think I exceeded the expectations, I was hoping to be top five in a moto, that would be good, but to be on the podium would have been nice. The first moto kind of messed up my overall. This whole outdoor moving up was to learn and get ready for supercross next year. I learned a lot in that second moto racing those guys and being able to battle the whole 35 minutes. I’m looking forward to getting back out there on the same track and doing better than last weekend.”