Wild and unpredictable races haven’t just been happening here and there in 2020, they've almost become the norm in what has been a season that is anything but. And if you’re any of the contenders, like Jeremy Martin, Marvin Musquin, or Adam Cianciarulo you had to be hoping the season’s inclination toward instability would hold, well, steady for round eight. After all, with both Dylan Ferrandis and Zach Osborne, the respective 250 ad 450 points leaders, holding advantageous margins, the remaining title hopefuls really needed something drastic to happen before heading into the finale next weekend. Well, things did indeed get wild today at the WPS Fly Racing Thunder Valley National, but who benefitted? Let’s dive right into this week’s Saturday Night Live to find out.
In the 250 Class Jeremy Martin was already facing a grim situation before the first gate even dropped. Down 13 points to Ferrandis, the fastest rider in the class, Martin needed to have a good race, which almost always starts with, you know, a good start. Unfortunately for Martin the deck was stacked against him, and anyone else not aboard the incredibly powerful YZ250F’s built by the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha squad. The mile-high elevation of Thunder Valley robs power, and coupled with Thunder Valley's steep, uphill start, makes horsepower, something the Star bikes have in spades, an extremely valuable commodity. Ferrandis put that resource to good work in the first moto too, and although he didn’t get the holeshot, he started well and quickly moved into the lead and checked out for the win. Martin, meanwhile, had gotten a lackluster start and was only able to muster fourth place in the moto, ratcheting up the pressure for the second moto.
Martin was able to get a much better start in moto two, and when Ferrandis wasn’t anywhere to be seen up front, Martin knew the opportunity was there to make up precious points. Martin quickly maneuvered into second, but once there he ran into a stubborn, unyielding force in the form of Justin Cooper, who was having a fantastic day. Over and over again Martin threw everything he had at Cooper, who refused to be rattled. Late in the race Martin had an incident with a lapper and went off the track and simply had nothing left in the tank with which to mount another challenge.
“I didn’t get the best of starts in the first moto. I got a good jump but got robbed up the hill,” Martin said after the day’s racing had ended. “I was all in in moto one trying to get Shane for third. I inched up on him and couldn’t get him. In moto two we made a change to the bike and got a better start. I was like, ‘Oh my god this is nice to be up front!’ I tried to get Cooper right away and couldn’t get him. I backed off and tried to regroup and threw another effort at him. I came really close a few times but I blew through all my tear-offs and a lapper was in the main line and I blew off the track and had nothing left. But it was a solid second moto and we’ll see what we can do next weekend at Pala.”
The overall win, unsurprisingly, went to Cooper on account of his 2-1 scores. Before the first gate even dropped you could tell there was something different about him today. He was the day’s fastest qualifier, and afterward remarked that his confidence was higher than it’s been at any point this season. And why not? His results have slowly been improving lately and he’s always done well at Thunder Valley in the past, taking third in 2018 and second in 2019. He even won the first moto both of those years. Afterward he brought his dog, Thor, on the podium, suggesting that perhaps the cheery canine was his good luck charm.
“A lot of pressure was on my shoulders and I’m glad to say it’s off,” Cooper said as Thor’s tail wagged. “I wanted to do this all season but it just hasn’t gone my way. It’s a good time to do it, and now I can go into the last round and try to do the same thing. I wanted to bring Thor up. The last time he was at a race was A1, and I won there. I brought him again and we’re on the top step again, so I might have to start paying for him to come every weekend.”
As for Ferrandis, well, he showed exactly why he’s the current 250 championship leader. He didn’t get a good start in the second moto, but as we’ve seen in the past, that hasn’t mattered much for Ferrandis this season. But when he came up on a lively battle between Brandon Hartranft and Hunter Lawrence, things got interesting. Embroiled in their own conflict, Hartranft and Lawrence were using every inch of the track and unexpectedly drifted wide as Ferrandis came up on them. That left Ferrandis nowhere to go, unless you count going off the track and onto the ground as a destination. With Martin battling up front, it looked as though Ferrandis, who got going again in ninth or tenth, might have a situation on his hands. Turns out he didn’t. Ferrandis did what Ferrandis does, which is ignite the burners and drop the hammer. When the checkers flew, he’d deftly finessed his way up to third, just one spot back of Martin. All in all, he'd stacked an additional five points on his title rival.
“I was in a bad position. I really wanted to get as much points as possible,” Ferrandis said after the second moto. “I got a bad start, I don’t know what happened. I had a small crash and there was nothing I could do. I put my head down and gave it everything I had. The track was gnarly but it was a good ride, almost better than moto one. I think finishing fifth in the second moto would have been a disaster so I gave it everything I had. It was damage control and we'll go to the next round with eighteen points on J-Mart, which is better than zero. We’ll see. The team did a good job, the Monster Energy bike was awesome and the power was incredible.”
Elsewhere in the class, RJ Hampshire had a big crash in the first moto, this on the heels of his enormous ejection at WW Ranch, and didn’t line up for the second moto. Cameron McAdoo, who's had a rough go of things lately, also missed the second moto after a crash in the first. Alex Martin didn’t have a stellar day, going 12-12 for eleventh, and gave up third in the points to Shane McElrath, who went 3-5 for fourth. To add insult to injury, Martin also lost a spot to Cooper and now sits fifth in points.
|1||Justin Cooper||Cold Spring Harbor, NY United States||2 - 1||Yamaha YZ250F|
|2||Dylan Ferrandis||Avignon France||1 - 3||Yamaha YZ250F|
|Millville, MN United States||4 - 2||Honda CRF250R|
|4||Shane McElrath||Canton, NC United States||3 - 5||Yamaha YZ250F|
|5||Hunter Lawrence||Landsborough Australia||5 - 4||Honda CRF250R|
As good as the 250 action was, it was even wilder in the 450 Class, namely the second moto, although we’ll quickly recap the first to keep you informed. Adam Cianciarulo, who was ungodly fast in qualifying, snagged his seventh (not a typo) consecutive holeshot in the first 450 moto and that was that. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider led all sixteen laps, displaying yet another dominant performance. It wasn’t without its hiccups though. Chase Sexton kept Cianciarulo within a few seconds pretty much the whole time, and when Cianciarulo made a mistake and almost went down, Sexton was nearly able to make something happen. Cianciarulo gathered himself, however, and stretched his lead back out. Zach Osborne was in third for a while, and while he had some fast laps, his speed dropped off a bit at the end (he’d smashed his foot early in the moto and the pain was getting to him) and Eli Tomac blasted by for third, uncontested.
Fast forward to the madness of moto two. Cianciarulo found himself leading early again, but Osborne and Tomac were two and three as things got going. Maybe it was that he was racing in his home state, or maybe it was last week’s strong performance in moto two, but Tomac clearly had the fire in this one and it wasn’t long before he’d reeled in Osborne, made the pass, and roosted off after Cianciarulo. Despite the cool, fall temperatures, Cianciarulo was soon experiencing no shortage of heat as an on-fire Tomac was all over him. When Cianciarulo opted to rail the outside in a left-hander, Tomac quickly went inside and executed the turn flawlessly to take over the spot. Cianciarulo kept Tomac somewhat honest for a while, but Tomac was just too strong and eventually started getting away.
Just when it seemed like the sailing couldn’t be smoother for Tomac, he started having some sort of problem with his clutch. He was moving too quickly to tell what he was doing, but at every possible opportunity it seemed he was trying to make a change to his clutch at the handlebar. This allowed Cianciarulo to close back up on Tomac, but just when the conspiracy theories of Tomac faking mechanical issues to help Cianciarulo’s title hopes reached a fevered pitch, Tomac’s problems ceased and he quickly sprinted back away.
“I don’t know what happened,” Tomac said of his second-moto issues. “ I had a little bit of a clutch hang-up. I got going and it seemed to fix itself and that was that.”
At that point Cianciarulo had bigger issues—Osborne was closing in. Cianciarulo responded, and for a moment it seemed as though he had things under control. Then he made a mistake on a small jump and nearly hit the dirt. He managed to save it, but Osborne had taken advantage of the misstep and moved into second. Cianciarulo regrouped and with two laps remaining was chomping at the bit to get back around Osborne. In a move that he later admitted was rushed, Cianciarulo blasted his way downhill, came into a left-hander a little too hot, and was forced to get on the binders to avoid plowing into Osborne. Cianciarulo’s front wheel hit Osborne’s rear wheel, but Osborne kept going. Cianciarulo did too, but not in the direction he'd like. He blew off the track, effectivley handing second place to Osborne, and the overall to Tomac.
“It was a great moto. Zach and I locked bars on the start, and I just sent it those first few corners,” Cianciarulo said. “I was able to pass Marvin [Musquin] there and get into the lead. I set a really good pace there in the beginning and I had a feeling it was Eli behind me. I feel like I put up a really good fight but he had a few lines that were better than mine. Once he got by I was able to latch on a little bit there, but unfortunately made a mistake right there before the mechanic’s area. It sucked because coming into that corner I was so unsure of what line I was going to hit, and that’s probably what cost me. There was a big kicker on the top of that face after the inside rut. The way the lines formed today was weird. Once the ruts dried out you, the ones further outside, you couldn’t really go to them because you didn’t know which ones went together. It’s unfortunate to lose the overall there at the end, but it’s a perfect time to put my money where my mouth is, where I say I’m not disappointed when I give it my best effort. I sent it trying to get Zach there, I put a real aggressive move on him. It’s one of those things you kind of have to do, but I rushed it and I should have waited. I had the pace, I should have waited. But live and learn. We’ll come to Pala and take it to the last moto.”
The overall win was Tomac’s first since the third round at Ironman Raceway, a fact that has not been lost on the reigning champ.
“I’m thankful we were able to get back out to Lakewood for one of the nine races we’re having this year,” Tomac said. “I finally had a race where I felt like myself. I was a little bit farther up on the start, within touch. The first moto I was out of reach too early on. I felt like I rode the same both motos, but in the second I put myself in a better position. It was a really good day for us, we’ve been needing something. We’ve been in a rough place, I’ve been kind of searching lately. It’s good to be back. Thanks to Monster Energy Kawasaki, Bell, Alpinestars, Oakley, PPG, thank you. I feel good now. I was struggling to find that good race place and the flow. I think we got it figured out now and I’m looking forward to next week.”
It wasn’t an ideal day for Osborne, but things weren’t terrible either. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider avoided a disastrous situation in the first moto when his foot got smashed by another bike and he managed to take some points back out of Cianciarulo in the second. As a result he’ll come into the final round next week at Fox Raceway with a 24-point lead over Cianciarulo.
“In the first moto I got smashed from someone behind me in the second corner,” Osborne said. “It jammed my foot really bad. I could handle it, but the more I went on the more the pressure hurt. Between motos I got it massaged out and just took a big dose of adrenaline going to the line, which is about all you can do. They were trying to tape it and I was like, ‘No, don’t tape it. I’m just going to go down there and do the job.’ I wasn’t totally in my comfort zone today and did a little bit of points racing.”
As for his foot, Osborne says it’s no big deal.
“My foot will be fine. I think the footpeg went across the top of my foot and just kind of jammed all those tendons. It’s a little swollen but it’s nothing major. I can still ride at a decent pace and I’ll be fine.”
Shout out to Christian Craig, who put in a rock solid day to nab fifth overall, thanks in part to a terrific, fourth-place ride in the second moto.
“I’ve been right on that edge in sixth and seventh, and those top five guys have been just a step in front of me,” Craig said in his post-race TV interview. “I’ve been drilling and working every day with my trainer Swannie [Swanepoel], and we finally got there this time. I got a decent start, made some passes, and actually earned this fourth place. That felt good. It’s crazy, the sixth places these past few weeks were so hard to get, but this fourth seemed so easy. That kind of tripped me out, but it just feels good to get a solid place and get that top five I’ve been reaching for.”
|1||Eli Tomac||Cortez, CO United States||3 - 1||Kawasaki KX450|
|Port Orange, FL United States||1 - 3||Kawasaki KX450|
|Abingdon, VA United States||4 - 2||Husqvarna FC 450|
|La Moille, IL United States||2 - 5||Honda CRF450R|
|5||Christian Craig||Temecula, CA United States||7 - 4||Honda CRF450R|