Long-time pro Jason Thomas was on hand during Saturday’s Budds Creek National to catch all the action from round nine of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. We fired off some questions and here’s what he saw.
Did the rain have a big impact on the race track?
It did, and a positive one at that. The Friday rains were not ideal for track crews but when the gates dropped Saturday, the conditions were great. I am a big fan of a hard rain leading up to the event as it soaks all the way through the layers of soil. Artificial watering never achieves the same level of penetration. That softer dirt gives traction regardless of line choice. It opens up the insides and outsides, especially at Budds Creek where the insides can become too hard-packed to utilize.
It was rutty in sections but again, the crew deserves a ton of credit. They were out there in between each moto ensuring a safe, challenging track throughout the day. I’ve raced this Budds Creek track in about every condition imaginable and a setup like Saturday is my favorite. It was very similar to 2003 conditions with a soft base that hardened throughout the day.
So many lappers. What was the reason?
The rains on Friday created a big wash out area at the bottom of a few downhills. One of the slower sections of the track had to be removed completely, lowering the lap times significantly. We saw qualifying times dip down near the 1:40 mark which might be the lowest of the season. With shorter lap times, math dictates that the leaders will catch the backmarkers in less time, creating more lapped traffic.
This Budds Creek track is also notoriously difficult to pass on which didn’t help matters. As Roczen entered many of the corners, he was forced to follow lappers into the main line, causing a traffic jam.
Justin Cooper has won three-straight first motos but hasn't gotten the overall win in any of those races. What's up with that?
Washougal was the outlier with his late crash but in the subsequent two races, he has really struggled in the second moto. We have heard rumors of a nagging injury from that Washougal crash so maybe that’s having an effect late in the day as soreness sets in. In any case, he is making life much easier on Jett Lawrence in the second half of the day.
Ken Roczen may end up second in both the supercross and motocross championships. He has said all year he's not going to live and die by his results on weekends, and as long as he gives it his all, he's going to be happy. As a consequence, he doesn't seem overly bummed if there's a close loss to Cooper Webb or Dylan Ferrandis. Does this indicate Ken just doesn't "want it" badly enough, or do some riders really perform better when they try to keep it positive?
Kenny is a unique personality. He seems to be interested in the mental side of things, also like he’s creating his own form of meditation or finding some sort of zen. It’s not a shock that he has gotten more involved in surfing and activities that many look to for stress-free living. I think this approach helps him keep things light during the week and not overthink the upcoming race. When he’s on the racetrack, I have zero doubt that he’s as serious as anyone but during the week, I think he’s been looking for mental relief for a few years. If this approach helps, so be it. His level of riding is incredibly high at the moment so it’s hard to argue against it.
Not everyone approaches racing with the aggressive tenacity of Jeff Stanton or Ricky Carmichael. Some riders, typically European, approach it with finesse versus force. Riders like Jean-Michel Bayle and Sebastien Tortelli believed you could find a rhythm with a track instead of hammering it into submission. To each their own as long as you’re winning.
The Yamaha YZ450F has gone from much-maligned to leading the450 Class standings. What does this indicate to the impact a race team can have on the base platform of a bike?
It seems as if they really pushed the limit on performance. The most notable change was lowering the overall weight of the bike, rumored to be around ten pounds. I don’t know how they achieved that over the 2020 version of the factory Yamaha, but if true, that can have a huge impact on nearly every characteristic.
The team has also been vocal about ramping up engine performance also. Many 450 teams are wary about giving riders too much power, tempering the curve to improve rideability. Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing seems to have thrown that idea out the window and given their riders fire-breathing dragons to sort out themselves. Whatever they are doing, it’s working.
Can you pick a 250 Class title favorite with three to go?
I cannot. If I had to make a case for both sides, I certainly could, though.
For Justin Cooper, his starts are a lethal weapon. He puts himself at the front of the pack nearly every time the gate drops. That puts so much pressure on his rivals to counteract. Further, Cooper is able to put in his fastest laps of the race immediately. His pace at the beginning of the first moto this past weekend was nothing short of remarkable. If you are able to continually put yourself out front, good things typically happen by default. It forces Jett to not only be better in the moto, but also find a way to catch and get around Cooper, too.
On Jett’s side of the coin, he is finding ways to hang around. He is exploiting Cooper’s second moto inefficiencies and also having a few breakout rides of his own (Unadilla second moto). He will also get another shot at Pala for the penultimate round, a track he has been absolutely great on in his last two visits. His worst races seem to have happened on tracks he’s never raced, and he has ridden all of the final rounds, even if his only experience at Hangtown was an amateur event. Having any level of familiarity might give him enough comfort to get this thing done.