Welcome to Racerhead, where it’s feeling like the first day of spring…. No, not weather-wise—at least not here in beautiful, gray, cold West Virginia. Nor is it spring in the world of baseball, which should have started spring training by now but—newsflash—they’ve been in a lockout for three or four months now. And it’s definitely not spring if you’re in the 450SX class in Monster Energy AMA Supercross, as they are grinding on week #7 in a row now in what’s been a very interesting and at times dramatic season so far. But if you’re a fan or participant of the 250SX East Region, MXGP in Europe, or GNCC Racing right here in the U.S., this weekend is going to feel like the first day of spring! All three will have their opening rounds this weekend, in Minneapolis (SX), Matterley Basin in Great Britain (MXGP), and the Big Buck in Union, South Carolina (GNCC).
The only other folks it probably doesn’t feel like spring to are the 250SX West Region riders. Although they didn’t race any more that the 450 guys, the “California Supercross season” for them was brutal. There were several big battles, some drama between a few riders, more than one very nasty crash—and maybe a dozen last Saturday night alone—and exactly one title contender left. With a return to the winner’s circle last weekend, Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing’s Christian Craig goes into the break with a 28-point lead, having survived both Vince Friese and a first-turn crash. Sure, mathematically, Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas rider Michael Mosiman and Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence still have a mathematical chance, but the West Region is pretty much over, and Craig will almost certainly end up with the first #1 plate in his career. (Interesting little tidbit: Christian Craig never finished higher than 14th at Loretta Lynn’s, though he was only there three times as an amateur.) And now that he’s earned a long-overdue podium, all that’s left as far as drama in the West Region goes is to see if SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts Honda rider Friese can get his first career SX win. Oh, and there will be the East-West Shootout rounds coming up, which I can’t wait to see.
Speaking of the East, Steve Matthes will have some words about to watch for down below on the East opener, as we all get our first glimpses in 2022 of #6 Jeremy Martin, #18 Jett Lawrence, #24 RJ Hampshire, #33 Austin Forkner, #36 Max Vohland, #44 Pierce Brown, #48 Cameron McAdoo, #59 Levi Kitchen (in his first AMA Supercross), #90 Jordon Smith.… Wow, I’m going to have to get used to all of these new numbers!
Our man Mitch Kendra pulled together a refresher course/preview of the 250 SX East Region contenders right here:
For the 450 riders, it won’t feel like spring, though they will be in a nice, heated building up there in Minneapolis. It seems like we have two riders emerging from the rest of the pack who must soon be settling the title between them. Eli Tomac and Jason Anderson each already have one AMA Supercross title, and one of them will likely have two when all is said and done. Fun fact: the last rider to only have one AMA Supercross title when he ended his career was Jeff Emig, who won his single title in 1997. Since then—at least until Anderson (’18) and then Tomac (’20)—every other SX champion has earned multiple titles: Jeremy McGrath (7 altogether), Ricky Carmichael (5), Chad Reed (2), James Stewart (2), Ryan Dungey (4), Ryan Villopoto (4), and Cooper Webb (2). And who before Emig only had a single AMA Supercross #1 plate? Jean-Michel Bayle in 1991.
Meanwhile, over in England, not even Storm Eunice and her mind-boggling winds can take the spring feeling out of the MXGP opener. I can’t remember them ever starting this early, but the last two years have been so disjointed because of the challenges of running a global series in the time of COVID-19 that they probably couldn’t wait to get up and running. The problem is this storm, not the enthusiasm of the fans or the riders who can’t wait to get the 2022 FIM World Championship tour started. But they’ve already had to make a schedule adjustment to not have any practice or qualifying races tomorrow due to the heavy winds lashing the coast of England. According to our friend MXGeoff of MXLarge.com, “While the weather in Winchester, just a couple of miles from the track is sunshine, the wind has caused big problems with team trucks being destroyed.” My friend Adam Duckworth told me this today: “The biggest storm to hit the UK for 30 years hit the southwest of the country today, kind of where Matterley is. So it was a bit of a disaster at the GP and they closed the whole site. But it's all calmer now and should be OK by tomorrow…. At least lots of wind is drying the track up! It should be OK, but a little wet.”
As you can see by the photos below, the wind caused some damage to both some team rigs and the racetrack. I hope it all dies down and a crowd turns up for promoter Steve Dixon’s race, as Matterley Basin is a very cool track to watch. I look forward to watching on Sunday morning on www.mxgp-tv.com.
Finally, it’s spring for GNCC Nation as well. They will kick off their series tomorrow at the Big Buck GNCC in Union, South Carolina. This is the second year of the post–Kailub Russell era, and the #1 plate rests on the FMF/KTM of Ben Kelley. He will be challenged by AmPro Yamaha’s Steward Baylor Jr. at what is essentially a home race for Baylor’s team, as Randy Hawkins’ place in Traveler’s Rest is not far away. Here’s a complete preview on the series and what to expect not only in the XC1 division but XC2, as well as the ATVs. And you watch it all stream for free live at www.racertv.com. The ATV main event is Saturday afternoon while the bikes will go off sometimes around 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Also, make sure you download the brand new GNCC Racing app so you can follow along on your phone if you’re not in front of your computer.
So welcome to a very early spring all over the racing world (yes, there’s the Daytona 500 on Sunday as well), and let me turn this over the Steve Matthes in Minneapolis right now, as he and Weege and Jason Thomas have to hurry so they can do their live PulpMX/Racer X Show up there tonight….
And as a reminder, tomorrow's Minneapolis Supercross is a day race! Everything starts much earlier and the races will be in the afternoon across the country instead of at night. Don't forget to keep an eye on the schedule.
Here are the broadcast schedules for supercross, GNCC, and MXGP this weekend.
- MX2 QualifyingLiveFebruary 26 - 10:15 AM
- MXGP QualifyingLiveFebruary 26 - 11:00 AM
- MX2 Race 1LiveFebruary 27 - 7:00 AM
- MXGP Race 1LiveFebruary 27 - 8:00 AM
- MX2 Race 2LiveFebruary 27 - 10:00 AM
- MXGP Race 2LiveFebruary 27 - 11:00 AM
- MX2 Race 2February 27 - 10:00 PM
- MXGP Race 2February 27 - 11:00 PM
Wow, it's here. Round seven of the 17-race Monster Energy AMA Supercross series. Huh? Where did the time go? Anyways, the 450SX guys are rolling along with some very unexpected results, both good and bad, and now we have the debut of the 250SX East Region! We did a Fly Moto:60 Show yesterday, and both JT and Weege agreed with me that if the class was on the board here in Vegas, THE JETT would be the favorite to win. Where we all differed was who was next. I put J-Mart, Forkner, and RJ as tied for second place, but JT thought it should be Martin alone. I don't remember what Weege said, but I don't think he agreed with my three-guys-all-equal-in-second-place theory. Whomever it is, there's no doubting that this coast is deeper than the West in talent and wins. I think all three of Hampshire/Martin/Forkner have got to feel like their time to win is way overdue, and whomever doesn't get it done will feel even more pressure. Martin and I were texting a while back, and he stressed to me that this was really it—he HAS to win this damn thing—and I agree. I know Forkner said he's going to 450 next year, but if he doesn't win this SX title or have a great outdoors, I don't see room for him in the big-bike class for any kind of real money, so I'd bet he'd be back in 250s again if he doesn’t win.
In the "not quite yet, kiddos" categories, we have Pierce Brown, Max Vohland, and Stilez Robertson. They're all in their second or third year in the class, and we'll expect them to challenge for podiums here or there, but they have some time. We'll get there when it's time, as some would say.
And then I don't know what category Cam McAdoo fits into. He's a bit of a veteran, but last year was when he really started to take that leap after he was settled into a good team. So, RAM IT is a wild card to me, which sort of suits him and his riding style also, right? I would not be surprised to see Cam be the top PC rider in the series one bit.
In this class, two things matter a ton: experience and a good bike. And Lawrence, Hampshire, Forkner, McAdoo, and J Mart have all of that in spades. That's where your title is coming from—it just depends on whether you like the kid or the vets. Let's drop the gate!
Pro Perspective (Jason Thomas)
Eastbound and … up? Minneapolis is next, marking a significant shift in the series direction. The East rounds have a different feel, different dirt, and often, different results. The dirt is the biggest variable, as riders have preferences that can have drastic effects on how they perform. Jason Anderson, for example, thrives in low-traction environments. His ability to be aggressive when everyone else is tiptoeing around the track is not common. Conversely, riders like Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia can really ramp up the intensity when traction is plentiful. They love to ride with high rpm, and a track like Minneapolis rewards that. They will be “feeling it,” and that could spell trouble for riders who prefer finesse over aggression. One other factor will be smaller whoops. I heard through the grapevine that complaints poured in this week about last week’s whoops. It seems that Feld listened, and Minneapolis will feature a much smaller set. Can Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen get back into this thing if the whoops turn mellow for the next several rounds?
That trend change is what I will be watching for. Riders who haven’t had overwhelming success like Cooper Webb could take this chance to completely start over. It’s often said that the series doesn’t start until Daytona, but I think that statement rings true for Minneapolis in 2022. The look and feel of the tracks are about to change in a big way. Will the results follow suit?
Secrets of Success (Jason Weigandt)
Had a great conversation on my podcast this week with Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing’s Jeremy Coker. I knew Jeremy, the 450-team manager, would be forthcoming about the motorcycle, but I was also curious about the chemistry on that team. Eli’s attitude this year has been a revelation. He’s happy and talkative. Did Coker envision that part of the deal?
“Approaching Eli Tomac was a big deal. Everyone knows he made a ton of money over there [Kawasaki],” Coker said. “Me going to him, I [said] I can’t offer you what they can pay you. But I can give you something they’re not giving you, and that’s happiness and having fun again. You can take a major pay cut, but hey, let’s go have fun. And that was more appealing to him than making a big paycheck.”
The point that everyone keeps making is that Star is able to offer freedom for Eli in his bike setup. They’re not a traditional full factory team. Does Coker believe that?
“Absolutely. We have no red tape. I’m open to everything and anything that Eli, John [Tomac, father], Dylan [Ferrandis], DV [David Vuillemin] wants to try. Freedom? Absolutely. For sure at the factory level, they have a lot of people to answer to. Your answers are coming from Japan or Austria, and it takes nine people to do this. And by the time all nine say yes, you’re probably a month into this situation. We had it practicing starts. We tried five different clutch levers, and at the end of the day Eli said, ‘I want one that’s just in between.’ So at the end of the day, I drove down to Arc and got that made. We didn’t have to answer to anyone, we just made it happen.”
It seems obvious to just always give the rider what he wants. Some teams will say, though, that they already know what doesn’t work, and what direction not to even try.
“That’s happened when I first took over the race team,” Coker said. “I’ll hear someone say, ‘Oh, we’ve tried that already and it doesn’t work.’ Yeah, but I haven’t tried that. Until I see it with my eyes, or Brad [Hoffman] or someone else with the team sees it, we’re gonna try it. I don’t care if you tried it with someone else, or you tried it in Japan, it still might be different. I think that’s the difference. We don’t say, ‘It didn’t work for Chad Reed, there’s no way it can work for you.’"
Coker explained his philosophy on trying everything and anything like this: “I won’t tell you no, but I will tell you I told you so.”
Check out the whole interview here. It’s a very revealing look into Star’s success.
More on The Above (DC)
I listened to Weege's excellent interview with Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing's Jeremy Coker and can't recall a single sit-down with a team manager to ever offer so much insight into the inner workings of a race team. When you have 12 or 13 riders to deal with, some the very best in the sport and others just raw talent yet to even get their pro license, there's a lot of juggling and coordinating to do. But there is one bonus to that quantity of riders I never really thought of until Coker said it out loud, and it sounded to me like it could make for a subtle advantage in every Monster Energy AMA Supercross to come. It comes just past the 28-minute mark, after Coker explains that that by Oakland it was like the team "we got the daytime down" by qualifying well every Saturday, but not doing nearly as well at night.
"Our bike during the day is amazing, our riders are amazing, and that sun sets and something happens," offered Coker. "And I think that was kind of our fault. We built, maybe, a qualifying bike and not a main-event bike, because yeah, how much better can you get than 1-2 or 1-3 in qualifying, and you're thinking, 'Shoot, we're on top of the world, we're going to going to go crush this thing,' and then the sun goes down, the lights come on, and something happens.... It's like we got a daytime qualifying team and bike, but we gotta figure out the night show. And then it showed [in the results] that we figured it out."
Weigandt presses on that, adding, "We always hear about how gnarly and hammered these tracks are in this era of 20-minute mains. There is something, I'm sure, to the last 10 minutes of a main versus when the track is fresh at the beginning of the day, right?"
Answers Coker, "Absolutely. And that's one thing where we also have a little bit of an advantage on our test tracks because we have 13, 14 guys riding our test track, so it gets to that point. When you only have one or two guys riding on the test track and they’re prepping it every couple of days, your track is never going to develop like a main event does. Even with 14 guys on our track, we still can't get it to what it is at the end of a main event. I mean, you go out after a 450 podium, and you go walk around those tracks it looks like a GNCC! It's like, how are these guys doing this without hucking their bike around? So, you have to, you have a ride a beat-up track, and it's a fine line—it's really a fine line—because you don't want to ride a track like that every day because it's dangerous. But you need to ride a track like that once in a while to be ready for the race...."
Think about that: With so many guys out there, riding different-sized bikes, with different skill levels, pounding out lap after lap on the same track, it's going to make The Farm circuit where Star Yamaha Racing is set up a very rough and dynamic track, just like it is as day turns to night and the traffic increases while the frequency of track prep by Dirt Wurx declines as the show goes on. It's strength in numbers, quite literally, in that all of those blue bikes can dig up a track just like a night at the races, and there's a big advantage to that in the late going of every main event.
SILLY SEASON (Matthes)
Don't think it's too early to start talking 2023 already when it comes to riders and where they're going. We've got Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb, Dylan Ferrandis, and Adam Cianciarulo among others whose deals are up, and I'm sure talks have started with some of these guys and their agents already. One person who's not started talking yet is Ken Roczen, who's off to a fast-but-now-slow start. Everything about Roczen seems to be rather muted right now. He's an all-timer who doesn't seem to be riding with the same zest as usual. I think Kenny's been frustrated with the bike, and perhaps it's time for those two to go their own ways. To me, if talks haven't been initiated by either side at this point, then I think that's a sign that both sides are happy to break up. Not saying that's for sure going to happen, but for big dogs like Roczen, contracts start to get worked on by now. Stay tuned, everyone!
Whither Herlings? (DC)
Back in January, when it was first reported than Jeffrey Herlings had injured his foot during a photo shoot, we didn't know how bad it might really be for the defending MXGP World Champion. After all, the series is very long, and Herlings has missed rounds before and still prevailed. Unfortunately, with the extremely early start this year (Sunday), even a simple injury could be problematic. So when it was reported that he had fractured his heel, a collective groan went up from Herlings and KTM fans all over the world. That's because Herlings’ two teammates last year, Antonio Cairoli and Jorge Prado, were also gone from the KTM roster, as the former retired and the latter moved over to GasGas, where he would be the absolute top dog. As a result, according to our friend and colleague in Europe, Lewis Phillips or MXVice.com, there will be no KTM 450 riders under the factory tent this weekend in Great Britain, nor will there be anyone under the tent for the second round MXGP of Lomdardia in Italy.
"There were whispers that Antonio Cairoli could be pulled out of retirement and act as a fill-in rider, but that seems highly unlikely now and he does not feature on the pre-race entry list," wrote Phillips earlier this week in his update on Herlings. "There are few options for KTM to consider if they want to get their factory steed out on the track. Tom Vialle will be the sole Red Bull KTM Factory Racing representative at the Grand Prix of Great Britain, as well as the Grand Prix of Lombardia." Vialle, of course, is still in the MX2 class, where he is the heavy favorite after last year's champion, Maxine Renault, moved up to the MXGP class with Yamaha.
Vialle would have had a teammate in 2022 and beyond if not for the tragic death late last year of Rene Hofer in an avalanche while skiing in the Alps with friends. InFront and the FIM have honored Hofer's memory by retiring his #711 from MXGP competition.
As for Herlings, the team released his update on his smashed heel: “I had the stitches out from my heel a few days ago and now I have to avoid putting any pressure on my foot for around six weeks. I will start physical training again next week with some activities like swimming. Obviously, I’m pretty limited at the moment but I don’t have any pain and now we just have to be a bit patient before we can look at it again, do some rehab and start riding. Best of luck to the Red Bull KTM team this weekend. I wish I was there but we’ll be back soon.”
Loads Of Videos (Keefer)
Spencer and I have been out pounding the tracks to give you all some unique content in the coming weeks! This week we went out and did a Dunlop tire test where we mixed and matched different front tires with an MX33 rear tire to see if a different type of rider could/would like a different application from the standard MX33 rear tire. We go over how to change a tire, as well as tire pressure and how it can affect you during your ride day.
We then met with Pro Circuit to test a fully built race bike that anyone can go out and buy! You would be surprised how close this bike was to the actual Pro Circuit race bike you’ll see Saturday in Minneapolis. I dreamed of being on a Pro Circuit Kawasaki back in the day, and to not only be able to test one, but get to see my kid light up after he rode it, was something to be seen!
I also had a chance to walk through the Fox Racing rider support vehicle at A3, which for any gear geek like myself was a huge treat. To see the custom little bits these riders get, as well as get to see what the Fox Racing van actually has ready on hand for guys like Roczen and Cianciarulo, is pretty amazing.
Hey, Watch It!
Reset to Factory Setting | Race Craft: Inside MXGP EP2
Head-Scratching Headlines of the Week
“Russian Olympic skater Kamila Valieva says positive drug test a result of grandfather's heart medication”—Foxnews.com
“The House That Michael Phelps Built Has Been Invaded by Curlers”—The Wall Street Journal
“F1 race director fired after probe of '21 finale”—ESPN.com
“Biggest ever saltwater crocodile in captivity died of 'stress' after 'eating schoolgirl'”—The Daily Star UK
“SUPPLY CHAIN DISASTER: 1,100 PORSCHES TORCHED ON CARGO SHIP”—TMZ.com
Thanks for reading Racerhead. See you at the races!