Round four of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships and we were headed east! High Point or Mt Morris (as MXA called it back in the day) was perhaps the most perfect national that fans in this area had ever seen. The crowd was huge, the weather was perfect, the track was nice, and we had some great racing as well.
At Lakewood we were all pretty lucky to witness a great battle between Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen. It was approximately the 739th battle the two riders had engaged in over their careers but nevertheless, it was cool to see. This week we got a Hunter and Jett Lawrence second moto battle that was just like that. They were absolutely pushing the limits out there, Hunter was leading, Jett got him, Hunter got him back and, in the end, Jett came out on top for his fourth win in four races as the brothers tied in points, but Jett got OA via 2-1 scores.
They were thirty seconds ahead of third place, Justin Cooper, by the end of the moto and Hunter set his fastest lap on the last lap as he went all out to get his bro. It was also the fastest time out of anyone all moto. I think as we go on here, we’re going to see these two emerge more and more. Sure, there will be the Mosiman or Hampshire or “Star Yamaha guy” to grab some wins but as we’ve seen in so many title chases that as the races wind down, the cream emerges to the top.
Watching Jett and Hunter ride is pretty cool also, because even though they're brothers and ride together all the time, they have different riding styles. Jett’s got such perfect form, head above the bars, body barely moving, keeping his momentum up in the turns and basically rarely getting out of shape. Hunter is a bit more “sendy” and moves around the bike more. He’s also a little less perfect than his little brother in form, but he's smart and makes it work. Really cool to watch these two go at it.
Jett’s gone 1-1-3-1-2-2-2-1 and Hunter’s gone 2-2-4-2-4-1-1-2 so it’s been pretty much the Lawrence show here and Jett only has a 12-point lead. That’s got to be one of the smallest leads a riders had after four straight wins to the start the year in fact, looking at a few other guys and Carmichael had 33-point lead after four straight wins in 1999 in 125MX, Mark Barnett had a huge 53-point lead after four rounds in 1981 and Stew had 14 points after four wins in 2004, and Adam Cianciarulo had 26 points in 2019. So yeah, it’s one of the smallest.
I talked to a lot of riders after the race and so I thought I’d recap some of those chats here and pick apart some of the interesting things we heard from them Sound like fun? Away we go…
Did you know Eli Tomac’s gone 4-3-2-1 at the first four rounds? Yup, he’s heating up here and as the tracks get rougher, the temperatures get hotter- you wanna bet against him this summer? He worked really hard to go 2-1 at High Point, his starts weren’t there but he just hounded the riders in front of him and wore them down. He wasn’t the fastest dude in terms of going beast mode, but he did enough to get the overall win.
I asked ET about his starts, and this is what he had to say:
Tomac: “Gosh, I’ve been kicking myself. So, the last couple years here I’ve been lining up outside the doghouse. It’s like a guaranteed top-five start just the way it sweeps. What did I do? I go inside, both motos, and I get totally worked. First moto I spun. Second moto I wheelied because I overcompensated. So, starts weren't the greatest today.“
Me: Why did you do that then?
Tomac: “Because I thought the rut looked sweet. I’m like, “This rut’s awesome. I don’t really care about position. The rut is so good, I’m going to make it happen.”
Not even the great Eli Tomac can explain why he does some stuff people!
Sure, if you’re Chase Sexton maybe you’re a bit bummed that you lost the overall on the day when your number one competitor, Eli Tomac, caught and passed you in moto two, but to me, I prefer to look at like sunny side up! Well, not always but in this case, I do! I’d look at the fact that I, Chase Sexton, absolutely crushed everyone in moto one and at one point had a sixteen second lead! I would look at the fact that I tied Tomac in the points today and I still have the red plate and guess what? We’re one race closer to winning the title! So, all in all, a good day for Chase Sexton and that’s what he seemed to focus on when we chatted after the race:
Sexton: “I came from 10th or something like that (in the second moto). I do feel like I have more fight in me this year. I don't know if it’s just I’m in better shape that I have that ability to kind of push, but it felt good to be able to pass Eli and Kenny and not run away with it, but I had a pretty good gap. So, that gave me a lot of confidence. It gave me confidence that I can come through on the second moto to beat these guys.”
And he was leading the second moto before making a mistake and perhaps, without that almost sliding out moment, things would’ve been different for the 23 as he talks about:
Sexton: “It probably would have been a different moto. Eli and I were going to battle, obviously. So, I just kind of came out and started sliding. I let off and lost a whole bunch of time. Then after that, I kind of got sucked up. I lost a little bit of ground. Then Dunge actually almost got me. I’m like, I can’t go backwards. I’ve got to keep going forwards. So, I ended up getting Ken. Eli was probably five seconds in front of me. Kind of kept the gap there. The lappers were gnarly today, whether it was with Eli or me. We had to work through those. Then at the end I was still going good, but he had it in control.”
Ken Roczen got about as bad of a start in the first moto as maybe I’ve ever seen from him. The German is lightning quick off the gate throughout his career but not in moto one. That led to him sort of riding around out there to a seventh. Second moto he was much better, led a bit and ended up on the box which wasn’t too shabby although if you’re Kenny, anytime you’re leading and get passed, it’s never ideal. Anyhoo, Roczen made a few comments on the podium about not being super stoked on his bike on the rutty, hard packed High Point track and I asked him about it afterwards:
Roczen: “At least I’m better now to where I can just try and make it up. But when I’m off with the bike, I’m horrible, unfortunately. It just is the way it is. When things go really well, I’m really, really good.”
This is Ken admitting that when he’s not happy with the way his bike is working, he’s “horrible” but when it’s working well, he’s “really, really good” which is awesome and yes Kenny, we can all vouch for this as we’ve seen you on and be unbeatable and then we’ve seen you drift to the back. Like I said to him, like Chad Reed at Yamaha, at least when he says he’s not stoked with his bike and you make some changes, he does back it up a lot of the times with better results. The worst thing is when a rider is bitching about his bike, says it’s better and then continues to suck on Saturdays. That’s when the team starts making fun of them back at the shop during the week.
Man, Ryan Dungey almost made the podium! In fact, he was there until three laps to go when his teammate Aaron Plessinger twisted an ankle and had to pull out. This shuffled the podium order and bumped Dungey from third to fifth! Kenny also got him back for third in the moto on the last lap. Dungey led his first lap since coming back in the second moto and it was as inspired ride by RD5 for sure. The fans loved it.
What I wanted to know watching Dungey up front like that was if the level had changed since he last raced. Look, I’m a believer that everything evolves, whether it’s bikes, training, riding skill. Whatever it is, people get better. It’s not a year over year thing but five, ten years- yes, the riders are better than ever. So, I asked Dungey if the level up front has gotten better:
Dungey: “I think so. I say that like, the intensity at the beginning of the moto, the intensity through the whole moto… We would start off strong, I feel, back in my day and then it would kind of taper off a little bit. Our lap times would drop. Now it’s like these guys are pushing the whole time. You have to. I think there are just more riders, more guys. It’s going faster, but I think the thing I’ve got to rely on is just my physical self, but also the bike setup and getting the bike better. The bikes have gotten better since I’ve raced, for sure. So, everything is evolving. That gap is big, but we’re closing it.”
Well, that’s a wrap at least for now on the Antonio Cairoli to America movie. The #222 was fourth overall in qualifying on a track that should suit him well, but I think his insistence on using a scoop tire off the start might have hurt him out there in the first moto. I want to find something I love as much as TC loves his scoop tire by the way. He was moving up when he went for the kill on Christian Craig which was a bit weird, but Tony explained it here:
Cairoli: “I went so fast missing the jump on the starting line, and at one point I was like, “this is too fast.” I tried to brake as hard as I could, but then he was cutting the line. So, I just rev a lot. Maybe he sees me. I’m sorry. Normally I don’t do this. It’s not my style.”
So, there you have it, it was not a case of Italian on American crime, it was a nine-time MXGP champion just going too fast!
Anyways, Tony had to pull out of both motos after going down into Craig with a swollen knee (an old injury that flares up here and there) and that’s it. There’s been some pushback from KTM to me when I reported that Tony was riding for no money here and what I meant was no bonuses or extra money per race. He was getting expenses and just AMA purse money which, to me, was ridiculous, he was their top rider after three rounds and everyone loved having him here, it was a win-win for KTM, and I couldn’t believe he couldn’t get some sort of bonus program. As Tony explained it more here:
Cairoli: “I hear a lot of people. KTM for sure pays me to ride, because I have a contract with them as ambassador, but I also have two races on the contract. So, I don’t race for free. I also have bonus for one, two, and three in the races and for the championship. For doing all the season, you need to discuss again as a normal deal. Of course, they are on programs already so it’s difficult to stick it in (make a budget) and for me to put myself again in race mode full season I need some extra things. Which, I understand they cannot always give. They have their own plans, MotoGP and whatever. So, it’s difficult in the season to get in some program (budgets) that’s already done. So, I’m really happy that at least I could do some racing. Of course, I wish I could prepare better the beginning of the season if I know it before. But this is what it is. Hopefully I can have some more races before that I can prepare the Motocross of Nations a little bit better and just don’t do completely summer break. Otherwise, I will arrive without any preparation.”
As KTM explained to me, he was getting race bonuses for top three (but he ended up not getting on the podium) and they tried to get him to sign up as a racer, not ambassador, but Tony didn’t like that deal I suppose. Or he really wanted to go home for a bit, and something got mixed up in my Italian/Canadian translation. So, it’s not like KTM is just saying “too bad” to TC. They did try to make him, in KTM’s words “the highest paid racer we have outside of Cooper Webb” but the terms couldn’t be agreed to. I don’t know, I’m just presenting both sides but for sure the fans angst has reached Austria.
Hopefully we get Tony back, my KTM source was hopeful of that and didn’t want to create waves between TC and the OEM. Either way, great to have the #222 here for sure.
Michael Mosiman is a great interview. He’s almost always going to throw something out there that will surprise you. He caught and passed Hunter Lawrence in moto one and looked to be on his way to winning another moto before he tipped over in a turn. Second moto he tipped over in the same turn and that’s how you turn a potential 1-1 (I know the Lawrence brothers were great but hey, he showed he could do it in moto one!) into a 5-4 on the day. Afterwards, in typical Mosiman fashion he admitted that he has focus issues out on the track going back a long way:
Mosiman: “Totally. I’ve wondered some crazy stuff. I remember distinctly one year; I was at junior world championships. I was thirteen years old. There was this one section in the back. It was an Italian track. It was spread out so far. It was quiet back there. I remember I was replaying in my head the movie Taken because I had just watched it the weekend before. I was doing that for like three laps. I realized it in that back corner. I was like, “I should probably focus on this race that I’m in.”
Enjoy the Michael Mosiman experience everyone, soak it in!
Checked with privateer Grant Harlen who, in typical Harlen fashion, grabbed a couple of points late in the moto by just staying steady. We should all admire Harlen as he’s from Hawaii which makes that commute back and forth each week pretty tough. As he told me after the race:
Harlen: “Barge leaves in about 20 minutes. It will be about four weeks and then get back on the barge as soon as I get there and head to Red Bud.”
You want to talk about tough schedules! It’s amazing he’s as fast as he is.
My guy Troll Train had another steady day and was in the battle with his teammate Garrett Marchbanks in both motos, the difference in height between these two gentlemen might have been the most extreme out there. “We’re” just warming up right now with getting our feet wet in 450 motocross and staying outside the top ten lately but if you want a sleeper coming up, look no further than Troll for the next three rounds at RedBud, Southwick and Millville.
In fact, I asked Troll about his potential great results in the next three weeks:
Martin: “My three favorite tracks. The last time at High Point I was on JGR Suzuki 250, and I went 11-11. I get 11 today on a Yamaha 450. Can’t be any more different. Those are my three favorite tracks. I’m stoked. Run the Pirelli paddle. We’ll just send it.”
Just in case you were wondering, “we” have FIVE podiums at Millville, THREE podiums (and a moto podium in another race where “our” bike broke while leading) at Redbud and TWO podiums at Southwick (and another race where “we” took Forkner out going for the lead-oops) so clearly, the two-six is going to be better the next three races.
We’ve been hard on Branon Hartranft through the first three rounds, he had a great supercross season and end of the outdoors last year he was better after the team made some big bike changes. After his supercross year, one would think he would leave the bike alone from 2021 and ride that right? Well, no. Listen in as he explains:
Hartranft: “It was much better. First round I got 18th. You’ve probably heard, we’ve been trying some different stuff with motors. This year we tried building a ripper motor. For me, it’s been really tough to hang on to. The first two rounds, just honestly, I couldn’t hang on. Just arm pump and I’m struggling."
Me: I’m confused, though. I was a mechanic once. You had a pretty good outdoors last year. By the end of Hangtown you were fifth or sixth. Just put that setting in. I don’t understand. Why didn’t everybody do that?
Hartranft: “That’s the thing. Last year we kind of thought we could have more power to help us, and sure enough, we built a rip job of a motor. The engine is called Bad Motherf**ker. So, we are not running that anymore. So, this week we did some stuff and actually went kind of back to our old setting last year, but it’s a little bit faster. I about got tenth overall. It’s crazy. Sometimes I blame myself, but sometimes it’s the bike."
So yeah, Brandon was much better at High Point and my suggestion to him, and the team is to leave this motor in and shelf the “bad mother**ker” motor for now.
Max Vohland was excellent at High Point, maybe his best national ever. The dude charged up from way back in moto one and then crashed early in the second moto and still got ninth. The AMA sheets said he passed 18 riders on the day, but we know that the technology to tell us where the rider was at the holeshot line DOES NOT exist. The AMA can only report where riders are at the end of the first lap, so we’ll never know where Max truly started. It was an impressive day for a rider that had a terrible SX season but is turning that around outside. Here he is telling me about his day:
Vohland: “Results don’t do my riding justice today. First moto, I rode really well. I ended up 13th off the start and just kept passing guys. I ended up getting sixth, which was great. I rode great. We did some bike changes before the first moto, and I feel like that hit it right on the spot. We’ve been kind of chasing it a little bit. Even in Florida, I went back to Florida this week and was chasing it all the way up to the end of the last day riding. So, we got the bike figured out. I’m happy with it. I rode amazing today. Probably the best I’ve ever ridden on an outdoor. Charged hard to the finish both motos. Ended up 8th overall. Getting 9th after being down in the first corner…”
Thanks for reading everyone, good times at High Point! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat about this race or anything else. Enjoy the week off!