The eighth round of the 2022 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship has come and gone as the series headed up to Washougal, Washington this past weekend. After another intense day of racing in both classes, we fired off question to long time pro racer Jason Thomas to hear his thoughts on it all.
We knew Chase Sexton had the speed to be a race winner and constant podium threat, but did you expect this level of fitness from the #23? Being able to battle with one of the most fit riders in the history of the sport (Eli Tomac) to the checkered flag has been impressive! How significant was this win for Sexton?
It’s been building for a few weeks. He had been so close for so long, I felt like this weekend might be the time. He won this race in 2021 so he likely felt a boost coming into the day. He also has been giving Tomac all he wants (even in the face of losing seven motos in a row prior to Saturday). Washougal works for Sexton’s style, too, highlighting his ability to flow through precarious, low traction corners. It will be interesting to see if he can use this mental break when we reconvene at Unadilla.
Does this impact Tomac any—if at all?
I can tell that he did not seem very happy on the podium after losing that moto. I believe he knew he got beaten straight up that time and didn’t love that feeling. That said, I don’t believe Tomac will have any confidence problems and why would he? He’s been red hot all summer long. It’s unlikely that he would win every moto down the stretch, anyway, so finishing right on the rear tire of Sexton as well as maintaining the points lead can’t be viewed as a disastrous result.
What would you imagine the riders going to do during this two-weekend break?
They will definitely be taking a few days off but it will be done strategically. I expect this week will be business as usual, going through the same routine as a normal race week. This coming weekend will likely be completely taken off and whatever riders like to do with their free time will happen. Many will be on their boats or at the beach, etc. Next week will be back to a somewhat normal schedule but maybe an extra day off in there to lessen the workload. With two consecutive off-weekends, this first one is a great chance to recover a bit before the final stretch into Labor Day.
Jo Shimoda used starting blocks last weekend and it helped his start. This weekend he got a holeshot. With more consistent better starts, can we expect even more from Shimoda moving forward?
I think he is a mainstay for podium contention each week. He seems comfortable with the pace and isn’t intimidated by any of the riders he’s facing. The early laps were a problem at times this season but lately even that has been figured out. Whether it’s the starting blocks, confidence, or Nick Wey’s guiding hand, things are looking up for Shimoda.
Justin Barcia and Christian Craig were battling on track, while also possibly battling for the third and final spot on the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations USA Team as the 250 rider. Can you talk about their battle on track and also the extra motivation that this provides?
I don’t think there would be much to highlight about their battle if not for the MXoN situation. They both know they are the two finalists to ride the 250 and each week counts. That creates a lot of motivation to beat the other guy, especially when they continue to find each other mid-moto. Craig has been able to come out on top consistently as of late, doing himself a lot of good with Team USA decision makers.
The Washougal MX Park track is tough because it is slippery, and gets tough with vision due to shadows. How difficult is it to navigate this course compared to others where it’s just hammer down as hard as you can?
The traction situation is manageable and nothing that riders don’t face regularly throughout the week (especially when in California). The shadows, though, that’s a whole different animal. Going in and out of the tree canopies creates nonstop transition between bright sunshine and incredibly dark sections of the race track. To make matters worse, the dirt color is super dark, too. It’s not hyperbole when I say that, in certain sections, the riders literally can’t see where they are going. They can’t see the bumps, they can’t see the ruts, they can’t see anything really at all. The uncertainty created in that brief second or two while riders’ eyes adjust is not something that anyone can get used to.
A lot of people talk about how one lined this track can get. Do you think there's anything that can be done either to the layout or the prep to change that?
I think the only answer would be to completely redesign the track. The course is surrounded by walls on each side after years of erosion and track work. All of that would need to be cut through and changed in order to fundamentally change the layout. I’m all for this change but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Ryan Dungey had a shot at the podium in this race, but a mechanical problem cost him. What is it about Dungey's riding style that works so well at Washougal?
Similar to Sexton, his precision and technique are the keys. He is incredibly good at carrying momentum into and through corners, a must for Washougal. Trying to break hard on entry and accelerate hard on exit simply doesn’t work well on the slippery Washougal soil. Dungey is great at lessening his own input (less brakes and less throttle) and letting the motorcycle naturally flow through the corner.
Does this moto win mean Justin Cooper is back?
I don’t think this one moto is enough to guarantee a return to form. It’s a great sign and surely felt reassuring to he and his team, but I think he needs to find this form more consistently to confirm. If he comes out and wins a moto at Unadilla or is at least firmly in the battle to win, I will quickly come around.
About now is when we're starting to see some of the privateers really shine and take advantage of the circumstances. Benny Bloss has been great, Alex Martin was tenth at Washougal, and Marshall Weltin has had some good rides. Sometimes these last few races are when these guys sometimes have their best results.
I understand what you’re saying but I don’t necessarily agree with the premise. That dynamic is typically due to rider injuries and less competition at the front of the field. I haven’t really seen the injury bug strike yet so I think it’s just the status quo for now. Bloss is riding really well and fighting for top tens, along with Alex Martin and co. It’s a bit of a revolving door for those spots at the back of the top ten for now.
Who do you see standing out in the coming races?
I’m curious to see how Dylan Ferrandis does when he comes back to the series. I don’t expect him to be able to mix it up with Tomac and Sexton early on but by the finale, maybe he is a factor in both the race and the title chase.