This past weekend Monster Energy Supercross headed to the East Coast for the first time in 2023 and saw four rookies in the top 11 in the 250SX class. In the 450SX class Eli Tomac and Chase Sexton are starting to break away from the rest of the field similar to the 2022 AMA Pro Motocross season. This made for plenty of talking points so we shot off some questions to long time pro Jason Thomas, here is what he had to say about the Houston Supercross.
Eli Tomac held off Chase Sexton for a few laps and then the battle ended. Take us through how that works as a racer?
There was a lot going on in that main event. Sexton really took it to Tomac in the heat race an hour or two earlier. The message sent there was not subtle. Sexton passed Tomac and simply checked out on the defending champ. Going into the main event, I wasn’t sure if Tomac could find the pace to deal with a surging Sexton. The main event was shaping up in the same fashion, too. Sexton reeled Tomac in and looked like he would be able to pass his way into the lead and then ride off into the proverbial Texas sunset. To Tomac’s credit, though, he was able to return serve.
The mental battle between these two was substantial. First, Tomac had to find a way to keep Sexton back there for a few laps. That first push back can really frustrate the following rider. They begin changing their lines and often get out of the rhythm that created their elite pace in the first place. For Tomac, he needed to also figure out where he was losing time. Or, even better, find a spot to put time into Sexton. Being able to counterbalance the speed deficit with moves of his own could really change the paradigm mid-race. The sand section was the answer to his search.
Tomac was committed to the outside line while Sexton was sticking to the inside. The outside required more momentum, more commitment, and more lean angle. That lean angle came with risk as countless riders lost the front end and crashed. Tomac couldn’t seem to find rhythm here for the first half of the main event. Sexton was using the inside line which was safer due to the lack of lean angle required but also forced riders to go much slower as they traversed the large rolling bumps and tighter arc. It seemed to be a bit of a wash as neither line looked ideal. Then, everything changed. Tomac put together this 2-2 wheelie maneuver that jump started his momentum through this outside line. Sexton admitted to seeing it and even tried the outside once, nearly crashing in the process. While Sexton reverted to the inside, still floundering through, Tomac repeatedly nailed the tricky outside at speed, gaining insurmountable time each lap. This line, coupled with the mental devastation inflicted by Tomac not only holding the lead but now pulling away was more than Sexton could absorb. It was the difference in winning and losing that main event.
Was this a devastating loss for Sexton or just another lesson he can use to come back stronger?
I believe it will be a learning lesson for Sexton based on how he is approaching it. After the race, he didn’t mope around, wallowing in the loss. Instead, he immediately walked over to the section and dissected what happened and what he should have done. That willingness to learn spoke volumes about where his mind is. He knew he let a win get away and needed to understand why and how. If he can learn from setbacks and then apply that wisdom, he is going to be a very dangerous man for the next 5 years.
Is fifth a big problem for Cooper Webb?
I don’t think the result is as big of a problem as the inability to go with Sexton and Tomac. At the first two rounds, he looked to be on pace with the winner. The last two rounds, he seemed to be a touch off that. I still think he wins a race or two this year, but he is going to need to put himself in a winning position on the first lap and then iron out any weaknesses that Tomac or Sexton could exploit.
Care to weigh in on the weekly chaos that is the LCQ? Another doozy this weekend?
LCQ’s are incredibly entertaining. They always have been and likely always will be. The do-or-die mentality that this race creates along with the lack of experience that many of these riders have, is a recipe for rubbing-hands-together good times. LCQ’s are like a Roman gladiator ring. Choose your fighter, send in the lions, and grab a box of popcorn.
Any rookie thoughts in 250sx East?
I was impressed! To have four of them inside the top 11 makes it hard to leave the race anything less than impressed. I thought they all showed poise, speed, and maturity beyond their years. I did think Deegan would crash in that main event but to his credit, he kept it upright and bested the rest of the incoming class.
How about Tom Vialle? He was fantastic early, even leading laps and staying in a podium position for quite a while, but his race came unraveled after he went down. Was his initial performance something to be excited about or was his late-race misfortune something to be concerned over?
He is a two-time MX2 world champion for a reason. He knows how to get up front and how to manage a race. He is drinking from a fire hose as far as learning supercross but that was a great start to his American career. His starting prowess is going to keep him near the front on most nights which should lead to solid results. The one issue will be a liability in the whoops but many of these east coast rounds will have deteriorated whoops by the main event. I could see his results being highly affected by the week-to-week difficulty of the whoops. Tampa typically has difficult whoops that don’t break down as much as say, Indy, so let’s see how that could change things.
At this point Hunter Lawrence, being a title favorite, is just expected to be a winner, or at least, a podium guy every single weekend. It’s only surprising if he isn’t. For riders, is this transition from, building on your performance every week to get closer to the front, to being a guy who’s just expected to be up there, a tough one? Do you maintain the ‘keep building’ model,or do you have to shift your strategy during the week?
I think he’s comfortable in this role amongst this group of riders. When I look over the field, I don’t see anyone that Hunter would fear. He has consistently beaten all of these riders for a couple of years now. He doesn’t have to deal with the likes of Christian Craig, Colt Nichols, Jo Shimoda, Justin Cooper, or even his brother Jett. The series is wide open for Hunter to do his bidding.