Features 5 Dec 2013

The US Report: 48

Pulpmx's Steve Matthes checks in direct from the US, presented by Fox.

So my last column I took you guys through some key questions in regards to the 2014 supercross series. It was a good read no doubt about it (patting myself on the back), but what I thought I would do was go a bit more in depth on the three bigger named 450SX rookies jumping up full time into the big boys class in 2014. Let’s take a closer look at Eli Tomac, Wil Hahn and Ken Roczen and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

Ken Roczen has sharpened up his program ahead of 2014 in the 450s. Image: Simon Cudby.

Image: Simon Cudby.

Ken Roczen

This Red Bull KTM rider and former world champion is happy at KTM. Let’s get that out of the way first. Apparently it was enough of a question that Pit Beirer felt the need to address Roczen’s happiness via a press release.

I’ve never really seen a team put out a PR that a rider still under contract is happy and staying with the team, but whatever. And I’m also glad that Kenny chose the 450 over the 350 because despite some good results on the 350 the few times he did race 450SX, the 450 ensues a much, much bigger chance of success.

Strengths: Roczen’s biggest strength is his talent, he’s got ‘it’ and there’s no denying that fact. Roczen’s a terrific rider and is highly skilled. But perhaps the weak link in his armor was his fitness. He was good but not great. Well, Kenny addressed this with the hiring of trainer Aldon Baker and his moving out to Florida to join Camp Villopoto.

If he sticks to this, if he commits to this program (and the fun-loving kid seems to be buying in as of now, but it’s early) there’s no doubt he should be right up there next year. Will he win a race? Tough for me to see that but he’s on the right track with his decisions.

The thing to watch is 2015 when he’s a free agent and whether or not Kawasaki brings Jake Weimer back. Then with RV in the last year of his contract, a friendship with Villopoto, a bike that Roczen will have no doubt ridden a few times – where does Roczen go? But that’s all a year away, this year he’s going to be very good. If nothing else watching him in practice will be cool because Kenny likes to have fun out there.

Weaknesses: Kenny’s got to be more focused on his training and it appears that he’s done that. He’s gotten worn down in the nationals the last few years and now he’s on a bigger bike. The grind of a full season of 450s isn’t a lot of fun for these guys and Roczen’s got to really work hard (and again, it appears he’s bought in) because if you combine his talent with his work ethic then they sky’s the limit.

Eli Tomac has 450 SX experience and steps up full time for 2014. Image: Simon Cudby.

Image: Simon Cudby.

Eli Tomac

The GEICO Honda rider and your 2013 250MX outdoor champion was the subject of an intense bidding war for his services and eventually settled back with his old team of GEICO Honda. And the folks at GEICO are so pumped they bought a new semi for Tomac and Wil Hahn to ride out of. GEICO Honda is going full-time 450 racing!

Strengths: Let’s start with this – Tomac’s a hard worker. The guy’s dad is John Tomac who might be one of the gnarliest bicycle racers that has ever lived. So he knows all about training and what works for him. Tomac’s really grown the last few years and on the smaller 250 bike he really attacked the track and was able to put the bike where he wanted to.

He’s probably not as naturally talented as Roczen, but he’s close and then there’s the aggression, desire and fitness all rolled into one package. Many people believe Tomac is the next great champion of the sport – although I’m sure Justin Barcia will have something to say about that – because he’s grounded, his program is solid and he’s just been a winner no matter what level he’s been at.

Also I know this column is about supercross but Tomac’s got an outdoor national title on his resume and he might be better outdoors than in.

Weaknesses: When Tomac jumped up to the 450 for four races last year he had a full factory bike. And by the end of the deal, at Daytona, he was back to a production-based bike. He wasn’t happy with the Honda 450 and the bike is the reason he shopped around for a new team. So I’m not saying his bike is a weakness, but it didn’t work for him for whatever reason.

So he’s got to have complete buy-in on his part that the bike is good, it’s not the reason he’s not winning and he’s totally focused on testing. In my time I’ve seen and heard plenty of excuses from riders that the bike is the problem. Once a rider really believes that, it’s hard to get that out of their mind.

Coming off the East Coast SX Lites title this year, can Wil Hahn surprise come A1? Image: Simon Cudby.

Image: Simon Cudby.

Wil Hahn

The surprising 250SX east title winner, Hahn proved that you can win your first race as a pro and then go on to win your first title. You just don’t see that happen too many times, but Hahn did it. He slayed the favorites (Dean Wilson and Marvin Musquin) and took home the win.

But with the title comes the boot out of the class (you’re allowed three years in the class and then if you win the title you’re booted out. Or you can seemingly finish second in the series forever and stay in the 250 class. Or there’s some sort of point system in place to kick riders out, but no one really knows what it is and it changes all the time so I won’t bother getting into it) and up to the 450s for Hahn.

He’s no stranger to the 450 class as he filled in for factory Honda a couple of years ago so like Tomac and Roczen, he does have some races under his belt.

Strengths: Hahn’s a working man’s motocrosser. He’s not some amateur superstar that used his talent to win at every level he’s been at. This guy’s gone to hell and back with injuries, getting fired, teams folding and then more injuries. Sometimes nice guys and hard workers do get rewarded.

Hahn’s not on the level of Roczen and Tomac in terms of skill but he’s a hard worker and will give you his all at every race. There won’t be many more determined guys than Wil Hahn out there I can guarantee you that.

Weaknesses: Hahn’s got a steep learning curve ahead of him, but the good news is he’ll meet this challenge head on. For Hahn this will be a tough test, but if he’s in shape and he can get his starts down then he can be a top 10 guy. To do any better, against this field of guys, would be surprise.