Features 9 Jan 2018

Top 10: Observations from Anaheim 1

What had us talking following Saturday night's AMA Supercross opener.

Rejoice, race fans! The Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship has roared back to life for 2018 and the opening round in Anaheim, CA, threw up all manners of drama, upsets, tears, wrecks and wardrobe malfunctions. The newish formats and features added some extra spice, but as you’d usually expect from a season-opener, there was plenty for the bench-racers to chew over. Here are our top 10 talking points from an entertaining night to open the year.

Image: Supplied.

1. KTM’s night of nights:
Troy Lee Designs Red Bull KTM’s Shane McElrath and Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin put in flawless rides to claim both the 250SX and 450SX mains at the season-opening round. McElrath led the 250s from wire-to-wire in much the same fashion as he did at last year’s series opener. Meanwhile Frenchman Musquin brought the tsunami of momentum from his off-season domination into Anaheim to pull his trademark celebratory heel-clicker over the finish-line. If both guys continue to bring the same heat to the remainder of the series, they’ll be tough to stop.

2. Wilson wads it:
Few people would argue that the dubious prize for the biggest wreck of the night must go to Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Dean Wilson. The Scottish-born racer tagged a jump through a small rhythm section early in his heat and was sent over the ‘bars and into the up-ramp of the next jump, while his bike tomahawked off the track. At this stage it’s unknown how much, if any damage Wilson suffered to his shoulder, but we should know more later this week.

3. Roczen’s resurrection:
The story of the entire opening round would have to be the return of Ken Roczen, not just to racing, but to the front of the pack. After 350 days of untold surgeries and rehab hours to recover from his horror wrist injury at Anaheim 2 last year, it was something of a miracle that the German was even behind the gate. Incredibly, the Honda racer topped the qualifying sheet – complete with a wrist brace – and finished a remarkable fourth in the main, despite a helluva hairy moment early in the race where he almost went down in the same section that caught out Dean Wilson.

4. Reformat:
Some aspects were new (a new points structure where the winner gets 26 points and all 22 main-makers receive some championship tally) and parts were a return to 2012 (the semis have been scrapped and the top nine again advance from the heats to the main), but the changes seem to have provided an extra bit of interest to the championship. There will also be three Triple Crown events (Anaheim 2, Atlanta and Minneapolis) where 250SX and 450SX riders who qualify will race three main events at each venue. There’ll also be two East-West Shootouts this year, in Indianapolis (round 12) and as usual, the Las Vegas finale.

5. Seely and Anderson’s déjà vu:
What is it about Anaheim that mashes Cole Seely and Jason Anderson together and forces them to get aggro? It’s happened multiple times in the past and early in their 450SX heat, the pair found each other again and engaged in one of the best battles of the night. After a lap of slicing, dicing, rubbing and block-passes, Seely got the upper-hand and pulled a small lead before washing the front-end in a turn and allowing his Anaheim nemesis to again win the war.

Image: Supplied.

6. Barcia’s back:
With the exception of Roczen’s impressive return, one of the performances of the night would have to go to Monster Energy Knich Yamaha stand-in rider Justin Barcia. Barcia, who’s filling in for the injured Davi Millsaps for at least the opening six rounds of the championship, raised eyebrows around the world by dominating his heat race by almost five seconds, then leading the main after Eli Tomac crashed. Barcia handed over the lead to eventual round winner Marvin Musquin at the halfway mark, but held strong to finish third behind Jason Anderson.

7. Levelling the field:
Starts have always been the single most important element of supercross, but the emphasis just got rachetted up a notch or two with the introduction of metal start gates at every round this year. Racers will no longer need to contemplate the starting ruts (well, behind the gate anyway), with every guy now sitting on and launching off of exactly the same surface. It’s levelled the playing field and made clutch and throttle control even more important off the gate.

8. Silent night:
Whether it was the weight of the red plate or needing more time to gel with his new Autotrader JGR Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z250, Justin Hill had a very quiet night in his opening bid to defend his West Coast 250SX title. Hill circulated to fifth in his heat, eight seconds behind winner Christian Craig, then seventh in the main, more than 27 seconds off the pace. If he wants to set himself as a worthy challenger for back-to-back titles, Hill’s going to have to find an extra gear quickly.

9. Trouble for Tomac:
Anaheim 1 was never been a happy hunting ground for Eli Tomac, but early in the main it looked like maybe, just maybe, he was going to put his demons to rest and not have to spend the rest of the season playing catch-up. But no, seven laps in, Tomac bobbled on a small double and crashed, bruising his shoulder. Weirdly he also somehow managed to break the buckle of his pants in the crash and had to stop to fix them before continuing to circulate at a much slower pace. The 2017 Pro Motocross champion eventually pulled off with a DNF, making his quest for a 450SX title that much harder.

10. Reed’s respectable result:
On paper Australia’s Chad Reed’s 15th place result doesn’t look like much to write home about, but when you consider he underwent ankle surgery 10 weeks ago, only just bought his Husqvarna himself and had only put few hours on its clock before lining up on the gate, 15th against the world’s best racers is a hell of an achievement. Equally as important, Reed’s closing in on Mike Larocco’s record of the most career starts in the premier class – after Saturday night’s race he’s now just seven races away from taking over that record.