Challenging Conditions For Supercross Restart in Salt Lake City


6/2/2020

What made the highly anticipated return of AMA Supercross this past weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, different for so many riders?


Everything.


After convincingly winning the 450cc main event at Rice-Eccles Stadium, series points leader Eli Tomac (Kawasaki) described the various factors that made this race uniquely challenging.


“The track got really slick at the end [of the main]—lots of dust flying and hunting for traction," said Tomac, still sweating from his effort. 


An empty stadium also made Round 11 unusual.


“You had to tell yourself this is real," Tomac said. "It kind of felt like practice. So, that’s what I really had to focus on. Like, 'Man, this really means something right now.'


"We kind of call it the gladiator effect when we’re in front of the crowd—the lights, the noise, the music getting you fired up before the gate drop. That’s what we were missing."



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Tomac wasn’t the only rider adapting to a new reality in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Fellow championship rivals Ken Roczen (Honda) and Cooper Webb (KTM) admitted they felt out of their element, too.


“We hardly ever race in conditions like they were today, except maybe in Vegas every now and then," said Roczen, third in the main event and second overall in points. "I’ve never ridden a Supercross track that short—or that fast, I should say.” 


Webb, second in the main and third overall in points, agreed this was an unusual event in nearly every way.


It was real warm today, windy," Webb said. "We knew it was going to be dry, but it was a tough main event. It seemed like probably the driest one I’ve ever raced. I’d say the weirdest thing was no fans. On the gate and all day, getting ready for practice, you could hear a pin drop.”



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Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees and, when coupled with the dust, wind, low humidity and 4,600 feet of elevation, conditions were challenging.

The machines suffered, too. "Once the bikes get a little hot, they lose a bit more power," Roczen said. "Our bikes are so powerful at lower altitude, it's not [usually] significant, but at [higher] altitude, you notice it even more."

The riders hadn't raced for several months, and it's virtually impossible to replicate top-level competition at a practice track.

But cream always rises to the top. The fastest, most consistent racers end up at the front one way or another, and that’s exactly what television viewers saw on Sunday afternoon.


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Tomac started a bit slowly, but, after feeling out the track surface and his competitors, he was unstoppable. He will take the red plate into Round 12 on Wednesday.


"It was getting so bad and so dry that, like Cooper said, it was such a fine line of pushing and not pushing," Roczen said.


There were rhythm combinations, he noted, that were nearly impossible late in the race, and, in Roczen's case, that led to a spectacular save on the last lap.



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If the drama surrounding the event wasn’t enough, mayhem on the opening lap of the 450cc main had many of the top riders standing at attention.

Crowd favorite Adam Cianciarulo “squirreled out,” as he put it, crashing directly in front of the championship front-runners. Tomac narrowly missed his factory Kawasaki teammate, and Webb squarely hit Cianciarulo in the neck/upper back region.


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The following day, Cianciarulo posted an update on his social media. Though sore, he will attempt to be on the starting line Wednesday for Round 12.

“It was pretty painful at the moment," Cianciarulo said. "I didn’t have it in me to finish, but I got checked out and all is well—nothing broken."

This is also good news for Tomac. Under normal conditions, Cianciarulo would be capable of putting himself into the middle of the championship points battle.


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Shane McElrath didn’t seem to be bothered by any of the drama. Second in 250cc points heading into Round 11, the North Carolina resident knew he needed a win to stay in the title hunt with championship leader Chase Sexton, and McElrath appeared to do that with relative ease. 


McElrath clicked off one perfect lap after another perfect lap to pull three points closer to Geico Honda-mounted defending champ Sexton, and he was humble in his victory speech.


“I want to honor the Monster Energy Star Racing Team," McElrath said. "They want to win, they’re competitive and I feel like I fit right in there.”

 

With six rounds left in the 2020 AMA Supercross Championship, the pressure is high. Tomac's 8-point lead over Roczen, for example, could vanish with one mistake.


Success in the remaining six rounds may depend on how “tough” a rider is in such trying situations.


Both the 450cc and 250cc title chases are very much up in the air and, with the intensity of the schedule over the next couple of weeks, race fans worldwide will surely get their fill of drama and excitement.

 



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