Adaptability Meets Speed And Consistency


6/26/2020

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In the wake of one of the most remarkable AMA Supercross seasons in recent history, it’s revealing to examine how the riders who finished in the top five in the overall points standings of the premier 450cc class dealt with the unique challenges presented by the coronavirus-pandemic-interrupted championship.


Championships are earned on the track through speed and consistency, but the best racers also have an uncanny ability to step back, analyze a situation, refocus and make changes that lead to success. This became evident when we analyzed the results and related trends for the top finishers across 17 rounds of competition.


In fact, the performances produced by some riders at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, where the final seven rounds were held, differed greatly from their early season results. Eli Tomac, Cooper Webb, Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson, Justin Barcia and, especially, in sixth, Zach Osborne, showed varying ability to adjust to the conditions.

 

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1. Eli Tomac—Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team


Eli Tomac finally figured it out. Since 2014, the factory Kawasaki rider has been the heir apparent to the 450SX class. 


While first attempts in his rookie partial season were less than stellar—podium finishes interspersed with back-of-the-pack results—the following season, he started winning races. 


The problem for Tomac, as he explained in this interview with americanmotorcyclist.com, has been inconsistency; the wins were great, but there were also many non-points-scoring finishes. 


“I looked at past champions and their bad days were fourth or fifth place,” Tomac said. “My bad days have been 10th or 15th—or worse—and that’s what I fixed this year.”


 

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This season, Tomac’s worst finish was seventh at the opening round in Anaheim, California. Across 17 rounds, he finished off the podium just five times, and, in three of those, he fell short by a single position.


In the first 10 rounds, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Tomac’s average finish was 2.6. Once in Salt Lake City for the final seven rounds, however, his average finish was even better, 2.4. 


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2. Cooper Webb—Red Bull KTM Racing Team


Before moving to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, Cooper Webb had been somewhat of a disappointment in the 450SX class. The two-time AMA 250SX West regional champ just hadn’t found his groove in the premier class.


That changed in 2019. Webb showed remarkable consistency and race craft nearly every time he rolled on to the track, and he won the top-class title.


This year, Webb underperformed in early rounds, reportedly due to an illness. The 24-year-old North Carolinian nevertheless managed several podiums, plus a win in San Diego, and he finished outside the top three on only four occasions. 


 

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Unfortunately for Webb’s title defense, two of those finishes were 12ths, one being a heavy crash in Texas, where he was fortunate to walk away with any points.


Webb and his team remained focused during the eight-week downtime after Round 10 at Daytona and came into the Salt Lake City strong, nabbing three wins and three seconds before slipping to eighth in the finale.


That result was enough to solidify second overall in points, with a season average finishing position of 3.6.

 

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3. Ken Roczen—Team Honda HRC


Ken Roczen’s early season was a big success. He posted three decisive wins and multiple podiums, which launched the factory Honda rider into—and, ultimately, out of—the points lead.


The 26-year-old German’s average finish through Round 10 at Daytona International Speedway was 2.7, and he found himself three points behind Tomac as the season resumed in Salt Lake City. Roczen was third and fifth, respectively, in the first two rounds at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and then the wheels fell off his championship run. 


Roczen faded to 10th in Round 13. He clearly had the speed, sprinting to heat race wins, but he was struggling to breathe, which left him exhausted after roughly 10 minutes of racing.


The following week, Roczen revealed he’d been diagnosed with the varicella-zoster virus, which had manifest itself as “shingles” on his back.


 

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Then, at Round 15, the multi-time national and world champion surprised everyone by scoring his fourth win of the season. That kept his fight alive for second overall in points and, theoretically, the title.


Unfortunately for Roczen, Webb ultimately emerged as the true title challenger with win after win in Salt Lake City.


Roczen’s average finish position for the season was 3.6, the same as Webb, but Roczen finished off the podium seven times.

 

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4. Jason Anderson—Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing


The 2018 AMA 450SX champion had, generally speaking, a fairly unremarkable 2020 season. If you average his finishes across 17 rounds, the New Mexico resident known as “El Hombre” was clearly the best of the rest.


Sixth on average, Anderson made the podium five times with zero wins and a 22nd-place finish at one of the Salt Lake City rounds. Despite this, he was able to pull off a top five in points and nearly won the final round before a mechanical problem dropped him to second. 


While 30 points separated the top three, Anderson was a whopping 67 points behind Roczen in third , putting the Husqvarna rider one notch below the top three.


 

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5. Justin Barcia—Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing


Justin Barcia’s opening-round performance in Anaheim, California this past January showed that Monster Energy Yamaha rider had done his homework during the off-season. A decisive win at Anaheim 1 for the second consecutive year set the stage for Barcia to be a championship contender.


In fact, Barcia was remarkably consistent prior to the COVID-19 hiatus after Round 10, with an average finish of 4.3 and two additional podiums in the first 10 rounds. He was comfortably fourth in points, 25 ahead of Anderson and 30 behind leader Tomac. In other words, he was still in it with seven rounds remaining.


Osborne, on the other hand, was in a far less favorable position. His pre-Salt Lake City results average was 9.9 prior to an injury that forced him to miss the rounds in Atlanta and Daytona. He even announced that he expected to sit out the remaining races of the season.


This is where Barcia and Osborne went in different directions. Barcia’s Salt Lake City average was 7.5, while Osborne averaged 3.1.


 

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6. Zach Osborne—Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing


Osborne nailed the first win of his 450SX career at the final round of the series in Salt Lake City, while Barcia slipped to fifth in points after another disappointing result. Barcia gave up 40 points to Anderson in seven rounds of racing.


 

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Thus far, the cause for Barcia’s dismal Salt Lake City performances is unknown. Osborne, meanwhile, was nothing short of a revelation. Even Tomac now considers Osborne one of the elite runners, as he stated following round 15.


“It seems like right now it’s us three and Zach [Osborne],” Tomac said, “that really can make the full distance right now and win a race.”


AMA Supercross forces riders to find the right mix of fitness, speed and race craft. This past season, some adapted better than others. Tomac had the winning combination.


 


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