Geico Honda’s Eli Tomac took advantage in the break in the 250 Western Regional Supercross Championship Series by testing the waters in the 450 class aboard a full-factory Honda CRF450R. Tomac admits that he was a tad nervous in Atlanta, but hopes to find his form in St. Louis. Though a seventh in the premier division is quite an accomplishment, ET feels he can do even better.
Your first race on a 450 is in the books. I’m guessing that seventh isn’t what you were hoping for, but how would you say it went?
Well, practice started out well. I qualified second and I was pretty pumped on that. But going into the night show I got a little little tight and I just didn’t ride like myself all night. Even during the first practice session, I kind of psyched myself up a little bit. I was all, “Oh my gosh, there’s James Stewart,” and “Oh man, that’s Ryan Villopoto!” [Laughs] I think I carried that stuff into the night show, and I just rode stiff. I could have gotten better starts, but everyone who doesn’t get the holeshot can say that. I’d say that I didn’t move up as quickly as I should have, mostly because I was riding tight.
You qualified second overall! I’m sure you had some 450-class veterans taking notice…
Yeah, that was cool! I mean, Stewart was like one-tenth of a second faster than me. But there were like 10 of us in the 52-second range. The depth of that class is insane! At the end of the night I looked at the list of the guys who beat me, and it was no joke! Like, every guy was a champion, and some of them had multiple 450-class championships. So, seventh on paper might sound bad, but it really wasn’t! [Laughs]
You have done some off-season races on a 450 before, so you’re no stranger to the bike. But was it nerve wracking because it was your first 450 season race?
Yeah! It was my first real, legit 450 Supercross. I psyched myself out. It was just crazy. My problem was that I wasn’t loose and comfortable like I normally am.
I’ll say it. In both the heat and the main event, it looked like Mike Alessi was holding you up.
[Laughs] Let’s just say that I could have made passes a lot quicker than I did. I sat behind some guys a lot longer than I should have, and lost time on the guys I should have been battling with. In the main, I followed Jake Weimer and Mike Alessi longer than I should have, and by the time I got into second, the Dunge was long gone in sixth.
You’re riding a factory Honda with Geico graphics on it, correct? Not Kevin Windham’s unused Geico race bike, right?
Right, it’s a factory Honda CRF450R.
How gnarly is that thing?
It’s pretty gnarly! The worst thing was on my first day on it, I went to the test track and was overshooting the triples and the finish line. It’s amazing how much torque the bike has! There’s a lot less shifting on it than on my 250. You have to change up your riding style; everything from the way you shift, to the lean angles in the corners. It takes some time to get used to, for sure.
There have been multiple races where you had the fastest laps of the night on your 250. Could you have gone quicker on your 250 in Atlanta?
In the main event, for sure, but that’s just because I rode so dang tight in the race. But laying down a burning lap time in qualifying…I can definitely turn in a quicker lap time on a 450. At the practice tracks I am consistently faster on a 450, so once I loosen up, I feel that my results will improve.
Your championship rival in the 250 West Coast, Ken Roczen, is enjoying the time off. You meanwhile, are continuing to race. Do you think this will be an advantage when the series heads west again?
I think so. It’s good to keep racing. It’s fun, and why not? For me, this is the first time I will race on the East Coast tracks and it will be good to get the experience at tracks like Daytona before I move up to the 450s full time next year.
So, would you say that with the first-race jitters out of the way, we can expect to see the real ET this weekend in St. Louis?
[Laughs] For sure. I’m going to come out swinging!