TWMX Skills: Starting Line Launch

Getting Off The Line with Ernesto Fonseca

(This article originally ran in the April 2003 issue of Transworld Motocross. Subscribe now to get all this and more delivered directly to you every month.)

Words by Ernesto Fonseca, Photos by Donn Maeda

Anyone who’s ever pinned the throttle and aimed toward a first turn with 39 other like-minded riders would agree that the view from up front is a whole lot better than from the rear. True, it can be sort of fascinating (in a sick sort of way) to watch the guys in front of you bounce off each other in all the post-start havoc. And the way time slows down when you watch the guy in front of you clutch it over a peaked jump, unloading a torrent of rocks and dirt in your direction is always, uh…interesting. But it’d be safe to say that we all prefer the view of a clear track in front of us.

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So how do you make sure you get there first? Well, no one can guarantee a holeshot every time, but you can aim for perfection. We grabbed Honda’s Ernesto Fonseca to set us up with some of the start tips that keep him consistently near the front of the pack.

LINING UP

“First of all, I look at the first corner. Depending on whether it’s left or right, I don’t like to be too far inside, because then you can’t outbrake anybody. I also don’t like to be too far outside, because if somebody gets the holeshot on you, they can make you drift wide. If you’re not a good starter, I’d say go as inside as far as you can. But if you’re pretty good, I’d say you can chance it and go outside a little more. That’s my theory and it seems like it’s worked pretty good.

“After I decide which gate I want, I work on it a little bit…just make it so I have enough traction. I just pack it, and it doesn’t bother me whether there’s a rut or not. For me, I’m kind of short so I like the groove a little bit. That way it’s easier to put one or both feet down.”

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SETTING UP

“I try to find a little…it’s not a pocket, but you can just kind of feel like a comfortable spot on the seat to where you just feel perfect for the start. I try to sit as far forward as I can to keep the front end down. On the 250 it’s kind of tough. The bikes are so fast and so powerful that as soon as you get off the line, it’s like instant wheelie. I just try to lean forward as much as I can for as long as I can before I shift.

“On the 250, I start with two feet down. It gives me more control, I don’t lose balance as easily, and you go straighter. I keep my feet in front of the pegs, and on the 250 I try to keep them down, because I feel like I can keep the bike down. You can hold second gear for a long time, and I think that helps keep you straight. Having your foot down keeps you nice and straight and you don’t lose your balance as much. Most of the second gears are pretty long, so you don’t have to worry about shifting as fast.

“On the 125 I bring them up as fast as I can, because then I can shift really fast. That’s what can get you a good start on a 125. There’s power, but I think you can control it a lot easier. You don’t have to worry about wheelying as much.”

LAUNCHING

“I start in second gear. Some people look past the gate, but I look right at mine. I think that definitely helps keep going in a straight line. I can’t look at the pin that holds the gate, or someone else’s gate. I feel like it throws me off balance.

“I adjust the play on my clutch just enough to where I can control whether the bike is going to wheelie or not. I keep two fingers (middle and ring) on the clutch lever, and use it to help control the bike if the front end starts to come up.

“Pretty much after that, you get ready for the 30 second card or five second card or whatever it is. Once it goes sideways, hold thee throttle steady at about half-open, and watch the gate. When the gate drops, you open the throttle the rest of the way. On dirt starts like this, you want to ease the clutch out so you don’t get sideways.

“I’ve seen Windham and McGrath shift with their heels, but I use my toe. I feel like I miss it a lot if I try to do it with my heel.

“Once the gate drops, focus on where you want to go through the first turn, make sure you shift clean, hit your turn and braking points, and enjoy your holeshot.”