PHOTOS | Antonovich & Emery
What a start to the new season. We, like all of you, anxiously waited for the start 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series and the opening round definitely delivered in terms of excitement, storylines, new products, rivalries, and so much more. When walking through the pit area at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, one could sense the interest in the possibility of the new champion in the 450 class and the 2016 250 champion's desire to defend his title.
By far the biggest story of the year is Ken Roczen's return. Nearly every media outlet, from MX-specific to general interest, wanted to discuss the Team Honda HRC rider's recovery from last year's arm injury, almost to the point of annoyance. It's clear that Roczen's outlook on Anaheim One this year was different than last year, as he seemed grateful just to be on the track, not as hell-bent on winning.
Roczen's didn't force himself into the fray during his races and instead paced his way up to the fourth place in the Main Event. There was a scary moment when Roczen made a mistake in the same section that claimed Dean Wilson, which saw Roczen dangle off of the side of his bike and nearly get plowed by Cole Seely. All said, this was a stellar return after nearly a year away.
All that we expect of 2018 might have come undone a few laps into the 450 Main Event, when Eli Tomac went down while leading. The crash came in the same rhythm lane that claimed Benny Bloss, but Tomac's tumble resulted in a direct impact on his shoulder. Somehow in the incident, the closure system on his Alpinestars pants came undone, likely from contact with the spinning tire, and the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider had to pull over to re-fasten the pants a few laps later. Even after the costly delay, something seemed amiss with Tomac because he rolled obstacles for a few laps and then pulled into the work area to tell the team he was done for the night.
We've spoken with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team about Tomac's wellbeing since the crash and they told us that he suffered a contusion to his shoulder, which required a full evaluation during the week. The team told us that a press release on Tomac's status for Houston and beyond will come later in the week. With that bit of information, things could go a few different ways as it could either bring news that all is well or that the damage is much more than initially expected. Check back for more soon.
Marvin Musquin's win streak continues. The Red Bull KTM rider has claimed the overall win in every race he's lined up for since last October (Monster Energy Cup, Red Bull Straight Rhythm, Paris Supercross, Geneva Supercross, Anaheim One) and has solidified his status as a championship contender in 2018. Musquin quietly clocked quick laps through the afternoon program and was speedy in the Heat Race, then used consistent laps to push past Justin Barcia in the Main Event. To think that Musquin has gone from a first time 450 class winner to title favorite in twelve months time is surprising, but considering his status as multi-time 250 titlist, it's time for the French rider to shine.
The race record of Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM team at Anaheim One is hard to beat. Over the last few years the crew has started the season off strong with 250 Main Event wins by Cole Seely, Jessy Nelson, and Shane McElrath, who nabbed the wins in both 2017 and 2018. McElrath’s moto was practically flawless, as he followed a tight line through the first turn, took over the lead on the opening lap, and was never truly challenged for the top spot. His bike will be outfitted with the red plate come Houston.
HILL’S TITLE DEFENSE
Justin Hill’s decision to jump to AutoTrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing caused quite the commotion in 2017. Many stated that the dated technology of the Suzuki RM-Z250 would be Hill’s downfall, while others claimed he would flourish at the easy-going JGRMX team. Hill proved raw speed certainly isn’t a problem during timed qualifying, as he posted the fastest lap of the 250 class in the final practice, but poor starts kept him from getting to the front of the pack in his Heat Race and Main Event. A seventh-place finish puts Hill down ten total points to McElrath in the championship chase after round one.
Elsewhere on the site we've posted updates on the injuries suffered by Dean Wilson and Alex Martin at the opening round. Luckily for both the damage isn't as bad as initially feared, with neither needing surgery, but it's unlikely either will line up for Houston.
Phil Nicoletti was definitely banged up when we spoke to him in How Was Your Weekend, but the AutoTrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing rider seemed adamant he’ll be all good for Houston.
Jake Weimer's decision not to race wasn't confirmed to us until Saturday. Per SmarTop/MotoConcepts/Honda Team Manager Tony Alessi, Weimer's offseason injury and then an illness have kept him from putting in the necessary prep and his fitness wasn't ready for a full twenty-minute Main Event at A1. Expect Weimer to be on the starting line at Anaheim Two.
The AutoTrader/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing team announced that Justin Bogle will miss an undetermined amount of races at the start of the year due to a practice crash that resulted in a concussion, his second in a short period of time. When Bogle will be able to line up will be decided soon as he continues to undergo evaluation by doctors.
ROCZEN & WEBB RIVALRY
There is some bad blood between two very confident riders in the 450 class. Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb have developed a rivalry over the last twelve months (largely due to a girl and comments made by both directed at the other) and during their Heat Race the tension was put on display. The look-overs and block passes the two exchanged were highly entertaining, with Roczen coming out ahead in the Heat Race and Main Event, and we're certain this will turn into something even more intense as the series continues.
Speaking of Webb, the rumors that the Monster Energy/Knich/Yamaha Factory Racing rider suffered an injury in the offseason were confirmed to us on Saturday night. Webb's preparation was interrupted by an ankle injury, initially feared to be broken but later downgraded to just damaged, and he didn't have as much time on the SX track as he hoped for.
SELL OUT CROWD
Clearly, fans are interested in the 2018 race season because the opening round was a sell-out event. Angel Stadium of Anaheim was filled to capacity on Saturday night and the excitement of the crowd was fueled by the action on the track. Sometimes we feel that fans in Southern California are jaded by all of the opportunities they have to watch racing or ride themselves, but they still want to see the best riders compete in one place. Here's hoping the trend continues through the next sixteen races.
One of the many changes to the 2018 race program is the removal of Semi Races for the 450 class. Personally, we don't like this decision because it cuts the total amount of race time down and limits independent riders from getting their share of TV time like they did in years past (think of the privateer battles in New Jersey in 2017).
ANDERSON & MUSQUIN RIVALRY
We were tipped off to developing tension between Jason Anderson and Marvin Musquin, training partners at the Baker's Factory and marquee riders for their respective brands, on Friday afternoon. The talk is that the two do not want to ride together, as both feel they should be the heir apparent to Ryan Dungey's role as the top person, and this partly influenced Anderson's decision to test with the Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna team in California through the offseason. Yes, both are still under guidance from Aldon Baker, but they are not doing the work side by side. We really expected fireworks to come late in the 450 Main Event when Anderson slowly reeled in Musquin with faster laps, but the battle did not materialize. Will this develop into something more or will the team bosses step in and defuse a situation before a blowout?