For decades the motocross industry has broken up the offseason with a one-weekend standalone event in the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada. For the longest time it was the US Open, an intimate recreation of France’s famed Bercy Supercross in the small MGM Grand Garden Arena on the Strip, but in 2009 it became clear that the race had run its course. In 2011 Monster Energy and Feld Motorsports decided to put their spin on the event once again by moving it to the massive Sam Boyd Stadium and upping the excitement by showing the full might of Monster and Feld’s garage of athletes and automobiles. It’s a race unlike any other. For racers and teams, the Monster Energy Cup its most alluring element is the chance at winning one million dollars for a clean sweep of the three ten-lap motos. For us, it’s a chance to get the scoop on the sport, see the riders run laps, and sip drinks at the afterparty with friends. Here’s some of what we saw over the weekend…
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THE LAST MAIN
The pressure was on when Eli Tomac wheeled into the starting gate for the final moto. Two wins in the prior motos put him in place to be the third person to win the million dollars offered, plus the other million the fan that won a sweepstakes was going to take home, and immediately the television cameras were in his face to get a statement of his emotions. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider put on a good face for the clip, but things went sideways when Tomac was deep in the field during the opening laps. A quick set of passes put Tomac up to fifth place at the halfway point, then it took him a few laps to get around Malcolm Stewart, but picked off Vince Friese and Chad Reed within just moments of each other. Now things got weird on the final lap when Savatgy clearly and admittedly eased up his pace and pointed out the place for Tomac to make the deciding pass. It was obvious to all what had happened, but attempts to get comments from the benefactor were not well received.
In all honesty, it should not be a surprise or controversy. It is a very common occurrence in other forms of motorsports that have multiple racers under one “team” (see Bottas-Hamilton in Sochi for a prime example) and the act did not have an impact on a championship against another party, ala New Jersey 2017. Savatgy’s honesty about the subject is refreshing to hear and it’s very likely that his wave by will be a bargaining chip when it comes to negotiating a deal in the future.
H.E.P. MOTORSPORTS SUZUKI SIGNINGS
Big news from the weekend was the announcement that H.E.P. Motorsports Suzuki has signed Alex Ray and Adam Enticknap for 2019, while one rider is still waiting for a signed deal. The team has grown quickly in just one year and we’ve heard all riders will be outfitted in THOR MX gear. This is very important for Ray and Enticknap, who have become fan favorites and improved racers over the past three years.
As big as this is for H.E.P. Motorsports Suzuki, we’ve heard that a few very prominent independent teams are likely to pause operations for 2019 due to a lack of support, which means a minimum of five fewer rides will be available. Times are tough in the motocross industry right now.
DRAGON ALLIANCE OVER AT ROCKSTAR ENERGY RACING HUSQVARNA
Expect Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna’s 250 class riders and Jason Anderson to be in new goggles come 2019. Sounds like Dragon decided to nix motocross marketing from its budget, which means the team and Anderson will change brands for the future.
TEAM & RIDER ABSENCES
Since the Monster Energy Cup is not a must-attend race for championship points, it’s become common for riders and teams to skip the event totally. Team Honda HRC did not field a rider at all as Ken Roczen intends to use the offseason to recover from 2018 and prepare for 2019 and Cole Seely only just recently resumed Supercross riding after a summer spent injured. Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing gave Aaron Plessinger a free pass from racing so that he can prepare for his full-time 450 run in 2019 and Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna did the same for Zach Osborne because he spun his first 450 laps on a Supercross track in the days prior to the race. Dean Wilson finished on the podium at the event in 2017, but his recent return from injury and a lack of support from a team kept him from racing this year. There were also a number of privateer racers missing including Ben Lamay, Kyle Chisholm, Tevin Tapia, Chase Marquier, etc.
His results might be glossed over by the public due to his past transgressions, but they can’t deny that Vince Friese rode very well at the Monster Energy Cup. The SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda rider was in the top-ten through all three motos and ran to 10-7-5 scores for seventh overall.
FLY RACING TAKEOVER
It was impossible to look onto the track and not see a rider in seafoam gree-purple FLY Racing gear during three of the four classes at the MEC. FLY Racing has a major presence in the sport due to their sponsorship of riders throughout professional and amateur competition, and nearly all of their elite riders were in the same gear set during Saturday night’s race. The gear is now available at your preferred Western Powersports retailer.
CUP CLASS COMPETITORS
The absence of some riders greatly benefits others and at the 2018 Monster Energy Cup, we saw a number of privateer riders in the mix for spots they seldom reach during the Supercross season. Nick Schmidt only raced a few rounds of Supercross in 2018 due to a back injury, but the Suzuki-mounted rider was in the mix with 15-15-14 scores and fifteenth overall. Ryan Surratt, Cheyenne Harmon, Colton Aeck, Dylan Merriam, and Chris Howell were all in the mix thanks to their finishes in the LCQ and they made some much-needed money for the effort.
NEW RIDER-TRAINER/COACH PAIRINGS
The offseason always means new pairings between riders and trainers or coaches. Over the last few weeks we’ve learned that Malcolm Stewart’s move to California to ride with MotoConcepts has also resulted in the hiring of Gareth Swanepoel and The W Training Facility. Marvin Musquin has tapped former racer and French motocross icon David Vuillemin to act as riding coach; Vuillemin has spent the last year and a half with Dylan Ferrandis in a similar deal and this partnership should continue, as well. Many expected Thomas Covington to work with Aldon Baker due to his Husqvarna contract, but Covington told us he will stay with his parents in California in order to train with former road racer Ben Bostrom.
The Monster Energy Cup is the only race that puts professional and amateur riders on the same track at the same event in the United States, which gives the common fan a chance to see the next generation in action. This year’s racing was as close as ever, thanks to the battles between Jo Shimoda and Seth Hammaker for the overall win in the Amateur All-Stars class and Max Vohland’s sweep of the SuperMini class. Shimoda and Vohland took the wins in their categories and both expressed how important it is for a young racer to get a feel for racing in stadiums filled with people during the press conference. In addition the winners, riders like Ryder DiFrancesco (two hard crashes disrupted his night), Talon Hawkins (a mechanical while fighting for a podium in Moto One dropped him down the order), Josh Varize (early battle for the lead in Moto One, tough start in Moto Two), Derek Drake (a sixth place finish in Moto One backed up with a dominant win in Moto Two), Jalek Swoll (consistent 3-2 scores for second overall) all deserve mentions for being in the battle at some point in the night.