In its long-awaited return to the schedule, Tampa provided its fair share of excitement as it added quite a bit of variety to the Monster Energy Supercross Series. From record-setting temperatures in the area to the unique track layout and dirt, the atmosphere in Florida was different than any other Supercross event thus far in 2018. Additionally, last weekend's racing, particularly in the 250 SX class, certainly made for some added tension throughout the day in Tampa. When all was said and done, round eight was exciting, and its impact on this season will not be quickly forgotten. Here's how it all went down in Florida.
Perhaps one of the biggest talking points of the weekend, from press day to the end of the night, was the dirt in Tampa. Particularly, the bright white sand section that spanned an entire lane of the track. Sand sections are a common obstacle in Supercross, but this was different. The first three jumps were much larger than what we typically see, and the texture of the sand itself was compared to play sand by some. Throughout qualifying and into the nights racing, it was undeniable that the obstacle presented a unique challenge and at times it could make or break some rider's nights.
As mentioned, the sand was hard to miss visually and this is because the rest of the track was very dark. We got a close up look at the dirt and noticed that it was clumpy, a little rocky, and contained a lot of lumps of grass. Several riders noted that even though they train in Florida, it wasn't familiar with anything they'd ridden locally. Combined with the high temperatures during the day, the track became blue-grooved and slick. This was most noticeable on the start straight, especially when crossing in front of the mechanic’s area, as the racers would slip and slide their way through.
All season long, the story of Chad Reed's run towards breaking the record for all-time main event starts has been closely followed. Due to his preseason injury at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm, he hasn't been the same rider that many expect, but each round has shown some steady progress. Having made all of the main events leading up to Tampa, the math worked out perfectly that he would break the record at what is considered his hometown race. Despite being from Australia originally, Reed has lived near the Tampa area for many years since moving to the United States. After battling with Ben Lamay and Dean Wilson in his heat, Reed would miss qualifying directly to the main event by one position and would have to go to the LCQ. He went on to win that race, crossing the finish line with a nac-nac and receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Unfortunately, Reed would suffer a mechanical in the main event and DNF the race, but he broke the record nonetheless and will most likely add to it before the season comes to a close. He was very clear in Friday's press conference that the record isn't what he's racing for and that we should expect him to continue racing for a while longer. Either way, it's hard to think of any other rider who will be challenging the start record anytime soon.
There have been some big crashes and injuries this year, especially when it comes to the riders who can challenge for race wins and title contention. Cole Seely was looking good in his heat race in Tampa before coming up short and going over the handlebars. While the impact itself certainly didn't look good, his bike spun through the air after he became separated from it and the rear wheel ended up tagging the area around his thigh and hip area as it came to the ground. It was immediately evident that something was wrong and for his safety, the heat race was red flagged. We spoke with Team Honda HRC shortly after, where they explained to us that Seely had been transferred directly to the hospital to be evaluated. There, it was discovered that Seely had broken his pelvis and tailbone, requiring an immediate surgery. His recovery time is unknown for now and we will continue to update this story as more information becomes available. With Roczen already out for the Supercross season after his hand injury in San Diego, there are currently no riders lined up to race for Team Honda HRC. In the coming days and weeks, we should learn more as to whether the team will bring in a fill-in rider, or if they will opt out for the remainder of the Supercross season.
Many predicted that Austin Forkner would enter the field last year and get straight to the business of winning races and even championships. This was not the case though, as Forkner battled several injuries throughout both the Supercross and motocross seasons. Still, it was probably only a matter of time until Forkner would find himself at the top step of the podium. Evidently, that time was to come in Tampa. The 250 main event was once again full of aggressive battling and great racing, and on this particular night, Forkner found himself out front with Dylan Ferrandis and Zach Osborne in a tight-knit three-way battle. Forkner ultimately came away with the lead, partly due to his impressive speed in the whoops. Ferrandis had qualified fastest in the days timed sessions though, and closed the gap on Forkner as the main event began to wind down. On the final lap, Ferrandis attempted a pass in one of the tighter sections of the track, resulting in the two making contact. Forkner withstood the pressure though and actually increased his lead following the collision, winning the race in exciting fashion. It will be interesting to see what Forkner does from here on out and whether he can add more wins before the series comes to a close.
MORE MUSQUIN & ANDERSON TENSION
A few days before the race, Aldon Baker, trainer to both riders, posted a photo of the two together on Instagram alongside Broc Tickle and Zach Osborne as well. We’ve heard that with the tension between both racers that they trained separately from one another for most of the offseason. This tension has been downplayed at times by both teams and we won’t speculate on what went on this week, but either way, things got heated again Saturday morning when things got underway. A handful of incidents on the track led to words being had off the track. Nothing came of it when the gate dropped that night, but there are clearly some unresolved issues between the two.
In his first select race aboard a 450, Justin Hill made a statement that few could ignore. Firstly, Hill logged a top-five qualifying time during the day that showed promise for the night. He would go on to challenge Marvin Musquin in the heat race and ended up successfully making the pass for the lead, which he held onto for the win. In the main event, he found himself in a similar situation as he first passed Eli Tomac for second, then set his sights on Musquin. He did so by nailing back to back quads in the rhythm section before the sand. Tomac later laughingly said in the press conference that even he wanted nothing to do with that rhythm option. Once Hill was within striking distance of Musquin, it appeared that there would be nothing stopping him from once again passing for the lead. However, the two rider's lines came together before the finish line and Hill wound up dropping the bike. After remounting and fixing the position of his lever, he was able to work back up to sixth on the night. Hill has been saying he's a 450 guy for some time now, and after Tampa, he's got some proof to back that up. He will be one to keep an eye on at the next few rounds, and if this is any indication of what we are to see in 2019, there could be some great racing on the horizon.
Eli Tomac has found himself in an interesting position once again in 2018. Early season struggles aside, he is once again stringing together wins and getting the job done. He wasn't necessarily flashy all day, but his lines were quick and effective. When the gate dropped on the main event, Tomac found himself losing positions to Hill and Musquin early on, but as the minutes ticked off the clock, he made up the ground he lost and took the lead away from Musquin. Once out front, he built up a solid enough gap to win without challenge, despite the breakdown of the track and the lapped rider chaos in the sand section late in the race. Tomac is the winningest rider this season, and with the new points system he is making up lost points a little faster than last year. Combined with the injuries that have struck many of the top contenders, he has now worked his way up into the top eight in points. Mathematically, it's a long way to go to challenge Jason Anderson for the red plate, but considering how unpredictable the things still are eight rounds deep into the season, these wins could turn out to very valuable later in the year.