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Monster athletes at the motorcross Ironman Nationals at Ironman Raceway in Crawfordsville, IN
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Eli Tomac the 450cc Champ

Aug 272017

Racers want to race to win. That’s what they train for, practice for, and line up at the races for. They never want to lay up for a title, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. And that’s a lesson Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac learned on his way to winning his first-ever 450cc National Championship at this weekend’s season-finale Ironman MX National in Indiana.

Tomac had been trying to balance two different goals for quite a few rounds after the middle of the 2017 AMA 450cc National Motocross Championships; the first and foremost goal was to win the championship, but he still wanted to win races. It’s a tough thing to balance because winning races in a sport like motocross/supercross comes with some inherent risks that can be mitigated by riding more conservatively. Tomac had a solid points lead, and his primary championship challenger, Blake Baggett, was riding injured, so Tomac needed consistency more than he needed to win.

Over the course of time, though, his push for consistency began to bring his challengers closer to him in the championship chase, and Tomac finally responded in the second moto at the penultimate Budds Creek MX National with a dominant moto-winning performance, and that set the stage for the finale.


Enter MXGP regular Jeffrey Herlings. With the Monster Energy US MXGP in Florida scheduled for the weekend after the Indiana AMA finale, Herlings decided to show up, with no pressure, and see what he could do against the AMA regulars. Herlings was fastest in both morning qualifiers, but in the first moto, Tomac got his first holeshot of the entire season.


Tomac’s M.O. is normally to work his way through at least a few guys on his way to winning races. This helps him judge their speed and figure out lines. Racers who aren’t accustomed to starting races out front often run into difficulty with finding lines and setting their pace, and that’s exactly what happened with Tomac after his holeshot. A few turns later, Herlings went by for the lead, and Tomac immediately switched from the fox to the hound.


With the points lead Tomac had, all he had to do was beat Baggett and Marvin Musquin in the first moto to clinch the title with one moto still left to run, but he saw red when he was passed by Herlings, and he went after the Dutchman straight away.


Tomac learned Herlings’ lines, then chased him back down and pressured him while the pair pulled away quickly from the rest of the field. Racers want to race to win, and Tomac is a racer.


However, it wasn’t long before Tomac tried a creative line where he jumped from the inside to the outside into a turn, and when he landed on the berm that he was counting on in order to rail the corner around the outside of Herlings, the berm gave way, and Tomac went down.


It was the last thing he needed to have happen. He remounted behind his two championship rivals with a motorcycle bent up a little bit from the fall, and that hindered his effort moving back forward. Herlings went on to win the moto in front of Musquin and Baggett, but Tomac, dejected, finished fifth.


Going into the final moto, Tomac carried a 24-point lead over both Musquin and Baggett (tied for second in the championship), and a moto win only awards 25 points, so Tomac knew all he had to do was finish inside the top 20 to wrap up the title, and he learned his lesson from moto one.


In the second moto, Tomac rode conservatively for sixth place, clinching his first-ever 450cc Championship, and the first for Monster Energy Kawasaki since Ryan Villopoto’s last supercross title in 2014.


“That was not easy at all [laughs],” the 2017 AMA 450cc National MX Champ said about dealing with the pressure of the title at the finale. “I mean, I went back [between motos] and I was just like, ‘Man, is this day really going like this?’ I don’t know, I guess I let my ego get the best of me in that first moto, and I needed to really take it all in there between the motos and get our head in the right spot. We went out there and did what we could, but this is just a lifelong dream and goal that has finally come true, and I’m just kind of at a loss for words right now...”


With that monkey off his back, and with two more years on his current contract with Monster Energy Kawasaki, this title win is likely to continue bearing fruit for Tomac and the team for years to come.


250cc
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo was among the most highly touted amateurs ever to turn professional in the sport of motocross, having won more amateur national championships than anybody in history. After dominating early in his rookie supercross campaign in 2014, though, he was forced out of the series with shoulder injuries, and his shoulders (along with a couple other things, but mainly his shoulders) continued to plague him for years. Finally healthy, he entered 2017 hoping to rebuild, and most importantly, stay healthy for a full season. He managed to do both.


Cianciarulo managed to win two 250cc Supercross main events in 2017, and then outdoors – where he had never won before – he worked and built throughout the season until, at the penultimate round at Budds Creek, he finally managed to win not only his first-ever AMA National MX moto, but his first AMA National MX overall as well with a 1-2 score.


Riding high on that win, Cianciarulo headed to the finale hoping to continue his success, and he nearly pulled it off there, too.


In the first moto, Cianciarulo passed his way by 2017 250cc champ Zach Osborne and two-time former champ Jeremy Martin to take the lead early in the moto, and on his way by Martin, the two came together, with Martin going down. Concerned it looked like a dirty move, the thoughtful and well-spoken Cianciarulo explained what happened:


“I passed Zach – I capitalized on a little mistake from him early – and I knew if I wanted to get out front and I wanted to win that moto, I was going to have to make something happen,” Cianciarulo said. “So I went around the outside [of Martin] in that S section, and we were kind of side-by-side, and we went through the rollers, and I went outside and actually hit the edge of the berm, and the berm kind of cuts back on the double a little bit, and I hit that and bounced back to the right, and he didn’t check up, so we unfortunately collided. I would never, ever in my life intentionally cross-jump somebody. That is the absolute worse thing. Anybody that’s had it done to them before knows that’s a big no-no, and racing etiquette tells you never to do that. I hope he’s all right. I saw he got up and got eighth, and I know he’ll be back up there the next moto. Other than that, sorry man, and better luck next time.”


Cianciarulo led about half the moto before Osborne chased him down and made the pass to win it. Cianciarulo hung on to finish alone in second, secure in the knowledge that a second place is as good as a first place in the first moto, as a 2-1 always beats a 1-2 score. All he had to do was win moto two and the overall would be his for the second week in a row.


Cianciarulo and his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team made a few chassis adjustments between motos in hopes to help him narrow the gap on Osborne, and then Cianciarulo did his part, grabbing the holeshot in the final moto of the year, with Osborne hot on his heels.


Unfortunately, Cianciarulo just could not quite keep Osborne behind him, as he and his team’s guess on the chassis settings went the wrong way; something that happens frequently in motocross, as the teams are guessing what the track conditions will be in the next moto.


Still, a 2-2 on the day was a very good result for the Floridian, and it leaves him hopeful to finally live up to his expectations come 2018.


“We ended the season strong,” Cianciarulo said, having finished third in points. “It took some ups and downs to get here, but that’s what racing, and life, is all about. It’s going to be up-and-down, it’s just how you react to it. I feel like me and the team came together, and we got better, and got to where I know I can be; and that’s challenging for race wins and podiums every time. I fully expect to be up here battling for the championship next year. That’s my goal. My entire off-season, every day I’m going to spend with one goal in mind, and that’s to win a championship, so this is a good building block to that. Zach rode fantastic today, and in that second moto, we made a little change with the bike and kind of went backward, but he was unreal. That takes nothing away from him. I’m happy to finish out on the podium, but like I said, I’m definitely going for that championship next year.”


For Cianciarulo, and his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, 2018 can’t come soon enough.

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