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Monster athletes compete at the 2017 MX Hangtown race in Rancho Cordova, CA

Monster Energy Hangtown Motocross Classic Race Report

May 222017

After 17 rounds of winter and spring supercross, at night, over the span of only 18 weeks, the top racers in the sport get only one weekend off to prepare to do battle in the AMA Motocross Nationals all summer, and the opening round is often a bit of a shock to the system. At the historic Hangtown MX National – round one of the 12-round championship series – the temperatures approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the course was absolutely brutal. Anybody who came in without being fully prepared paid the price. As expected, that wasn’t a problem for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac. Tomac came within just a few points of winning the 2017 Monster Energy/AMA 450cc Supercross Championship, but he still carried momentum into Hangtown with a season-high 9 Supercross wins during that series. At Hangtown, he left nothing to chance. Tomac was easily the fastest qualifier, putting in a time about 3/4 of a second faster than 450cc-class second-placed qualifier Jason Anderson, and Marvin Musquin qualified third but was almost 2 full seconds behind Tomac. It was clear Tomac was the man to beat right away.

In 450cc moto one, Christian Craig got the holeshot, but soon crashed out of the top spot and handed the lead to Musquin, while Monster Energy Yamaha’s Cooper Webb ran third early on. Next came Tomac and his teammate, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Josh Grant. JGR/Autotrader/Monster Energy’s Weston Peick – in his first race back since breaking his wrist in February – ran inside the top 10, but his teammate Justin Barcia had an early crash that forced him to come from way behind in the championship’s opening moto.


It wasn’t long before Tomac was all over Musquin, having dispatched of the rookie Webb. Once he got by, he stretched out to a lead of well over 20 seconds before he put it on cruise control. Tomac even had a crash while leading, but was never seriously challenged on his way to the victory over Musquin and Grant.


“It can just get ahead of you before you know it,” Tomac said, referring to the track conditions that resulted in his crash while leading the opening moto. “That crash started two or three bumps before it actually happened, so you’ve got to watch out for it; it’s going to be rougher in the second one. Thanks to all the guys at Monster Energy and Kawasaki, I’ll come back firing for moto two.”


For Grant, who has battled a litany of injuries over the last few years, it was his first podium finish in a moto since 2014.


“I was able to go get my ankles fixed, which really helped, but I had a really big crash out here on Press Day on that 150 jump because I couldn’t quite make it, and I’m feeling a little sore today, but I’m doing it for the vet guys,” said Grant, who made his professional debut at Hangtown back in 2004. “I’m freakin’ 30 years old racing against these young 21-year-olds, and it’s tough, but I’m having fun, and it’s good. Thanks to Monster and Kawasaki for giving me the opportunity to come back out here, and I’m just looking to pick up where I left off a few years ago.”

The rookie Webb – who won the 250cc title last year – hung on for a strong, but frustrating, fifth in the first moto. Peick ended up 12th, just behind his hard-charging teammate Justin Barcia who came through the pack in the heat to 11th after his early fall.


In moto two, Tomac came out of the gate a bit awkwardly and his teammate Grant – who started right next to him – grabbed the holeshot and took the early lead in front of Musquin, Barcia, Tickle, Webb, Dean Wilson, Martin Davalos, Peick, Craig and then Tomac. Tomac fought his way up to eighth by the end of the first lap, and although he looked patient, he knew he had his work cut out for him.


“Really tough start there!” Tomac said after the race. “I just got a little bit off-balance on the other side of the gate and ended up being buried pretty far deep, and at that time it was just ‘go time.’”


Grant held the lead for nearly half the race, but when Musquin began sensing pressure from Tomac after he had moved up to third, Musquin made a move on Grant to take the lead. Tomac followed suit around Grant within a couple of laps, and Grant put up quite a fight since he thought it was Barcia behind him.


“Yeah, I mean, I thought it was Barcia, so I was like, ‘No way!’” Grant laughed. “But when I realized it was Eli, I didn’t move over for him, but I just got back to riding my lines and not protecting the insides and he got around me just fine. He was on another level all day, so I wasn’t going to try to mess with him.”


Tomac caught Musquin quickly, but Musquin predictably wasn’t as gracious as Grant. Musquin put up a fight for a few laps, but as soon as Tomac found a way around that put him solidly into the lead spot, there was nothing Musquin could do to counter it. Tomac went on to win the moto going away.


“That moto was a lot tougher than the first, being in all the roost and the dirty air, and I made the charge to Marvin and he held up a good fight for a few laps there,” Tomac said. “I ended up getting him, and this is the day we wanted. Thank you Monster Energy Kawasaki. Now we’re on to Glen Helen.”


Tomac credited his charge to how much faster he was in the first moto.

“I guess just knowing what you’re capable of; that was the first moto – that lead,” Tomac said. “I just never gave up.”


Musquin was second again, just in front of Grant, who achieved his first overall podium since 2013 at RedBud.


“Honestly, you really have to get a good start,” Grant said. “This track was so one-lined and they ripped it up super-deep and watered the crap out of it, and normally that’s not good for racing because it’s hard to find new lines. But if you get a good start, it pays off, and I’m happy to get the Monster Energy Kawasaki up here. We’re working hard, so I’m just trying to keep it going and hopefully we can carry this momentum through the rest of the season.”

As for his fitness at his “advanced age” (at least for a professional motocross racer), Grant credited his training regimen.


“I mean, I get my training in during the week changing diapers, filling bottles, and all that good stuff, so it’s been fun,” Grant said with a smirk. “But I’m just going to keep on working and that’s all I can do.”


Barcia was reserved but seemingly content with a fifth in the second moto.

“I crashed the first moto, and charged hard, then I rode good that last moto and was up front pretty good,” Barcia said. “I rode my best. It’s been a tough go, but my whole JGR/Autotrader Suzuki team’s been working hard, and I thank Monster, Arai, Scott, Alpinestars and everybody for sticking behind me. I’ve been busting my butt. It was a hot day out here, and unfortunately the first moto wasn’t so good, but the second moto was better, and we’re just going to keep on building.”


Tomac leads the championship by 6 points over Musquin, with his teammate Grant just four points further back, but there’s a lot of racing left to go, starting with Grant’s home track, Glen Helen, this coming Saturday, May 27th, in San Bernardino, California.


“Yeah, obviously, I’ve done a lot of laps at Glen Helen, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” Grant said. “We’ve just got to get a good start, and I feel like with how I’ve been riding there on Thursdays [which are the practice days at the facility], it’s been pretty good. As long as I keep the momentum going, and stay healthy and keep off the ground, I think we’ll be good.”

Most pundits consider the 250cc class to be the most competitive of the two classes during the AMA National Motocross Championships, and really, it makes sense once you consider how the classes and teams are structured. Most teams put their primary emphasis on the Monster Energy/AMA Supercross Series, and the 450cc teams generally hire two or three racers to compete in that championship. However, the 250cc class is split into two separate regions – the West and the East – and most 250cc teams try to have two or three racers for each of those regions. So, when the MX Nationals kick off, there are approximately twice as many factory racers in the 250cc class as there is in the 450cc class. So, although the 450cc class is the premier class, the racing in the 250cc class can be some of the best we see all summer.


The most successful team in the history of the 250cc class – the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team – came into the Hangtown MX-series opener with four of the top racers in the class: Daytona Supercross and Las Vegas East/West Shootout Supercross winner Adam Cianciarulo, 2017 250cc West SX champ Justin Hill, last year’s Hangtown winner and this year’s 250cc East SX championship contender Joey Savatgy, and professional sophomore (and 2016 250cc MX Rookie of the Year) Austin Forkner.


In timed qualifying, Cianciarulo put in the third-fastest time, less than 3 tenths of a second behind top qualifier Zach Osborne. Savatgy qualified sixth, just in front of Hill, and Forkner (who is widely considered more of a racer than a “one fast lap” kind of guy) could only muster 14th.


In moto one, Cianciarulo made good with a fantastic jump out of the gate and got to the first turn first, but he was quickly joined at the head of the field by Osborne, who eventually found his way by and went on to win the moto. Cianciarulo finished solidly in second.


“I feel really good,” Cianciarulo said after the championship’s opening moto. “I’m coming off a full supercross season, and in the past I’ve been coming into the outdoors a little bit under the gun, and I feel more prepared this time and was able to show it with that good start in the first moto. That first moto was good, but I want to carry it into the second moto and have another good finish there. I’m just going to try to get that same start and ride my laps.”


Behind Cianciarulo there was a bit of drama, as Forkner ended up pulling off the track only a few turns into the first moto and rode down the hill to the mechanics’ area, where his bike sounded terrible. Pro Circuit crewmembers quickly went to work on the left side of the bike, either unplugging something or plugging something in that had come unplugged, and Forkner’s bike started right back up and sounded normal again.


He put in an incredible charge under the conditions to finish 11th.


“The first moto, I had some electrical problems on the first lap, and there was nothing the team could do or anything, but they [the AMA] made me wait until everybody passed before I could go, so I was dead-last,” Forkner said. “But I came back through and got 11th, and I felt good at the end; I rode hard the whole moto.”


Savatgy and Hill both started outside the top 10, but still managed to recover for seventh (Savatgy) and eighth (Hill), respectively.


In the second moto, Savatgy and Osborne fought over the lead at the start before Osborne managed to put himself out front by himself. Savatgy seemed to struggle a bit with line choices on the rutted and tricky circuit, and eventually ended up seventh again, this time just in front of Cianciarulo, who started close to the front but suffered an early fall that set him back. Then Hill came home right behind Cianciarulo at the finish after starting outside the top 20.

However, young Forkner used his confidence gained from his moto-one charge to really increase the pressure in the moto two. He methodically worked his way forward from the tail end of the top 10, passing some of the world’s best 250cc racers until he found himself pressuring Alex Martin for second with only four laps to go. Alex’s brother Jeremy – a two-time 250cc National Champion – was right on Forkner’s tail for the whole moto, but could do nothing with the young scrapper. With three to go, Forkner found his way by Alex Martin, and then kept charging, eating into Osborne’s lead by over a second and a half for the next two consecutive laps, and then remarkably taking another three seconds out of Osborne’s lead on the final circuit, just to come up about two seconds short at the finish.


Forkner’s fastest lap was a 2:12.928, and he achieved that mark on lap 13 out of 16, when the track was just about as rough as it would get for the 250cc field on the day.

“That moto, I knew that I’d be strong if some of the guys up front started to fade, and that’s kind of what happened in the second one,” Forkner said. “I just kept getting faster and faster up until like the 20-minute mark, and I had really good lines and my bike was working good, and I think that if I can get a start I can run up there with Zach and be battling for wins.”


In such a competitive 250cc field, Osborne obviously leads the points, but Cianciarulo, Forkner, Savatgy and Hill have all started out their MX campaign well inside the top 10 in points, and there are still 22 motos left to run, the next pair of which are coming right up this Saturday, May 27th, at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, California.