Barcia showed he was ready to do battle aboard his Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing machine as soon as the day got underway inside Angel Stadium. He positioned himself near the top of the time sheets in the first couple practice sessions, but struggled to get a completely clean lap in the final session, which landed him ninth. Monster Energy entered the night show with all but one of its riders inside the top 10, with Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac leading the way in fifth, followed by Barcia, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy (10th), and Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing’s Aaron Plessinger (16th).
The first Heat Race featured rookies Plessinger and Savatgy and both riders were solidly in the top five early on. Plessinger was impressive in moving forward while Savatgy was forced to deal with a brief bit of misfortune that cost him some spots, but still kept him in transfer position. When the first checkered flag of the season flew, Plessinger and Savatgy transferred out of their inaugural race in the premier division with third and eighth-place finishes, respectively.
A loaded second Heat Race provided the first glimpse of what was to come for Barcia. After getting a strong start, he quickly moved into the lead and set sail. Tomac found himself caught up in the jostle for position out of the first turn and was forced to settle deep in the top 10. Barcia was untouched out front and easily took the win, while Tomac showed patience and worked his way up to fifth.
As soon as the Main Event rolled around a steady rain was falling. While the track was in good condition, it would inevitably become increasingly treacherous as the race wore on. Minimizing mistakes would be at a premium, but the start was going to make or break the hopes of any rider. When the gate dropped on the 22-rider field, it was Dean Wilson who emerged with the early lead. Barcia was the best of the Monster Energy foursome, slotting himself into fourth just behind defending champ Jason Anderson with Plessinger not far behind in fifth. The Kawasaki duo of Tomac and Savatgy both had their work cut out for them, with Tomac starting 10th and Savatgy all the way back in 19th.
Barcia made quick work of Anderson to break into podium position and set his sights on Malcolm Stewart in second. While Barcia was clearly the faster rider, the rain made it difficult to go outside the preferred line and to push the pace. A lengthy 20 minute Main Event, in addition to lap times that were pushing between 10-20 seconds slower than practice, meant Barcia could bide his time and methodically work his way forward. He kept Stewart within striking distance and when Mookie tipped over in pursuit of the lead, Barcia was there for the taking. He moved into second and had just over a second separating he and Wilson, with a slew of lappers awaiting them.
While Barcia built his charge for the lead, Plessinger and Tomac were hanging tough as well. Both riders were in a hotly contested battle for a spot in the top five, showing impressive comfort in the treacherous conditions. After a less than ideal start Tomac appeared to be on a mission, and it looked like he was destined to make a challenge for the podium.
After stalking Wilson for several laps, the door opened for Barcia on Lap 14, with about five minutes remaining. Lapped riders brought the two close as Wilson was forced to make the first move on the unwitting riders and when the leader made a poor line choice to get around Blake Baggett it provided the chance for Barcia to use a surge of aggressiveness and seize the moment. He put his Yamaha into the lead and never looked back.
Barcia entered Anaheim 1 in the midst of a 55-race winless drought that dated all the way back to 2013, but on this night he was vintage Bam Bam. He looked poised and confident, and it carried him to an unlikely-yet-impressive victory. For Tomac, he successfully erased the Anaheim 1 demons that have seemed to haunt him for years with a resilient ride that carried him onto the podium after a last-lap pass on Wilson, which put a pair of Monster Energy riders on the box. Plessinger’s 450SX Class debut resulted in a solid sixth-place finish, while Savatgy endured through an up and down race to finish 16th.
450SX Class Results
1. Justin Barcia, Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing
2. Ken Roczen, Honda
3. Eli Tomac, Monster Energy Kawasaki
4. Dean Wilson, Husqvarna
5. Cooper Webb, KTM
6. Aaron Plessinger, Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing
16. Joey Savatgy, Monster Energy Kawasaki
450SX Class Standings
1. Justin Barcia, Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing - 26
2. Ken Roczen, Honda - 23
3. Eli Tomac, Monster Energy Kawasaki - 21
4. Dean Wilson, Husqvarna - 19
5. Cooper Webb, KTM - 18
6. Aaron Plessinger, Monster Energy/Yamaha Factory Racing - 17
16. Joey Savatgy, Monster Energy Kawasaki - 7