2019 Auckland New Zealand Supercross | Post-Race Notes
The 2019 S-X Open in Auckland, New Zealand, took place last weekend and what’s quickly becoming one of the top offseason events gave us plenty to talk about during a slow time in the year. A part of the 2019 Australian Supercross Championship, the entry list included the full-time competitors of the six-round series and marquee riders hired by the promoters to drum up interest. Thanks to some hard-working YouTube channels (click the link, it’s a YouTube landing page with all of the footage), we have the chance to watch the action from the night and point out things that caught our attention.
Though we didn’t make it to New Zealand, we will make the trip down under next week for the 2019 AUS-X Open, the final round of the series. The SX1 championship will be determined at that race, as only a single point separates Luke Clout and Justin Brayton in the standings.
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THE TRACK & FORMAT
If you follow the international offseason races closely, then you know that most of them happen in venues that are much smaller than the American stadiums we all consider the “standard” for Supercross. The S-X Open took place at Mt Smart Stadium, a rugby venue in Auckland with a large floor space, and the track crew made good use of the area by building a nearly full-size track with seven lanes, rhythm sections that offered options, a long pad of whoops, and large jumps that took roughly 40-seconds for the fastest riders to get around.
Since the stadium is open-air, the New Zealand dirt baked in the sun and was very hard-packed during the actual race. There was a layer of loose soil on the top and some moisture was reportedly added by the track crew just before the night’s racing started, two things that made throttle control incredibly important.
There was a lot of racing on the schedule at the S-X Open. There were seven-minute Heat Races at the beginning of the night that set the final roster for the three eight-minutes races that made up the “Triple Crown” format which determined the overall, plus a Super Pole for the top riders that set the gate picks in the three point-paying races. That’s much different than the US SX Triple Crown format, which doesn’t have Heat Races and increases the race duration as the night goes on.
Riders noted that the eight-minute sprints were hectic because they were just long enough to get in a flow but offered little time to break away or recover from mistakes. It was interesting to see how the Main Events were only one minute longer than the Heat Races.
Oh, one more thing! In the spirit of the Monster Energy Cup, the S-X Open track featured a shortcut that riders were able to take only one time over the course of the three Main Events. The shortcut was at the backside of a bowl turn and if taken, the rider bypassed the flat start straightaway, turn, and finish line jump but was still credited for the lap. It would shave off about five or six seconds from the lap time, but since riders could only use it once in the night, they had to be smart about when they took it.
Justin Brayton’s veteran knowledge was on display in the single-lap dash. Instead of slowing to downside the small jump before the finish, the Penrite Honda rider launched off of it and into the face of the finish line take off, where the transponder loop was located. The little trick put Brayton at the top of the board for a few moments and some others followed his lead in their laps.
Jason Anderson’s lap was impressive to watch. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider uncorked all of the big jumps in the rhythm sections, wheel-tapped an obstacle in a high-speed line, and kept traction in the slick turns. It was Anderson at his best, a little ragged but undeniably fast.
Jason Anderson has made the Australian-New Zealand races a fixture of his calendar and understandably so, because he’s incredibly popular in the area and has won the overall each time he’s lined up so far. For the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider these races are a chance to get away from the weekly structure-monotony of the offseason training camps, make some money, and build confidence for the approaching race season. Anderson’s riding style seemed to mesh with the hard-packed track because he could hammer the gas just enough to break the back-end loose, but kept things under enough control drive forward. He was the fastest in the Superpole segment and won his Heat Race and Race One, but one could argue that his ride in Race Three was his best. He overcame a mediocre start to reach second place in the running order in the closing laps, which was more than enough for the overall. Instead of cruising to a runner-up result to clinch the bigger win, Anderson increased his pace and reeled in Dan Reardon, a rider that had a big lead thanks to the use of the shortcut lane, then made the pass just before the white flag. If one ever wonders if riders really push themselves at the offseason races, this ride should answer the question.
Luke Clout has spent the last few years rebuilding his career from injuries and issues, but things look good for the Australian right now. With a spot at CDR Monster Energy Yamaha, Clout is a front-runner in the country’s SX-MX series and could end the year as champion in the 450 class, thanks in large part to his ride in Auckland. Intense battles for position in all three motos helped him finish within the top-five each time out and his timely use of the shortcut (Clout ducked through just as Anderson approached the white flag, which gave little time for a return attack) gave him a big win in race two. I’ve already written a post this week about Clout’s intent to race with Anderson in Auckland and come to the US after the Australian series concludes, so give that a read when you’re done here and get ready for the bigger duel between him and Brayton for the title in just over a week’s time.
When job opportunities in the United States dried up, Brett Metcalfe moved the family back home to Australia and started the next chapter of his career. Still one of the top 100 riders in the world despite being well into his 30s, the Penrite Honda rider held his own against the current American contingent and secured the third spot on the podium with 2-5-3 finishes. One thing I like about these international races is when local riders challenge the high-paid visitors and show everyone what they’re capable of, like what Metcalfe did in New Zealand. It’s easy to forget how fast Metcalfe was just a few years ago when he was a GEICO Honda and Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing rider, as the last part of his time in the States were marred by injury, so that ride in Auckland was a very good reminder.
Justin Brayton is the three-time and defending SX1 champion in Australia, a rank that he could very likely extend to a fourth term should things go his way at the AUS-X Open. The veteran racer credits the decision to race with Penrite Honda down under as a reason he’s remained at his current level and is back in a Team Honda HRC factory spot for 2020, so he cherishes the time in Australia each year. He started the season with back to back wins at the opening rounds and finished on the podium in round three, while Clout’s consistency and win at Wallagong has kept the championship very close. Auckland was very good for Brayton in many ways, as he was among the fastest in the field all day and diced for spots in the top-five all night (watch his push in Race One and battle with Reardon in Race Two), yet all of that was upset by a simple front-end wash-out while leading in Race Three. It had to be a bit rattling to get hit in the back of the head by the rear sprocket like he did in the crash, but he got up and finished without fuss. If Brayton can come out ahead in Melbourne and win this title for the fourth time, it will be a big moment for his career and will give plenty of confidence ahead of Anaheim One.
Dan Reardon has quietly put together a string of stellar results in recent weeks. The CDR Monster Energy Yamaha rider finished on the podium in the first three races and is in the mix for the title with Brayton and Clout, although his chances are a little smaller than those two. Reardon had more riders to deal with in Auckland, including new teammate Josh Hill, and he held his own against the group to lead laps and finish near the front of the field each time out. If not for Anderson’s aforementioned charge, it’s very likely Reardon would have won Race Three and then become a big talking point in the industry chatter (the win wouldn’t have changed the night’s overall scores, though). Watch Reardon at that last round, because he has the most to gain and nothing to lose.
Everyone knows how good Josh Hill is on a bike. Hell, he’s become more known for his free riding sessions than he is for the 450 Main Event win in Minneapolis years ago. A recent move to the East Coast got Hill into the pro practice program at ClubMX and was lured to Australia for a short stint with the CDR Monster Energy Yamaha team, a possible reintroduction to racing. Hill’s aggressive riding was a little much for the hard-packed track at times, but when he got things right, he launched some of the biggest jumps and logged some of the fastest laps. His battles with Anderson were entertaining, two friends with wild styles and cunning lines, and it’s clear that Hill still has the speed to mix with the world’s best at any moment. Will he be on the starting line at some time in 2020?
Henry Miller had the start dialed. The American was near the front of the pack when they crossed holeshot stripe in all three races, which put him in the mix for the short races. A crash in race one was not great, but it didn’t deter the KTM-mounted rider and he went on to go 9-8-14 for ninth overall.
Joey Savatgy’s night was determined by an opening lap crash. This was his second race with the JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing squad and his RM-Z450 featured a few more parts than it did in France, but the incident left the bike and his body a little beat up. With little time to sort things out between races and another issue in race three, he limped the bike through the rest of the night and finished 11-6-17 in the motos for 11th overall.
Chad Reed was far from full-strength at Auckland, as he dealt with two broken ribs from his crash the week prior in Paris. Since the race is likely one of his last as a “full-time” Supercross racer, Reed pushed through the pain during practice and lined up for the night’s race, only to go down after a botched block pass attempt in his Heat Race. That marked the end of the race for Reed and he’ll use the time between Auckland and Melbourne to heal as much as possible.