2020 Oakland Supercross | Monday Kickstart
The Monster Energy Supercross Series wouldn’t be complete without a round of racing in Northern California. While the southern part of the state remains home for the majority of the industry, the Bay Area has a deep history of motocross racing and a dedicated fan base. Never mind the fact that the area around RingCentral Coliseum isn’t the most ideal (the Bay’s growth and overall cost of living impacts certain areas in different ways), people will show up when Supercross comes to town, especially when the racing is as good as it was during the 2020 Oakland Supercross. The fifth round of this season will certainly be remembered, thanks to the close battles on the track, a shift in the 250 championship standings, and maybe even as the round riders in the hunt for the 450 class title separated themselves from the rest of the field.
We made mention of the dark, soft dirt that is used for the Oakland track during our pre-race articles and now that the race is over, it’s certainly a topic worth talking about. Dirt Wurx and Feld Motorsports sifted the soil in an attempt to remove the rocks and debris before they dumped it on the stadium floor, sculpted the layout, and allowed it to bake in the sunshine. With no rain in the days leading up to the race, the dirt was able to pack in and resulted in a much different consistency than what riders were used to. While it did develop ruts in the corners and jump transitions, it didn’t break down to the point that riders had to drastically change their line combinations as the night went on. In fact, the pace got much faster from the afternoon qualifying, when only three 450 riders posted 59-second lap times, to the night’s Main Event, when 11 riders clocked laps under the one-minute mark.
There were some initial concerns that the track would be very tight and one-lined, especially after riders followed the same narrow path during the Friday press session, but when the full field hit the track, lines were cut everywhere possible in attempts to make passes. We were bummed to see that the track crew made it impossible to do Friday’s massive double into the sand on Saturday (a small speed-check roller a few feet away from the face of the jump changed the entire flow of the section) but it was a change that had to be done and most likely made the racing much closer.
Here’s what we heard and saw during our weekend in Oakland…
This was an important start to the season for Eli Tomac. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider’s record through the first month of the year is not great, as he’s experienced crashes or injuries more often than not, but he was a steady force through the opening stretch and put in his first jaw-dropping performance of the year in Oakland. His second-place rank in qualifying was good, but it was the three-way dice with Roczen and Baggett in the Heat Race that really got our attention. A close pass from Baggett that resulted in a stalled bike should have been enough to drop Tomac out of the mix, but he snuck back in on the last lap and snagged second place.
A good Main Event start put ET3 in third place during the opening laps and by the halfway point of the race, he was in his zone. After a pass on teammate Cianciarulo for second place, Tomac closed the gap between himself and leader Roczen with a series of 58-59 second laps, then made his first shot at the leader with a pass in a hairpin turn. A mistake in the sand shot Tomac over the top of the next turn and handed control of the race back to Roczen, which really should have marked the end of it all, but instead, Tomac buckled down, went back after the leader, made another pass in the exact same spot, and rode off to his second win of the season. The 26-points scored puts Tomac within three points of Roczen in the championship standing and make it clear that yes, this is his best start to a Supercross season.
We, like many, saw Oakland as Cooper Webb’s chance to get himself back in the title fight. The Red Bull KTM rider had done well in the first few races of the season, with a pair of podium results at the Anaheim rounds, but his St. Louis and Glendale results put him at a deficit compared to others (blame that on an illness in STL and a long lane of hard-packed whoops at Glendale). Webb is at his best technical tracks with soft dirt and short lanes, two things that Oakland had plenty of. That Webb was third overall in qualifying was a sign that he was in the zone, as he’s rarely near the top of the results sheet in the afternoon practices, but his surge in 450 Heat Race Two was too late to make a run on winner Justin Hill.
A good start and steady pace put Webb in fourth place during the first part of the feature race and right around the halfway point, he upped the intensity and went after the front-runners. Webb’s last-lap pass on Roczen was exactly what one would expect to happen between two champion contenders when key points are on the line. Webb stuck the front wheel of his bike in the gap between Roczen and the inside Tuff block and blasted through to steal away second place. When Roczen was grasping his foot on the podium after the race Webb went over to make sure all was okay, a sign of respect between two former rivals, and there seemed to be little animosity between them after that.
As we said before, Webb’s long-term plan is to be in the top-five of the championship when it’s time for the series to go East. With 95-points total and three podium finishes, that’s exactly where he is. A win would help Webb close the 18-point gap between him and Roczen, and after his showing at Oakland, it looks like it could come at any time.
Ken Roczen has been the top of the class through the first part of the year. Yes, that’s apparent with the red plates on his Team Honda HRC bike, but a look at the stats further explains his success. Through the first five rounds Roczen has the most holeshots (four), the best average start on the first lap (2.8), the most laps led (43), the best average finish (2.6), and is tied for most wins at two. His bike setup has never looked better, with the bike’s Showa suspension very well balanced and the engine characteristic tuned to his low-rev style, and he’s riding well within his limits during every session. It’s very apparent that he’s addressed all of his past shortcomings and has corrected them in hopes of claiming his first career 450 SX title.
But all of that now relies on the status of his right foot. The run-in with Webb left Roczen in substantial pain on Saturday night, an injury he downplayed in the post-race press conference and is something that he’s hoping can be sorted out with personal therapy in the week leading up to San Diego. This is practically a papercut compared to the past injuries Roczen has faced, so expect him to be on the track in spite of a possible sprain or deep bruise.
As for his Oakland performance, it’s hard to find fault in Roczen’s riding. He aced both of his starts (Heat Race and Main Event), never seem rattled during the three-way battle between himself/Tomac/Baggett and claimed the Heat Race win and knew when to fight and when to back down against Tomac during the Main Event. Had he not gone long in that rhythm lane during the last lap and botched the corner, it’s likely he would have held off Webb and finished the race in second place. Are we about to see the long-awaited battle for 450 supremacy between Roczen and Tomac?
As stunning as Adam Cianciarulo’s ongoing streak of top qualifier honors is, we’re more impressed by the consistency that the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider is able to maintain when logging laps in practice. During the second round of qualifying in Oakland, Cianciarulo’s best time was a 59.448 and his second-best was a 59.575, a difference of just 0.127 seconds on the stopwatch. For comparison, the difference between Eli Tomac’s best laps was 0.489 seconds (59.508, 59.997). Cianciarulo told us that’s because riding coach Nick Wey wants him to get mimic the feel of a moto during practice, not just single flying laps. As for the five straight rounds at the top of the board, it’s apparent that Cianciarulo is starting to feel some pressure to keep it going and would trade it all away for one Main Event win.
Wait, one more impressive thing to point out about AC’s afternoon! The three sessions on Saturday were the most that he had ridden in the last week, as he opted for therapy and CVAC over practice motos at the Kawasaki track following his hard slam at Glendale. Unable to put a lot of pressure on the left side of his tailbone, he stood up during the autograph signing and laid at an angle when in his lounge at the Kawasaki rig. An expert at managing more severe injuries over the course of a season (remember he raced a 250 SX series without an ACL), he’ll get this sorted out over the next few rounds and should be back to full health soon.
Cianciarulo has already established he’s one of the “guys” in the 450 class. He’s had the hard crash (Glendale), collected some hardware (a second-place trophy at A1), and is one of the six riders to have a top-10 result in every race so far this season. He was at the front early in the race (he ran as high as second and then followed behind the top-two of Roczen and Tomac through until Webb’s late surge) and was the fourth-fastest rider on the track (his average lap time was a 1:00.585, which was bested only by Tomac, Webb, and Roczen). We’ve said it every week before and will say it again: a win is coming.
5-3-5-3-5. Those are Jason Anderson’s scores through the first five races of the season. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider might not look like the dictionary definition of consistency, but the results say otherwise. We really expected Oakland to be Anderson’s breakout day, because El Hombre’s record in the stadium is good (rewatch the last two laps of the 2018 race for a reminder). Unfortunately for Anderson, a crash on the first lap of the Heat Race put him in jeopardy of not making the Main Event and he had to hustle back to seventh place in seven laps.
While much of the attention was on the front-runners during the Main Event, Anderson quietly worked from seventh place on the opening lap to fifth place at the checkered flag, down 16-seconds to the leader but one of the few that managed to match their pace on the track (his average lap time was a 1:00.590, bested only by the guys that finished ahead of him). In the chance that Anderson will continue his 5-3 rotation of results, then he’s due for a podium in San Diego, and that’s certainly possible.
Something to note about Anderson: He’s very content with his daily program in California and looks likely to stay on the West Coast for the majority of the Supercross season, which would keep him close to the team, the newly built Murrieta test track, and his close circle of friends. He’d still be on Aldon Baker’s training program and will do the work alongside the young riders at TLD KTM.
52 laps for the 51 at Oakland. Justin Barcia spent a lot of time on the track, due in part to the mechanical issue that killed his engine at the very end of his Heat Race, but that didn’t seem to bother the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider. If anything, it gave him a chance to really dial in the setup of the YZ450F, something he and the team are continuing to work on (longtime KYB guru Ross Maeda has been tapped by the team to give suspension advice).
We didn’t think much of the puffs of smoke that Barcia’s bike gave off during the last laps of the Main Event, because it’s common for some bikes with riders that abuse the clutch to burn off a little oil, so we were surprised to hear the crowd groan when the thing let go a few turns from the finish line. Kudos to him for immediately pulling off of the track, pushing the bike to the mechanics, and staying composed as they swapped the full engine in the short time frame between the Heat Race and LCQ. If he had any concerns about the bike’s repairs during the LCQ, they weren’t obvious, because he rode it just as hard on his way to the win.
Even with all of those laps, Barcia didn’t seem exhausted during the Main Event. If anything, he looked fresh and ready to go in the early laps, when he posted five consecutive laps under the one-minute mark and finished in sixth place. Healthy, fast, happy with the bike, and still in the mix for the title, it’ll be interesting to see how this East Coast push goes for Barcia. He didn’t have all three of those very important elements in past years when the series went to the other side of the country, so this is really his best chance to go for an accomplishment that has eluded him for so long.
Dean Wilson is slowly coming into his own. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider has steadily improved and posted reasonable results week after week (13-13-10-13-7), which is all that one can ask for after his tumultuous offseason. Oakland was a test of Wilson’s resolve because he experienced his mix of highs and lows during the 14 hours in the stadium. A shorted jump in practice had Wilson worried that he injured a wrist, a mechanical issue caused his bike to give out during the first laps of the Heat Race, and he survived a hairy LCQ to make it to the Main Event. Warmed up from the Last Chance Qualifier, Wilson started the Main Event in eighth place, held steady, and scored a season-best seventh at the end of the 21 laps.
One of the many riders that viewed Kobe Bryant as a positive influence in his career outlook, Wilson’s O’Neal gear for the weekend paid tribute to the iconic NBA player and all of the lives lost in the Calabasas helicopter crash.
Did you rip up your ticket on the Justin Hill Bandwagon after the 2019 season? A very rough rookie year in the 450 class caused many to write the former 250 West Coast Supercross champion off, to the point that there was some backlash that he even secured a spot with Mike Genova’s SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda team for 2020. Fair results through the first four races made it clear that Hill still had what it takes to run in the 450 class and every week he told us that he was on the cusp of something great.
It all came together at Oakland, a round Hill said is one of his favorites on the schedule, with his seventh-place rank in qualifying and a stunning start to finish win in 450 Heat Race Two. A holeshot allowed Hill to click off laps without interference and at his own pace, two things he hasn’t been able to do this year. The Main Event was solid and after some duels with Osborne, Barcia, and Wilson, he posted an eighth-place finish, his best of the season so far.
The next two races could be very important for Hill, as he feels San Diego and Tampa are two more of his preferred venues. His first career win came at San Diego and the last visit to Tampa was his proper debut on the big bike.
Week after week, Dylan Ferrandis has proven himself to be the fastest rider in the 250 class. His laps in qualifying, Heat Race wins and pushes to the front after mediocre starts all prove it, yet his actual results weren’t the ever-important wins and he trailed in the championship standings. There was no worry that a second 250 title would get out of grasp before the West Coast went on break, but a win was long overdue.
He got it done in a big way in Oakland. Fastest in qualifying, calculated after a poor start in his Heat Race, Ferrandis got to the front in the Main Event and stalked Austin Forkner for the top spot in the middle of the moto. When Forkner hesitated in lapped traffic and took a high line in a hairpin turn, Ferrandis dove to the inside and made a textbook block pass. Yes, Forkner ran off the track, but it was more likely due to the rider’s natural reaction than it was from contact. Once in the lead, Ferrandis never looked back and stormed off to win his second Main Event of the season. The win, paired with the results of others in the field, shuffled the points around and the 1W is now at the top of the standings just before the long hiatus.
As for the booing that came as a result of the pass, it’s an unfortunate reaction that’ll ring out for a while longer. The fact that Forkner was fine with the move didn’t seem to be enough for the natives, as they still voiced their displeasure when Ferrandis was shown on the podium. Whatever. Ferrandis isn’t one to be worried about the public’s opinion and he’ll race anyone that way if it’s for the win.
Is this a more mellow Austin Forkner? Sure, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider has still had his share of crashes and very intense battles with other riders on the track, but it looks like he’s backed it down a little in every way. Not a bad thing, considered his past history of being wide open at all-times. How do you think the battle with Michael Mosiman would have played out if it was against 2019 Austin Forkner?
It’s a shame that Forkner had two very bad results in the first five races of the season because the points from even a top-10 finish would bring the top-three even closer and now Forkner has to go for a win at every race in order to close the gap. That’s what he was doing in Oakland, as he led eight laps and did his best to keep Ferrandis behind until traffic got in the way.
Forkner’s current laps led number is impressive. Of the 69 laps run so far, AF has led 37 of them, which is almost half. Jett Lawrence is second highest on the list with 16, while Ferrandis and Cooper are in the single digits with eight and six, respectively.
The past two weeks have been tough for Justin Cooper and it caused him to lose the lead in the championship standings, but considering the circumstances, a third-place finish in Oakland is not a bad outcome. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider had a run-in with Luke Clout during the Heat Race and the time it took to get the bike going again dropped him out of a transfer position. His win in the LCQ was just more time on the track and he quietly started the Main Event in sixth place, clicked off the laps, made a late pass on Alex Martin, and secured the last step on the podium.
That Cooper had the red plate for five rounds is impressive, especially with his limited Supercross experience, and there’s no doubt that he’ll remain a force in the small-bore class for years to come. If anything, a championship now might accelerate the young rider’s learning curve faster than desired, as he could point-out and have to go to the 450 class like Chase Sexton.
It’s been a little cruel to see how Alex Martin’s chances at podium results were away in the last few weeks. The JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing rider was beyond Brandon Hartranft at St. Louis and Anaheim Two, struggled with a leg injury in Glendale, and then held a spot in the top three for almost all of the Oakland feature until Justin Cooper snaked by. Martin and the team have faced their share of setbacks and struggles with bike setup to start the year, but they’re starting to get a grip on everything just as we come to the break in the schedule.
Martin is a podium guy, there is no doubt about that. He just has to get it going at the start, like he did at Oakland, and hold it together all the way to the finish like he did in St. Louis.
When we first caught wind that Luke Clout was coming to the United States late last year, we didn’t know exactly what to expect. With the Monster Energy CDR Yamaha team down under, Clout battled Justin Brayton for the Aussie SX1 title, matched Jason Anderson’s pace on two weekends, and was determined to make the most of the second chance in his career. The chance to race the 250 class on the West Coast played a part in his move to the Penrite Honda team and each week, Clout has posted improved results, shown he is on pace with the West Coast region, and isn’t afraid to put a wheel in on other riders (Oldenburg and Cooper can attest to that).
The original plan was for Clout to race only the first six rounds of the series, but with these results and Penrite Honda’s solid program, there’s some work happening behind the scenes to bring him back for the last half of the West Coast region before he goes back to Australia for their outdoor and Supercross championships.