Almost over. The 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is in its closing stages and last weekend we made the trip to Colorado for the 2020 Thunder Valley Motocross. The Rocky Mountain round is one of our favorites on the schedule, thanks to Denver’s excellent offerings and a track that’s just as scenic as it is exciting, but this year’s visit was much later than normal (there’s a big difference in the weather between June and October) and made for a much different vibe.
Instead of the usual excitement that comes from being early in the series and out of California, riders and teams were focused on getting through round eight of the championship without issue, especially now that both title fights come down to the wire. It was an eventful day in both classes, as a new overall winner made things interesting in the 250 Class and the home state hero took a popular win in the 450 Class, but it’s obvious that everyone is ready for the long and stressful year to come to an end.
There’s a lot going on in the pits and behind the scenes right now. Teams and OEMs are working to set their budgets and rosters for 2021, despite the uncertainty of some sponsors or a Supercross schedule, and everyone is trying to secure a ride or a job before the long offseason starts.
Enough introduction writing. You’ve got 69 (nice) photos to look at and a few thousand words to read.
Where the hell did the year go? It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the end of the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, something that seemed so uncertain at certain points of the spring and summer, but somehow fulfilled the full nine-round tour with very few issues. Pandemic aside, we’ve been privy to excellent racing from the very first gate drop in Tennessee, two title fights that are going to the last round, and a generally healthy field of competitors. It’s a shame to see it end…
Another race, another helmet deal for Kevin Moranz. We chatted with the Kansas privateer on Friday afternoon and discussed the helmet wrap sponsorship package he’s put together to fund his program. “I do a helmet wrap for every round, thanks to FLY Racing, because they help me out quite a bit. I’ll do a different wrap for whoever is around locally or nationally, and I’ll advertise it for that round,” Moranz explained. “That’s been the biggest part of my program. It’s helped me get to the races and pays for my flights, hotels, and stuff like that.” If you’d like to advertise your company and support a racer at the same time, you can get ahold of Moranz through his Instagram (@moranz77), website (kevinmoranz.com) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Special delivery for Dylan Ferrandis. Bell Helmets put the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider in their all-new, still publicly unnamed or unannounced lid at the Thunder Valley race. First debuted by Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac at the Supercross finale in Utah, the helmet’s design is a big departure from the Moto9 that we’ve worn for nearly a decade, but word is that it’s loaded with safety and technical features. We’re very, very interested to know about the design of the cheek pads and energy-absorbing foam along the side, which is most likely for collarbone contact. On another note, Ferrandis ran an athletic turtleneck-style base layer to stay warm during the cool Colorado morning.
Something few people saw on Saturday. Justin Cooper’s Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha YZ250F didn’t fire up when riders took to the track for practice session one, so mechanics Josh Ellingson and Matt Winters pushed the him down the starting line and helped him bump-start the blue bike. This didn’t seem to faze Cooper much because moments later he clocked the fastest lap of the 250 Class in Timed Qualifying.
Stretch it out. The uphill, out of a hole triple at Thunder Valley can be a challenge for riders to get up and over, even for guys on factory bikes like Jo Shimoda. Could Jo join Taka Higashino and Genkie Watanabe and become the future of Japanese FMX? An excellent finish at Fox Raceway could push Shimoda into the top-10 of the championship standings and paired with his SX rank, would be a very good record for a first-year racer.
Another tough day for Mason Gonzales, as the string of slams continued for the Rock River Yamaha rider at Thunder Valley. Gonzales was part of the two-rider crash at the top of the hill with teammate Joey Crown in 250 Moto One and sat out 250 Moto Two.
POD knee braces at work, huh Benny? Bloss told us on Friday that Thunder Valley was going to be his last National of the season and that he’ll instead spend the instead racing the Missouri State Series at Grain Valley MX, a track partially owned by his family. The privateer was determined to end the summer on a high note, especially after his recent bike issues and nagging injuries, and he did just that with 14-7 finishes, an impressive charge in 450 Moto Two, and an eighth-place overall result.
Derek Drake has battled energy-draining health issues over the last few weeks and after a tough day at Thunder Valley (20-DNS for 24th overall), he and the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM team decided that he will sit out the finale at Fox Raceway. Drake’s summer was quiet, but a look at his complete results shows that points were scored in 13 of the 14 motos and was highlighted with an eighth-place finish in Moto One at Spring Creek. “I have been dealing with some health issues and I’ve seen a bunch of doctors & specialists. We have some ideas, but nothing set in stone yet. This process has been mentally & physically exhausting and frustrating. For now it has been decided it is best for me to sit out the final round and focus on getting healthy,” Drake shared in an Instagram post.
Cameron McAdoo is another rider that saw his summer end at Thunder Valley. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider collided with another rider during 250 Moto One and busted three of the fingers on his right hand. Currently ranked eighth in the points, McAdoo’s absence could allow Harrison-Hartranft-Shimoda-Mumford to hop over him in the final standings.
Every October SCOTT Sports releases a pink goggle to increase awareness for breast cancer and the Thunder Valley race was our first look at the limited-edition pieces for 2020. This year’s release is set to include both the Prospect and Fury models, with slightly different designs on each.
Mitchell Falk was on the line in the 250 Class at Thunder Valley, the first National of the summer for the California privateer, and he held his own against the pack on a modestly-modified YZ250F to score 14-14 finishes and 15th overall. A young racer just a few years into his career, Falk explained things like his split from TLD KTM-injuries-2020 SX run with BWR Honda-and his effort to get back to his potential to us recently. Search “Fresh Start ft. Mitchell Falk” when you get done with Kickstart to watch it.
Tough day for Alex Martin. The JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing rider was off the mark at Thunder Valley, went down in 250 Moto One and bonked in 250 Moto Two for 12-12 finishes and 14th overall. This was a big blow to Martin’s points, as he dropped to fifth in the standings and trails McElrath (-12 points) and Cooper (-9 points). Martin’s Troll Train vlogs are always an excellent watch and his Thunder Valley video shows how high his expectations are and the frustration that comes during bad days.
Mitchell Harrison has finished in the top-10 more often than not this summer, including 8-9 results for eighth overall at Thunder Valley. Since he’ll be the only rider under the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki awning at Fox Raceway, Harrison is poised to finish ahead of teammate McAdoo in the championship standings (McAdoo is eighth and Harrison is ninth, with two points between the two) and that would be a nice accomplishment for the fill-in rider. Has this summer been enough to earn him a full-time ride for 2021?
Despite Thunder Valley only being a “test run” Thrasher held his own in the 250 Class. He was ranked eighth in Timed Qualifying with a 2:10.607 lap time and posted 11-16 scores for 13th overall. Still technically an A Class amateur, Thrasher’s current plan is to finish out the 2020 MX season with Star Racing, sit out 2021 SX in order to train, and then make his full-time pro debut in the 2021 MX season.
RJ Hampshire had his third hard crash in as many weeks. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider was in the thick of a battle during 250 Moto One when the rear-end of his bike stepped sideways and slammed him into the ground, a crash that was somewhat similar to Marvin Musquin’s a week prior and left Hampshire with broken bones in his hand. He’ll sit out the final round due to the injury but will rank no worse than seventh in the final championship standings, thanks to the large gap he has over those behind him. Please appreciate how the colors of Hampshire’s limited-edition FLY Racing gear, the ProTaper-Rockstar Energy-Arminas Jasikonis logos, and the road sign look together.
Blake Baggett’s mid-season surge has been slowed by a hand issue, something that the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider has dealt with for a while and was made worse when he jammed a few fingers in 450 Moto One. Despite hanging on to an eighth-place finish, Baggett sat out 450 Moto Two. The Team RM ATV-MC/WPS/KTM PR says that he’ll spend the week getting the issue sorted so that he can finish out the season at Fox Raceway.
Air Bogle. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider has spent the summer building himself back up and things are starting to come around, which is evident in his big whips, 12-9 scores, and ninth-place overall result at Thunder Valley. The last few years have been up and down for Bogle, so finishes like this are positive signs.
Husqvarna bike, Ohlins suspension, and SHOT gear. With the borders closed down and all of the major overseas Supercross races cancelled, this is the most Euro setup we’re going to see this season.
16 & 17
Check out the different starting techniques used by riders in 250 Moto One. This shot is just a few feet out of the gate, when everyone was still in a seated position in an attempt to keep the front wheel near the ground…
A split-second was all it took for guys like Hartranft and Frye to move their weight to the back of the bike, McElrath and Hampshire to squat, and Martin and Harrison to stand up…
The pack sorted itself out halfway up the hill and you can see where the pull is in the 250 Class.
Jarrett Frye and Dilan Schwartz linked up for a bit during 250 Moto One, a solid battle between two new additions to the pro ranks. The teenage racers have only done a limited number of Nationals this summer (Frye missed the Loretta’s amateur race and the first part of the season due to a knee injury, the BarX Suzuki team Schwartz rides for is only going to select round) and they’re quickly figuring things out on the track. Frye and Schwartz finished ninth and tenth in this moto, respectively, and ended the day ninth and twelfth overall.
We’ll find a guy further back in the field to test the settings or check the scenery when we move to a new part of the track during a race and end up shooting a handful of shots of the guy. Wade Brommel was this week’s moving target, so here’s a set of the photos featuring the Iowa racer.
Flowin’ with Curren Thurman.
Brandon Hartranft’s overall result at Thunder Valley was hampered by a crash early in 250 Moto One and 22nd place finish, but the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM rider rallied to a seventh place in 250 Moto Two. Recent developments in the TLD KTM-GasGas transition now make it look like Michael Mosiman could be getting one of the red 250Fs, which was previously expected to be between just Derek Drake and Brandon Hartranft. Stay tuned.
The Jo Shimoda-Jett Lawrence back and forth in 250 Moto One was excellent.
The GEICO Honda riders traded moves back and forth early in the race, with Lawrence getting Shimoda for the spot midway though, and then a charge by Shimoda late in the race that saw them cross the finish line less than a second apart.
Back in Utah Justin Rodbell told us that Cooper Webb gave him a set of boots after the he saw how blown out the privateer’s kicks were. Practically a cherished position, Rodbell wore them at Thunder Valley and went on to log 16-15 finishes and 16th overall. Bonus points if you remember the race that this special edition Tech 10 was released at.
Rip it up. The prep at Thunder Valley was a hot topic in the pits, as riders said the Colorado track wasn’t as deep or rutted as past races and that there was more hard-pack dirt than usual. This was unlike any recent trip to Thunder Valley, as the late visit meant cooler weather and brown hillsides that were proof of a dry time in the mountains. And to think some were fearful that snow would cancel this race a few weeks ago…
As for the track itself, we noticed a lot of mulch mixed into the soil. This shot of the start straightaway looks like a tree chipper was rolled onto the track and left running for a few hours. Some of the riders we talked to said that they could tell there were the organic material was added into the track, but that it wasn’t a bad thing.
A handful of privateers decided to end their season at Thunder Valley, including Ben LaMay. It was good to see LaMay on the tour this summer, especially after he sat out part of SX and dealt with a thumb injury, and the program he put together with support from his longtime backers and some new sponsors. Come back for year 13, Ben.
Another Rocky Mountain masterpiece by apdesigns for Eli Tomac.
Really big ring. We spotted this 54-tooth rear sprocket on Max Anstie’s Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports/Suzuki, a setup change that is common to combat the elevation power loss. On the Kickstart podcast, our co-host Alex Ray explained that the team has tried similar gearing combinations in an attempt to dial in the handling of the bike.
After the race Anstie told us that he and the team have been working diligently to perfect the setup of the RM-Z, a platform that he hears everyone say is dated but is proven and has plenty of potential, and that the coming offseason will be spent getting ready for Supercross. Our six-minute chat with Anstie is the conclusion to HWYW and covers a handful of topics, including MXGP to US MX differences and his season as a whole. Give it a watch if you have a minute…
Alright, here’s the 450 Moto One start from the same spot as earlier. Guys seemed to stay in a more neutral place on their bikes in the first few feet out of the gate…
The pack was already starting to spread out as they reached the incline of the hill, with Cianciarulo and Osborne near the front, just as they’ve been all season…
Cianciarulo was well ahead when they reached the halfway point of the climb, proof that the rookie has really perfected his starting technique and setup of the KX450.
Excited about the 2021 Honda CRF450R? We’ve heard that the all-new bike has been homologated and will make its debut this weekend at Fox Raceway, but not with a rider on the factory team. Team Honda HRC will run the 2020 race bike all the way to the end of the season, a fitting send-off for a very popular design. Testing for the 2021 is already underway, thanks to Trey Canard’s input on the West Coast and Ken Roczen’s recent return to riding in Florida, and Chase Sexton told us that he will begin riding Supercross on the new bike in just a few days.
How tough was the infield triple at Thunder Valley? Even the 450 Class riders with factory bikes had to ace the approach, smash the face, and stretch to reach the landing. You can see for yourself in Christian Craig’s GoPro video, which is posted on the homepage.
Just because it’s the deepest line doesn’t mean it’s the fastest line. Eli Tomac demonstrated that when he’d opted to ride over the top of a rut instead of through it.
Broc Tickle’s return to action at Thunder Valley was mixed. The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider worked his way to a 10th place finish in 450 Moto One, a good result considering the time missed from his Spring Creek crash, but he pulled out of 450 Moto Two when his bike started to make a troubling noise, something that the press release cited simply as a “technical problem.” Tickle’s time with the Blu Cru is coming to a close, at least in this iteration, and he’s in contention to end the series ranked in the top-10 of the championship standings.
The bar banging that Osborne and Cianciarulo did during the start of 450 Moto Two caused a chain reaction of contact in the pack and put Fredrik Noren on the ground. The JGRMX/Yoshimura/Suzuki Factory Racing rider was bumped by the other riders on the gate and flipped over the front of his RM-Z450, but remounted without injury, rejoined the race, and powered back to a 13th place finish. Noren earned the RC Hard Charger award for his effort.
Carson Mumford has gotten things together lately. The GEICO Honda rider’s summer started with the usual mixed results we expect of rookies and over the last few motos he’s become a contender for top-10 finishes, including 13-11 scores for 10th overall at Thunder Valley. Mumford is on the radar of a few team managers for 2021...
Justin Cooper said he was going to win a race before the season was over, and hot damn, he did. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider has improved every week and came to the Colorado round determined to claim the checkered flag in at least one moto. A second-place finish in 250 Moto One was good, but Cooper knew that his overall score hinged on his result in 250 Moto Two, so he pushed from the moment the gate dropped and held off Jeremy Martin’s hard charges to score the win and overall. During Saturday’s press conference, Cooper said that he’ll need to undergo shoulder surgery this offseason to repair an injury and that he’ll be back to full health for Supercross in 2021. “I’ve had a pretty banged up shoulder. I had an AC joint separation, so that’s been bothering me,” Cooper shared. “I had a previous surgery on it, but it’s at the point where it’s just not feeling right. So I might just get that quickly fixed up. I feel like now is a good time to do it since we don’t know what’s going on for next year yet. It shouldn't be too long off the bike and we’ll get back into the swing of things when I feel healthy enough to do so.”
This has been an eventful year for Jeremy Martin and the GEICO Honda team. JM6’s return from what could have been a career-ending injury has been impressive, thanks to SX podiums and MX motos win, and his decision to pull out of the Utah races early was so that he could maintain 250 Class eligibility and his contract with the team. Martin’s result through the summer confirm that he’s back, or at least close to, the pace that took him to two 250 MX championships. Unfortunately, the uncertain future of the team puts Martin’s career in limbo, as he’s been working to secure a spot for 2021 and the group is working all the way to the end.
We’re coming down to the wire and the team may not be around for next year,” Martin told us after the race. “To be in a championship run, if I could pull this off, that’d be pretty sweet.” We’ve heard that there is talk a title sponsor could step up to keep the team going, albeit in a much smaller manner, and the staff has continued to work on the performance of the CRF250R in case the funding comes through or for Honda’s fallback plan of an in-house 250 program.
Best in show.
Eli Tomac’s 450 Moto Two performance gave the Colorado crowd plenty to cheer about. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider worked through the pack in the early laps of the race, tracked down teammate Adam Cianciarulo, made a move that the rookie couldn’t counter, and rode away to the overall win. Like everyone else has said online, this was a glimpse of the usual ET3 and he looked very fast and comfortable around the high-speed track. “Everything just felt right. When things get going, they go right. So that’s what it was for me. The track developed well into the second moto. It was really smooth in the morning and then got pretty rough for moto two, more than I thought it was going to be,” he shared in the post-race press conference.
As for Tomac’s motivation, we’ve heard there are two big things driving his efforts late in the summer. First is his own desire to win, especially after an unusual run of results in the middle of the season. “I need something. That’s what I’ve got in my head right now, is just try to get a win or two here to finish of the season. It’s been a weird year. So that was my motivation today. Let’s get another win before this thing is over,” he explained in the media scrum. The second element is Cianciarulo, as the rookie’s success through the summer has created some concern about Tomac’s so-so results on the same equipment, and we’ve been told that ET wants to reaffirm that he’s the top rider in the Kawasaki rig.
Up and down day for Zach Osborne. A run-in with another rider in 450 Moto One left the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider with a very sore foot, something he was worried about while on track, but some therapy between gate drops helped him get back to full speed for the day’s deciding race. Osborne stayed close to Cianciarulo for all of 450 Moto Two and rebuked the rookie’s repeat pass attempts to take second place in the race and third overall on the day. Although Osborne’s Moto One finish caused him to give up five points to Cianciarulo in the championship, he’s still well ahead as the series heads to Fox Raceway and could clinch the title by finishing ahead of Cianciarulo in 450 Moto One.
What’s on the schedule for this very important week? “The plan is to go home, do a couple of motos, fly to California on Thursday, do my normal on Friday, and race on Saturday,” Osborne explained. “We all what the goal is and what we’re going to Pala for. I look forward to the challenge and I’m happy that I was able to take some points back in the second moto, because 24 points is a good gap. I feel like I am riding well.”
After a somewhat frustrating day in Florida, Adam Cianciarulo rolled into Colorado determined to finish ahead of Osborne and shrink the points gap between them. Fastest in the Timed Qualifying sessions by an impressive margin (he shaved three seconds off the pace in Session Two, which others then tried to match), the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider finished a solid second in 450 Moto One and took a chunk from Osborne’s advantage in the standings. The two title rivals linked up early in 450 Moto Two and their bar-to-bar battle started as soon as the gate hit the dirt and AC went for a few wild pass attempts that didn’t pan out and nearly put him on the ground. After the race, Cianciarulo explained that he’s not trying to race dirty, but that he knows almost anything goes in this championship fight, especially against a guy like Osborne. “I was trying to get his ass in the turn, but I’m not trying to hurt anybody or take anyone down,” Cianciarulo told us after the race. “Zach and I are going to keep it respectful, but that guy would put me in the parking lot if it was for a championship. I’ll be as respectful as I think a dirt bike racer should be.”
Marvin Musquin was a little off his usual pace at Thunder Valley, but considering the two big crashes that the Red Bull KTM rider had at previous rounds, it’s understandable. An excellent start in 450 Moto Two scored him the holeshot and put him at front of the pack early, and as the laps clicked off, he slid back to eighth place in the running order. Still third in the points, Musquin will have to finish ahead of Eli Tomac this week if he wants to hold this rank at the end of the season, because there are only five points between the two.
Apparently lifting the front wheel out of a turn for photos is a skill that runs in the Taylor family. We caught this shot of Richard Taylor on his Rock River Yamaha, a pose that his dad Rich has done dozens of times over the years as a test rider for swap.
We rarely show crash shots (bad juju) but this sequence of Justin Barcia’s get-off in 450 Moto Two showed how tricky even the smaller jumps were at Thunder Valley.
The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider told us there was a kicker on the face of the jump and that he knew as soon as he hit it that things weren’t going to end well. BamBam got up unscathed and pulled out of the race after this one.
Eli Tomac’s repeated hits at his clutch lever and some smoke from the bike midway through 450 Moto Two was a cause for concern to Monster Energy Kawasaki, as the crew didn’t know if something had happened to the KX450. Luckily, Tomac’s issue with the lever was apparently due to dirt that worked its way into the pivot point while some of the smoke was because of a track marker that melted after it got wedged between the engine and exhaust pipe.
Thanks for reading Kickstart. Let’s get ready to end the season…
Michael Antonovich has a wealth of experience with over 10 years of moto-journalism under his belt. A lifelong racing enthusiast and rider, Anton is the Editor of Swapmoto Live and lives to be at the race track.