Can you believe it’s almost over? After months of traveling around the country, full weeks spent in cities like Houston, Indianapolis, Orlando, Arlington, and Atlanta, the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Series is in its final days. We’re closing out an incredible tour in a place that feels like SX’s second home, and the first race of two at Rice-Eccles Stadium will go down as one of the year’s best.
Going into Saturday night’s Main Events, we expected at least one title to be awarded a round early. Christian Craig’s absence due to a broken leg gave Colt Nichols a clear path to the 250 East Coast region championship, but the Main Event went to Jo Shimoda, a first-time winner and the only person that could keep the number one plate in the box. Cooper Webb’s Heat Race pace made him a favorite for the Main Event until Ken Roczen got to the early lead and sped away from the rest of the pack. Just when it seemed like things were set, Roczen slid out and gave Marvin Musquin a clear run to the checkered flag.
There’s a lot to go over from round sixteen, so here’s Kickstart.
Locked and loaded. As we all know, high elevation robs some performance from the motorcycle, and that can be addressed through subtle setup changes on the engine, mapping, drive train, and even the mounting of the holeshot device. Riders have hit the throttle harder when the gate drops at altitude, so teams will move the lock further down on the fork guard in an attempt to keep the front-end down.
One-off gearsets are a specialty of Alpinestars. The global racing company paid tribute to John Tomac's cycling legacy on their latest kit for Eli, and the rainbow stripes are a nod to John's 1991 UCI World Championship in mountain biking.
Pre-ride yoga with Aaron Plessinger.
We're getting to that point of the year when details about new bikes start to trickle out, and one of the most anticipated rides is the Honda CRF250R. From what we're hearing, the new small-bore will share many of the same aspects as the CRF450R, particularly the chassis and aluminum frame, but it's still a ways off from being seen by the public. Keep an eye out for a debut at the All-Japan MX series later this year.
Which Jo Shimoda whip do you like best? The classic tabletop on his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki...
Or an Air Bogle one-footer?
Jett Lawrence threw some style over the finish line during Friday's media session, too. Here's a turndown from the Team Honda HRC rider...
Followed by a fender kiss. Jettson got the full extension on this one and tapped the chin bar of his Alpinestars helmet on the plastic.
Friday's short riding session was important for the racers, as it helped them get acclimated to their bikes at elevation and revealed some subtle changes in the way the track had been built. A handful of riders noted that the jump faces and transitions in rhythm lanes were steeper than usual, a change that is widely assumed to be an attempt to slow the pace down and increase the lap times. Some weren't comfortable with the way the course was sculpted, and after some discussions with the Dirt Wurx crew, they were able to sort out the problem before Saturday's race.
Want a glimpse inside Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha's pit cart? Here you go. The rolling toolbox has everyone a mechanic would need for trackside repairs, including wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, pliers, and a big ass hammer.
Friday was an emotional day for Martin Davalos. The Monster Energy/Team Tedder/KTM rider had a big get-off during the media riding session, which left him with a concussion and broken collarbone and unfit to race on Saturday. We knew it was a hard hit because Davalos was out for a minute on the track, but he was alert and aware when the medics took him away and figured it was just a bummer way to end the season. Later that night, Davalos announced his retirement from professional motocross, a decision that he'd made earlier in the year and was sped up due to injuries from the crash. We've always enjoyed our chats with the fastest rider from Ecuador and wish him the best. Congrats, bud!
We pointed it after Atlanta Three and will repeat it here: keep an eye on Joey Savatgy in the next few races. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider has made noticeable improvements on the bike over the last few weeks, something he credits to continued testing with the team and some discussions with other riders on the European equipment. Savatgy ended Saturday's Timed Qualifying session with the third-fastest lap of the 450 Class and was near the front of the field until a wash-out crash in the Main Event.
Eli Tomac has been viewed as the pre-race "guy to beat" at more than a few tracks this year, including this stint in SLC. We know, we know, that the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider lives in Colorado and is good on this type of track has been beaten into your head, but it's something that helped his confidence going into the weekend. Eli was on the move during Saturday's practice and was the only person in either class to put in a sub-47 second lap (46.980 in session one, when the track was faster).
We took a long look at the track after Friday's media session. The Utah clay had baked in the sun for a few days, which turned it into a slick hard-pack with a loose surface on top.
We knew the track crew would hit it with water for their race day prep but still figured it would be dusty and dry on Saturday.
So imagine our surprise when bikes were muddy during the morning Free Practice! The dirt got soaked overnight, and overcast skies on Saturday kept the moisture from being evaporated, which together created a completely different racing surface. The forecast for the week in SLC calls for cool temps and some rain on Monday and Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see how the track shapes up when we return on Friday.
Jason Anderson was ready to go on Saturday. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider's issues with altitude are well documented, and he skipped Friday's media session in favor of a late arrival and reduced exposure. El Hombre wasted no time getting on the track during Saturday's practice sessions and was fourth fastest in Timed Qualifying. What kept him from ranking in the top-three? 0.001 seconds. Anderson's 47.172 was just a tick off of practice partner Savatgy's 47.171.
The last few weeks have been a struggle for Benny Bloss. Ankle injuries have kept the SmarTop/Bullfrog Spas/MotoConcepts/Honda rider from putting in practice motos, so his time on the bike is limited to just the race weekends, and even then, he's far from full strength. Bloss had a good day going at round sixteen (15th overall in Timed Qualifying, seventh in his Heat Race) until a traffic jam in the first turn of the 450 Main Event put him into the Tuff Blocks, and he finished the feature in 16th place.
Feet on the pegs, standing up, elbows pointed, bodyweight over the front-end, bike leaning on the rut. Ryan Surratt did everything right going through this bowl turn.
After running the 250 West Coast region as a full-blown privateer, Cheyenne Harmon has gotten picked up by the BWR Racing team and will race the last two rounds of the season in the 450 Class. Harmon had a little bit of time to get used to the CRF450R (like MCR, BWR stayed on the 2020 model this year), made progress in every session on the track, and finished the 450 LCQ in 10th place.
Definitive proof that there are expectations guidelines for the on-track flaggers. Zoom in, and you'll see that the track crew has a list of requirements for their weekend workers, including a ban on phone use while on the floor, proper flag-waving technique, and assorted job duties. We also saw some photographs that officials showed to the workers that were examples of "dos and don'ts," including sleeping on the job.
The outcome of Saturday night would have been very different had Christian Craig not crashed. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider came into the weekend knowing that a good finish would take the title fight to the final round, and he was the fastest in the 250 Class through the afternoon practice session. Craig was noticeably faster on track than teammate Colt Nichols (a Friday get-off in the long rhythm section seemed to hang over Nichols through the rest of the weekend) until a similar wreck broke CC's fibula.
Time for another installment of "One Line, Seven Riders." Notice how guys in the 450 Class used the very edge of the berm by the work area, starting with Team Honda HRC's Chase Sexton.
Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS Factory Racing's Justin Barcia.
What off weekend? Although the 250 West Coast Region is on hiatus, most of the teams headed to Utah immediately after the Atlanta rounds, so a handful of riders stepped up to the 450 Class. Nuclear Blast/Rockwell/Team Solitaire's Robbie Wagemann hopped aboard a mostly stock Yamaha YZ450F and finished the weekend with a 10th place finish in the LCQ. Don't be surprised to see a handful of privateer 250 Class riders do the same next week; the combined East-West Showdown will limit the number of spots on the starting line, while the 450 Class has plenty of openings and offers more purse money.
Remember how much Aaron Plessinger and Yamaha struggled with the YZ450F in Utah last year? It sounds like some of the setup issues are still happening for AP7, and he cited it as the reason for a "subpar" eighth-place finish on Saturday night. Plessinger and the team intend to work on a few things this week in California and will return with new plans for the finale. A good result at the SLC 2 SX would be big for Plessinger; he's currently fifth in the championship (the best rank of his 450 SX career) and ahead of Jason Anderson by seven points. And yes, it sounds like his switch to an orange bike is happening in 2022.
Justin Barcia gave everyone a glimpse of the carbon fiber skid plates on the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS Factory Racing bikes during his last lap of Timed Qualifying.
Yeah, carnage still occurs when there are only 13 riders on the track.
Geran Stapleton's season came to an abrupt halt when he crashed in practice at the opening round of the season and broke multiple ribs and vertebrae. Now healed up and back on the bike, the Australian made it back for the Salt Lake City One race, finished his Heat Race in fifth place, and ended the 250 Main Event in eighth place.
Things are going well for Logan Karnow. The MADD Parts/DEMX/Namura Tech/TXS/International SX Team has been a mainstay in the 250 East Coast region, and although injuries or issues have depleted the field, Karnow stayed active by racing in the 450 Class, got more experience on the track, and ran to a seventh-place finish on Saturday night. Currently 10th overall in the championship with one race to go, it seems like the Ohio racer will end the year with a career-best overall result.
Shoutout to Thomas Do. The French rider committed to racing the full 250 East Coast region, a decision he made midway through the season, and scored a career-best fifth place finish in the Main Event at Salt Lake City One. Bonus points for the Utah Jazz theme in SLC.
We got confirmation from the team that Craig's lower leg was indeed broken and that he would still try the 250 Heat Race, but the odds were against him from the moment he rode the bike (not walked) to the starting line. The top qualifier in the 250 Class picked an outside gate, an attempt to stay out of the chaos, and gingerly jumped through the first few lines of the track before pulling off.
Fortunately for CC, it sounds like the break and ankle sprain are not too severe, which should still allow him time to heal before the Pro Motocross tour kicks off in late May. Craig will be cutting it close with recovery and might not have a lot of time on the YZ450F when the series starts at Fox Raceway.
Justin Rodbell dropped down to the small-bore bike on Saturday, a surprising switch for the SGB/Maxxis/Babbitt's Online/Kawasaki rider. The KX250 was initially built for Jordon Jarvis but has sat idle since the WMX champion got injured earlier in the year. The rider and team decided to try lining up in the 250 East Coast region's diluted field and finished the 250 Main Event in 16th place. The fastest HVAC installer in MX will be back on the 450 for the SLC Two finale.
We've enjoyed the Josh Osby-John Short battles this year. The two riders have a way of finding each other on the track and squared off in 250 Heat Race Two for fourth place; BARX/Chaparral/ECSTAR/Suzuki's Short came out ahead in this matchup.
Jett Lawrence had a big enough lead in 250 Heat Race Two to try different lines and play around on his Team Honda HRC CRF250R. Lawrence was one of the main guys that used the edge of this turn as a launch ramp, and it shot him a good distance over the flat start straight.
Chase Sexton's hard crash in Timed Qualifying didn't seem to faze the Team Honda HRC rider. He went at it with Aaron Plessinger during 450 Heat Race One for a few laps, and after a few close pass attempts, managed to take away second place from the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider.
"Diversify your bonds." Yes, Marvin Musquin has decided to no longer wear Leatt's neck brace, a choice that came as a surprise to many, but it's not like the South African company is in peril over it. If anything, it makes their expansion into riding gear, boots, helmets, goggles, and other pieces seem even more genius. Give their catalog a look, and you'll see everything from base layers to body armor and outwear.
Josh Cartwright's block pass on Jeremy Smith was textbook. Both riders were committed to the lines, had control of their bikes, and were still upright when they exited the corner.
Josh Osby broke the navicular bone in his right wrist just a few days before the trip to Utah, but with a top-five overall rank on the line, the Phoenix Racing Honda rider knew that he had to line up. Osby told us that his hand would go numb after a few minutes on the bike, so he picked up a Mobius brace to support the joint. Coincidentally, a busted wrist is how the Mobius wrist brace was debuted; Cooper Webb used a prototype during his run to the 250 SX and MX titles in 2016.
Sight Lap = Best Whip Competition. Who would you give the medals to? Here's Alex Nagy's traditional turn-up.
Devin Simonson got up and over with a floater.
Mason Kerr kicked the rear end out up the face and got flat.
Justin Rodbell and a big turn down.
Logan Karnow switched it up and went with an oppo.
Jo Shimoda put in a dream ride during the 250 Main Event. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki rider took control of the race from the moment the gate dropped, claimed the holeshot, and immediately put some ground between himself and the rest of the pack.
Michael Mosiman's mid-moto run at Shimoda made the race exciting. The gap between the two riders shrank and grew every lap, mainly after Mosiman's aggressive pass attempts were rebuked by Shimoda, and the TLD/RB/GG rider's charges back intensified as the laps clicked off.
Shimoda's win is monumental for Japanese motocross. Although the island is the homeland for five OEMs, it has not produced an army of racers the same way the US-Europe-Australia has. The last time a Japanese rider finished on the podium was in 2005 with Akira Narita; Shimoda was two and a half years old.
Shimoda downplayed his importance compared to others from Japan earlier in the year, but this win puts him near the top of the list.
Shimoda and Lawrence became close friends during their time with GEICO Honda, and Lawrence was the first person to congratulate and celebrate with "Sushi."
With Christian Craig out, all eyes turned to Colt Nichols and his chance at clinching the title early. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider did his usual pre-race routine behind the gate before the 250 Main Event, a sign that he was trying not to get caught up in the moment or break habit.
Nichols needed to score a certain amount of points to earn the 1E plate, and considering the level in the 250 Class on Saturday (no offense, just the truth), he probably thought he could cruise to the checkered flag. While Shimoda and Lawrence ran up front early, Nichols was much deeper in the pack on the opening lap and a far distance behind. He eventually worked forward and settled into a fast pace but was too far behind to reel them in and crossed the line in third. This finish, plus Shimoda's win, prevented the points gap from going over 26, and denied Nichols the early crowning.
One to go.
Two crashes in the 450 Main Event, one slide-out in the race and a separate get-off later, were not what Tomac expected. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider was all good despite the incidents, but they wiped away his work in the moto, and he finished the race in 10th place. Now completely out of championship contention, Tomac's focus will turn to the Pro Motocross tour and an attempt at a fourth 450 MX title.
The fast bowl turn after the finish was fun to watch. Marvin Musquin opted for the high line near the top.
While Chase Sexton slung his bike through the rut at the base of the berm.
It was a tricky spot, and more than a few guys got caught out by the curve. Jason Anderson rode out this no-footer wheelie.
Justin Barcia had a hell of a day. The Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS rider went down in his Heat Race and busted something on the cooling system of the bike, then won the LCQ handedly and returned for the 450 Main Event. A flipping crash early in the feature put Barcia on the ground and a later tumble twisted the handlebars to a MaGoo bend; he finished the race in 14th place.
Ken Roczen was on a mission in the first part of the 450 Main Event. The Team Honda HRC rider wasn't the fastest guy through qualifying or the Heat Race, but an excellent start put him at the front, and he rocketed away with a 3.5-second lead by lap eight. The middle of the moto seemed to be a turning point for KR94, and as the race went on, he changed a few lines and allowed Marvin Musquin to draw closer.
A simple low-side coming out of a rutted turn put Roczen on the ground at Lap 15, and from there, the race soured. He quickly remounted the bike and held a spot in the top-five, but Chase Sexton's determined ride and Dylan Ferrandis' push to the front dropped Roczen back to sixth place at the finish.
Roczen's mistake gave Marvin Musquin a much-needed opportunity to win his first 450 SX Main Event since 2019. There was definitely a sense of tension on the track, as Musquin did everything in his power to keep teammate-title hopeful Webb at bay through the last five minutes of the race.
The Red Bull KTM riders were within feet of each other through the closing laps, with Musquin being better in some sections of the track and Webb others. We'll admit, we were curious to see what the team would do with their riders running 1-2 and a championship up for grabs, especially after the Musquin-Dungey move in 2017, and camped out near the mechanic's area to see what would be displayed on the pit board.
If the results didn't show it, here's photographic proof. We watched until the very last laps, and no message was ever displayed that would have changed the outcome of the race.
Team Honda HRC was in a similar predicament as Red Bull KTM; their title hopeful was behind a teammate eager to get a good result.
Roczen followed Sexton closely through the last portion of the race and was not given a free pass to get around the rookie, even if it meant a sixth-place result and two more points lost.
Malcolm Stewart put in the ride of his career at Salt Lake City One. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider hounded Eli Tomac for the top spot in their 450 Heat Race and finished a very close second to the defending champion. A good start and early laps put Stewart in the top-five and he outlasted Anderson and dropped in behind Webb during the middle of the 450 Main Event to reach third place. Far enough ahead of the others in the closing laps, Stewart crossed the finish line for the first podium of his 450 SX career.
This is a statement win for Musquin in many ways, as it’s his first since 2019 (knee injuries sidelined him through all of 2020 SX), comes after a difficult season, and right when he is in need of a contract extension.
As we mentioned in last week’s News Break update covering the Signing Season, it sounds as though KTM has offered Musquin a one-year deal for 2021, which would serve as a thank you for his years of service and allow an appropriate farewell. We should hear more regarding this in the next few weeks. Would be hard to deny a race winner an extension, right?
Stewart’s podium comes at a perfect time: he’s in the final days of his Supercross-only deal with Star Racing and the team is going to have at least one opening next season on the 450. Lots of riders have expressed interest at joining the BluCru. Fortunately for Stewart, he has caught the attention of other teams in the pit area and should be able to secure a long-term deal, especially as others are shuffled through the pits.
Although the 22-point point difference was not enough for Webb to win the title, Roczen seemed to know that the odds for things to turn his way with one race to go are improbable. His post-race interview on television was a direct as could be, as he summed up the situation and admitted there was not much else for him to explain. This is the closest that KR94 has ever come to a 450 SX title, and considering the ups and downs of the past year, he's handling the entire situation well and knows that it's part of racing.
It’s great to be back in Rice-Eccles Stadium for many reasons. After spending a significant portion of last year here, we’ve come to love SLC and everything it has to offer. Clearly the fans are into it, too, because the small venue made it feel like the biggest crowd turnout of any stadium this year and dozens of people hung around well after the races were done.
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.