Rocky Mountain High. The 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship made its usual stop in Colorado for the 2021 Thunder Valley Motocross, round two of the summer series. Elevation, heat, and a high-speed track all tested riders during the course of the motos, which made for an incredible day at the races and shakeup in the point standings. Here’s what we saw and heard during our quick trip to CO.
The track crew had the hoses and sprinklers running when we swung through the pits on Friday afternoon, so we expected Saturday's first practice sessions to be wet and heavy like usual. Thunder Valley's location on the mountainside makes it prone to sudden weather systems, like the strong winds that came through on Friday evening and dried out the course.
Jett Lawrence's Honda CRF250R was complete with the red plates at Thunder Valley, a first for the Team Honda HRC rider in Pro Motocross. Although this year is Lawrence's second full outdoor season (he went pro at Unadilla in 2019), there are a few tracks on the schedule that he's never been to before. We'll be watching Jettson closely when he rolls out at Southwick, Washougal, and Hangtown.
Line it up, peel the backing paper slowly, and lay the material down smoothly to avoid creases or bubbles.
Jeremy Martin tried to keep his wrist injury (a broken Scaphoid bone) under wraps coming into the season, but it was easy to spot the Mobius brace in practice footage of recent Troll Train videos or on the starting line at the races. Dozens of pro motocross riders have busted the complex bone over the years and undergone surgery to fix the damage because its location near the carpal tunnel can limit the wrist's range of motion.
It was a milestone day for Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha: Jeremy Martin's YZ250F and Dylan Ferrandis' YZ450F race bikes were complete with the red number plates, a first for the team. Yamaha's decision to close the in-house factory effort and delegate racing efforts to Star Racing was a massive shift, especially with Star's increased responsibilities and the retirement of longtime Yamaha employees, but it's been a successful venture so far.
What Alpinestars helmet do you prefer: galaxies and bold lines by Tagger Designs for Hunter...
Or Red Bull and sprinkles by AirTrix for Jett?
When it comes to custom paint, TLD knows that you cannot go wrong with hand-painted pinstripes and bold numbers with white dots on the corners. Search "Oven Baked Troy Lee Designs" on YouTube when you get done with Kickstart to hear Troy tell the story of how his first visors got crafted in the family kitchen.
Scoop. We were surprised to see the sand-mud tire on Max Vohland's Red Bull KTM during the first practice session at Thunder Valley, mainly because no part of the Colorado clay seems soft enough for the directional tread. It seemed like everyone was on a traditional knobby later in the afternoon, and many ran a mousse insert to fight off flats. Want to know more about the paddle-knobby strategy in Pro Motocross? Search "Checking In With Brian Fleck" on our site or YouTube for a very informative chat with Dunlop's top tire tech.
Feel better, Big Al.
Denver's elevation and warm weather caused engine-fuel issues for racers at round two. A handful of guys said that their gasoline boiled, something that usually only happens on the hottest days, while others said their engines started to lag and sputter during the motos (vapor lock). Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS Factory Racing had something happen to both of their 250 Class bikes in Moto One, swapped motors during the short break, and got Pierce Brown and Michael Mosiman back in time for them to score ninth and eleventh place finishes, respectively.
Same, but different. We counted four subtle differences in gear and bike setup between Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM's Justin Bogle and Joey Savatgy: glove color, Tech 10 special editions, crossbar-tapered handlebars, screens over the radiator louvers. Spot anything else?
The start at Thunder Valley looks like fun. Imagine locking in a holeshot device, dumping the clutch on a 450 in first gear, and revving the engine all the way up the hill. Other things about the track, particularly the brutal roost and off-chamber everything, seem like they'd be less enjoyable.
Did you catch our latest Race Tech Privateer Power video? Rashidi Kerrison's entry in the 450 Class at Thunder Valley stood out to us entirely because of his listed hometown of Manhattan, New York. Curious to hear how a guy from NYC got into MX, we connected with Kerrison in the pits and spent 16-minutes talking about his fully independent program, plans to hit East Coast races, and what it's like to be a racer. You can find it on the homepage or our YouTube channel.
Three-digit style check with Blake Hoag.
9 & 94.
The annual Thunder Valley Best Whip demo happened on the big tabletop along the hillside. One of the nicest launches on the Pro Motocross tour, riders will let loose during the morning practice. It sounds like the real action this year happened during the first session, but here some highlights from the second qualifier, including a classic from Christian Craig.
Justin Rodbell, turnt up.
We saw Justin Bogle's mythical one-handed Nac-Nac in session one, and yes, it was quite the sight. Sadly, we were too far away to even try and snap a shot, so it'll have to live in our memories.
Adam Cianciarulo's known for his ability to put in heaters during Timed Qualifying, a trait that's helped the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider immensely in the 450 Class. We noticed that a handful of guys tailed him during the morning runs, including friendly rival Zach Osborne in the opening laps of the first session and part-time riding partner Chase Sexton in the final moments of the last practice.
How strong is the low-end hit of Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha's YZ250F? Here's the jump that Jeremy Martin had over the rest of the pack in 250 Moto One. It looks like we caught JMart as he grabbed another gear.
See how dirty everyone but Jeremy Martin was from the aborted opening lap in 250 Moto One? Justin Cooper took full advantage of the race's restart and beat his Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha teammate to the holeshot stripe.
Mid-moto battle with Jo Shimoda and Stilez Robertson.
Max Vohland's run at the opening round put the Red Bull KTM rider on everyone's radar. Unfortunately, the rookie came down with an illness on Thursday and did not eat or sleep enough leading up to the weekend's race. Vohland went 15-17 for 18th overall at Thunder Valley, and the points scored helped him in the championship; he is ranked 15th in the standings.
Dilan Schwartz had an excellent showing at Thunder Valley. The BARX/Chaparral/ECSTAR/Suzuki rider was 12th quick in Timed Qualifying, then hustled in 250 Moto One to go from 18th on the opening lap to eighth place at the checkered flag. A 12th place score in 250 Moto Two put Schwartz ninth overall. Although Suzuki's presence in the small-bore class is limited, this top-10 shows Schwartz and BARX's potential together.
What awaited riders at the bottom of the big Thunder Valley hill? One dozen footpeg-deep ruts.
Sorry about your footage from the second motos, Tom.
It's been years since we've seen dust like this at a US National. This isn't a criticism one way or the other, just a note from the weekend, but it was nice to see some variance in prep and conditions. Riders didn't seem to mind much, with some saying the drier and firmer dirt allowed them to move around and created more passing places.
It's great to have fans back, especially those of you that shout out support for SML from the sidelines. Colorado's spectator areas were full of people, by far the most we've seen at a US MX race in the past 12 months. Hope to see more of you at the Nationals this summer.
2 & 3. Cooper Webb and Eli Tomac have been a little off through the first two rounds, but it doesn't seem to be from a lack of trying. The multi-time champs found each other around the top-five during the early moments of 450 Moto One and looked like they were ready to battle each other for position, but instead, they got overtaken by Sexton, Plessinger, and Craig. Webb and Tomac ended the day ranked in the top-10 overall (Webb went 8-8 for eight, Tomac 11-10 for 10th). Yes, it's early in the year, and anything can happen, but their championship hopes are fleeting; Roczen has practically double the number of points as Tomac after four gate drops (KR-90, ET-46).
Long hair flow with Curren Thurman and Deven Raper.
We've noticed Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb around each other a lot lately. Yes, the two have been friends for years, but ever since word of AP's move to KTM got out, it seems like they're inseparable in the staging area or during practice.
Zach Osborne came into the summer nursing a back injury, but was hopeful that he could manage it and defend his 450 MX title. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider started out strong at round two, only to have a tip-over in Moto One hamper his results (he dropped from the top-five early on to 11th) and severe pain send him to the sidelines after a few laps in Moto Two. Sounds like Osborne hopes to recover some during the break, but this will be an issue to watch for all summer.
Here are a few snaps from the Cianciarulo-Roczen-Ferrandis tussle for position in 450 Moto One.
Joey Savatgy always seems to do well at Thunder Valley. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider was just outside of the top-10 early in 450 Moto One and rallied through the middle of the race to pass Tomac and Osborne for 10th place. A top-five start in Moto Two put Savatgy in an ideal position, but the rear brake on his bike went out as the race continued and he slid back to 15th place. His 10-15 scores put him 12th overall on the day.
Lot of fans hopping the fences lately (Roy Janson said Fox Raceway was the most he'd ever seen). Do it for the 'Gram if you have to, but don't be surprised if someone from the series has a word with you.
Three-digit style check with Jacob Runkles.
Shoutout to Ryan Surratt. The Team AllSouth rider made the drive from California to Colorado solo, slept in his van at the track, went to the line with no mechanic or assistant to help, had issues with his clutch in both Motos, and still went 17-21 for 19th overall.
Max Anstie was all smiles during his Friday cruise through the paddock behind the wheel of the team Gator...
But his expression was much different after a 30-minute plus two laps run in Moto One on Saturday. The Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports/Suzuki rider went 13-13, you guessed it, 13th overall at round two. Anstie has finished in the top-15 each time out this summer and is currently ranked 14th in the series standings.
Summer is officially here.
Jeremy Martin's slam in 250 Moto Two was brutal. The Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider had to work his way through the pack after a poor start and had neared the top-10 when he went down. There doesn't seem to be any footage of the crash, but it happened right in front of us. Martin's bike hit a soft spot just after the landing of the last big uphill triple, which caused the front-end to dive and sent Martin flipping. JMart called us on Tuesday morning to ask what we saw, said that's exactly what it felt like happened, and that he threw up in his helmet after hitting the ground.
Martin's already sore wrist and shoulder took the brunt of the crash, and despite a trip to the work area to straighten the controls and a one-lap attempt to get around the track, he pulled off and ended his season. The wreck made the wrist injury worse and surgery is necessary to repair it.
38 & 64
With Martin out, it looks like the 250 Title Fight will be between Justin Cooper and Jett Lawrence, and possibly Hunter. The trio were 1-2-3 for the entirety of 250 Moto Two, with Justin and Jett split by only a few seconds for most of it while Hunter went down and lost ground.
A race for the lead is always exciting, even for grizzled industry guys like the MX Sports track crew.
Did you see our How Was Your Weekend interview with Jalek Swoll? The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider knew that he was racing for a contract this year but didn't want to get too caught up in the situation and instead wanted to enjoy racing. This approach, plus good results on the track, has earned Swoll an extension to stay with the team through 2023. Congrats, Jalek.
It took a few years of injuries and health issues, but Hunter Lawrence is finally a fixture on the 250 Class podium. The Team Honda HRC rider went 5-3 for third overall at Thunder Valley and is ranked fourth in the series standings with 67 points. Yes, he is another name on a very long list that expects to do well when the series heads East.
Three-digit style check with Bronson McClure.
Josh Varize was impressive at Thunder Valley. The KTM Orange Brigade rider held his own against factory riders in both motos, including guys like Vohland/Mosiman/Brown, on his way to 16-16 finishes and 17th overall.
RJ Hampshire had a hell of a day. The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider kept JMart and JCoop in sight for almost all of 250 Moto One and finished in an impressive third place. A hard crash down the hill in 250 Moto Two put Hampshire at the back of the pack and twisted up his bike, but he fought back to finish in 19th place and scored some valuable points. RJ is in need of a new contract for 2022 and beyond, something he mentioned on the podium.
SML SuperFan of the Week.
It's no secret that Justin Cooper and Jett Lawrence have traded their share of passes or jabs, on-track and off, but both said they were fine with close and aggressive racing like we saw in 250 Moto Two. Will this be a heads-up fight to the finish, or will things get tense and interesting the further they go into the season?
AC's reaction to the gate drop was a little quicker than those around him.
Ken Roczen made it look easy in 450 Moto Two. The Team Honda HRC rider took control of the lead on the opening lap and immediately put some distance between himself and the rest of the pack. His gap at the end of Lap One was 2.818 seconds, was 10.329 seconds on Lap Five, and got to 17.382 seconds on Lap 12.
Justin Barcia looks very good on the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GASGAS Factory Racing bike. Barcia told us that Fox Raceway and Thunder Valley aren't his best tracks, but still went 3-6-7-3 in the first Motos of the season and is now fourth overall in the championship standings.
Eli Tomac's tough day and 10th place overall finish has become one of the biggest talking points of the Thunder Valley race. We grabbed a few minutes with the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider after the race and he was upfront about the current situation, saying, "I'm not sure what's going on. The first Moto I was in a decent position, was maybe around fourth or fifth in one point, and then went backward. So that's stuff when I'm like, 'What the heck right now?'" As for recent theories about his motivation to race this summer and a looming move to Yamaha, he said, "I would have already been done, especially after this year, if I didn't want to go longer. There's no reason to roll out and roll around out here, you know, that's how I always look at it. It's too dangerous, and there's a lot of money on the line for us to get."
One of Chase Sexton's biggest strengths is his ability to quickly make passes. The Team Honda HRC rider overcame a rough start in 450 Moto Two and went from 13th on the opening lap to eighth by Lap Five, and pushed all the way to the end of the race to reach fifth place. If Sexton gets a top-three start, it could be a problem for the 450 Class.
Earth tones are very in right now.
Where will Aaron Plessinger score his first 450 MX Moto win? Will it be High Point, in the heart of GNCC racin' nation? Or on the Fourth of July at RedBud? Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha rider has been stellar through the first two rounds and is ranked third overall in the championship standings. AP told us that his injuries over the last two years made him appreciate things differently and that they make this moment of his career feel even better.
Justin Bogle didn't get much TV time at Thunder Valley, so trust us when we say that he was going good. The Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider hounded Tomac for 10th place in 450 Moto Two and even turned faster laps times than ET3, but didn't get close enough to make a pass attempt. He ended the day 11th overall with 14-11 finishes.
Obligatory KTM shot.
Roczen's 1-1 finishes at Thunder Valley were remarkable, both for the way he got them (outlasted two young riders to get Moto One, dominated Moto Two) and because it put him at the top of the championship standings by one point. The last time time Roczen led the 450 MX series was after High Point 2019, when he and Tomac were tied at 176 points each; Tomac took control of the championship at the next round and went on to win his third title.
Roczen didn't seem to get very emotional or excited after the Thunder Valley, especially compared to his enthusiasm after this year's SX wins. Is this some sort of level-headed approach to better balance the highs and lows?
That's it for Kickstart. We've got a one-week break between now and High Point, another weekend off, and then a long run through the month of July.
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.
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