Kickstart | Four Races Left For The 450 Class
Into the homestretch. Our confidence in the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship running a full schedule has gone up and down a few times this year but after months of anticipation, discussion, doubt, and racing, we’re about to click off the last eight motos of the summer. It’s been an eventful summer, thanks to both the global situation and the top-tier talent on the track, and it’s a bit bittersweet to see it start to wind down, starting this weekend at the Spring Creek Motocross, continuing on with the Florida Motocross and Thunder Valley Motocross, and then ending with the California finale at the Fox Raceway Motocross.
For riders, the handful of races left are some of the most important of the season. There are only so many chances left for them to lead laps, finish somewhere in the top-10 (preferably on the podium), improve their rank in the standings, and cement their status as one of the best guys on this side of the world. The tracks that they’re soon to race on are some of the better and more diverse ones on the schedule too, from the sands of Spring Creek and WW Ranch to the technical mountain dirt of Thunder Valley to the tricky SoCal hard-pack of Fox Raceway.
This championship chase isn’t over yet, but it’s getting close. As usual, a crop of riders have put together the pieces of the puzzle better than others and have been rewarded with more points than the rest. But this has been is a banner year for the 450 Class, thanks to the seven different winners in the 10 motos run thus far and the spread of points from first place (212) to fifth (160).
What happens at these last four rounds? We can’t wait to see…
Championship Rank – 1 | Points – 212 | Moto Wins – 4 | Overall Wins – 3 | Average Finish – 2.7 | Laps Led – 58
Everyone knew Zach Osborne was going to be solid this summer. The way he came into his own during the final rounds of the Supercross season was a massive leap for the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider and he became a front-runner in the 450 Class, without any sense of intimidation caused by the champions he lined up next to on the starting line.
To put it simply, Osborne has dominated the season. A look at the stats will explain exactly how well he’s performed, from most wins (the only rider to score multiple moto and overall victories) to best average result (the only rider with a podium-caliber record) to total laps led. By consistently finishing at the front of the field, Osborne is ahead of Marvin Musquin by more than a moto worth of points with only eight gate drops left in the season. That’s a very nice cushion.
One thing we’ve noticed is how much Osborne is enjoying his time at the top. Fully focused before the gate drops, he’s able to explain exactly what happened on the track after a race, meets his wife and kids near the podium, and will smile and joke when on camera. “I’ve said it a million times, it’s probably a bit cliché at this point, but if you had told me at this time last year that I’d be in this position, I’d be like, “Heck yeah, let’s do it.’ Last year I was just expected to ‘be,’ but I was a top-five guy. This year I was expected to be better in Supercross, but that was a fail in the beginning of the season. I know these highs and lows come in all sports. For me it’s about enjoying it when it’s on the highs, staying grounded, having the right people around me.”
Osborne was quick to downplay the importance of his lead early in the season and gave the standard explanation that he was simply trying to stack results to put himself in the best position possible. But after RedBud Two, he acknowledged that he’ll have to think more about the championship as things wind down. “We’re still doing what we’ve got to do, but it’s getting real now,” he explained in How Was Your Weekend. “I’m in a good spot as far as the points go, my bike is really good, my body is good. It’ll be about getting some recovery in this weekend off and putting myself in a good spot to go to Millville, Florida, Colorado, and finishing this off in California.”
Championship Rank – 2 | Points – 184 | Moto Wins – 1 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 4.1 | Laps Led – 17
It’s calming to know that in a completely chaotic year, Musquin Musquin is right where he’s always been. Back to back knee injuries, a very long time spent on the sidelines, and rumors that maybe he didn’t want to race anymore all burdened the Red Bull KTM rider in the last year, yet he was able to put that all to the side through the first stage of the summer. The first three motos were good by Musquin’s standards, as the 4-5-8 finishes proved he still had the pace, but things got much better when he got second place in the tough second moto at Loretta’s Two and then went wire-to-wire to win the first moto a week later at Ironman. Since that moment, we’ve seen Musquin in the mix for the podium and top-five finishes.
It’s safe to say that Musquin is the most consistent rider of the current crop, but his speed is right there with the best of them. He completely held off Eli Tomac to win that moto in Indiana, pressured others like Osborne and Cianciarulo into giving up their positions on the track, and has been the fastest qualifier on a couple of occasions. He knows that he can be better and that’s his motivation going forward. “Being second in the championship right now is a great thing. Even though I missed so much and it’s great to be here, being in that position you are like, ‘It is good but let’s go and do more.’ In this sport we always want more,” he noted after RedBud Two. “It was great at Ironman to get a moto win. I was like, ‘Man, it’s the third round of the season and to get a moto win is awesome, to get second overall is great.’ But now I’ve ended up two times fourth overall (the two RedBud rounds) and I’m a little bit bummed. There is some positive things. It’s a little bit easier to think about the negative things and the end result, because you missed the podium and lost a couple of points, but we have to look forward and keep going.”
We can stop wondering how good his knee feels, too. Although it was a major concern earlier in the summer, Musquin has roughed it a few times during the races and the way it has held up to the strain has given him confidence. “I’m healthy. I hit my knee so many times, but it’s alright. My knee is strong and I’m able to fight and battle and that’s exactly what I want right now.” Keep an eye on Musquin through the next few rounds, because he’s strong in the sand at Spring Creek, has put in practice laps at WW, and will equally comfortable on the technical Thunder Valley and Fox Raceway circuits.
Championship Rank – 3 | Points – 170 | Moto Wins – 1 | Overall Wins – 1 | Average Finish – 7.1 | Laps Led – 37
Here’s your soon to be crowned Rookie of the Year. Adam Cianciarulo has been excellent in his first season on the 450, with accomplishments that include Top Qualifier honors, five podium finishes, one moto win, one overall victory, and a third-place rank in the championship. Yes, AC is the highest-ranked Monster Energy Kawasaki rider in the point standings. Chew on that for a minute.
With impressive 37 laps led so far, the second-most of anyone in the class, Cianciarulo has spent plenty of time at the front of the field and is capable of keeping the very best guys at bay. Known for an active and aggressive riding style, Cianciarulo has made a conscious decision to back down his excitement on the bike and says that he has a more developed outlook than earlier in his career. We discussed this at length with him in a recent feature, which you can read here.
It seems like Cianciarulo is starting to avoid some of the mistakes and crashes that have haunted him through his career, but he’s not yet completely clear of them, because some tip-overs at RedBud forced him to give up some important positions on the track. He’ll develop more in time. This has already been a successful summer for AC, thanks to the results he’s put in and the experience he’s gained, and all of this momentum will make him better for Year Two on the big bike at the factory team.
Championship Rank – 4 | Points – 165 | Moto Wins – 1 | Overall Wins – 1 | Average Finish – 6.3 | Laps Led – 6
It’s very apparent that Eli Tomac hasn’t been his winning self this year, something one could assume is due to a myriad of things, from SX title relief to 2020 burnout to stronger competition to mild weather to track conditions. The double DNF at Loretta’s Two threw the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider into a deep hole, one he started to climb back out of with the overall win at Ironman a week, but then slipped back into after he going 4-5-2-7 through the four motos at the RedBud rounds.
“At this point, I’m pretty far out of it, I would say almost out of it,” he said after RedBud Two, a frank moment from Tomac and the first time we’d heard him acknowledge that a fourth-straight 450 MX title was slipping away. “That’s what I was pushing for this week (at RedBud) and it went the way I didn’t want it to go. I never wanted to tell myself I was out of it. At this point, I’ll try to keep improving and try to knock out a couple more wins before it’s all said and done.”
ET1 is down but not out, mentally or mathematically. He has what it takes to win but has admittedly been marginal and unable to unleash his raw speed as easily or freely. Trailing Osborne by 47 points, he’ll have to be flawless through the last part of the season to take the most of the of 200 points possible. He’ll basically have to win out the rest of the races, and maybe even have one of the guys higher in the rank throw away a moto, if he wants to keep the number one for another year.
Championship Rank – 5 | Points – 160 | Moto Wins – 1 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 7.4 | Laps Led – 14
Justin Barcia has passed more people than anyone this year. The Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider has had his share of opening lap issues, some of which have put him at the rear of the field and forced to fight his way back into the top-10. His balls to the wall rides have been excellent to watch from the side of the track, because his right wrist is usually twisted to the throttle’s limit while his left fingers bang at the clutch and you can hear his bike coming from far away.
A contract for 2021 was Barcia’s motivation for the summer. Practically certain that his time at Yamaha was over at the second round, Barcia was in talks for a move to the soon to be restructured TLD-GasGas team until the Yamaha executives decided to make use the first right of refusal clause in their contract and matched the other OEM’s offer. It’s not signed and sealed yet, but all signs point to Barcia being on blue next year.
Barcia must be considered a contender for moto wins for the rest of the season. Fast and unafraid to fight for a spot at the front, his lap times have been on pace with the race winners, while the sand tracks of Spring Creek and WW should allow him to ride the YZ450F to its limit.
Championship Rank – 6 | Points – 146 | Moto Wins – 1 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 7.0 | Laps Led – 5
Blake Baggett won the fourth moto of the four held at RedBud. The 10-7-6 finishes from the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC/WPS/KTM rider took him from most people’s attention span, but during those last laps at the Michigan track, he hunted down Cianciarulo and Osborne late in the moto, scored a surprise moto victory and third place overall. Yes, that’s the most Blake Baggett outcome possible.
Baggett knows that his window for race wins is closing, both as the competition steps up and his career winds down, so he’s making sure that the post-race podiums with his wife and son are properly celebrated. “These are getting harder and harder to come by, so I’m going to take it. Second overall and I couldn’t be happier with that second moto, to feel good and have things happen almost in slow motion, then to get to the front and then to get a good gap. It felt good because it’s so hard now, everyone is so fast and the competition is getting gnarly. Everyone is there. It’s not down to seconds, it’s down to tenths of a second, and everyone is solid the whole moto,” he stated after the race. “I was starting to second-guess myself, thinking that I had already crested the hump and maybe I wasn’t going to be able to get it done anymore.”
Is this a one and done or will there be more wins in 2020? Baggett thinks that some recent bike changes, including a move back to an old setting, could make him more comfortable and keep him in the action going forward. As always, keep an eye on the number four.
Championship Rank – 7 | Points – 140 | Moto Wins – 0 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 7.6 | Laps Led – 0
The other rookie is riding really well, too. Chase Sexton’s mid-year move to Team Honda HRC has proven to be a smart call by the Red Riders because he adapted to the big bike very quickly and put his name on the short-list of “Podium Finishers” at round four. Although he hasn’t led laps yet, Sexton has been the fastest rider during the Timed Qualifying sessions, so his single lap speed should soon turn into a common occurrence. All of this is steady, sustainable development for a first-year 450 rider.
“Racing those guys is gnarly,” he told us after his first 450 podium at RedBud One. “I tell a lot of people that they don’t really fade or get tired. And the difference between a fourth place and a first-place start means a lot. Trying to pass the top guys is really difficult and getting a holeshot would really make life easier, which is my goal. It’s a battle all race and there’s not really time to back off. In the 250 Class, it spreads out more. It’s gnarly and I’m happy with the team and how we are progressing. Hopefully, by the end of this thing, we can win motos and an overall. Hopefully.”
As great as the results are, Sexton’s focus this summer is to learn as much as possible so that he’s prepared for Supercross in 2021, because the two-time 250 SX champion is expected to hold his own indoors and against what could be the most decorated entry list of competitors in racing’s history.
Championship Rank – 8 | Points – 125 | Moto Wins – 0 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 8.8 | Laps Led – 0
The three-year hiatus hasn’t hurt Broc Tickle. If anything, the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing rider might actually be better and healthier than ever thanks to the time off. Signed as a fill-in for the summer, BT finished the muddy 450 Moto One at LL Two just behind teammate Barcia, which made for an impressive 1-2 for the Blu Cru. Tickle has finished every race since then in the top-10, including another top-five moto finish at RedBud Two. With 15-13-2-9-9-10-8-9-8-5 results in the ten motos run, Tickle is right around or even higher than where he was finishing before his suspension from competition. “I maybe need to give myself more credit, to be honest. I sit back and look at the points and think that I haven’t raced in three years. On paper, it’s really, really good. It’s exciting for myself,” he explained to us after the RedBud races.
Tickle is hoping that his part-time job this year could land him a full-time spot somewhere in 2021, and like many, he’s not sure where there is room or which team will be around to help him. Yamaha’s decision to retain Barcia means that they’ll have three factory bikes on the track (Plessinger holds one more year on his contract, Dylan Ferrandis has signed with Yamaha and Star Racing for 2021 and beyond), but that might have taken away some sort of support for Tickle. He’s not letting it get in his head, though, and instead is waiting to see what comes after some more race results. “I need to put myself in a good position to have a job next year so that I can come out here and do this at the level that I want to. That’s what it takes to get the results and be in the mix,” he said. “To be honest, I haven’t talked to anybody and I don’t think there are that many spots.”
Going back to something we said in the first chunk of text about Tickle is his health. It’s no secret that BT had his share of slams and injuries during his Suzuki days, to the point that he was beaten up and far from full strength more often than not. The time off allowed him to heal up any lingering pain or problem and he’s avoided any sort of big moment so far this summer. Should he can finish the season up within the top-10 and in one-piece, well, that’s a success.
Championship Rank – 9 | Points – 112 | Moto Wins – 0 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 9.8 | Laps Led – 0
The “I’m a really good 450 guy” is a cliche saying in moto, but when it comes to Christian Craig, it’s a completely true statement. Between SX and MX we all heard rumblings of how CC wanted to get on the big bike for the summer, something he was reportedly working on with GEICO Honda, but when Ken Roczen decided to take a sabbatical to sort out personal issues, Team Honda HRC grabbed Craig and put him on the factory bike for the third time in his career.
A usual name in the top-10, Craig has had some intense battles for positions this year with guys like Tickle and Wilson, but at RedBud, he found Eli Tomac to be one of his main competitors. Does running with and holding off the three-time champion create confidence? “When he was behind me and he couldn’t pass me, I was like, ‘Okay, I know he’s not as his best, but I must be doing pretty well.’ The last moto on Monday, he was catching me pretty quick. I was like, ‘He’s on a roll and he’s coming through the pack.’ He came up on me, but he couldn’t break that two-second gap between us. It was like that for four laps,” Craig shared in a press conference between RedBud and Spring Creek. “I swear we were neck and neck for four laps, and I went into the red zone pretty deep with my heart rate, just pushing. So it’s pretty cool for me, but I need to expect that out of myself a little more. That was a good little test right there.”
What happens when the summer ends? Craig is assumed to drop back to the 250 Class with a new deal at the Monster Energy/Star Racing/Yamaha squad, but there are hopes he’ll get back on the 450 for summer 2021.
Championship Rank – 10 | Points – 97 | Moto Wins – 0 | Overall Wins – 0 | Average Finish – 11.3 | Laps Led – 0
All things considered, this has been a good year for Dean Wilson. It’s been almost 12 months since the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider dislocated his hip at the Monster Energy Cup, contemplated retirement, and then put in an intense therapy routine to be back on the line for the 2020 season. Cautious but still quick on the track, Wilson made it through the SX season unscathed and even ended the time in Utah with Main Event laps led and a podium finish. He carried that confidence into the summer and used the break between series as a chance to get his body back to full health.
The Nationals have been fair for Wilson. He’s stayed in and around the top-10 through the first five rounds, got over some small nagging issues from practice crashes, and can be seen moving forward late in the races. While it’s not the wins that teammate Osborne is racking up, it’s more than enough given the competitors in the class, the circumstances of the year, and Wilson’s track record.
Husqvarna is certainly happy with the rider. At the Friday RedBud race, the team announced that Wilson had inked a one-year extension with the factory crew for 2021, which will bring some peace of mind and motivation for this offseason. UPDATE: Wilson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.