The final round of the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series took place in Crawfordsville, IN at Ironman Raceway and in true motocross fashion, there was plenty of action happening on the track until the final checkers flew. Then 250 championship may have been locked in by the #23 of Aaron Plessinger at the penultimate round of the series at Budds Creek, but that didn’t take away any of the excitement for racing in the final round, especially considering the 450 championship was yet to be determined. Ironman Raceway is in one of those locations in the mid-west where summer weather falls nearly anywhere on the spectrum from chilly to perfect weather to hot and humid to torrential downpour – this year we were graced with nearly every bit of weather you could imagine, minus the snow we experienced during Indy Supercross earlier in the year. We know that in motocross, anything can happen, and that theme held true through event he final lap of the season. Here’s a look at five of the most talked about moments from the last race of the 2018 Pro Motocross season.
5. 250 B Group rider, Hunter Sayles, Earns Pole Position in Qualifying Practice
I’ll probably catch some flack for this statement, but I love seeing riders battle it out in the mud. Mud is the great equalizer and requires you to use every skill in your toolbox in order to have a successful race. Where more often than not factory riders have more advantages than they can count over the privateer riders, mud is an element that puts nearly all riders on a level playing field. Due to the amount of rain that fell in a very short time in Crawfordsville on Saturday, the entire first practice session was cancelled, including the untimed practice portion. Qualifying began the moment the second practice session began when the 250 B group took to the track. Similar to practice order for the other 11 rounds of the series, the 250 B Group was the first group of riders to hit the track, followed by 250 A, then 450 A, and finally 450 B. Typically, being the first group on the track doesn’t place riders in any sort of big advantage over their peers. However, on this muddy day in Indiana we witnessed something that rarely happens – a 250 B Group rider logged the fastest qualifying time out of all of the 250 riders in the class.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the #367 of Hunter Sayles managed to put in a hot lap in the mud that was faster than every 250 rider on the track with a qualifying time of 2:31.149. In fact, the top 10 qualifying times all came out of the very first practice from that B group. The fastest rider in the A group was the #17 of Joey Savatgy with a time of 2:38.609. Rarely do we see such an advantage in the B group, but those riders were able to put in an impressive charge before the track became a sloppy mud hole. For Sayles, this was a great start to the final race of the season. He would continue using that pole position to his advantage for the rest of the day and managed a 12-14 finish for 11th place overall. Not only was this Hunter’s first ever fastest qualifying position in his racing history, it also marked the best finish of his career!
4. Aaron Plessinger finishes 250 Career with 1-1 Finish
Aaron Plessinger locked in his career first 250 MX championship during Round 11 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series, which meant that no matter the outcome of the final round of racing, AP would still be the crowned champion. We know that AP is an incredibly skilled rider, but for a rider who only secured his career-first points lead and red plate earlier in the 2018 Pro Motocross season, I don’t know that anyone would’ve initially predicted him as title contender. Not only was Ironman the final race of the 2018 season, it also marked the final 250 race for Plessinger’s career as he will be moving up to the 450 class in 2019. It was recently announced that he inked a deal with Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing and he will be racing alongside Justin Barcia for the upcoming season.
With a championship locked in and a deal singed for 2019, Aaron Plessinger could have easily just coasted his way through the final Pro Motocross round, but we know that’s not AP’s style. Plessinger wasted no time skillfully navigating his way through the mud and slop to get to the front of the pack during Moto 1. After making decisive passes, Plessinger found himself leading the way through the mud all the way until the checkered flag. He would continue his win streak in Moto 2, leading all 14 laps of the race. It’s no secret that AP is an outstanding rider in the elements, so to come away with a 1-1 win during a total mudder should be of no surprise. What better way to finish out your 250 career than with a 1-1 sweep at what could be considered your “home track”.
It’s been quite the year for Plessinger who won the 250 SX Western Regional Championship, became a father, got engaged to his fiancé, Kendall, and locked down the 250 MX Championship as well. We will see him compete one final time on a 250 during the upcoming Motocross des Nations taking place at Redbud in October and then it’s onto the premier class for 2019!
3. Justin Barcia Earns First Overall Win Since 2015
Justin Barcia started 2018 as an unassuming fill in rider for the injured Davi Millsaps. Barcia is a rider who has ridden the highs of the sport, but has also seen plenty of the lows, especially in the past couple seasons. While there is no question that he is both incredibly skilled and fast on a bike, he hit an extended rough patch where his results were not matching his undeniable talent and effort. Prior to the 2018 season, there were even rumors floating about that Barcia would hang up his boots for good. However, one rider’s misfortune turned into quite the opportunity for Justin Barcia. Some great results as a fill in rider paired with the untimely retirement of Davi Milksops led to Barcia being brought onto the team full time.
The entire 2018 year of racing has really been a rebuilding year for Justin, but all of the hard work has continued to pay off. He has stated many times that he has been working toward that coveted moto win and overall win, which has been challenging for every rider this season due to the heavily competitive 450 class this year and a nearly unstoppable Eli Tomac. However, we all know that it’s not over until the checkered flag flies. In Moto 1, Barcia quickly worked his way to the front of the pack and never looked back. As an Northeastern based rider, Barcia is very skilled in the tough conditions like the ones that presented themselves at Ironman. He would be the first one to the checkered flag in Moto 1, accomplishing a goal he had been working toward for the entire season. It had been since Washougal in 2015 since we had seen “Bam Bam” win a Moto. On the long road back to the top, Barcia never stopped working toward his goals and with the help of his supportive team, he managed to make it a perfect 1-1 on the day, earning his first overall win since Redbud 2015. Justin also became the only other rider, besides Eli Tomac, to score a perfect 1-1 the entire season. Not only is this an exciting way to end the 2018 season, it’s also hopefully a great preview of what we might see at the 2018 Motocross des Nations in October!
2. Chad Reed Returns to Pro Motocross
It is undeniable that Chad Reed is one of the most beloved riders, probably in the history of our sport. Ever since he stepped on the scene in the US in 1999, Chad Reed has been steady on the rise as the undisputed fan favorite in the paddock. While he has been absent from the Pro Motocross scene since 2015 and instead has just been focusing on Supercross, he returned to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series this past weekend in Indiana! Earlier in the week, we saw on Chad’s Instagram that he had the opportunity to do some testing with the JGR crew out in North Carolina. Shortly thereafter, the official announcement was made that we would see CR22 line up at the final Pro Motocross race of the season under the JGR tent. Fan excitement levels reasonably went through the roof at this announcement and even the pouring rain didn’t keep fans from lining up for an autograph from the legend in the paddock.
Even Chad would agree that his 2018 Supercross results could easily be filed under “less than ideal” and certainly nowhere near his capabilities. But with his nagging foot injury finally behind him, he was ready to show Pro Motocross fans that we haven’t seen the last of him. During Moto 1, Reed held onto third place for a good portion of the Moto before falling back slightly to 5th place. As the race day evolved, we saw something in Moto 2 that caused quite the roar from the crowd as Chad Reed launched his way off the start to a holeshot of historic proportion. Chad has alluded to the fact that Ironman may very well be his last Pro Motocross race in history, so to close out his Pro Motocross career with a holeshot is something that will certainly go down in history books. Chad would ultimately finish the Moto in 8th. His 5-8 finish was enough to earn him 8th overall. To come off the couch, snag a holeshot, and finish in a Top 10 position is nothing short of impressive, but certainly to be expected of the long-time veteran. No official announcement has been made as to whether or not Chad returns for Supercross in 2019, but his fans certainly hope for that to be true and his results at Ironman prove that he’s still got it.
1. Eli Tomac Wins First Back-to-Back Championship Since Ricky Carmichael in ’05-‘06
Eli Tomac has been almost unstoppable this season with five perfect 1-1 finishes and 15 total Moto wins out of 24. Even still, we cannot discount the work from the rest of the 450 class in their effort to dethrone the defending champion. Both classes where incredibly competitive this season and in the 450 class, riders seemed to only get stronger as the season rolled on. What everyone though would be an undisputed title hunt for Eli Tomac ended up being extended up until the very final Moto of the season.
The way the numbers worked out, Marvin Musquin was still very much in contention for the title when the first gate dropped on Saturday afternoon and because of the conditions, I can only imagine that Team Green was secretly a little nervous. It’s not that Eli Tomac isn’t capable in the mud, but it is a place where Marvin Musquin frequently excels. With the championship really coming down to the wire, it was essential that everyone at Kawasaki remained calm and motivated in order to lock in the championship. The first Moto was no sweat, with Eli finishing in an easy 2nd place behind Justin Barcia, but Marvin Musquin’s 4th place finish was enough to push the championship hunt to the final Moto of the year. The scales started to tip in favor of Musquin as Tomac found himself in 15th place off the start of Moto 2, which I can only imagine fired Tomac up even more. Ironically, his best finishes of the year have come after what could be abysmal starts to a Moto. Tomac knew that it was down to the wire and his championship was his alone to lose. He put his head down and charged hard up to ninth place. The tables had turned once again and moto math was back in favor of Tomac. His 2-9 finishes for 4th overall was enough to crown Tomac as the back-to-back premier class Pro Motocross champion! As it turns out, we have to dig pretty far back into the history books to find our former back-to-back champ, who happens to be the G.O.A.T., Ricky Carmichael. Eli Tomac was able to finish the season by defending his 450 MX title – a championship well earned.
The checkered flag has been waved on the 2018 Pro Motocross season, and what a season it’s been for so many riders in the series. We may have to wait a couple months before we see some of our favorite riders on the track again, but if this race was any indication, we’re in for a real treat at the Motocross des Nations in October. Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, and Aaron Plessinger will all be representing the USA we can’t want wait to see them take the win for America for the first time since 2011!