From rain and mud in Round 5 to sub-zero temperatures in Round 6, weather continues to be a topic of conversation this Monster Energy Supercross season. Round 6 of Monster Energy Supercross took place in Minneapolis, MN at US Bank Stadium. One thing we know to be true is that Minnesota in the winter is cold, really cold, always. For our riders and teams that hail predominately from California and Florida, sub-zero temperatures are not really on the list of things they’re proficient at dealing with – as evident of nearly every single Instagram story post from this weekend. The temperature tagging feature was probably the most popular item in the rider stories and with temperatures in the negatives, I’m positive that it was a good things US Bank Stadium had a roof! So even though it was frigid outside, the track inside was near perfect for the entirety of the race. It is interesting to note that the Minneapolis round of Supercross was moved UP in the schedule this year from the April date last year. This venue is also interesting because there is no Supercross FanFest due to the limited space available outside of the stadium. Instead, riders pit in the lower level of the stadium in an area that is not accessible to most fans. While this marginally affects the fan experience, there was plenty of captivating racing that went on inside US Bank Stadium that kept fans entertained all evening long. Here’s a look at the five most memorable events from Round 6 of Monster Energy Supercross in this week’s Fast Five Recap – Fan’s Eye View Edition.
5. 250SX Eastern Region Riders Take to the Line for the First Time in 2019
Round 6 of Monster Energy Supercross is a notable event in and of itself because it is the first time in 2019 that we’ve seen the 250 SX East riders on the starting line. For most of these riders, they’ve been away from an actual race scenario since at least Monster Cup, and for some they haven’t lined up since the conclusion of the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Series in August. This is a long time to go between gate drops, which has both its advantages and disadvantages. The long lapse in seat time during an actual race scenario is beneficial if you’re recovering from an off season injury or if you’re making your rookie debut – as in the case of Christian Craig who suffered a thumb injury just before the start of the season and Mitchell Falk and Jordan Bailey who are making their Monster Energy Supercross rookie debuts. It also is beneficial to riders who have switched teams and bike brands in the off-season because they have added time on the new bike to get comfortable and dialed in before their new season begins – like for Alex Martin who made the move to JGR Suzuki. On the flip-side, however, is that you’ve been away from the races for so long that by the time you get to the starting line and are racing 21 other guys you are anxious to kick off the season and that causes an extreme spike in adrenaline.
We witnessed both the advantages and pitfalls of being a 250SX East rider when the gate dropped in Minneapolis. Alex Martin put on an impressive performance finishing 2nd in his heat during his first official outing on his JGR Suzuki. A.Mart would go on to maintain a third place ride for most of the Main Event during his “home” race until Justin Cooper made a late in the game pass on Martin, causing him to finish 4th. On the other side of the coin, the 250 LCQ was one heck of a wild ride. It was clear that the adrenaline was running high as the 250 riders in the LCQ were unfortunately making bad racing decision after bad racing decision. It’s the first race of the season for these riders, and the first LCQ, and for some of them the first time they’ve lined up for Monster Energy Supercross, which meant that riders were all antsy and riding too far ahead of themselves trying to make moves for the four final transfer positions into the Main Event. One section after another, riders were crashing in the most gasp-inducing ways. Samuel Redman cases a rhythm section and that ends his night as he endos right off his bike. Very shortly after, Joey Crown gets a little too high in one of the turns and manages to crash directly through the tuff blocks to another section of the track. The way the tuff blocks crumbled, Crown looked more like the Kool-Aid man than a supercross rider at that point. The announcers could hardly keep up with the carnage as they reported on yet another “oh sh**” moment when Lane Shaw crashed just before the Finish Line and ended up getting straight run over by two riders who were trying to avoid crashing themselves. Even though the 250 LCQ was full of plenty of excitement for the fans
The adrenaline is high during any first race of the season, but it seems to be especially true once you’ve watched your 250SX West Region riders race for five Saturdays in a row and finally get your shot during Round 6.
4. The Webb Wagon is Pulling into the Station
Coming into the 2019 season, I’m going to guess that almost no one would’ve put Cooper Webb on the top of their “Championship Contender” list. Supercross is such an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of sport and because Webb hasn’t had the easiest transition to the 450 class, it’s reasonable to assume that probably too many people have forgotten that he was a back-to-back Supercross champion in the 250 West class in 2015 and 2016. However, it is evident that Webb’s transition to the Red Bull KTM Factory team was the right move for the #2. The team backing him and the new training program have set him up for immense success.
When you pair Cooper Webb’s already skillful riding with the confidence he’s gained in 2019, look out because it’s a lethal combination to his competition. In Minneapolis, Webb was able to slide into the holeshot position off the start, but was passed by the #17 of Joey Savatgy. The incredibly short lap times (coming in at under 50 seconds), however, meant that there was a lot of racing ahead and plenty of time for Webb to plot his pass on Savatgy – and that is exactly what he did. Sometimes, being just behind the leader early on in a race has its advantages because you have the opportunity to study your opponent’s line selections and see where they are making up time on the track. A calm and calculated game of cat and mouse until Webb was finally able to make his move on Savatgy around the 14th lap. Savatgy left the inside of a turn open and Webb immediately knew this was his moment to capitalize for the lead. The way this particular track was built, it was entirely more mental than physical because the track was almost “easy” comparatively – riders awaited one tiny mistake from their competitors in order to make their move. By the time the race was nearing the checkered flag, Webb had gone from second place off the start to building a gap of almost 6 seconds at lap 21. Webb would maintain his lead the entire second half of the race through the checkered flag, making him the first and only rider to secure three wins this season. If you weren’t on the Webb Wagon already, you probably are now and this is going to be an all out brawl to the championship!
3. Justin Cooper Scores Career First Podium in Career Second Supercross Start
Justin Cooper concluded his amateur career at the 2017 Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Championship by dominating both the 250 A and Open Pro Sport classes and then winning the coveted Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award – an award given to the A-Class rider who shows immense promise heading into the professional ranks. It’s safe to say that Justin Cooper was on the “riders to watch” list when he made his pro Supercross debut in 2018. Unfortunately, during practice at Round 2 in Houston, Cooper suffered a season-ending crash before he ever got to show the world what he’s capable of. Obviously, that’s not the way any rider wants to start their professional Supercross career, but he hasn’t skipped a beat in the re-start to his rookie season. With only one Supercross gate drop under his belt before 2019, this year can really be considered his rookie season.
Off the start, Justin Cooper found himself in a decent 7th place, which can be considered a very good start for a rookie rider. But this is not enough in Cooper’s eyes and from the moment the gate dropped, he was on the hunt. One thing that is especially impressive about Cooper is his patience on the track. His rider IQ is much more akin to riders who have years and years of experience, rather than the often over-excitement we see from rookies in their first few races. His calm, but aggressive demeanor on the track paired with his lightning fast speed will likely prove to be a very dangerous combination as the season unfolds. In fact, Cooper fast lap time was less than half a second off of the leader’s best lap time. Copper watched, waited, and calculated his perfect pass to move him into a podium position. That pass happened to come at the turn before the finish line where he would end up taking the line away from Alex Martin, running him wide, and moving into third place. Cooper would ultimately cross the finish line in third, earning his career first Monster Energy Supercross podium in only his career second start. This is an accomplishment that most riders would only ever dream of, but for Justin Cooper it was an easy reality.
2. Austin Forkner Logs a Perfect Night
In baseball, a perfect game is when a pitcher (or combination of pitchers) pitches a victory that allows zero opposing players to reach a base. In Supercross, a perfect race outing can be chalked up to logging the fastest qualifying time, heat race win, holeshot, leading all laps of the main event, and finally taking the checkers. As rare as a perfect game is in baseball, it is almost equally as rare in Monster Energy Supercross due to the number of unpredictable and ever-changing variables that go into racing.
Lining up in Minneapolis was the first time we’ve seen Austin Forkner on a Supercross track since Minneapolis Supercross in 2018. In fact, last time we were at US Bank Stadium, Forkner left with a broken collarbone. 2019, however, was a much different scenario for the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider. Same team, same region, but this year, Forkner is now working with trainer Robbie Reynard and his fitness seems to be unstoppable. The night was off to a great start for the #24 as he clocked the fastest qualifying time and then won his heat and things continued to play out in picture perfect fashion.
At the gate drop for the Main Event, Forkner grabbed a holeshot and never looked back. Early on in the moto, he had already built up more than a five second gap on second place and continued to find speed on the not-so-technical track. At one point in the race, Forkner had built more than a 12 second lead!! By the middle of the race, his lead was so big that he was able to almost click into auto-pilot and just check off laps as he crossed the timing loop at the finish line. Being able to ride relaxed is huge for riders because they don’t reach fatigue nearly as easily and ironically in turn usually leads to finding even more speed on the track, continuing to elongate their gap on the competition. Head down and hit your marks, that is what Austin Forkner did from start to finish in Minneapolis and was able to ride away with a perfect night of racing. Fastest qualifier – check. Heat Race win – check. Holeshot – check. Lead all laps in the Main Event – check. Finish on the top step of the podium – check. It may only be the first race of the season for the Eastern Regional 250 riders, but if this is any indication of how the season will unfold, we’re in for a wild ride.
1. Kristian Ortiz is the Unsung Hero of the Night
Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t remember Kristian Ortiz being a rider”, and you’d be right. Kristian Ortiz is actually the wrench behind the #28 of Jordon Smith. It’s the first race of the year, you’re already anxious, heart is pumping, and you’re ready for the first gate drop and then your mechanic is all of a sudden telling you to hold your bike merely seconds before the 30-second board goes sideways. Instantly your heart rate goes through the roof and you almost start to panic because you’re not going to be able get off the gate when it drops because you have a FLAT REAR TIRE! This was the case for TLD Red Bull KTM rider Jordon Smith at the starting line for the Main Event in Minneapolis. In all my years of following racing, never have I witnessed something as impressive as what the TLD team managed to accomplish in a mere matter of seconds. In less than 30 seconds, mechanic Kristian Ortiz was able to discover that his rider, Jordon Smith, had a flat rear tire, keep him calm, AND get the rear wheel replaced only milliseconds before the 30-second board went sideways. All eyes were on the #28 because in almost no scenario does a rider remain calm enough to actually ride well through this incredibly stressful situation. But sure enough, Ortiz and the rest of the TLD team were able to get the rear wheel changed and get Smith back on the bike and calmed down in enough time to ride a successful race.
Jordon Smith ended up 4th off the start, which all things considered, is insanely impressive in and of itself. Thanks to his team and his rockstar mechanic, he was able to regain his composure and race with his focus set on making decisive passes. Smith teetered between 4th and 2nd throughout the Main Event with a few close calls, but eventually was able to make a pass for 2nd on Alex Martin that would stick, leaving Smith with a 2nd place finish in the first race of the season. I’m going to guess that no one anticipated Smith being able to recover the way he did from one of the most stressful starts in recent memory, but he got it done. Mechanics may not be the start of the show, but they are certainly an integral part of a rider’s success and ability to overcome even the craziest of scenarios.
The 250 East Championship is off to a whirlwind start and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the championship unfolds. Next weekend we head to the great state of Texas to battle it out in “Jerry’s World”, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Stay tuned for even more Fast Five updates – Fan’s Eye View Edition!