Jason Thomas On What We Saw At 2019 Atlanta
We have changed the format to Breakdown this year. The Racer X staff will pose some burning questions from the weekend and I'll take my best crack at them.
All of these opinions are my own and usually in stark contrast to anything Steve Matthes would believe.
The track looked difficult with tough whoops and two rhythm lanes that were hard to perfect every lap. There was still very little passing in the 450SX main event, though. What gives?
It’s all about the turns and the dirt, unfortunately. With the soft Atlanta dirt, the corners formed deep ruts. As those ruts became deeper and deeper, riders had to commit to their line and couldn’t really freestyle any unorthodox lines. A predetermined line into and out of the corner discourages a block pass because riders would have to cross multiple established ruts and blast the lead rider. The lead rider has already committed to his rut and can’t change lines to avoid contact. It’s possible to make a pass but more likely than not, it ends up like Cameron McAdoo and Kyle Peters. McAdoo basically crossed three ruts to smash Peters because he was frustrated and couldn’t find another way. If the ruts weren’t so formidable, riders would take different angles into and out of the corners, opening up block pass opportunities.
Another factor was the ruts throughout the rhythm sections. Riders had to focus on simply jumping the sections instead of setting up a pass. Atlanta was a type of event where the riders are racing against the track instead of against their competition. The track is deteriorating quickly, and riders have to lock in on executing good laps instead of worrying about the riders around them.
Baggett and Musquin lamented that the one lined sand section ruined their chances of getting around Webb. What made this particular sand section so difficult to make a move in?
When walking the track Saturday morning, this was easy to predict. With the sand section laid out in one continuous right-hand corner, any rider on the outside was basically left with nowhere to go. The lead rider could simply stay to the inside and protect his line. He didn’t even have to go very fast as the outside line distance was too far to cover and worse, funneled back to the inside line eventually. Forcing a move here usually ended up in a crash (see Eli Tomac and Chad Reed). It came down to nothing more than poor design. It’s frustrating because most experienced riders diagnosed this problem immediately. It turned a potentially interesting section into a one lined waste.
I think there is a bit of both going here. First, he definitely wanted to win. When he got the holeshot, he had one goal and that was to win the main event. To say anything otherwise is simply false. As the race wore on, though, he had to make a hard decision. Was he willing to risk another crash by grabbing third gear and going for the whoop blitz? I actually think he made the right decision in backing it down, taking a third and moving on. He had already crashed twice in this one section alone. He was ahead of the East riders, as he mentioned, and he could leave Atlanta with a huge points lead. Winning a race is a huge motivator as it should be. Winning the championship is what this is all about, though. Swallowing his pride and taking what was available was absolutely the smart decision. It’s not the decision I expected him to make, though. If he continues to make wise choices like he did Saturday, this title is over. He is the fastest guy, getting the best starts, and now making decisions wise beyond his years race. Good luck to everyone else.
Speaking of Cianciarulo, he had an incredible main event, chasing down Forkner and getting the win. He was patient and calm, methodical in his approach. Is that surprising?
Adam can win anytime he lines up for a race right now. He has the speed and talent to dominate. He is his own worst enemy at times, though. He has thrown away race wins this season (A2) and found a way to climb out of a points hole. Was it surprising to see him keep his emotions in check and execute a perfect race? No. Would it have been surprising to see him crash spectacularly and throw away a podium finish? No. That’s the world we live in with AC92. I am hoping we see more of the former, though. I am an AC fan.
It’s getting awfully hard to avoid. He is winning from the front, from the back, last lap passes, wire-to-wire, etc. I was skeptical that he could take this series over and I am far from handing anything to anyone, but he is certainly making his best case. One bad race can change everything, but he looks to have every aspect of his game in check right now. Webb is dangerous with confidence and that’s exactly what he is brimming with. Someone better step up soon if they want to turn the tide because the Webb wagon is gaining momentum each and every Saturday.
This is two races in a row where the whoops have played a big factor in the results. Why?
It’s a combination of the soft dirt and Dirt Wurx deciding to build them bigger and longer. No one really knows if they will be small and easy, round and spread far apart, steep and tall, etc, until we show up Saturday morning for track walk. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the decision, just whatever they feel like building that particular weekend.
In my opinion, tougher whoops lead to more entertaining races. When they are small and/or easy, everyone does exactly the same thing, leaving no room to pass, attributing to a boring race. Big whoops bring another skill set into play, push the riders to their limit, and can change the results (Reed’s podium Detroit). Cooper Webb’s biggest liability is still big, nasty whoops so he is probably hoping that’s the last of them but for racing’s sake, I hope they stack ‘em high and let ‘em fly.