Battle of the Primes
As much as I both love the Transformers (and loathe/love Michael Bay’s [aka Michael Bassdrop] take on the Hasbro cartoon of my youth), this article has nothing to do with fictional bio-mechanical robots. The focus here, instead, is on the battle that has been waging between two prime numbers since January 7 in the ballparks and football stadiums of North America. Monster Energy AMA Supercross in 2017 has so far been the closest title fight the sport has witnessed in years, and as of last Saturday, it is as close as a championship can get.
This year’s series took an unexpected and scary turn when heir-apparent golden child and Honda’s new ticket to the top, Ken Roczen, had a nasty spill in Round Three of the series. After dominating Round One in Anaheim and winning a close race over Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey in San Diego for Round Two, Roczen seemed poised to go on a win streak that could decimate the hearts of his competition. Instead the German rider, while blasting his way through the pack during the main event and rapidly catching the lead group, got bucked off of his all new factory racing machine and suffered a devastating compound fracture in his arm. The injury and subsequent 10 (yes, 10!) surgeries were gruesome but Roczen will likely make a full recovery, although we probably will not see him racing again this year.
Instead what we have seen is week after week of an ever shrinking lead from the defending champion and a rock-solid competitor whose confidence has the momentum of a locomotive, or dare I say… a Transformer.
The Primes: No. 1 (and No. 5)
Ryan Dungey, the current and three-time champ (hence the Number One plate, but holds permanent Number Five) has been Red Bull KTM’s go-to guy since he came aboard the team back in 2012. Back then, KTM was still an unproven brand in Supercross but with the full commitment of the Austrian manufacturer and U.S. team manager, Roger “The Man” DeCoster at the head of racing redevelopment, the orange machines have gained respect (not to mention wins and championships) among the American Supercross set. Dungey has literally been at the controls during this transformation, and while he’s never been considered the most stylish rider in the field, nor the most dominant, his consistency is almost unparalleled.
However, 2017 has been Dungey’s most inconsistent season in years. That is to say, he’s finished off of the podium top three more than once, yet has still managed to stay within the top five all year…and in 2016…and 2015. Yup, the Dunge has not finished outside of the top five since April of 2014. No other rider, current or retired, even comes close to that record. However, even with his consistency and excellent riding of late, he still has only garnered two wins this season.
When Roczen suffered his injury, Dungey was right there to capitalize and immediately inherited the points lead… a points lead he maintained without interruption. At least, it was uninterrupted until Round 14 in Seattle when another player came into the mix.
Eli Tomac’s (permanent Number Three) transition to Monster Energy Kawasaki at the beginning of 2016 was…well, it was not terrible. Then again it was not exactly what the team or Tomac himself expected either. In Supercross, he struggled to adjust to the new machine after years spent on Hondas (which have vastly different handling characteristics). During the outdoor racing season, the natural terrain on which Tomac tends to excel, the struggles continued as he was out shined by then Suzuki-mounted Roczen in all but two rounds.
Finally, though, at Round 4 this year in Phoenix, the Kawasaki and Tomac combo found the magic sauce and collected their first win indoors. Then they did it again the following weekend in Oakland. In fact, they’ve managed to keep their mojo flowing to the top step of the podium an additional six times this season and if it was not for a crash and mechanical in Dallas, Tomac would be firmly in control of this championship chase right now. There is certainly no denying his riding of late.
The Colorado native has a style that is unique but not unconventional. As a taller rider, his movements on the bike are obvious and slightly exaggerated. While Tomac is rarely out of control, he doesn’t quite have the precision or flare of Roczen, remains looser than Dungey, yet easily avoids the raggedness of someone like Jason Anderson. Tomac can both bulldog his KX450F-SR like Ryan Hughes in 1990’s but manages to do it with more finesse. When Eli is on, he is virtually unbeatable. Only a handful of riders have ever put in dominant performances like Tomac has shown he is capable of doing.
Fortunately for the fans, Tomac’s recent superb riding had a delayed start in 2017. Pair that with a little misfortune on his part and Ryan Dungey’s Steady Eddie-ness (if that’s a thing), and you have a championship that is in a dead even points chase as the series heads into the final three rounds.
Making things even more exciting and and unpredictable are the other players in the field. First there is Marvin Musquin, who is firmly in third place in the standings and the only other rider with a mathematical shot at the title. Further complicating the picture is the fact that the Frenchman is both Dungey’s Red Bull KTM teammate and training partner, and also just netted the second win of his 450 Class career in Seattle last weekend.
Then there is Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson (currently fifth in points), who is also a training partner of Dungey and Musquin. Where is the mire in this picture? Husqvarna is a subsidiary of KTM. Sitting in sixth and seventh in points are Rocky Mountain ATVMC/KTM teammates Blake Baggett and Davi Millsaps respectively. Yup, both also KTM supported riders.
I will not implying that team tactics will come into play in this title fight, but I also would not say it is completely out of the question. Every single one of these riders are not only capable of winning on any given weekend, they all also firmly believe they will win every time they get behind the gate. If they didn’t, they probably would not show up to race. There is a reason why any time a surprise winner is interviewed after taking the checkers, they usually say something to the effect of “I just knew this was my weekend.” Even if they have never won a race in 100 tries, that belief in themselves never diminishes.
My reason for illustrating this point is that no rider will give up a win if given a chance. That is not to say it has not happened before, but team orders that could drastically change up a points battle are rare. Beyond this there are still too many rounds left and far too many variables for anyone rider other than Tomac or Dungey to change the points landscape.
Even when Monster Energy Yamaha’s Chad Reed decided to block Dungey for a few laps while being lapped, the effect of his actions were negligible other than a fine passed down to the Australian by the AMA. While Dungey was slowly catching up to Tomac, who went onto win that controversial St. Louis main event, Dungey’s actual chances of passing the No. 3 at the time are debatable. One might speculate that Reed could have blocked Dungey due to orders coming from Monster Energy itself, but that would be a far-fetched speculation. Conspiracy theorists would like to connect the dots, pointing out that not only is Monster Energy the title sponsor of Tomac’s and Reed’s teams (Monster Energy Kawasaki and Monster Energy Yamaha, respectively) but also the main series sponsor as well. However that speculation should end there.
Primed and Ready
As I mentioned before, there are far too many variables in the championship and just in Supercross racing in general for anyone to be able to manufacture a title hunt. Instead, what we have here, ladies and gents, is a good old-fashioned championship battle and SX fans the world over are frothing to see the action unfold. And just like any good story, we have come to the dramatic pause just before the climax.
We are now in two-week break just after the two lead riders came to a dead-even tie with three rounds remaining. Eli Tomac and Ryan Dungey both have 194 points with another 75 points up for grabs. The prime numbers will duke it out three more times in 2017, and I cannot wait to see the action unfold.
The series resumes on April 22 in Salt Lake City, then heads to the penultimate round in East Rutherford, NJ on April 29 (tickets are on sale here). MetLife Stadium, located just quick train ride away from New York City, has been one of the highest attended races of the series since its introduction in 2014 and will set the stage for the final showdown in Las Vegas one week later on May 6.
For for all of you SX fans looking for things to do in NYC before or after the race, take a look the guide I put together a few years ago: 5 Things for Motocross Racers to Do In NYC. And give me a follow on Instagram while you’re at it: @bayodome.
For more information, be sure to visit www.SupercrossLive.com.