The initial blows have just been exchanged here in California! Following countless media obligations, the riders have tackled the track in anger for the first time and given fans across the globe plenty to talk about. It has really been a thrilling start to proceedings. Not necessarily because of the qualifying results, because those who were expected to excel have done exactly that. The sheer number of contenders is clear for all to see though.
The fact that none of the title favourites slipped into the top four in qualifying echoes that point. Blake Baggett was the quickest 450SX qualifier ahead of Dean Wilson, who is working out of his van, and Malcolm Stewart, who is racing Anaheim 1 in the premier class for the first time. Who would have predicted that in the days prior to round one of Monster Energy Supercross? Another stat that is simply mind-blowing is that the top seventeen were all within two seconds of the same time. All of the ingredients are now in place for a memorable opener and Mother Nature seems eager to help that as well.
Before tackling the conditions, however, some more on the fastest 450SX qualifier. Blake Baggett led all of the 450SX riders around early on in the second session, along with Justin Barcia, and the two got very close on a few occasions. The pair then went their separate ways and about their business on track, before facing each other again on the start straight on the final lap. Words were exchanged and then they stopped for a brief chat before exiting the circuit. Tempers are already boiling over just a couple of hours into the season. It is almost to be expected though, as the racing is so close and there is not too much to separate the riders.
This is still one of the best Anaheim 1 layouts in recent memory. There are lengthy rhythm sections, unique doubles that run over the first corner and a rather difficult whoop section. It got flattened a bit before the second qualifying session, which made it much easier on the non-qualifiers, but it is still a technical section. The riders were experimenting with different lines in the final rhythm section too. Double, quad, quad was the most popular option early on in the day, much like it was on press day, then riders really started to hog the inside and go over the table, step on, step off and then single out. The step off is actually quite difficult as the landing is higher than normal.
Those options are really irrelevant now though, as the rain has fallen as forecast and the opening round of Monster Energy Supercross is going to become a game of survival. Could the track be saved? Probably not. Even if the rain stops, which is not going to happen, the damage is done. It will not be as wet as it was back in 2005, so do not worry too much, but it will probably be similar to 2008 if it continues to rain. There really is the potential for a significant upset. Blake Baggett knows how to navigate these conditions, as does Justin Barcia and Aaron Plessinger. Perhaps the experience that Chad Reed has will shine through? There are so many possibilities.
This is what we have learnt thus far today though: If those rumours about Eli Tomac sustaining a back injury were true, then it really was minor as he has been in the mix for the top spot all day. Ken Roczen is prepared to fight for wins each week. Marvin Musquin is not on the level of the elite few, because of that knee injury, and will take time to get up to speed. Cooper Webb is in a much better place on a Red Bull KTM and a very prepared Malcolm Stewart could surprise some people. There are just so many stories to follow and, heck, there is plenty of time for the above to go one way or another.
What about the 250SX West class? There were no huge surprises, as Adam Cianciarulo and Dylan Ferrandis dominated proceedings. The latter was quicker all day but could not match his rival in the second and final qualifying session. A crash, which had the potential to be nasty had a tuff block not acted as a cushion, did not help, but he got straight back up and continued to post heaters. Those riders were the only ones in the 250SX class to triple through the section after the finish line, which was much faster than doubling through. Fans are just waiting for Shane McElrath to join that battle once the gates drop.
Well, that is it! A handful of thoughts and opinions following the practice sessions at round one of Monster Energy Supercross in Southern California. There is so much more to talk about, but opening ceremonies are set to begin in an hour. It is time to go racing!
Words: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: ConwayMX