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Tampa was the kick off to the 250SX East series and while the 450SX guys are approaching halfway, there was a sense of optimism and excitement for the 250SX teams and riders. Going in, I think most reasonable people would think the defending champion, GEICO Honda's Chase Sexton, and Monster Star Racing Yamaha's Shane McElrath were slight favourites over a pack of past race winners like GEICO Honda's Jeremy Martin, Rockstar Husqvarna's RJ Hampshire and Monster Pro Circuit's Jordon Smith. After that there are rookies, veterans and tweeners like PC's Garrett Marchbanks.
We saw McElrath have a dominant day in Tampa with setting the fastest time, winning his heat by eighteen miles and then checking out to grab the win. It was Shane's third opening round 250SX win and erases what was a so-so SX season for him last year before he sat out the second half. We have seen the success of the Star Yamaha team over the last few years with rider after rider winning titles and races aboard the bLUcRU machine so it's not hard to picture Shane going on a run here and getting his first professional championship.
Some other thoughts on the 250SX East opener…
– Chase Sexton finished second and looked pretty good at that. He seems to have filled out a bit as well. The one thing I hear over and over is that the riders on GEICO Honda are so much happier with their motorcycle than last year. "We have a new (motor) guy, Ryan Cox. I tell him, ‘You are a blessing to this team' every time I see him," Sexton told me afterwards. "It's not that we had the wrong parts. We were doing it in the wrong sequence. Last year I was honestly beating my head against the wall every race."
Both Sexton and Hunter Lawrence were not stoked with the lower-end power of the all-new CRF250R last year but looking at Christian Craig and Jett Lawrence in 250SX West, it seems that power isn't an issue for the red guys this year. Sexton's a great rider but he's not great enough to let McElrath grab the holeshot and check out like that early and still win. Starts might be the deciding factor between these two and I'll go with the Yamaha.
– Jeremy Martin hadn't raced a Monster Energy Supercross round in almost two years so finishing third – making a little mini-run at Sexton in the main event even – was a win for Martin. Jeremy hasn't found supercross as easy as motocross but maybe taking a break from it, looking at his skills/programme a different way might make him a better supercross rider. This third had to feel like a win for J-Mart right?
– Jordon Smith ran as high as second in the main event before dropping back. He got passed by the two GEICO guys, his teammate Marchbanks and Hampshire as well. I had heard that he wasn't 100% coming into the race and that buzz proved to be correct. Or at least I hope so!
– The surprise up front was probably Marchbanks, he rode from outside the top five to a fourth before dropping back a bit but getting it back when Hampshire crashed. Garrett passed veterans Smith and Hampshire to get into the mix and he looked way better than perhaps any time last year (outside of when he podiumed in the mud in San Diego). Big year for Garrett in the last year of his contract with the PC guys.
– The most improved rider was Joey Crown of the Club MX team. He hadn't ever made a main event before (last year was his rookie year and he didn't do all the races at that) so to ride into a qualifying spot from a ways out in the heat was good. Then running top seven in the main event for a long time was downright impressive! Joey was the surprise of the main event and I think he'll keep it up if I'm honest. He's got skills and is comfy with the bike. Good work for Crown.
– Team PulpMX's RJ Hampshire (serious, he runs a sticker!) didn't get the start he wanted but I was anxious to see how he would do. New bike, new team, new trainer and Hampshire took a bit too long to get going in the main event even, as I say, getting passed by Marchbanks. Sure enough he got going and moved up later on in the main, even getting close to Martin at one point. He set the fastest lap of the main event as well. That's the good. The bad is he crashed in the whoops and lost two spots late in the race. Some good, some bad from Hampshire on the new ride and, as of now, the jury is out on RJ's change.
"We just kind of grinded, did what I could to be good for tonight. Struggled all day," Hampshire told me afterwards "Really I just told myself all week: ‘I got fifteen minutes plus one.' That's all I need. You can tell, that was it. I was going for it. I feel like I'm not a fourth-place guy so I'm not going to settle for fourth. Like you said, I felt like I was riding good. Had a good lap time. Just one little mistake."
Some other quick hitters…
– We always overlook Kyle Peters but he went out there and did Kyle Peters things in getting into the top ten. Seriously, we need to talk about him more than we do.
– Josh Hill's first 250SX in, what, eleven years went probably about as well as can be expected. Hill didn't get a good start and fought hard to get near the top ten but was thwarted by a huge battle with Cedric Soubeyras late in the main event. I wonder what Josh's expectations were for this series and if he met them?
– Jimmy Decotis made two podiums last year but came into the opener nursing an injury from a practice crash. He looked terrible in practice but gutted out a top ten in the main event.
– Nick Gaines looked to be better than he was last year so that's awesome for him while I expected more out of Enzo Lopes.
– Jalek Swoll of the Rockstar Husky team and Jo Schimoda of the GEICO team had the ultimate highs and lows out there. Swoll didn't make the main event, which had to sting while Schimoda ran up near the top five before falling and ending up tenth. Hopefully both kids understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and won't be too down from their rides, especially Swoll.
Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: GEICO Honda
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