Following our enforced Coronavirus vacation, it’s time to look back at the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season…
So you’ve got a country crashing into COVID-19 lockdown, a multi-million dollar series hanging by little more than a throttle cable, 80 of the best stadium specialists on the planet – including Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Kawasaki), Ken Roczen (Team Honda HRC) and Cooper Webb (Red Bull KTM) – all champing at the bit to bang bars and tens of thousands of fans desperate to get their racing fix.
What the hell do you do?
Well, if you’re Monster Energy AMA Supercross promoter Feld Entertainment you pick one venue, shoehorn seven rounds into three weeks, light the blue touch paper and stand well back!
Desperate times call for desperate measures and with the world’s biggest SX series suspended after round 10 at Daytona on March 7, Feld thought on its feet and moved the whole shooting match 1,400 metres above sea level to Salt Lake City in Utah.
Supercross is a high-pressure sport at the best of times and a succession of Sunday and Wednesday races only served to up the intensity to almost unbearable levels.
Following Daytona it was tight at the top of the premier 450 class where Tomac led Roczen by just three points after his win at the International Speedway.
Defending champion Webb sat third a further 26 points off the pace after crashing hard at round eight at Arlington with Justin Barcia (Monster Energy Yamaha) another two behind before a 25-point gap back to 2018 champ Jason Anderson (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna).
Fast forward to May 31 – over 12 weeks since the suspension of hostilities – and the usual suspects converged on Rice-Eccles Stadium for round 11.
The 450SX crown has been a title that’s eluded Tomac since he moved up to the big-bike class in 2014. At times he’s clearly been the fastest rider on the track but there’s always been a question mark hanging over his ability to get the job done – especially when the pressure’s on.
This time around, however, Tomac barely put a foot wrong. Coming from Colorado, the lofty Salt Lake City altitude possibly played into his hands and the 27-year-old showed no signs of cracking with his 1-2-1-3-3-2 finishes giving him a 22-point lead heading into the 17th and final round. Webb had moved ahead of Roczen into second thanks to a run of three wins in Utah with the German another six off the pace before a big gap back to Anderson.
On the final night, 2010 British MX2 champ Zach Osborne (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) raced to a career-first 450 Main Event win from Anderson and Scotland’s Dean Wilson (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) but fifth was easily good enough for Tomac to take the title.
“My dream was [the] 450 supercross championship,” said Tomac. “That’s what you chase. That’s why you get up in the morning. You get up out of bed with motivation. I still totally love riding my dirt bike. I love racing. I just love being competitive. It gives me the motivation to wake up.”
Webb was eighth for second in the series – 25 points behind Tomac – with Roczen’s seventh-placed finish leaving him in third in the final standings, five points shy of Webb.
The 250SX East series was four rounds down when COVID came calling and was decided at SLC 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7.
Heading into the first Utah race it was defending champ Chase Sexton (Geico Honda) who led by 10 points from Shane McElrath (Monster Energy Yamaha) with RJ Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) holding down third, one point ahead of Garrett Marchbanks (Monster Energy Kawasaki) who’d taken a career-first win at Daytona.
Sexton had won two of the first four Main Events of the year but it was McElrath who came out swinging with back-to-back victories at the opening two rounds in Salt Lake City.
With Sexton running 2-4 it was all square with three rounds to go but the champ was about to turn the season on its head as he went on a three-race win-streak with McElrath chasing him home each time to take the crown by nine points.
“Man, it feels good,” said Sexton. “Everyone said I got lucky last year and that kind of fired me up coming into this season. I won five Main Events and I couldn’t be more excited. I can’t thank my team enough – they’ve been behind me since day one.”
With three of the main series contenders failing to make it to the end of the season – Marchbanks crashed at SLC3 and sustained a knee injury along with bruised lungs and a lacerated liver, Hampshire elected to have surgery on a torn ACL and Jeremy Martin (Geico Honda) withdrew after SLC2 for contractual reasons – it was Jo Shimoda (Geico Honda) who claimed third in the title race and picked up the Rookie of the Year award for good measure.
The 250SX West field was treated to three nights in Utah at SLC4, 5 and 7. With three wins from six starts, defending champion Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Yamaha) led his team-mate and opening round winner Justin Cooper by seven points and Austin Forkner (Monster Energy Kawasaki) by 13 before the enforced lay-off.
Following four months of inaction, Forkner restarted strongest with back-to-back wins at SLC4 and 5 but a pair of seconds – while Cooper struggled to 4-6 finishes – gave Ferrandis a seven-point advantage over Forkner heading into the final round.
With the championship on the line at the 250 Shootout that also featured the East division, after surviving the LCQ Ferrandis brought it home in a rock-solid fourth behind Sexton, McElrath and Michael Mosiman (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) to sew up the title by 20 points from Cooper with Forkner ending the season back in third after crashing out at the start of the Main Event.
“To move from [France] and live in the US chasing my dream and win two times back-to-back championship is just a big, big dream come true,” said Ferrandis. “So that’s why I think I get emotional. I was just proud and happy and I let all the emotion go.”