What’s the Flagging Deal?

Paul Carruthers | June 5, 2009

With seven riders, including both second-moto winners Josh Grant and Christophe Pourcel, getting nailed for disregarding the hazard flag at the Hangtown round of the National Motocross Series last weekend, the flagging system will undergo a slight change for this weekend’s round in Texas, according to MX Sports.

Based on the feedback they received from the riders, MX Sports has changed the flag in question from yellow and red to white and red, which should help riders distinguish the flags from the others while maintaining the true purpose of the flags – to protect the safety of fallen riders and track personnel.

The most newsworthy of those who were nailed with penalties last week was Grant, the JGR Toyota Yamaha rider jumping in clear view of the cameras and right in front of a waving flag while winning the second moto. The others found in violation were 250 class riders Tommy Searle, Jake Weimer, Brad Kelly, Eric Nye and Topher Ingalls.

For Grant, the yellow flag was out on one side of the track (the outside of a 180-degree turn) and the red/yellow flag was waving on the inside of the turn. Grant and Mike Alessi were only about a second away from each other at the time, but Alessi slowed down in time to roll the jump – as did Ivan Tedesco and Chad Reed behind him. Grant, however, did not.

“From what Josh says, he was going up the hill and the sun was in his eyes and he had his visor tucked down and he didn’t see the guy with the flag on the inside,” JGR Yamaha’s Jeremy Albrecht said. “He did see the yellow flag on the takeoff, but it was too late for him to hit the brakes and endo down the hill. He did jump down it. Obviously, he can’t deny that. It looks a lot more obvious when you replay it on the TV, but in his defense, he honestly didn’t see it.”

Alessi saw it, and also saw Grant jump under the “wheels on the ground” flag. At the time of the post-race press conference, some members of the media asked Alessi if he was thinking at the time that a penalty would be imposed on Grant.

“Yeah, there already is, but I’m not going to talk about it,” Alessi said – although his way of “not talking about it” was repeatedly referring to his 1-1 victory before the penalties had been officially announced. “Rules are rules and if you jump under that yellow with the red-cross, you’re going to get in trouble. In that one lap [Grant] made seven or six seconds on me. Me and Tedesco, we rolled it and it’s pretty clear.

“They’re looking at it right now. It was live television; you couldn’t have missed it,” Alessi concluded.

Following the press conference, MX Sports officials announced that all seven riders found in offense would be docked a position. Though Pourcel’s overall result still stood under the penalty, Grant was dinged pretty hard. The penalty stripped him of his career first 450cc class moto win, and also changed his 9-1 score for third overall to a 9-2 for fifth on the day.

The JGR Toyota Yamaha team took the news well, considering, and called the ruling fair.

“Definitely on TV it looks obvious so we have to go with what MX Sports says,” Albrecht said. “[Josh] didn’t even gain an advantage, I don’t think. [He and Alessi] were kinda back and forth the whole time. I don’t think it was why he won the race. For me, I would say it’s fair because they docked people in the other class, too, who did the same thing. They were fair on the ruling so that’s good.”

In the 250cc division, the team most directly affected by the “flagging incident” was the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team since it was one of their riders (Austin Stroupe) who was down, being attended to by the medics, and another two of their riders, including the race winner, who were penalized for violating the flag.

“Christophe didn’t think that he jumped over the finish line and nor did Jake,” Mitch Payton explained. “So I’m not sure. When I saw the flag from the pit area, I thought that it was like a plateau jump, I thought [the flag] was on the back side of the plateau, which I’m not sure coming up to the jump that they could see it. I don‘t know if there was a flag on the other side or not so that’s why I was asking them if there was a flag leading up to it. We’re not going to protest it. We just want to look at the video and see.”

Traditionally, in Supercross, the “wheels on the ground” flag is white with a red cross, and the equivalent flag for the AMA Motocross Championship introduced by MX Sports this year is a yellow flag with a red symbol on it. Its similarity to the yellow caution flag is what most claim to have been confused by, saying it was hard to distinguish the two. That problem should be fixed now that MX Sports is making the immediate change.

“I think there’s obviously a problem if there are six guys in the 250 class that got docked,” Albrecht said last weekend. “Our opinion is the flag should be a different color and not yellow. In all the past, a yellow flag doesn’t mean anything except for ‘be cautious’ so we just said we think the flag should be white and red so it’ll be a little easier to tell the difference.”

When asked if he agreed that the flag should be changed, Payton said: “It should probably go back to a white and red or something like that that they’re used to from Supercross. Something that’s easier to see so it doesn’t look like a yellow flag.”

Alessi’s teammate, Chad Reed, admitted that he almost blew past it, too.

“I would have jumped it if I hadn’t seen Mike [Alessi] pull out at the last second,” Reed said. “I think that they should use the red-cross flag. The flag that they use is just a yellow flag with something else on it and it’s something else to confuse us.

“No matter what you do, whether it’s driving a car or anything, you see a red-cross flag and you know that there’s immediate danger ahead and you get on the brakes and take caution. I think they need to go to that like they have in Supercross. This new flag doesn’t work.”

“I think Josh was robbed today a little bit,” Reed concluded. “Rules are rules – I understand that. But he rode his butt off and to get that win taken away sucks for him.”

The penalties from Hangtown stand and the teams don’t intend to protest the results. And now MX Sports has stepped to the plate, addressed the situation clearly and quickly with input from the riders, and have changed the flag in question.

Paul Carruthers | Editor

Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.