Wide World of MX
It’s seeming more and more likely every day that Team USA’s Motocross of Nations team will consist of the top racers available in each class. As of the writing, the team should consist of defending 450MX champ and current points leader Eli Tomac, 250MX points leader Aaron Plessinger and Justin Barcia (who is fourth in points right now behind Tomac, France’s Marvin Musquin and Germany’s Ken Roczen). This is the ideal lineup for Team USA under the circumstances, and we might have Monster Energy to thank for it, since the RedBud event is sponsored by Monster Energy and all three prospective members of Team USA are sponsored by said company. Tomac has balked on going to the MXoN for quite a few years now, even when he was healthy, but with his team’s biggest sponsor also sponsoring the event, and with the event being held in his home country, it’s possible that will have made the difference in Tomac’s 2018 participation.
But there are some things about this that I think American fans need to keep in mind before they get too cocky about our country’s chances at this event:
First off, the rules at the Motocross of Nations have been changed over the last 15 years or so specifically to help the rest of the world compete with, and defeat, Team USA.
(This isn’t an unfair or unreasonable thing, either. The United States has the largest population of any of the MXoN’s true contenders by far, and as a country, sells by far more off-road motorcycles than any other in the world. We also host the number-one off-road motorcycle-racing series in the world, in the AMA Supercross Series, and our Pro Motocross Nationals, at worst, is the third largest racing series in the world [at best, it’s second]. Simply put, the USA has won the MXoN more times than any other country because we should. There are many other countries with great racers, but the main problem is depth, as countries like Italy often has two top-flight racers, but rarely has three. The same is often true of most nations on the MXoN starting grid. The USA, if all of our racers were healthy, could field at least a half-dozen competitive teams.)
Among these rule changes are/were:
- Drawing numbers for gate pick. Gate pick for the Saturday qualifiers used to be based on practice times in each class, which meant the USA would nearly always have top-five gate picks in all three classes. This rule change has backfired on the rest of the world as often as it has helped. But if you don’t think gate pick is important, look at what happened to Tomac after his bike broke while leading the first moto at RedBud. In moto two, everything came apart. He went from the fastest guy on the track to someone who couldn’t seem to get out of his own way.
- Older racers in MX2. A number of years ago, Youthstream (the MXGP series)—which puts on the MXoN—made a rule that at 23 years of age, racers had to advance out of the MX2 class into the MX1 class. With many teams having trouble filling all three team spots with top-flight racers, this made it even more difficult for them, so the FIM made it so this rule doesn’t apply to the MXoN. Team USA has an incredible supply of under-23-year-old factory racers.
- Throwaway qualifying motos. The top qualifiers out of Saturday’s qualifying races used to be determined by combining all three qualifying motos with the lowest score getting the first picks in all three motos on Sunday, but that rule was changed to allow one throwaway moto so that the team with the best two combined finishes on Saturday determined the top gate pick all day on Sunday. That meant that a team scoring a 1-6-29 would qualify in front of a team that went 3-4-4.
- Throwaway MXoN motos. Instead of combining all six moto scores from Sunday’s races to determine the winner of the Chamberlin Cup, the worst moto score is tossed out and the top-five scores from each team are tallied to determine the champion. This is the biggest advantage the rest of the world has been able to exploit over the years to defeat Team USA, as it usually works like this: Teams are typically two 450cc racers (MX1 and Open classes) and one 250cc racer (MX2). The Sunday motos are MX1/MX2, then MX2/Open, and then MX1/Open. If things go well for the two factory-level racers on a team that lacks three, all they need is for their third rider to put in one solid finish. Often, this is achieved by putting the lower-level racer on a 450 (usually in the Open class, but sometimes in MX1, depending on the strategy) so that this racer might grab a good start in one of the motos where the MX2 class is also on the track, and if they hold it together for a top-five or top-10, their job is done. (This is how Germany won the MXoN for the first time in 2012, with two top racers in Max Nagl and Ken Roczen, and then Marcus Schiffer soldiering through for seventh in the MX2/Open moto on his 450.)
The rules are stacked to make it harder for Team USA to win. This likely accounts for Team USA’s record-setting dry-spell, having not won the event since 2011. However, these rule changes do not completely negate the advantage the USA has over the rest of the world in this regard. Team USA is still the favorite to win at almost every MXoN event.
Especially this year.CN