Naturally, the talk centered mostly around Roczen’s fitness, which likely be questioned right up until the time he crosses the finish line in the main event—and that’s assuming that he makes it into the main event, a fairly safe bet.
Roczen’s return to racing after nearly a year’s layoff and 11 surgeries to repair the arm was just many of the story lines to be followed as the series launches off the gate tomorrow night for the first of its 17 rounds. The 2018 supercross tour marks a season of change, with revisions to both the race format and the series point structure. Both have been revamped, says series promoter Feld Entertainment, to make the sport of supercross more competitive and more exciting for the fans.
Let’s start with the points. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the points payout structure has been revised to tighten up the field. The gap between first, second and third remains unchanged, but the new system has been devised to tighten the race to the championship. The new points payout pays one more point for first place, 26 compared to 25 last season, while maintaining the three-point gap between first place and second place (23), and the two point gap between second place and third place (21). However, fourth place will now earn 19 points rather than 18 and fifth place will earn 18 points rather than 16. The point differential then drops to one point less per position from sixth place to 22nd place.
It’s a subtle change from the previous system, but as Supercross Live’s Jim Holley pointed out at the press conference, had the new system been implemented in 2017, Ryan Dungey and Eli Tomac would have tied atop the leaderboard on 376 points after the final round in Las Vegas, and Tomac would have won the championship by virtue of owning the tiebreaker with his nine round wins instead of losing it to Dungey by four points.
The format changes include a Monster Energy Triple Crown for the 450cc class, which will include Anaheim on January 20, Atlanta on March 3 and Minneapolis on April 14. The Triple Crown events will feature three main events of three different lengths. In the 250cc class, there will be two East-West Shootouts, the original taking place at the season finale in Las Vegas while another East-West Shootout takes place earlier in the season at Minneapolis. There will also be amateur supercross events at four rounds of the series, at Anaheim on January 21, Glendale on January 28, Tampa on February 25 and Atlanta on March 4. The 17-round schedule is also slightly different than 2017, with the Atlanta round moving to the new Mercedes Benz Stadium while Houston and Tampa also return to the schedule.
But, when it came time for the media to have their turn with the riders in the press conference, much of the talk centered around Roczen’s arm injury and his fitness, a subject that he is clearly tired of having to discuss, thank you very much. But he got at least some positive support from some of his fellow competitors when one reporter asked the others what they thought of Roczen’s attempt to come back.
“I mean, I think it’s a huge accomplishment, you know, for him to come back from an injury like that and to see the progress he’s made in coming back, and the determination. Autotrader Yoshimura Suzuki’s Weston Peick said. “It’s exciting to see that he actually made it back. Congratulations.”
Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac added, “It’s a lot better to have a guy back with us. You never want to see anybody have an injury that bad, so it’s awesome that he’s here. You never want to really lose competition, especially with an injury like that.”
Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM/WPS’ Blake Baggett agreed, adding, “It just shows how tough everybody that’s sitting up here, that wins races and championships, how tough the guys in our sport really are. They don’t take time off if they don’t have to. Kenny is back, and Chad is still here. He doesn’t have to be here, but he wants to battle on Saturday night, and that’s what makes our sport one of the best, and what makes all of the top guys tougher than most.”
When it comes to tough, Eli Tomac is right at the top of this list. The Coloradoan is the prohibitive favorite to take the 2018 Monster Energy AMA Supercross crown after coming up just four points shy of the mark last year after racking up nine wins—over half the main events on the 2017 schedule. Last year is still clearly on Tomac’s mind, though he says he is ready to put it behind him and start fresh for 2018.
“Last year was tough,” Tomac said. “Those four or five points, whatever it was—but it was just a handful of points—you look back on that and your like, ‘Man, why did we miss that.’ So this year is just about minimizing mistakes. It’s easy to say but a lot harder to do, so that’s the goal at this point. You know, we’re healthy right now, and we have had a really good November-December, but the end goal is to really go after that title and be in a position like we were last year, to where we have a good shot at it by the end. So, it’s all good.”
One rider who Tomac and the rest will definitely be battling with his Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin. The Frenchman has been on fire since the end of the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, becoming only the sport’s second Monster Energy Cup millionaire, repeating as the Red Bull Straight Rhythm Champion and destroying the field in both European supercross events.
“I’m feeling really good,” Musquin said. “Like you said, winning the Monster Energy Cup, all three motos, was amazing. And, yeah, just like you said also, just keep up the momentum of the off-season. We had a great boot camp, training with the guys, and we’re just waiting for the new season.”
With the retirement of future shoo-in AMA Hall of Famer Ryan Dungey, Musquin is also the new number one man at Red Bull KTM, and he hopes to take the knowledge and experienced learned from training and riding with Dungey all those years to create his own legacy in the sport. That could start with the 2018 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series title.
“I feel like everybody saw that for many years Ryan was the most consistent rider, and he was able to win a couple main events, but the bad days he had he was always in the top three or the top five,” Musquin said. “That’s what I learned from him. I’d been his teammate for many years, and always looking at him and training with him, and I learned a lot. So know I’m in his position, to be the guy with the Red Bull KTM, and I just want to really good for that.”