The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, presented by AMA Pro Racing, enjoyed its most competitive afternoon of the 2016 season on Saturday with the Red Bull Tennessee National at Muddy Creek Raceway. Hotly contested battles for the win were showcased in each class during the hottest conditions of the first five rounds. In the 450 Class, RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/Suzuki Factory Racing’s Ken Roczen continued his dominant start to a potential second title, sweeping the motos yet again to secure his fourth victory in five rounds. In the 250 Class, Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Cooper Webb claimed his first overall win of the championship.
Team Honda HRC’s Cole Seely surged out to the early lead in the opening 450 Class moto, grabbing the holeshot ahead of Autotrader/Monster Energy/Yamaha’s Phil Nicoletti, with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Christophe Pourcel and Autotrader/Monster Energy/Yamaha’s Justin Barcia in tow. The top four riders engaged in a spirited battle up front on the opening lap, with Nicoletti passing Seely after the first few corners. It wasn’t long before Pourcel and Barcia also seized the opportunity to pass Seely, dropping him to fourth. However, Seely didn’t sit out of podium position for long and mounted a comeback that would eventually move him back into the lead on Lap 1. He then proceeded to open a multiple second lead.
As the early battle up front unfolded, championship leader Roczen closed in from a fifth-place start, while Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac followed in sixth. Roczen methodically and patiently worked his way forward, picking off Barcia, Pourcel and Nicoletti to move into second on Lap 3, facing a near eight-second deficit to Seely. Tomac was unable to get through his competitors as quickly as Roczen, but after teammates Nicoletti and Barcia made contact and crashed while battling for third, Tomac found himself right behind Roczen.
The championship’s top two riders set a torrid pace and were able to completely erase their deficit to Seely by the halfway point of the moto. The top three provided a stellar battle for the lead for multiple laps. Seely kept Roczen at bay and withstood several pass attempts, which allowed Tomac to briefly move into second and attempt a pass for the lead. Seely held off Tomac, but Roczen took advantage of their battle to get back into second and eventually the lead on Lap 9. Roczen surged ahead while Tomac made an aggressive pass to follow through into second. The top two then pulled away and although Tomac kept Roczen honest, the German rider secured his eighth moto win of the season by nearly six seconds. Seely rode to a solid third-place finish. Pourcel was fourth, with Autotrader/Monster Energy/Yamaha’s Weston Peick fifth.
RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s Suzuki Factory Racing’s Broc Tickle earned his first holeshot of the season to start the second 450 Class moto, with Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin and BTO Sports/WPS/KTM’s Justin Brayton right behind him. Seely, Tomac and Roczen all started alongside one another, jockeying for a spot in the top five. As the field continued to sort itself out on the opening lap Roczen made several strategic passes to surge into third and onto the rear fender of Brayton. Tomac eventually followed into fourth, but Roczen’s momentum was carrying him to the front.
After making the pass on Brayton for second on the opening lap, Roczen patiently waited for his opportunity to get by his teammate for the lead, doing so on Lap 1. Tomac had moved into third by the time Roczen seized control of the moto and just two laps later he passed Tickle for second with his sights set on tracking down his German rival.
For the majority of the moto Roczen and Tomac posted near identical lap times, allowing Roczen to maintain his multiple-second lead. However, in the closing laps Roczen started giving up considerable time as he navigated through lapped riders, which allowed Tomac to completely erase the deficit with two laps remaining. Tomac was all over Roczen’s rear fender for the final two laps, utilizing alternative lines to get alongside the points leader on multiple occasions. Despite having momentum on his side, Tomac was unable to make any of the passes stick and lapped riders would play a role in their run to the finish, with Roczen holding off the late pressure to take the win by just a few bike lengths. Tickle maintained his hold on third to earn his best moto result of the season.
Roczen’s fourth 1-1 sweep of the season gives him wins in nine out of 10 motos this season, continuing the most successful start of his professional career. It was the landmark 10th-career win for the German rider.
“That [second moto win] felt good. That’s the way you want to win a race,” said Roczen. “[Tomac] was pushing during the final laps but I was able to hold him off. This was one of the hotter races [this season], which made it tougher. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing [in training] because it seems to be working. We were able to get another win today and go 1-1, so we’ll just keep working.”
Tomac’s 2-2 effort for second overall was his best of the season and gives him four overall podium finishes in five rounds. Tickle’s third-place finish in the final moto vaulted him to his fifth career overall podium finish (6-3), his first since the 2012 season.
“We [Roczen and I] were just nailing our lines and clicking off laps out there. He got a little out of touch [in the middle of the moto] but we were able to close in,” said Tomac. “He was just riding awesome and kept me behind him. It’s good. We’ll take this and move on to fight another day. I really just want to beat him across the line next weekend.”
Roczen added to his already comfortable lead in the 450 Class standings, which now sits at 47 points over Tomac, just three shy of two full motos. Seely, who finished fourth overall, jumped to third in points and sits 92 points out of the lead.
The first moto in the 250 Class saw Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo capture his third holeshot in the last four motos, with his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki teammate and class points leader Joey Savatgy alongside. The two fought hard for the position through the first few corners, but Cianciarulo would get the upper hand and assert himself out front, with GEICO Honda’s Jordon Smith soon moving into second ahead of Savatgy. Cianciarulo paced the field for the one lap until he tucked the front end of his Kawasaki and went down, dropping to third. Smith assumed control of the moto.
Cianciarulo’s misfortune opened the door for Savatgy to mount a challenge on Smith for the lead, closing the deficit and making the pass happen on Lap 5. Once out front the points leader was able to pull away. Cianciarulo recovered nicely from his early crash and kept his Kawasaki in thick of the battle up front, getting back around Smith for second. However, he fell out of contention following another crash on Lap 9, which dropped him outside the top 10 and moved Smith back into second. The vacancy left by Cianciarulo allowed Webb to move into third after starting sixth. He wasted little time in getting around Smith and took over second. Smith would continue to lose ground, falling off the podium on Lap 12 when Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Zach Osborne moved into third.
Savatgy cruised to his fifth moto win of the season by nine seconds over Webb. Osborne finished third. The closing laps provided an exciting three-rider battle between Smith, Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/KTM’s Shane McElrath and Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Jeremy Martin for the remaining spots in the top five, with Smith holding on to fourth and McElrath making a pass in the final turn to steal fifth from reigning back-to-back series champion Martin.
As the field roared into the first corner for the second 250 Class moto it was McElrath who emerged with the holeshot ahead of the Kawasaki duo of Cianciarulo and Savatgy. However, it was Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Alex Martin who surged into the lead to take control of the moto. A small mistake pushed Martin wide coming out of one of the track’s off camber turns, allowing McElrath to slip by and take back the lead. From there the top three settled in, but a tip over by Savatgy on Lap 2 dropped him to eighth, giving the position to Smith.
McElrath and Martin opened a gap over the rest of the field, while a competitive battle for third unfolded amongst several riders, led by Smith and also including the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki trio of Arnaud Tonus, Austin Forkner, and Savatgy. The points leader made an impressive recovery from his early crash and battled his way back to fourth. With Smith in sight, Savatgy went down again and dropped to ninth, putting the battle for the overall win up in the air. McElrath controlled his own destiny by leading, putting him in position to claim his first career victory. Webb was also in the hunt and was methodically working his way forward from an eighth-place start. Despite his troubles Savatgy remained in the fight as well, but needed to claw his way back to the front.
McElrath kept a persistent Martin at bay and looked to be on his way to the moto win, but it was Webb who was on a mission. The North Carolina native broke into the top five by Lap 5 but lost several positions shortly thereafter. He then mounted a comeback and started picking off riders throughout the heart of the moto, breaking into podium contention by moving into fourth on Lap 10. He passed Smith for third on Lap 11, putting him atop the overall classification, but didn’t stop there. He passed Martin for second on Lap 15 and proceeded to get by McElrath for the lead on the final lap, clinching his first win of the season with an incredible second-moto victory.
Webb’s first career win came at Muddy Creek, his adopted home race, during the 2014 season and his 2-1 results made him the first repeat winner in the 250 Class at the facility. It was the fourth win of his career.
“I’m just tired of losing. These fans are awesome. I could hear them out there and it kept me going,” said Webb. “This is what I consider to be a home race, so I’d rather win this race more than any other. I just cannot thank all these fans enough for their support.”
Savatgy resiliently battled back to a seventh-place finish, and his 1-7 effort salvaged second overall, albeit at the expense of giving up valuable points to his closest rival. North Carolina native McElrath capped off a career day at his home race with his first overall podium effort in third (5-2).
“The first moto was good. I got a good start and rode my own race,” said Savatgy. “I’m just very frustrated right now and disappointed in myself. I shouldn’t have made those mistakes [in the second moto] and I lost a lot of energy just trying to keep my bike running. We still got second and have the red plate [as points leader], but we lost some valuable points today and need to bounce back next weekend.”
Savatgy’s lead in the 250 Class standings was trimmed to 12 points over Webb. Jeremy Martin, who finished fifth overall (6-5), sits third, 32 points out of the lead.
The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship will reach the halfway point of the 2016 season next weekend with the RedBud National in Buchanan, Michigan. The sixth round of the championship will commence over Independence Day weekend on Saturday, July 2.