Glen Helen 450 Class Preview

By Shawn Smith, ProMotocross.com


CHASING TOMAC

When we last left the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Eli Tomac was crushing the field to the tune of a 1 minute, 31 second victory over the field.

Just how historic of a performance was that moto win at Hangtown? It was the largest margin of victory on record in the 450 Class since Ricky Carmichael lapped the field at Spring Creek in 2006. Aside from Carmichael, the only other rider on record to win a moto by more than one minute in the last ten years was James Stewart. Even when Ryan Dungey was smoking the 450 Class en route to championships in 2010 and 2012, his largest margin of victory never exceeded 51 seconds.


Tomac's victory at Hangtown had historical implications. (Photo: Chris Ortiz)

As the season continues, can this domination carry on? At least one of Tomac's chief rivals seems to think not.

"His performance was great by all means," Dungey said at last week's post-race press conference after his 2-2 finishes. "But I also believe - not in a cocky way - that he's at his best - him, the bike. I see a lot of improvement on our side still yet to come. I definitely have a lot more than we showed today."

This weekend, the series shifts to Glen Helen. Dungey won last year's 450 Class race here, while Tomac has never raced this track as a professional.

"[Glen Helen] is by far the gnarliest track on the circuit, so we'll see how it goes," Tomac said. "It has those gigantic hills, and it's prepped differently on practice days there."

Continuing to get strong starts will be key for Tomac, but things are clicking right now and the rest of the field has a challenge on their hands in attempting to remove that red plate from his GEICO Honda.


Will Dungey even the score this weekend? (Photo: Matt Rice)

 

ROCZEN FIGHTS THROUGH PAIN

What to make of Ken Roczen, the defending champion of the 450 Class?

There were rumblings throughout the week at Hangtown that something was wrong with the RCH Suzuki rider, and when he didn't attend press day, the rumor mill went into hyperdrive. If you watched him on the track during practice and Moto 1, you could tell that something was off, although his second moto (a fifth place finish) was considerably better.

We know now that Roczen has a stress fracture in his back. It's not a new injury, but rather an aggravation of a pre-existing injury that he did not know about until it flared up shortly before Hangtown, and it's not a condition that can be made worse by riding. It kept him off the bike for nine days though, right up until the time he took to the track for practice last Saturday.


Roczen appears to be in better shape this week. (Photo: Matt Rice)

Watching Roczen ride press day at Glen Helen, he looks like a much different rider this week - even throwing whips across the finish line.

In an interview with Racer X on Thursday, Roczen said that he received injections to manage the pain before Hangtown, but they hadn't kicked in yet by the day of the race. Now he's feeling much better, saying that "from here on out it’s going to get better weekend after weekend."

While the pain may be more tolerable now, the lack of time on the bike over the past two weeks could still be a factor, as it has cut into his testing time and he has yet to do a full moto in practice since the injury. We'll find out at Glen Helen how close Roczen is to returning to last year's form.

 

JGR STARTS THE SEASON OFF STRONG

The first race of the season was a pretty solid one all around for the Toyota/JGR/Yamaha team, with Weston Peick earning a career-best moto finish, Justin Barcia turning in a near-vintage ride in the second moto, and Phil Nicoletti landing inside the overall top ten.

For both Peick and Barcia, it was a tale of two motos at Hangtown. In the first moto, Peick got a great start but couldn't take full advantage, as he kept dropping spots throughout the race and faded back to eighth. Between motos, his team made some bike changes that seemed to be exactly what was needed. Despite crossing the line seventh after the opening lap in Moto 2, he charged all the way up to third, giving Peick the best moto finish of his career and earning him fourth overall. It isn't a fluke - he should be in the mix for podiums throughout the season.


Barcia turned laps at Glen Helen on Thursday for press day. (Photo: Matt Rice)

As for Barcia, he experienced goggle issues in the first moto, and the dirt in his eyes caused him to cross-rut off a jump. The resulting bike issues were bad enough that he had retire from the race and head back to the truck to regroup. He came back with a vengeance in the second moto, running inside the top three for most of the race until being passed by Peick. He ended up fourth in the moto and 11th overalll with 35-4 finishes.

Both riders are in their first seasons with JGR, and there's been some talk of Barcia perhaps struggling with the adjustment to the new bike, but he dismisses that notion.

"I expect myself to be in the top five at worst, and I definitely want some podiums," he told us at press day on Thursday. "People will say what they want, but for me, I know where I can be and it's just a matter of getting everything fine-tuned with the team, so I just gotta work for it. It's taking a lot of time to get the bike dialed in, but the only reason it's taking a lot of time is because I've gotten hurt a couple times and haven't been able to ride. It's mostly getting used to the bike and what it does and fine-tuning it for my riding style. It's going good, everything's going the way I expect it to. Obviously you always want it to be perfect right away, but that's not realistic."

This week, Barcia returns to Glen Helen - a track where he ran well last season - with high expectations.

"The track's awesome here, it's always fun. Last year I was doing really good here. First moto, I was in third and snapped a chain with two laps to go. Got fourth in the second moto. So I see myself being somewhere up in that area again this year."

Knowing that he still has improvements to make with the bike, Barcia expects - in due time - to return to a similar form we saw from him in 2013.

"Definitely being in the top three at the end of the year would be a successful year. And obviously getting some wins would make me happy, and a lot of podiums would be great."


Barcia is still getting his Yamaha dialed in, but he expects to return to the ranks of the top three. (Photo: Matt Rice)


Nicoletti is coming off 9-14 moto finishes for 10th overall a week ago. (Photo: Matt Rice)


Peick will be shooting for an overall podium at Glen Helen. (Photo: Matt Rice)

 

ROOKIE FIREWORKS

Jason Anderson and Blake Baggett might not be the best of friends, but they were inseparable on the track last weekend.

The two riders - who both moved up to the premier class full time for 2015 - have had some history throughout the year, dating back to the supercross season, and once again they managed to find each other at Hangtown.

They finished within one position of each other in both motos - in Moto 1, Anderson got around Baggett on lap 3 and finished less than one second ahead of him for third place, then in Moto 2, Baggett tracked down Anderson and passed him for sixth place late in the race. Although they were separated by just one point at the end of the day, Anderson's 3-7 moto finishes were enough to land him on the podium in third overall in his 450MX debut, and Baggett's 4-6 scores put him fifth overall.

"It's competition," Anderson said after the race. "Ego is what drives us. That's what keeps us hungry to win. What we have going on, it's a rivalry or whatever you want to call it, but I don't want him to beat me, and he doesn't want me to beat him. There's always certain guys that you don't want to beat you more than others, and that's the way it is. I'm sure we're gonna be battling all season, so I'm just looking forward to progressing and seeing where the season goes."


WIll Baggett get the better of his budding rookie rival at Glen Helen? (Photo: Matt Rice)

It could be an entertaining season for this duo if they continue to find each other on the track.

As for the third member of the 450MX rookie class, Cole Seely crashed right off the start of Moto 1 last week and was done for the day. He's planning to race at Glen Helen though.

Live coverage of the FMF Glen Helen National begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra with the second practice session in both classes. Coverage will resume with the pre-race show, airing exclusively online, at 4:00 p.m. ET.

MAVTV will have live coverage of first motos in both classes at 5:00 p.m. ET, with live coverage on NBCSN to follow at 7:00 p.m. ET. All motos can also be streamed live on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra.