Quick thoughts: Anaheim one
After ten years, Eli Tomac finally got his Anaheim one win but he didn’t make it easy on himself in one of the most exciting opening rounds you will ever see on a track that provided hold your breath moments for every rider, every lap.
The track crew deserve special credit for making the track so raceable after a week of rain, and the ruts only added to the drama, making many lines and an extra technical track that left all the riders on edge. At times it was like the SMX play-offs arrived ten months early!
Four race leaders, plus Roczen showing he’s on the pace on the Suzuki, with Webb and Ferrandis flying, meant everyone in terms of the big dogs, look to be on-form in 2023. Their problem though, is Eli Tomac looks even faster!
Tomac looked great all day on his first race on the new Yamaha, and when he eventually found a peaceful pass on Barcia he started to pull away and it looked like nothing would stop him – until he hit the deck! From there, even with Webb on his back wheel when he got up, Tomac went to another level. His ambition and believe that he could still win the race, showed just how good he felt and, the that face he race down his biggest rival from outdoors, Chase Sexton, to take the win was the biggest marker of the day for everyone else.
Tomac is faster than last year and he just came through the pack and off the ground to pass a lot of hi rivals to win a race he hasn’t won in ten attempts. And don’t forget Eli treats A1 as a learning race! So, while the first round was superb, Tomac, the notorious slow starter in a series, has already come out swinging. The rest have to strike back quickly.
Thankfully Cooper Webb looks comfortable on the KTM and came through the field to second, nabbling Sexton at the end in a classic Webb ride – but even he admitted he had nothing for Tomac on the night.
Dylan Ferrandis came in under the radar but leaves very much on it. The Frenchman looking at home on this new Yamaha, following Webb through the field to fourth. Ferrandis will be one to watch this season.
Then there is Ken Roczen proving people wrong yet again. Ride a Suzuki with a kick-start that is largely unchanged from 2018 with only a month’s time on it before A1 and come away with a top 5? It’s possible and a reality if your name is Ken Roczen! The German looked great out there even if he said he just doubled everything on the track and didn’t care!
Malcolm Stewart came away full of confidence despite that scary crash with a couple of o laps to go that stopped a podium, but Malcolm led laps and was flying, he is going to be a factor this season.
What about Chase Sexton? Probably the most frustrated rider on the podium after it looked like he would run away with the win once Tomac crashed, but Chase made mistakes and got tight with Tomac closing in , and while third is good, knowing Tomac got one over him already won’t be. But he looked great all day and shouldn’t have anything to worry about going forward – bar Tomac!
One of the most impressive rides had to be Colt Nichols, who after a year of injury pain and then a last minute call up to factory Honda, took a brilliant sixth in his 450 debut under big pressure and probably some doubts in his mind. Nichols was, cool, clam and collected and it’s great to see those injuries don’t look like they are going to affect his potential on a 450.
The biggest downer of the night was Austin Forkner. The one rider that had the speed to give Jett a run for his money, and proved it with his pace all day, went down spectacularly hard straight out of the gate after clipping the back of his teammate McAdoo. As Forkner bounced along the ground then lay there in physical and emotional pain, you have to wonder what more Forkner can do to get a title. Two years in a row he has been down and out without making a big mistake himself. That’s a tough one to take.
It meant Jett could take the win unchallenged and he looked smooth and classy with it – but no Forkner took the edge of the 250 West opener.
With a mudder predicted for this weekend in Oakland there could be even more drama at round two!
Words: Jonathan McCready
Images: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.