He may not be in contention for a championship this year, but Eli Tomac is the rider getting the most buzz heading into this weekend’s Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship race.
Tomac missed the first four rounds of the season as he recovered from a broken collarbone but has been a major force in the series since returning and making his 450 Class debut. In the four rounds he’s raced, the GEICO Honda rider has finished on the podium each time, and he put on a masterful display a week ago at Spring Creek, sweeping both motos to earn his first career overall win.
Had Tomac not missed any races, he very well could be battling with Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey for the 450 Class championship this season. Instead, Tomac will have to settle for playing the role of spoiler to the Red Bull KTM duo. He has a lot of momentum headed into today’s MotoSport.com Washougal National, and as we saw last year when Tomac won the 250 Class championship, he has the ability to step up his riding in the second half of the season.
Is Tomac ready to go on a run and reel off several more wins before the season concludes, or will Roczen and Dungey reassert their place at the front of the field today at Washougal?
Here’s a few other news and notes for today’s race.
Stewart Sitting Out
One week after being unable to race the second moto at Spring Creek due to a spell of dizziness, James Stewart will not compete today at Washougal. The Yoshimura Suzuki team said that they hope to have him return for the next round at Unadilla, but Stewart has a history of being a mercurial man, so nothing is guaranteed.
Andrew Short has quietly been one of the most consistent riders in the series – something that seems to be said about him every year. Although he sits just eighth in points, his streak of 13 consecutive top-ten moto finishes is topped only by Roczen, Dungey and Trey Canard.
Title Hopes Slipping Away
In the 250 Class, the pressure is on for Cooper Webb and Blake Baggett, who both lost a lot of points to Jeremy Martin last week thanks to crashes. Martin was able to stretch his points lead out to the equivalent of nearly two full motos, so with just eight motos left on the schedule, Webb and Baggett can’t afford to make any more mistakes.
Wilson Rounding into Form?
It’s been a rough season for Dean Wilson, who was expected to be a contender for the 250 Class title before an injury at the first round caused him to miss several weeks and ended those hopes. Wilson had his best day of the season last week, posting 5th-place finishes in both motos, and could be rounding back into form. Wilson is among a group of riders – Christophe Pourcel, Marvin Musquin and Justin Bogle included – who could conceivably still capture their first moto win before the end of the season.
Coverage from Washougal resumes with the pre-race show at 3:15 PM E.T., available online exclusively on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. The pre-show will lead right into first and second motos for both classes from 4:00-8:00 PM E.T. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.
NBCSN will also televise live coverage of second motos from 6:00-8:00 PM E.T.
Whether dinner or driving, Montoya and Cameron fast friends at Penske
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dane Cameron’s reaction to being told he’d be paired with Juan Pablo Montoya on Team Penske’s DPI Acura didn’t signal the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“I sign my contract with (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric, and he says, ‘We’re going to put you with Montoya,’ ” Cameron told NBCSports.com, pausing to laugh. “I’m thinking ‘Did I do something wrong? Is he mad at me? Why is he giving me that guy? This is going to be a lot of work.’
“At first I wasn’t really sure what I was in for because (Montoya) definitely has a bit of a reputation. I was like, ‘Oh man, how is this going to go?’ ”
Entering this weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Cameron and Montoya are the reigning champions of IMSA’s premier division. In their second year together, the No. 6 duo scored victories last season at Mid-Ohio, Detroit and Laguna Seca while finishing on the podium in seven consecutive events.
But it’s easy to understand why Cameron initially might have had reservations about a working relationship with Montoya.
Over a Hall of Fame career spanning more than two decades, the outspoken Colombian famous for his cutthroat indifference and swashbuckling sizzle has been embroiled in controversial rivalries with many of the world’s greatest drivers while blazing a winning trail in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One.
Cameron, meanwhile, is a low-key native of Sonoma, California, who is the first three-time champion of the WeatherTech Series (since the IMSA merger of 2014) but whose professional driving experience is limited nearly exclusively to sports cars.
Yet since their first conversation – Montoya called Cameron while he was driving home from signing that first contract with Penske – their rapport has been strong, and as simpatico as they are behind the wheel, they also get along famously off the track.
“We have such a good relationship,” Montoya told NBCSports.com. “It’s amazing how well we bonded. We really created a friendship. We have massive amounts of trust in each other. Whether he makes a mistake or I make a mistake, there’s no judgment. We always seem to be there for each other, and we complement each other really well.
“I like going to dinner with this guy, put it that way. That doesn’t happen often.”
Cameron said his teammate’s loose and playful style immediately was a welcome relief. During one of his first media appearances with Team Penske’s IMSA driver lineup, Cameron was nervous about maintaining the team’s well-coiffed image of professionalism.
But as Montoya and teammate Helio Castroneves traded barbs about turning gray or graining weight, Cameron suddenly felt at ease.
“Juan’s a good guy to break the ice when it’s getting a little stuffy in the room to have a little joke or make fun of Helio coloring his hair just to lighten the mood,” Cameron said of Montoya. “If things are tense, he’s good. It’s silly and childish but fun. That helped me get more comfortable for sure
“He’s probably a little more brash than I am and likes to pick on people and have some fun, but I like to enjoy myself, too. If everything’s really serious, and you’re miserable, it’s tougher to perform in the car. If you’re enjoying yourself and surrounding yourself with the right people in a good environment, then things come together a lot easier.”
Cameron and Montoya never met before joining Team Penske’s relaunched sports car program two years ago. The team used the same formula for filling each of its Acuras: Pairing an IMSA champion with an IndyCar star.
Ricky Taylor and Castroneves were aligned in the No. 7, and Montoya was teamed with Cameron, who had won the 2016 DP title with Action Express Racing.
“With (Cameron) winning the championship, we knew Montoya would have respect for him,” Cindric said. “We saw pretty quickly that (Montoya) could learn from (Cameron) in this form of racing. It’s been healthy. We’ve never had any problems with them.
“It’s good to see them have success and Montoya get another championship. He was so close to the IndyCar (title) with us, it was good to get one with him.”
Montoya, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Cameron will be paired with another Indy 500 champion at Daytona as Simon Pagenaud joins their Rolex 24 entry for the second consecutive season. Montoya and Cameron still are seeking their first endurance victory, and Pagenaud bring the resume of a former American Le Mans Series champion.
The trio will split the driving over 24 hours while also compromising on myriad details, such as the positioning of the seat and pedals. Hitting a setup that can suit each driver’s style with optimized speed is among the biggest challenges in sports car racing.
“You have to find the right balance between standing up for what you really want and what you really need so you can perform and then maybe give up here and there on certain things that aren’t bothering you,” Cameron said. “When you find the right partnership and the right guy to be with, it really can push the program to the next level.”
Said Montoya: “It’s crazy that we always want the same things out of the car. We keep helping each other. And it’s funny because when I’m really happy with the car, he struggles a bit. And when he’s really happy with the car, I struggle a bit. And we kind of found that middle ground where we know it’s good. I can make it work here, and he can make it work there.”
Each has their own track-specific strengths, too. Montoya is a three-time Rolex 24 winner who excels on the Daytona road course, where Cameron still is seeking his first win. It’s the opposite at Sebring International Raceway, where Montoya says, “I know I suck, and Dane’s freaking unbelievable.”
Such brutal honesty is part of what makes Montoya a good teammate.
“He just wants to have fun and drive race cars and really isn’t into drama,” Cameron said. “Sometimes he can’t bite his tongue, but that makes everyone love him at the same time. We just found a really great way to have fun at the racetrack and become closer friends away from the track.