Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross

Enduring storylines mark the halfway point of the 2019 MX season

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Watersheds. Turning Points. Defining Moments. Whatever you want to call them, the first six rounds in the 12-round Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season has been filled with them.

Each race has been marked by an enduring storyline that foreshadowed the events to follow and subtly altered the course of the season.

From the very beginning, it was apparent this year would be special. After mounting a determined comeback not once, but twice in the past two seasons, Ken Roczen finally stepped onto the top rung of the podium in the opener. It was his first win since January 2017, after which he shattered bones in both arms and underwent extensive recovery.

Eli Tomac matched Roczen that week with a Moto win. The stage was set for these two riders to dominate the top of the order.

Also emerging from Round 1 was a storyline of recovery and rebounds as Jason Anderson returned to the track for the first time since Round 3 of the Supercross season. He looked like he had never left. Anderson stood on the bottom step of the podium and has quietly been part of the top-five hunt ever since.

Points after Hangtown: Roczen (47), Tomac (43), Anderson (38), Zach Osborne (36), Cooper Webb (35)
Enduring Storyline: Roczen’s return. | Race Recap

Jason Anderson returned to action in Hangtown with a third-place finish. Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross.com.

The preseason focus was on Tomac.

In the past two seasons, he got off to such a great start that the competition had little to do but chase him throughout 2017 and 2018. Of course, one of his main competitors was beset by injury and with the Hangtown win, Roczen threatened that dominance.

Tomac needed to establish his strength in Round 2 – and he did so with wins in both Motos at Pala Raceway.

Roczen podiumed in both events, but lost the red plate to Tomac.

Round 2 also was the first appearance of Marvin Musquin among the top five in points. Like Roczen and Tomac, he swept the podium at Pala and jumped to third in the standings.

Points after Pala: Tomac (93), Roczen (89), Musquin (74), Anderson (72), Osborne (70)
Enduring Storyline: Tomac’s first appearance as points leader. | Race Recap

Eli Tomac served notice this would be his championship to lose after winning in Round 2. Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross.com

Thunder Valley had another lead change. Roczen’s early season form continued to impress with a 1-2 in the first and second Motos and the overall victory.

This was also the week when Tomac began establishing a pattern he would prefer to avoid. A disastrous start to Moto 1 left him mired in the pack and he could manage to finish only fifth at the end of that race. His victory in Moto 2 was not enough to give him the overall win but more importantly, since points are accumulated in each race, Tomac went from being four points up to two points down.

Someone was greasing the seesaw.

Musquin was also showing inconsistency at this stage of the season with an 8-3 that landed him fifth in the overall and dropped him to fourth in the standings.

Points after Thunder Valley: Roczen (136), Tomac (134), Osborne (110), Musquin (107), Anderson (106)
Enduring Storyline: Tomac’s slow starts. | Race Recap

Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen battled handlebar-to-handlebar for the first four rounds of the season. Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross.com

High Point was the most inconsistent round to date. None of the riders ran particularly well in both Motos, although Tomac was able to podium in each. He got off to another slow start, battled back to third by sheer determination and then finished second in Moto 2 to take the overall win.

Blake Baggett became the first rider other than Tomac or Roczen to win a Moto. He took Moto 1 but then crashed in the second race and finished a disappointing 15th.

Roczen’s struggles came in Moto 1 with a sixth-place finish. He rebounded with a Moto 2 win, but lost a few points and the championship race was tied at the top. Third-place was also tied with Osborne and Anderson knotted up 32 points back.

Meanwhile, Musquin continued to lose ground in what may turn out to be his pivotal race if he cannot catch Tomac. He finished 4-7 in the Motos and landed sixth overall.

Points after High Point: Tomac (176), Roczen (176), Anderson (144), Osborne (144), Musquin (139)
Enduring Storyline: Chinks in Roczen and Tomac’s armor. | Race Recap

Blake Baggett became the first rider other than Tomac or Roczen to win a Moto in 4 at High Point. Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross.com

As soon as it looked like Musquin could be discounted, he bounced back to win in the deep sand of WW Ranch. Following in Baggett;’s footsteps, he became the second rider to win a Moto besides Tomac or Roczen and this time he backed it up with a third in Moto 2 and the overall victory.

Tomac fell behind in Moto 1 and could only ride up to seventh at the end of the race while Roczen appeared to have the points lead between the two sets. Tomac won Moto 2, however, and kept the red plate affixed to his bike.

Roczen’s second-place finish in Moto 1 was his last highlight to date. In the brutal heat, Roczen faded badly in Moto 2 and finished 10th, landing sixth on the overall rundown. He lost six points to Tomac and allowed Musquin to close onto his back tire.

Musquin may have waited too late to make his charge, but now he had the leaders in sight.

Points after WW Ranch: Tomac (215), Roczen (209), Musquin (184), Osborne (182), Anderson (182)
Enduring Storyline: Roczen fades. | Race Recaps

Marvin Musquin won the overall at WW Ranch with a Moto 1 win and had a third in race 2. Jeff Kardas, ProMotocross.com

Last week marked two milestones. Musquin became the first rider this season to score back-to-back overall victories at Southwick.

This was also the first time in 2019 that neither Tomac nor Roczen scored a Moto win with Musquin taking the first and Osborne victorious in Moto 2.

With Roczen fading in both Motos at Southwick, Tomac didn’t need to win to pad his lead, however. Roczen finished 12-10 and lost a ton of points to the leader, while Musquin’s 1-2 was only slightly better than Tomac’s 2-3 for the afternoon.

This may turn out to be the establishment race that Tomac needed in order to ride comfortably for the remainder of the season.

Musquin will need to press hard in the final six rounds (12 Motos), and often when a rider pushes too hard, they start making mistakes.

Points after Southwick: Tomac (257), Musquin (231), Roczen (229), Osborne (227), Anderson (212)
Enduring Storyline: Tomac has sole possession of first for two straight weeks. | Race Recap

The season hit the halfway mark at Southwick. Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross.com

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”