Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen get off to a slow start in Supercross

Feld Entertainment Inc.
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When Justin Barcia won the Monster Energy Supercross season-opener last week at Angel Stadium, the kickoff races for 2019 and 2020 began eerily similarly: with the same surprise winner two years in a row. The riders lined up behind him were not as familiar in 2020. Now, two of the sports’ biggest names, will be looking to overcome a deficit next week at the Dome at America’s Center in St Louis in Week 2.

Ken Roczen finished sixth at Anaheim 1; Eli Tomac was seventh.

For most of 2019 the Supercross title was a three-man battle between the eventual champion Cooper Webb, Tomac, and Roczen. In 2019 all three riders finished among the top five at Anaheim 1 with Roczen second, Tomac third, and Webb fifth.

Entering last week’s race, the least experience rider among the championship troika had the biggest obstacle to overcome. Webb battled the flu and could barely talk in pre-race ceremonies, but he rasped his way through an interview at the end of the night while standing on the podium.

Roczen and Tomac headed for the pits.

Roczen suffered his worst Supercross season-opener since he joined the series full time in 2014. That year he won Anaheim 1. He won again in 2015 and 2017 and until last week, he had not finished outside the top five in a race since 2014.

In 2019, Roczen was the runner up to Barcia.

Tomac was on his back wheel last year – standing on the bottom rung of the podium in third. That was unfamiliar territory for Tomac, however. Since 2014 he has been inside the top five twice in six races and never better than third until 2019.

Roczen’s uneven season last year suggests that his sixth-place finish – his worst ever in Anaheim 1 – might be difficult to overcome. He podiumed in Week 2 at Glendale, finished fourth and fifth at Anaheim 2 and Oakland respectively before finishing on the podium three more times in successive weeks. Then, he was off the podium in four straight races.

Roczen was never able to firmly establish momentum and he was eliminated from contention before the finale.

On the other hand, Tomac is accustomed to coming from deep in the points. He finished 21st at Anaheim 1 in 2014, 20th in 2015, and 22nd in 2018. After his modest start in 2014 he finished 13th in the standings. But he was much more successful after struggling in the other two seasons. Tomac climbed to second at the end of 2015. He was third in 2018.

Like Roczen, Tomac struggled to find consistency in 2019. He was not able to stand on the podium in back-to-back races until April. Once he finally did, he rattled off consecutive wins at Nashville and on his hometown track of Denver. He podiumed in New Jersey in the penultimate race and won the season-ender in Las Vegas. It was too little too late, however, and Webb’s consistently strong runs carried the season.

Webb won after starting with a modest deficit to Tomac and Roczen. This year Webb has a modest advantage. Roczen spotted the 2019 champion four points in the opener. Tomac gave up five points. And in an intense 17-race championship, that could make a big difference at the end.

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”