Supercross: Eli Tomac has the long game in mind for title

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Racing is reaction.

A split-second hesitation means missing the holeshot. A decision about how hard to charge into a corner, side-by-side another rider, is made without bothering to engage one’s conscience.

The tiniest things make the biggest difference. With a late-race pass at Daytona in the Monster Energy Supercross series, Eli Tomac wrested the lead from Ken Roczen and broke a tie atop the points standings. But just barely.

Tomac is the defending winner of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship. In fact, he enters with the last three titles to his credit, but the Supercross championship has eluded him.

MORE: Supercross will resume season at dates, locations TBD

“This wouldn’t be about beating Ken,” Tomac told NBCSports.com. “This would be about getting that first Supercross title. I feel like it’s the most wanted title that we have currently in our racing. It’s the one sponsors look at the most, so I want it really bad. It doesn’t matter who I’m battling with, I want to be that guy with the (red) plate at the end of the year.”

Daytona was Round 10 of what was supposed to be a 17-round Supercross season. After a winner was crowned in the indoor arenas, the riders would have moved to longer, faster outdoor tracks. They would have had two weeks to prepare for Motocross.

If the past three seasons are an example, the Motocross season is of little concern. Tomac dominated that series and has amassed 23 career wins there.

The story has not been the same in Supercross. He finished second in the 2015 and 2017 standings. He was third in 2018 and then back up to second last year. But while he keeps coming close, he’s had to watch as two new winners were crowned in the past two years.

Jason Anderson took the title in 2018, which was a bit of a surprise. Last year was even more shocking as Cooper Webb entered the season without a single Supercross victory and left with the championship.


Tomac has the wins. Daytona was his 32nd in Supercross series.

He’s simply missing the big red plate that signifies the championship to hang on his wall.

“I’ve been able to accomplish everything I can except get the championship,” Tomac said. “I have so many race wins, and I look at those more than the second-place finishes in the championship. Second place in the championship, people don’t remember. Some people remember race wins.

“Most of the time, they remember the championship.”

Eli Tomac’s pass on Ken Roczen at Daytona might well be the pivotal point in his season (Feld Entertainment, Inc.).

Daytona was pivotal.

One week earlier, Tomac took a significant points lead into Atlanta and saw it evaporate. He got off to a slow start and was mired in traffic. One of his split-second decisions proved to be the wrong one and he crashed midway through the race before mounting a charge to return to the top five. Tomac finished fourth. Roczen won after getting a fast start.

They left Atlanta tied for the lead.

At Daytona, the story was the same for most of the race. Roczen led Lap 1. Tomac got a slow start and had to battle his way to the front.

“Going back to the Daytona race, it’s a track that requires a lot of patience, even though I didn’t start up front,” Tomac said. “You’re always going to make mistakes, you just try minimize them as much as you can. That’s where I made the majority of my passes: from guys making mistakes. That was my game plan going into the race, to try and have a mistake-free ride.

“In my mind, I’ve put in all this work to get into second place at this point and then I see Roczen in front. I feel like I can keep digging at that point. I had more in the tank, so I didn’t want to stop. I never do unless I’m in the lead. So that was my mindset.”

Roczen finished less than a second behind to hand the championship lead back to Tomac by a narrow three-point margin.

“(Roczen is) a competitor that you can trust,” Tomac said. “That’s the nice thing about racing Ken is that he’s predictable. There are certain riders on the track that you may not even be comfortable going on to the next jump with. If I’m going to be battling guys, Ken is a great competitor to go against.”

MORE: Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia feud at Atlanta

MORE: Ken Roczen still has a shot at the championship

And then racing came to a screeching halt as the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic required all live events to be postponed so fans could practice social distancing.

After Daytona, seven more Supercross rounds were scheduled to be run with only a short break for Easter. That race should have come at about the two-thirds mark and as riders headed back to shorter, tighter tracks to end the season.

But the pandemic has made Daytona the final Supercross season before Motocross begins. And it might yet make it even more pivotal in both championships. With its long straights, Daytona is a hybrid that has as many characteristics in common with the outdoor season as it does with indoors. It provides a bridge between the two disciplines.


Supercross is mentally grueling. The tight confines of indoor arenas make it a technical track were the smallest bobble has the biggest impact.

Motocross is physically demanding. The toll on the body is intense, but after that season winds down, riders typically have several months to recuperate before heading into the next year.

Tomac’s back has been a familiar site to the other riders in recent seasons. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

In 2020, riders will have to shake off the dust and take their battered bodies back inside and refocus that mental energy.

“It’s going to be hard to manage your energy levels and just go and race all the way through September and October, if that happens and If everything stays somewhat current now,” Tomac said. “You’re going to have to have a lot of long-game in mind. That’s going to be key because the Motocross season wears on you physically.

“It’s going to be really tough to make the transition. At the beginning of Supercross you always feel like you have a few races to get warmed up and in the groove. But at this point in the game if we race in September and October, there is no getting back in the groove. It’s totally new for everyone. The other positive is that I have the lead, even though it’s minimal. I’m in the best position I can be in.”

If Tomac can do what he’s done for the past three seasons, interjecting some outdoor races in the middle of Supercross could play to his advantage. A fourth championship, if that is what happens, will give Tomac a ton of confidence before the final rounds of the Supercross season occurs.

If he does not win the championship for the first time since 2016, he’ll be hungry. But one way or another, Tomac will convince himself that he is the rider to beat.

“(The lead) is the best position to be in and it may turn out have paid off very well to be in the points’ lead (after Daytona),” Tomac said. “There is so much unknown there.”

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”