After a season opener that reaffirmed the difficulty of advancing (especially on a surprisingly soft surface) in a stacked 450 class, the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series will return Tuesday night for Round 2 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
It’ll mark the second of three races at the Texas venue, but the track layout will be tweaked for each event (as the series did during its seven-race run in Salt Lake City, Utah, to close the 2020 season).
Houston dirt is known for its grip, and riders are expecting it should be drier and less tacky for Tuesday and in Round 3 (which is Saturday). But a fast start likely will be critical again to a solid performance.
Winner Justin Barcia led last Saturday night’s opener virtually from start to finish while past champions such as Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb struggled in traffic after being slow off the gate.
Husqvarna rider Dean Wilson battled to a 12th and said the start was his biggest focus for Round 2.
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“It’s pretty hectic; there’s so many fast guys,” he said. “You’re in that heat of the battle. I was thinking I was farther up than I was, but there’s just that many fast guys. I was battling outside the top 10 with Cooper. There are so many good guys in this class, it’s crazy. Fast starts are super, super important.”
Fourth-place finisher Adam Cianciarulo said “you can always said it’s hard to make up time … everyone’s really close” but noted the softer dirt combined with ruts getting deeper on the end of corners made passing “exceptionally difficult.
“It’s something with the way the ruts form,” he said. “It’s hard to cross those ruts and really block someone off. It makes it more difficult to pass.
“I didn’t have a problem with the track, though it wasn’t my favorite, and I didn’t gel with it, I thought they did a fine job with it. Clearly, people were able to separate themselves, and I think I got beat by 40 seconds. You can find time. … It’s just about adjusting technique and the motorcycle to suit your tendencies for the track.”
Malcolm Stewart, who finished fifth in his debut on the factory Star Racing Yamaha, said the fastest lines through the rhythm section got deeper and ruddier, changing “nonstop throughout the race,” but he still credited Dirt Wurx (the Supercross track constructor) for a solid layout.
“I don’t think anyone expected Houston to be that soft,” Stewart said. “I think it’ll dry out (Tuesday). It’s just the 450s eat the track up with 20 fast guys out there.
“I felt like the harder you pushed, it was almost like the more time you lost. The whoops got pretty gnarly on us, even though we were jumping through them. You try to push harder to catch someone, you start making more mistakes.”
For the riders who made errors in Round 1, Houston will be a chance to wipe the slate with a fresh track — even though the venue will remain the same.
Dylan Ferrandis, the two-time 250 West champion who finished seventh in his 450 debut Saturday, said “you still have to restart the whole process of a new race, even if it’s the same stadium, you still have to relearn the track and think about what’s the best combination.”
Here are the pertinent details for watching Round 1 of the 2021 Supercross season:
(All times are ET)
BROADCAST/STREAMING SCHEDULE: TV coverage of Round 1 will be shown on a same-day delay Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The event will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App.
Live coverage is available via the exclusive streaming coverage formerly on NBC Sports Gold’s Supercross and Pro Motocross Pass. That has moved in 2021 to Peacock Premium, which is available for $4.99 per month.
The Supercross and Pro Motocross packages will have live coverage of all Supercross heats, qualifiers and races and Pro Motocross main practice, qualifers and motos. On-demand replays (including the full 2020 season) are available without commercial interruption.
ROUND 1 NOTABLE: With his third consecutive victory in the 450 season opener Justin Barcia won in his debut for GasGas, a new factory team. GasGas became the first brand to win in its first race since Yamaha won the first Supercross in 1974. The last time a brand premiered in the Supercross class was Ammex in 1978.
EVENT SCHEDULE: After opening ceremonies at 8 p.m. ET, the starting gate will drop on the 250 and 450 heats at 8:30 p.m. ET.
COVID-19 CROWD PROTOCOLS: Houston will have limited attendance of about 25 percent capacity and “pod”-style seating for the event with face coverings required and social distancing observed in the stadium.
Supercross will be reopening its FanFest pit and sponsor area to fans but will keep riders and teams in a paddock bubble separate from the general public.
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COVERAGE ON NBCSPORTS.COM: