Good day and welcome to another edition of the Honda Canada Racing Monday Gate Drop. As we are now three rounds into the 2017 Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals presented by Motovan, the Honda Canada GDR Fox riders are beginning to make their mark in both the MX2 and MX1 classes. Team riders Dylan Wright and Colton Facciotti both had good weekends in Calgary and look to carry that momentum into Round 4 in Regina. We would like to wish the GDR Honda Team luck, and we would also like to thank Honda Canada Racing for their continued support.
As I sit here on Air Canada flight 154 heading to Toronto, it’s Sunday evening and I’m still trying to recover from what was an incredible day of racing at Wild Rose MX Park. Under partly cloudy skies and at times a very strong Northwest wind, Round 3 took place in front of what I thought was the largest crowd ever in Calgary. I could be wrong as maybe there were larger crowds in the mid-2000s, but at least in the last five years, Sunday’s crowd was the largest I had seen. This large crowd also produced one of the coolest moments I’ve seen at a Canadian National since last year in Deschambault when hometown hero Kaven Benoit was leading. During Moto 2 of the MX2 class when Shawn Maffenbeier passed Cole Thompson for the lead, you could hear the crowd let out a massive cheer. Unfortunately, you don’t get this much anymore as there just aren’t too many hometown moments like this. But with Maffenbeier being from nearby Saskatchewan, the western crowd was cheering for him. With Maffenbeier going 1-1 in the MX2 class, he certainly didn’t disappoint those who were in attendance.
So far in this 2017 MX2 series, Maffenbeier has really been the rider to beat. In Calgary, he came from behind in both motos to pass Cole Thompson for the lead and for the moto win. Now, I’m not sure if Thompson is perhaps pacing himself for the second half of the series, and is trying to refrain from getting into a heated battle right now? I mean, with Maffenbeier’s unfortunate DNF last weekend in Prince George, Thompson still has the red plate and a decent points lead after six motos. However, I’m sure Thompson’s team manager JSR is telling his #1 rider that it’s not a great strategy to allow his competition to build confidence. If he didn’t think so prior to Calgary, I’m sure Shawn Maffenbeier believes deep down that he is the fastest rider in the MX2 class. Whether he starts in fifth or tenth, he’s going to the front. We’ll see what happens this coming weekend in Regina when Maffenbeier will be racing in front of his hometown fans, and on track that he has struggled with in the past.
One MX2 rider who I’m sure cannot wait to head east is GDR Honda’s Dylan Wright. So far, this summer has been nothing short of miserable for the new Honda rider. This weekend in Calgary, Wright was running as high as third in Moto1, before crashing and dropping back to sixth. The positive was that at least Dylan was able to see the leaders, and for a few laps anyway, he was matching their pace before crashing. In Moto 2, Dylan was involved in an ugly crash on the first lap and was forced to come from behind once again. This was the same crash that sent Jess Pettis to hospital as he also went down hard. At one point, I saw Pettis and his purple FXR gear spinning through the air and landing off the track. Hopefully Pettis is okay as he has been riding incredibly so far this summer. As for Dylan Wright, he is really in a tough spot as most of his crashes have come from simply trying too hard. And how do you tell a 19-year-old kid, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, to calm down and not try so hard? Trying hard is in Wright’s DNA, so getting him to relax is definitely not an overnight process. The good news is that once the MX2 series goes east, most of those tracks lend themselves a little better to Dylan’s hard charging style. The bad news is, though, that he is now so far back in the points that an idea might be to move Wright up to the MX1 class for the east so he can help his teammate win another title. I’m sure that Dylan’s boss, Derek Schuster, is ready to pick up the phone to call me and tell me I’m crazy, but something has to change. With his lanky body type and obvious strength, maybe Wright is a 450 rider? I guess there are a lot of motos remaining and I still think Wright can win races, so maybe it’s too early to freak out and push the panic button. However, like everyone, I just hate to see these talented kids struggle. Maybe this is just the process of an athlete having to face a little adversity while he tries to gain some valuable experience.
In the MX1 class, it was Yamaha rider Matt Goerke who used a strong 2-1 moto score to win his first overall of the season and take the points lead in the process. During my Sunday morning prediction chat with Ryan Lockhart, we both didn’t think that Goerke had enough self restraint to win on the Calgary track. Over the past few years, history has proven that Goerke rides better on tracks that are a little softer and more forgiving. Well, he certainly proved us wrong as he was just a beast on the rutted and rough Wild Rose track. In Moto 1, he chased winner Dylan Epstein all the way to the finish, and then in Moto 2, he took advantage of a small crash by race leader Epstein and took home the win. Overall, I would say that Epstein was the fastest MX1 rider of the day, but at this level you just can’t afford to make a mistake. Colton Facciotti also rode really well as he used another consistent 4-2 moto score to take the final spot on the podium. As I mentioned a week ago, Colton will win a moto very soon as he’s riding that well right now. As for the rider who has been the fastest overall rider this summer, Christophe Pourcel had an off day in Calgary. In Moto 1, he started in 5th and took his time moving up to third. At one point, it looked as if he had a chance to win the opening moto, but a few bad laps stalled his charge and he settled for third. In Moto 2, he went down hard in turn two, then took his time getting up and going again. From there, however, he put in a really good charge to eventually finish in 8th. Although Lockhart wasn’t that impressed with Pourcel’s dead last (by over 30 seconds) to 8th charge, I thought that it was pretty good. There aren’t too many riders in the MX1 class capable of that type of come from behind ride. I tried to reason with Lockhart and convince him of this fact, but he just called me a ‘Pourcel lover’ and that was that. Depending on the conditions next weekend in Regina, I feel like the Moto Valley track suits a rider with patience and a very smooth throttle hand. Does that sound like any rider we know Mr. Lockhart? We’ll see what happens at Round 4 in Regina. Up to this point, the racing has been superb in both classes and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
As I say goodbye for another week, I will leave you with both a belated Happy Father’s Day wish to all of you awesome dads out there, as well as a slightly humorous Newf/ Palms story. On Friday evening, Newf’s family and I went out for dinner to a cool restaurant called ‘Bookers’, located near downtown Calgary. I had been to this restaurant a few times before as my brother, who is a local resident, loves this place. Anyway, we all ordered smoked ribs and had a great dinner, even Newf’s 18-month- old son, Meston, appeared to enjoy the atmosphere of Bookers BBQ and Crab Shack. Well, for some reason, that night I could not sleep at all, my heart was racing and I just couldn’t shut my brain off. I saw 1am, 2am, 3am, and at one point I thought I was having a heart attack and nearing the end of my somewhat cool life. I finally fell asleep and woke up feeling like I had been out all night on a Calgary bender. When I made my way to the track for Saturday’s race and ran into Newf, we started talking about our less than perfect night sleep. As it turned out, he couldn’t sleep either, his heart was racing, he watched the clock tick by, it was exactly the same as me. After much discussion, we decided that although we both felt lucky to be alive, we more than likely didn’t have heart attacks, and perhaps there was just something wrong with the ribs. Anyway, we survived and I must say that my sleep on Saturday evening was much better. In closing, I hope everyone has a great week, and again, Happy Father’s Day! Thank you for reading and thank you again to Honda Canada Racing!