Words by Brent Worrall
The MX2 Pro class at the 2017 Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals promises to be one of the most competitive and entertaining series we have seen in recent years, if not ever. For evidence of this we need look no further than last year’s twenty moto MX2 saga, which saw KTM Racing’s Cole Thompson best all challengers by over 100 points. Being one who followed this series like a hawk, both on and off the track, I can tell you, that points difference may not be a true indication of how fiercely this series was fought throughout. The action was fast and furious right from the gate drop at Round 1 in Kamloops, where MX101 Yamaha’s Dylan Wright got his first ever Pro moto victory, right to the final flag wave at RJ’s where Cole Thompson was officially awarded his first ever Canadian National MX2 crown. In similar fashion to previous years, this year’s 2017 CMRC Canadian National MX2 lineup will resemble a who’s who of upcoming talent in the 250 class. At press time, it was still uncertain exactly who will be on the line in Kamloops in the heart of the Thompson River region. Using history as our guide along with my trusty telephone, I am happy to announce that most of the major players will be back on Canadian soil this summer as well as a few last-minute surprises. So how will the series shake down, and which riders and their deeply invested connections will be rewarded for their many sacrifices? In this regard, history will likely pay itself forward to those who have made the cross-country trek before. Let’s also not discount or undersell the talent and skills possessed by some of our current Canadian upcoming bumper crop of talented Intermediates. I honestly believe that it is possible we could see one on the podium again here in 2017. So without further adieu, here are my top five picks for the 2017 MX2 class.
1 – Dylan Wright – Honda Canada GDR Fox Racing
One of the biggest changes in the Canadian MX2 landscape in the off-season was Gopher Dunes Racing Honda Canada signing up and coming Canadian prodigy Dylan Wright. I must say, in a sport where absolutely nothing really surprises me, this one did a little. Dylan can probably hit a golf ball from his doorstep of his home just outside of Ottawa to the MX101 facility where he cut his racing teeth. I am sure I was not the only who has pondered how this move will enhance his 2017 title hopes. I do know that he left a great bunch behind at MX101 that he will always hold in the highest personal regard. I am also confident that Wright’s new home at Gopher Dunes Honda is a great fit for him. Derek Schuster also has an amazing crew and knows a thing or two about winning. Let’s face it, as this series wore down last year, Dylan just kept getting better and better. Dylan pocketed his first overall win on the very physically demanding Ulverton race track. There were also a few rounds where he and some of the others he will get to know even better this season traded paint and un-pleasantries. Dylan showed us last year that he has what it takes to get the great starts. I believe this year Dylan will possess the speed needed to try to break away from his competitors early. Breakaway speed has historically been a huge asset in the MX2 class, allowing the leader to deploy different types of racing strategies. Wright showed us at the final AMA Iron Man National in Crawfordsville, Indiana last fall, that he has that and then some. At that race, Dylan qualified third, right behind Cooper Webb and Austin Forkner, and just ahead of Mitch Oldenburg. He also had a 16th place moto finish and was 19th overall. Dylan has trained hard all winter in California and looks very good on the Gopher Dunes ‘Ride Red’ Honda Canada bike. Can Dylan Wright win this Championship? You bet he can, but I know 40 other racers who will do their best to prevent it at any given round. Good luck to Dylan Wright and each and every other racer in quest of a championship and personal bests.
2 – Cole Thompson – KTM Canada Thor Racing
Brigden, Ontario’s Cole Thompson won the 2016 MX2 National series by more than a hundred points over Shawn Maffenbeier. I made a point of seeking Cole out prior to the opener in Kamloops last season and told him point blank that I felt the series was his for the taking. He agreed in a very professional and courteous manner and the rest is pretty much history. Thompson would prevail a unanimous winner last season; he just seemed a step ahead of the rest when it mattered most. When he was not, he was methodically choosing his battles and seemed to know when to push with what was at stake. The title is the big picture and Cole’s vision last year was crystal clear long before the flash went off. Thompson was also very busy this winter racing Supercross as well as the Costa Rica National Series. Cole will once again saddle up the race ready branded bike again this season that will have a target on it – the big #1 of all Moto Marksmen. Cole knows this field of current contenders as well as anyone, which will be a huge asset throughout the series. I believe Cole will likely manage 2017 in similar fashion in his efforts to duplicate last year’s success. With the KTM Racing Team winning both the MX1 and MX2 classes last season, there may or may not be some pressure. None of which will come from within. Cole Thompson is a winner teamed up with some of the greatest talent Canadian moto has seen. Will that equal a title in 2017? Good luck in 2017 to our own Cole Thompson!
3 – Shawn Maffenbeier – MX101 Yamaha FXR Racing
The pride of Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Shawn Maffenbeier will saddle up an MX101 FXR Racing Yamaha for 2017 in the Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals. Maffenbeier has developed into one of Canada’s best all around riders, and will look to 2017 to pocket his first Pro title. Maffenbeier is set to be aboard the Blu-Cru branded bike when the battles unfold. The MX101 Yamaha Team has an incredible meat and potatoes-like work ethic, and Maffenbeier’s comedic charm is a great fit. The other fit of note, and most important, is that Shawn Maffenbeier is a past overall winner in this class. The winning formula, that has eluded many, is a mystery that Maffenbeier has mastered first hand. Shawn Maffenbeier won the opener last year in Kamloops on what was likely the hottest day of the series. Shawn also parlayed his outdoor success into an opportunity to represent Canada at the MXoN in Italy last fall. The type of experience that event provided Maffenbeier will be evident this summer. For a Western boy, Shawn also accounts himself very well in the sand and the rugged humidity of the east. If picking Shawn in the number three spot is the only added fuel needed to get the overall job done, you’re welcome Shawn Maffenbeier.
4 – Jess Pettis – MX101 Yamaha FXR Racing
Jess Pettis, who hails from Prince George, British Columbia, once again comes into 2017 under the MX101 Yamaha tent. Pettis had a personal best, top level season in 2016 with a 5th overall finish, and got a lot more than great results last year. Pettis has managed to put the past where it belongs, and last season continued to lay solid brick and mortar-like results in his racing foundation. Moto one of last year’s opener saw Pettis with his first ever, pro podium finish of a third. A feel-good moment for the team and the family, who has long backed his championship dreams. Jess Pettis was also on the podium at the final round in Barrie, Ontario, putting positive bookends on the 2016 campaign. Jess was fifth overall in a field of contenders that he grew more acclimated and comfortable banging bars with as the season wore on. It should also be noted that Jess won his first ever Pro Arenacross title this past fall. Pettis had hopes of lining up for some AMA Supercross action this winter but elected to stay focussed on the 2017 outdoor nationals. Knowing that his hometown of Prince George will play host to Round 2 of the series, this may prove to have been a wise chess move. Pettis has trained in Southern California all winter, will certainly be ready for the opener, and will build strong momentum in the west. This will help Jess, in my opinion, because in recent years in the MX2 class, breakaway momentum has been imperative. I believe Jess Pettis has everything it takes to be the champion that he inevitably will be one day. Will this be the year Jess wins a Canadian National title and lands a highly-coveted spot on Team Canada’s Motocross of Nations Team? Friends, this is motocross and it is possible only because Jess Pettis is a winner. Good luck to you and your connections this season Jess, we are looking forward to seeing you at the races.
5 – Jacob Hayes – Monster Energy Alpinestars Kawasaki
First off, I know I am likely to take some heat for this one, but right or wrong, this is what I see and why. Jacob, who hails from North Carolina, will once again be on the line thanks to Monster Energy Alpinestars Kawasaki’s base out of Kamloops, BC. Having much success as an amateur, Hayes made his outdoor professional racing debut at 18-years of age at Budd’s Creek in 2012. Since then he has continued to increase the list of hardware in his growing legacy. This includes winning the 2015 Canadian National Arenacross title in which he was full value. This series was highlighted by many on-track confrontations with KTM Racing’s Cole Thompson. In the truest of professional manners, he harnessed everything he had in the way of skill, composure and common sense to get the job done! Hayes was also signed and on the line at last year’s Canadian National opener for the same Monster Energy Kawasaki connections. Last year’s opening moto in Kamloops would be Jacob’s last of the series as he suffered a serious knee injury trying to avoid a rider that had made a mistake in front of him. I was under the Monster Energy Kawasaki tent at day’s end when the news was officially announced. Team Manager Jason Hughes verbalized his disappointment and will look to this season to show everyone what he believed then. Hughes has been around this game for a long time at the top level, and knows he has signed a winner in Jacob Hayes. Nothing would make this top shelf staple operation in our sport happier than a Jacob Hayes Championship. The team who seemed to make winning a habit for many years has had some tough race day luck the last couple of seasons. I also believe that Hayes, who flows very naturally on the bike outdoors, will not have any problems with any of this series’ race tracks and their conditions. Jacob Hayes is a very genuine individual and as fierce a competitor as this series has seen. In regards to Jacob Hayes’ 2017 Canadian National title hopes, the work and time has been put in, and the talent and resources are there. Should ‘Lady Luck’ decide to not jump out of Jacob’s Side Car like she did at last season’s opener, I will likely be eating some crow! Good luck in 2017, Jacob Hayes.