As I mentioned yesterday in the Yamaha Motor Canada Monday Gate Drop, Sunday’s race at Gopher Dunes saw a great turnout in the Pro Class. Triple Crown Series riders like Dylan Wright, Cole Thompson, Tanner Ward, Sam Gaynor and Quinn Amyotte all came out to the first AMO race of the 2020 season. Even the newly unretired Tim Tremblay and young rookie sensation Jeremy McKie drove all the way from Quebec for a chance to finally race this season. It made perfect sense for all of the above-mentioned riders to show up on the weekend, after all they will be racing on this exact track next month when the 2020 Rockstar Energy Triple Crown MXTour Series kicks off at Gopher Dunes. Also, with no racing so far in 2020 almost all of these riders haven’t been making any money, so not only do they need to get a few gate drops in before the MXTour begins, but they also need to start putting some money in the bank. Basically, these guys need to race and that is why you saw so many of them on Sunday and why you’ll see even more pro riders at the next Gopher Dunes race on July 12th.
From watching the pro motos on Sunday and then looking over the results on the AMO Racing website (amoracing.com) I really don’t think there were too many surprises. GDR Honda rider Dylan Wright took the victory after winning both motos, while Tim Tremblay finished second and his KTM teammate ended up third overall. OTSFF Yamaha rider Sam Gaynor grabbed both holeshots on his ultra fast YZ450 and looked solid all day long. Sam is a tough, young Ontario rider who loves riding dirt bikes and takes his craft very seriously. As he gains more experience and confidence, he will definitely be one of the top 450MX riders in the country. What he might lack in pure natural talent Sam makes up for in grit and determination, and during the final ten minutes of a long 450MX moto, work usually beats talent. It was great to see him have the confidence (and horsepower) to battle his way to the front off the start on Sunday. If Sam came do the same at the Nationals next month it will surely help with the process of getting comfortable with the speed at the front of the 450MX pack. It’s one thing to start in the back and then work your way forward, especially when you’re a young rider searching for confidence, but it’s an entirely different thing to start up front and have to hold your own with the fastest riders in the class. That is learned race craft and you have to experience it a few times before you feel comfortable.
Up front on Sunday were three riders that all have contrasting styles and hopes for the 2020 season. For Tim Tremblay, he came out of retirement earlier this year to fill in for Jess Pettis on the factory KTM during the AXTour that was supposed to happen back in April and May. Tremblay spent some time training down south during the winter, and with each passing week I think he feels better on the bike. Tremblay has a ton of race experience and he’s always been a good sand rider so it was no surprise to see him near the front of the pack on Sunday. In the final Cash Class moto he was able to keep Dylan Wright close for almost the entire moto, which was a good indication of Tremblay’s speed and fitness. With the 2020 MXTour rounds all being fairly close to home, I think Tremblay could be a consistent Top 5 rider in the 450MX class later this summer.
For Cole Thompson, he also looked fast and smooth on Sunday but I feel like he wasn’t really pushing his limits. It was almost like he and his mechanic were in ‘testing’ mode and they were more interested in seeing how Cole’s bike was working than his overall results. At times, Cole did show some speed but his starts were awful by his standards, and in all but one moto he was forced to come from behind. Cole is obviously a super smart rider and I doubt that he wanted to show all of his cards on Sunday. I also don’t believe that he normally practices in conditions that aren’t anything like what you get at Gopher Dunes, so there were moments where Cole looked a little uncomfortable with how the bike was reacting in the deep sand. I’m guessing that he learned a lot on Sunday and that he will be much better the next time he races at Gopher Dunes. However, as a media guy I did like that Cole had his full package of gear and graphics on and was looking very professional. Not every pro rider did, which was surprising.
Last but certainly not least we have Dylan Wright who looked very fast and comfortable on Sunday. I watched Dylan very closely, as I’m sure every person on the property did, and I really only saw one moment where he got things completely wrong. He didn’t crash, but oh, how it looked like he was going to. I know he was riding one of his practice bikes (hence no numbers) with just a Pro Circuit exhaust and some good SSS Suspension (this is maybe why he didn’t crash when he got out of shape) so it wasn’t like he had his race bike underneath him. As I said, Dylan looked fast and ready to compete for moto wins later this summer in the 450MX class. One of the things that stood out to me was his gear selection as his navigated the rough Gopher Dunes track. I don’t mean his Fox Racing gear, I mean what gear he was riding in for most of the track. I also noticed the same thing last week at Walton Raceway, and I think it’s a good sign for Dylan as he gets ready to take on his rookie 450MX year. On Sunday he spent a lot of each lap riding in a tall gear and keeping the RPMs low on his Honda 450. Riding a big 450 in deep sand is not easy, and if you get ahead of yourself or you’re in a hurry, you can end up revving the bike too much as you think sound equals speed and momentum. Well, it’s the exact opposite as any stopwatch will tell you that on a 450 the less sound and fuss you make the faster you usually go. I believe that as the races get more meaningful later this summer, this will be Dylan’s biggest challenge in the 450MX class. When he holeshots or is running near the front of the pack, can he still ride like he did on Sunday? Can he still ride smooth, short shift and remain in perfect control? If he can, and it’s a big ‘if’ for any rookie 450 rider, even one as talented as Dylan Wright, then look out! He will win motos and be a title contender. Either way, he’s going to be fun to watch and I guarantee that all of his fellow top 450 riders are going to hate racing against him. If spectators are allowed later this summer at the Triple Crown MXTour events, then watching Dylan Wright battle the likes of Thompson, Nicoletti, Goerke and Medaglia will be worth the price of admission.
Another pro rider that impressed me on Sunday was Liam O’Farrell, who just keeps getting better with age. Liam is like a diesel engine that needs a little time to warm up, but once he’s warm, he just keeps going. I love watching him methodically navigate the rough Gopher Dunes track. Tanner Ward also looked very fast, and I’m predicting that he wins at least one 250MX moto next month at the opening round. Not to put too much pressure on Tanner but I feel like the opening round will mean everything to Tanner and his 2020 season. If he gets off to a good start then he will have a great MXTour series. If he doesn’t then he may struggle to find the self belief needed to win races. I hope Tanner does well and I think everyone does. He works hard, he treats people with respect, and he’s been through a lot away from the track. Another rider who looked strong and fast was rookie Quebec rider Jeremy McKie. I know he’s still very young but to look at him you’d think he was 20-years-old. McKie is fast, fit and rides with a lot of intelligence. I like this kid and his family, and I hope he has a solid season in the 250 class. His timing in this sport is perfect as Quebec needs another outgoing, fast superstar to fill the shoes of the recently retired Kaven Benoit. On Sunday, McKie had some great battles with Quinn Amyotte on his way to a solid 8th overall in the Cash Class.
All in all, it was a great day at Gopher Dunes, and now that there is one more race there prior to the opening round of the MXTour, I would venture a guess that there will be even more pros racing the AMO event on July 12th. In fact, it could be like a mini national as riders will be using this race to get a little more accustomed to the deep sand. Again, if spectators are allowed by then it would be a good race to attend. If not, bring your bike and sign-up as it’s always fun to go and play in the sand. Thanks for reading!