Honda Canada Racing Presents The Monday Gate Drop

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Good day and welcome to the first Honda Canada Monday Gate Drop of the month of June. After an up and down spring in most parts of Canada, the summer of 2019 is almost upon us. Before I get into the news from the past week, let me congratulate Honda GDR Fox Racing riders Dylan Wright and Colton Facciotti on winning the opening 250 Pro/Am and 450 motos respectively in Calgary this past weekend. It was definitely a great way to kick off the opening round of the Rockstar Energy Triple Crown MXTour Series.

After months of anticipation and multiple hours of conjecture, the gate finally dropped of the 2019 MXTour Series. I arrived in Calgary on Thursday, and within a few hours of my plane touching down, a thick blanket of smoke engulfed the City of Calgary. With a few large forest fires to the north and northwest of the city and a breeze from the north, the smoke drifted south and took over and erased the usual scenic views that Calgary almost always offer. Throughout Thursday evening and most of Friday the smoke was so thick that city officials were encouraging everyone to stay indoors, and most definitely refrain from playing any outdoor sports. This recommendation certainly didn’t fit well with an outdoor motocross race and there was even talk that if the air quality didn’t improve, the race would have to be moved to Sunday. If the smoke was still present on Sunday, then Round 1 would have to have been postponed until next weekend in Prince George. Thankfully, around 4pm on Friday afternoon the wind shifted to a more southern flow and within 15 minutes the smoke was gone, and you could once again see downtown Calgary from the Wild Rose MX Track. So, with the smoke gone and everyone ready, it was time to kick off our outdoor nationals.

On Friday evening just prior to everyone going their separate ways for dinner, the fine people from Blackfoot Motosports welcomed us to their new Blackfoot Direct Store, which happens to be located right across the road from the Wild Rose Track. Most of the motocross industry was in attendance, and it was nice to catch up with everyone and see the new Blackfoot Direct Store. This get together allowed everyone to get their minds off the stress of the following day. After a few hours there, and then a tasty dinner with the most famous photographer in Canada, James Lissimore, it was off to bed at the Hotel Blackfoot.

After a very smoky start to the weekend, the Wild Rose MX track was in perfect condition for race day on Saturday. Photo by James Lissimore

When we all woke up on Saturday morning to head to the track, the sky was clear and the temperatures were on the rise. Yes, the opening round in Calgary was going to be a hot and dry one. Even though the track is a short ten-minute walk from the hotel, I ended up getting a ride with FXR Racing’s main man Andy White and his favourite rider Mike Brown. As he’s been for the past few years, Brown was up from his home in Tennessee to race the opening round in both the 450 class as well as the new two-stroke support class. Mike Brown is a beast, and it’s always great to watch him ride and talk moto with him. On the way to the track we got talking about some of the Grand Prix events that he raced a number of years ago. To be perfectly honest, this was one time I wished our drive to the track was much longer as I could’ve listened to Brownie talk for hours. I believe his next appearance in Canada will be at Round 3 in Manitoba.

Once parked we got out and began to walk around the Wild Rose MX paddock. That is when the real fun began. With it being the opening round of a new series, there were people that I hadn’t seen since last year at Walton Raceway. However, even though I haven’t seen them in a while, with Facebook everyone seems to keep track of what everyone else is doing. I’m not the biggest fan of Social Media sometimes but one thing I do love about it is the ease at which it allows us to stay connected with one another. So, after numerous conversations it was time to make my way to the first riders meeting of the summer.

After a month of secrecy regarding how bad Jess Pettis was injured, in Calgary we learned that he had multiple injuries including a broken right forearm. How he raced the opening round and finished so good was very impressive. Photo by James Lissimore

For the riders and teams, this meeting is mostly about information and passing along any new rules or procedures that might be introduced on that particular day. With this being Round 1, the riders meeting took a little longer as Head Referee Paul Kingsley had a little extra to say. Before I go any further, I have to say that I’m not sure where our national series would be without Paul Kingsley and his trusty side kick Daryl Murphy. These two gentlemen have been at the forefront of guiding this ship in the right direction for the past decade. Being a referee isn’t easy in any sport and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it, but Kinger and Murph rule the sport with class and with a firm hand. We’re lucky to have them. Okay, back to riders meeting. I like riders meeting much more now as a member of the media than I ever did as a rider. For me, I love to sit back at these meetings and observe how the riders might be feeling on that particular day. Do they look nervous? Do they look confident? If you watch closely you can tell a lot from watching everyone at riders meeting.

With that over it was time for the first bikes to take to the Wild Rose MX Track and welcome in a new national season. The moment the first bike takes to the track is always exciting! From there the excitement builds until you see the first of our top riders on the race track. Let’s face it, these are the riders that mostly everyone comes to see, and I personally love watching their initial laps on race day. The feeling out process that these top riders do is really interesting to me, and so is watching how each rider approaches the opening practice session. Back in my day this process was made even more complicated as we had to practice on both a 125 machine as well as a 250 machine. Obviously, each bike was quite a bit different so it would take some time to get up to speed on each. Then, once you got up to speed on one, it was time to switch to the other bike and try to go fast on that bike. Also, unless your pit crew had a stop watch, we didn’t pay much attention to lap times in my day, we went more by feel and by who looked good in practice. If you felt good and someone said you looked good then it was most likely going to be a good day! Today, these riders don’t have to worry about that as they know not only the lap times of each and every rider, but lap times are also used for gate pick in their opening moto. On Saturday, Dylan Wright had the fastest practice time in the 250 Pro/Am class while Cole Thompson was able to do the same in the 450 class. So, with that, the stage was set for the opening moto of the 2019 MXTour Series.

Josh Osby looked smooth and fast on Saturday and took the overall in the 250 class. Photo by James Lissimore

I’m not going to go into each individual result from each moto, I will save the juicy details for my Style Check column tomorrow. However, I can say that Dylan Wright picked up right where he left off during last month’s AXTour and completely dominated the opening 250 moto. Wright was on a different level during the opening moto and he appeared to be a rider that simply wasn’t going to be beaten by anyone that day. Of course, some days you not only have to worry about the other 39 riders on the track, you also have to worry about yourself. In Moto 2, Wright’s toughest competition came from himself as he got caught up in a second turn pile-up off the start, then went down again on the opening lap which put him 20th as they crossed the transponder line after the opening lap. From there he put on one of his famous Dylan Wright charges that took him up to fifth with just a few laps to go. Then he went off of the track in the Shaw Valley section, I believe, and then he crashed on the final lap, accidentally hitting a flagger, all before finally finishing in 6th. With his rollercoaster of a moto, I don’t even know how he finished so high. But when was all was said and done his 1-6 moto score gave him third overall and thankfully some good points and some Honda Canada bonus money. I will also mentioned that Wright’s 2:05 lap on the third lap of Moto 1 was the fastest lap of both the 250 and 450 races. The kid was flying! 

One of the big changes this year is that with live television all four pro motos have to be run in a specific time slot. Because of this, each of the four motos are all back to back with very little break in between. So not only do the mechanics have less time to get the bikes ready for Moto 2, but the riders have less time to recover and regroup for their second moto. For some this is no big deal as they can mentally and physically reset quickly. For others, this will be a struggle until they can adapt to the short turn around. I’m not saying that this was what happened to Wright, but something had he not quite as focused as he was in the opennig moto. Wright finished third overall, Luke Renzland was second, and Josh Osby grabbed the overall and the red plate that goes with it.

After a third in the opening moto, Cole Thompson found his grove early in Moto 2 and pulled away for the win. Photo by James Lissimore

The 450 class was a little more straight forward as the Top 3 riders in both motos were the same, albeit in a different order. In Moto 1, Mike Alessi grabbed the early lead and appeared to be pulling away for a big win. However, rear brake issues forced him to slow and his new teammate, Facciotti, went flying by for the first 450 moto win of 2019. It was a big win for Colton as it’s always nice to draw first blood in a series. While his opening moto win looked relatively easy, it was anything but as this past week our 5-time champion was really sick. Behind Colton in Moto 1 was a hard charging Phil Nicoletti and the ultra-smooth Cole Thompson. In the closing stages Phil made a big run at Colton and got close enough to feel the Honda rider’s bullet-like roost. However, with three laps to go Colton seemed to find another gear on this GDR Honda and Phil’s charge was thwarted for the time being.

In Moto 2, Alessi once again took the early lead but this time it only lasted a few laps. On the dry and rough Wild Rose track, Cole Thompson’s throttle control was too good as he took the lead from Alessi and never looked back. Nicoletti was again in second and this time Facciotti had to charge from fifth on the opening lap to third. As it is every year, the Wild Rose track was a mighty beast during the second half of the second 450 moto and most riders were just trying to survive. With some very talented riders in both classes, we might see four different moto winners at all of the rounds this summer. Also, in the WMX class it was Avrie Berry who took the win in their opening round. Finally, to no one’s surprise, Mike Brown won both two-stroke races on Saturday.

Moments before the start of the opening 450 moto, the Champ was relaxed and ready for his final season of pro racing. Photo by James Lissimore

There you have it folks, finally the opening round of the 2019 MXTour is now in the books. With the smoke on Friday, the reports of having to replace some of the film crew on Friday morning, and just the overall difficulty of running an opening round, I think the entire Jetwerx crew did a great job all weekend dealing with the unexpected issues. Now we’re on to Round 2 in Prince George where the weather has been hot and dry for the past few weeks. Rain is in the forecast for later this week and then the weekend looks perfect for racing. As they say in Hollywood, “That’s a wrap” on the long-awaited Calgary national.

Thank-you to everyone in Calgary for their hospitality. As always it was a great weekend of racing and hanging out with everyone in our industry. Thank-you for reading and I will see everyone next weekend in Prince George. Before I go, I just want to send our best wishes to BMX legend and motocross lover Drew Bezanson who was injured this past weekend. According to Social Media, Drew broke his femur and will be out for the remainder of the summer. Heal Up Drew and we’ll most likely see you hanging out at the Gopher Dunes National next month.

Heal up Drew!!