This week’s Dialed In column is brought to you by the fine people at Kimpex Canada. Kimpex is a multi brand distribution company that carries popular motocross and off-road brands such as Leatt, Arai Helmets, Muc-Off, and Ogio.
That New New…
Or whatever the kids are saying these days…
We have several key players in the 2022 supercross series aboard brand new rides. The 2020 champ, Eli Tomac, the 2018 champ Jason Anderson, the 2016 East Regional champ Malcolm Stewart and the 2018 West Regional champ, Aaron Plessinger.
All of which, are proving the move to a new team has been beneficial. You could argue the results on paper could persuade one into thinking otherwise. But, if you take note of their lap times, and dissect the motos, I think it’s safe to say everyone in their respective corners is smiling.
AP – what I am seeing are a hit and miss type performance. Aaron, his new, but old teammate, and reigning champ, Cooper Webb, and the orange lifer, Marvin Musquin are aboard the brand new KTM model. What I mean by hit and miss is, the team is basically shooting in the dark as far as set up each time the bike touches the track. They don’t have any previous year’s notes to refer to in order to assist in getting the bike to do what each rider wants. Yeah, the bike is similar, but at the end of the day, it’s a brand new motorcycle, and realistically, at this level, it’s just like hopping on a different brand. AP has one podium finish, and don’t forget he chased the current points leader around during the heat race this past weekend before having a mishap in the main event.
The sub-par results of the champ and Marv, accompanied but the up and downs of AP, are showing me these guys are deep in learning mode. You can put a million laps in at the test track but practicing is never racing and on a new bike, there will be things these boys have never felt appearing out of nowhere at the races. I know for a fact the group under the orange tent are incredibly smart, and talented people. Don’t sleep on the orange guys because they will figure this out.
The challenges involved in developing a new motorcycle to race in AMA Supercross in 2022 are never-ending. It may look like the bike is great, but again, at this level, halves of millimeters can make the difference in feeling good and feeling great. Without racing data, when a rider is feeling something they don’t like, the team doesn’t have anything to confirm their thoughts and concerns. So kudos to the KTM team for coming out swinging and having to use their knowledge and instincts in real-time every Saturday.
How can you not have Mookie Fever? Seriously, the guy is great. I believe any ill thoughts that have circled Malcolm in years past for whatever reason are long gone. He has more than earned a full-time, supercross, and outdoors ride to me and it’s absolutely great to see where he is at. He’s finally convinced the right people that fishing from May till September can be put on the back burner and I feel like it’s a matter of time before he stands on the box, and I’m not taking the top step out of the equation. Things have been trending upwards for a couple of years for Mookie and I think the ceiling is quite high here.
El Hombre! Just when pretty much everyone but the truck driver was over this guy, the green team came a calling. I’ve been a fan of this guy long before I knew him and knowing him only made me a bigger fan. The non-cookie cutter, do it my way kind of approach to professional racing keeps our favorite New Mexican’s fire burning. You just can’t put some people in a box and expect them to do what you want. I believe if you remove the radiator incident in San Diego, the 21 would have red backgrounds.
What else can be said about one of the best to do it in the current era of Supercross and motocross? Well, Eli says hold my beer because this guy is sitting down, warming up his fingers, and starting to write another chapter. This guy has won everything there is to win in our sport and somehow, someway, he wants more. We’re 4 rounds in, the new blue 3’s are red and I haven’t seen this version of Eli Tomac in years!
Now, what advantage do Eli, Jason, and Malcolm have over Aaron? Data! Real racing data! The platforms (bikes) of those three vs AP haven’t changed in a few years, if the rider feels something they can go back to the team, talk about it, refer to years of logged information and make a very calculated and appropriate adjustment.
One place I feel like this was evident was this past weekend at Anaheim 2. In the heat race, Anderson was having an issue keeping the front wheel connected to the ground. I believe the team was anticipating more moisture remaining in the ground for the heat races and the dirt being tackier, ultimately providing more traction and grip. When the track is tacky like that, you set the bike up a hair stiffer than you would when it’s dry and slippery. To me, it looked like the KX450 was pushing the front end, meaning his forks were a couple clicks too stiff and not allowing the front end to compress just enough to put weight on the front wheel, connecting him to the dirt. Instead, it stayed up in the stroke and just slid the front wheel. When Anderson came back out for the main it was clear to me the appropriate changes were made to suit him and the ever-changing track. Now that isn’t a major adjustment by any means, it’s actually a very common change. I’m not saying the KTM guys aren’t figuring out the simple stuff, but it’s the window of adjustments necessary from the start of race day to the hot lap before the main. You can only venture so far from your base settings during the day before you go back to what was decent enough to get you by. I think the base settings KTM is coming into the day with are sometimes a little too far from getting comfortable. At this level, it can be a narrow window of settings that allow the rider to do what he wants.
The racing data that the Star, Kawi, and Husky teams have in comparison to KTM at this time, is why three of the four are succeeding. It’s almost unfair, but such is life. We see a turnover in models every few years from every manufacturer and this is a delicate time for KTM. Unfortunately, it’s a slow process that you just can’t rush. One of the other benefits of the other three teams, is they’ve had multiple riders, with different styles ride each of their bikes in years past, which broadens that database. Therefore, the potential of making that window of comfort a lot larger for their current roster. From what I saw out of Eli on Saturday, his window of comfort is large right now. I think that was a problem on the Kawasaki for the last couple of years and why some nights, or days (outdoors), you would see him absolutely decimate the field, and other days he would ride around in 7th not moving forward. His window of comfort was small and the setup had to be so precise for him to reach his full speed. His teammate was on a completely different suspension package so comparing notes and broadening that database was simply not doable.
Personally, I love learning a new bike. That was always my favorite part about going to the test track, actually testing! Learning what change does what, and how something you wouldn’t think affects something, actually does, or vice versa. I’ve played that role with some exceptionally smart riders in my time that only allowed me to gain further understanding of how a motorcycle is supposed to work at the highest level of racing. Sometimes what works for one rider on the team, doesn’t work for the other. Each guy has a very unique desire in what and how they like their bikes to feel. Things like the power delivery, what the chassis does when that power comes, how hard it hits, what the chassis and engine are doing under braking, etc., etc. This is why countless hours are spent at the test track developing the bike to ultimately gain comfort. Comfort is the name of the game, with comfort, comes speed, and with speed, comes faster lap times.
In saying that, I think it’s a matter of time before Coop, AP, and Marv get a little more comfort out of their bikes and start putting it all together. These guys started well behind the 8 ball, but don’t be fooled. They are coming.