MXP Magazine Presents: 2019 Rockstar Energy AXTour Series Preview

Words by Mike McGill

Photos by James Lissimore

Kyle Thompson is an extremely busy man these days, but he’s certainly used to that feeling. As the Chief of Operations for Jetwerx International Inc. he is currently fully immersed in preparation for the upcoming MX season, specifically the Arenacross portion of the 2019 Rockstar Triple Crown Series that kicks off in Abbotsford, British Columbia on April the 6th. This will be the second year with Thompson and his crew at the helm of Canadian Motocross, and he is fully aware that this year is probably even more important than last, as far as building on the momentum that was created in the inaugural season.

I’m not even exactly sure what my official title is,” laughs Thompson as I chatted with him from his home in Brigden, Ontario, which is just outside of Sarnia. “I’m not really in charge of any one specific thing. I do media relations and promotion, and really, just whatever needs to be done I help take care of it. I just work,” chuckles Thompson. Thompson’s brother Justin, owner of Jetwerx, and their team worked tirelessly last season putting together the first Rockstar Triple Crown Series, and the workload heading into year two hasn’t diminished in the slightest.

The opening round track last year was made up of very soft and wet soil. For 2019, the conditions should be much better.

It never really felt like an off-season at all,” relates Kyle. “One season ended and it was right into prepping for the next one.” So, what are the major issues facing the Arenacross Tour this season? “The dirt, obviously,” says Thompson. “We’d done Arenacross before, but it was always in the fall and wet dirt wasn’t really an issue. Last year we started the Arenacross Series in March and the dirt was wet.” An understatement perhaps, as the opening round in Abbotsford was basically a brutal mud race. So tough in fact that the races were shortened, and many, in fact most of, the freshly prepped factory race machines didn’t make it through the night. “We went through eight clutches and two complete motors on the first night of the Series,” states Rockstar Energy/OTSFF/Yamaha Team Manager Steve Simms. A tough way to start the season, for sure.

We were in a bit of a tough spot last year,” explains Thompson. “The deal to do the series was a bit late happening and we were forced to take whatever dates we could get at the venues.” This year, with more lead time to prepare, Jetwerx has moved the start of the series back a month from March to April with the hopes that the weather, which hurt attendance at a couple rounds last year, will be better and the dirt will have a chance to dry out a bit. “We’ve had assurances that the dirt will be covered this year prior to it being brought into the arenas,” states Thompson. “We’re condensing the Arenacross portion of the series this year as well. All four rounds will take place within a five-week period, starting on April 6 and wrapping on May 4th weekend.” 

The event last season in Sarnia was sold out. This year should be no different.

Through no fault of their own, the Jetwerx Team were hit with a couple of late winter storms last year, and while Thompson claims the attendance was still surprisingly good, he has no doubt in his mind that it would have been better if Mother Nature had not reared her ugly head at the Abbotsford and Barrie rounds of the Series. “Yeah, that was tough,” admits Thompson.” A big snowstorm hit Abbotsford the weekend of the opener and then we had a freak ice storm in Barrie for the final in the middle of April. Right when you thought we would have been done with all that.” Still there was a sellout in Sarnia and decent crowds despite the unseasonal weather at the other rounds.

So, what should the fans expect from this year’s Series? “I think you are going to see even better competition than last year. It’s going to be great racing with good battles.” Thompson feels the riders’ and the teams’ perception of the Arenacross Series has changed a bit since last year. “I think last year they kind of viewed it as an appetizer, on the way to the main course, which was the outdoor series.” Culinary references aside, Thompson feels that it’s going to be a full-on battle from the opening gate drop this year. “Everyone realizes now that if they want a piece of that $100,000 (or $10,000 in the case of the 250 class) they are going to have to do well and be consistent right off the bat. They can’t ease into it.”

Thompson goes on to add that the demise of the official AMA Amsoil Arenacross Series in the US can only help the Canadian series going forward. “There’s no Arenacross in the States this year,” explains Thompson, “and there has been plenty of rumblings, plenty of talk on social media amongst the riders down there about our series so don’t be surprised to see a few top-notch guys coming up here to compete, much like US Arenacross specialist Steve Mages did last year.” 

Unfortunately fans will not get to see this battle in 2019 as Colton Facciotti has elected not to race the AXTour Series.

Unfortunately, one rider who won’t be contesting the Arenacross portion of the series this season is 5-time Canadian National MX Champion, Honda Canada/GDR/Fox Racing’s Colton Facciotti. As most Canadian moto enthusiasts will recall, the battle for the 100K went right down to the wire last season, and things got a little heated between Facciotti and Canadian KTM Red Bull THOR Factory racer Cole Thompson. It all ended badly for Facciotti as the two riders collided over the finish line jump at the penultimate round of the Supercross Series in Quebec City in November. The crash left Colton crumpled on the Coliseum floor. While the 31-year-old plans to contest the outdoor series for one more year, according to Team Manager Derek Schuster, “the extent of the injuries and the rehab time involved will not allow him to line up for Arenacross this year.” Schuster goes on to add that “at this time there are no plans to bring in a 450 rider to replace Facciotti for the Arenacross Series.”

While Colton Facciotti is out for Arenacross this season there will be plenty of high calibre talent lining up for the first gate drop in April. Favourites would of course have to include defending Champion Cole Thompson, along with former multi-time outdoor Canadian Champion, Monster Energy/Alpinestars/Piller’s Kawasaki and Huber Motorsports rider Matt Georke. As well the Rockstar Energy/OTSFF/Yamaha will be fielding a two-man team in the 450 class this season with former 250 Champ Shawn Maffenbeier returning to the fold and moving up to the big class, along with newly signed Cohocton, New York native Phil Nicoletti, who will be campaigning the complete 2019 season for the OTSFF Team. 

The AXTour provides fans with more than just an evening of racing, from start to finish it is pure entertainment.

The OTSFF team recently completed a two-week training and testing block at Club MX in South Carolina and, according to Team Manager Steve Simms, things are coming together nicely for the upcoming season. “Yes, things should be good,” claims Simms. “We were pretty happy with the way things went overall last year, but with any new venture there are of course going to be a few issues. I’m sure those issues will be addressed and we’re looking forward to a great season.” Simms goes on to mention that the “New Guy” Phil Nicoletti seems to be fitting in quite well with the squad. “Yeah, Phil’s been good,” states Simms. “He’s always got something to say. He keeps the boys entertained, for sure.”

While the 450 class seems primed to produce some amazing racing, the 250 class might prove to be even more competitive when you consider just who will be lining up this year. The obvious favourite has to be Canadian KTM Red Bull THOR Jess Pettis. The Prince George, BC native was the class of the field last year, dominating the outdoor and Supercross portions of the series. He missed out on Arenacross last year due to the fact that he was down south racing selected rounds of the Monster Energy Supercross Series. Pettis is once again contesting the US Supercross Series but currently plans on making it to the opening round of Arenacross. His results in Supercross have been quite impressive thus far, so his availability for the Rockstar Triple Crown Series opener could possibly be in jeopardy.

One rider who will definitely be on the gate for the 250 opener will be Monster Energy/Alpinestars/Piller’s Kawasaki and Huber Motorsports rider Tyler Medaglia. In somewhat of a surprise move, in my opinion anyways, Tyler has moved back to the 250 class for the upcoming season. The 32-year-old Medaglia had one of his finest seasons last year in the 450 class, highlighted by an overall win at the Gopher Dunes National in July and a shocking 6th overall at the final round of the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships at Ironman MX in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Even though Tyler Medaglia has moved to the 250 class for 2019, we’re quite sure we’ll still see some more of these awesome wheelies.

Even last year I had mentioned to the team that I would be willing to ride the 250 class,” states Medaglia, while relaxing at his Nova Scotia home for a week between pre-season training sessions in Florida and California. “I guess this year they decided to take me up on it,” chuckles Tyler. Medaglia goes on to explain that he is quite excited to be back on the 250, a class in which he has previously won two National Championships back in 2010 and ‘11 for Blackfoot Yamaha. “It’s exciting and different,” he states. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.” Medaglia explains that the years of riding 450s has taken a bit of a toll on his diminutive frame. “It’s much easier to ride,” he admits, and goes on to add that his new Kawasaki “handles like a dream, and my lap times on it are as fast or faster than on the 450.” When asked about his chances for the upcoming season, Medaglia is quick to hand out props to his younger competitors. “It’ll be a good fight as usual,” he states, but then goes on to add that, “I’m there to win. I want to win and that’s what they pay me for.” If the videos that Tyler has been posting on Instagram of his recent riding down in Florida are any indication, Medaglia should be absolutely ripping when the season starts and, along with Pettis, has to be an early season favourite to take the title.

Speaking of the younger competitors in the 250 class, there are three up and coming factory riders who all have a legitimate shot at the title. Marco Cannella, MX101/Royal Distributing/FXR/Yamaha, Tanner Ward, Canadian KTM Red Bull THOR, and Dylan Wright, Honda Canada/GDR/Fox Racing finished 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Triple Crown Series respectively last season and all are looking to improve on their previous results. Currently, Ward and Canella can be found pounding laps down in Florida in preparation for the upcoming season. Wright will be heading to Florida shortly as well to get his prep started in earnest.

Heading into the 2019 AXTour Series, defending champion Cole Thompson is most certainly the favourite to repeat in the 450 class.

The 250 class looks to be stacked with all this young talent mixed in with the wily veteran Medaglia. Speaking of veterans, Ryan Lockhart, last year’s sentimental favourite, who contested the entire Arenacross portion, placing 4th overall, is still undecided as to whether he will line up this year or not. As some of you may recall, the points that the 34-year-old Lockhart earned last year in Arenacross kept him well inside the top-10 in the overall Triple Crown standings well into the Outdoor Series. “I’ve been doing the Future West Series here in BC,” explains Lockhart. “I may do the first two (Triple Crown Arenacross) but I’m not sure yet. Although that’s what I said last year and look what happened,” chuckles Lockhart.

With temperatures hitting record lows in many parts of Canada recently, the thoughts of the upcoming motocross season probably seem like a long way off to most fans. Staring at your bike in the garage, as you pass by on the way to the snowblower certainly doesn’t help matters, but there is light at the end of this wintery tunnel friends. Both the Jetwerx Team and the Factory Race Teams are in full-on preparation mode for the upcoming season. The bugs are being worked out and optimism is high for 2019. It should be a great year and it all gets underway on April 6th in Abbottsford, BC.