Yamaha Motor Canada Presents MXP Chatter: Mike McGill Reflects on Sarnia

The Progressive Auto Sales Arena in Sarnia, Ontario played host to the fourth round of the Rockstar Energy Triple Crown Series on Saturday night. This was the first round of the series that I’ve attended, and to be honest I had no idea what to expect in terms of crowd and racing action. The winter weather that just keeps hanging around Southern Ontario this year was very much in evidence Saturday as the temperatures hovered around the 0° Celsius mark and snow flurries persisted throughout the day.

The cold temperatures, however, while they may have made pitting outside a little uncomfortable, did nothing to dampen the spirits of the hearty Southwestern Ontario moto fans. I actually figured that, while the tickets were for assigned seats, we would probably just be able to arrive and sit pretty much anywhere we felt like. Boy was I wrong about that. From the moment we arrived in the arena parking lot you could immediately tell that this event was happening. Lots of people around, many were waiting to purchase tickets. Luckily for us, a lady emerged from the box office just as we arrived asking if anyone had passes that they needed to pick up. Bingo, that’s us, thank you, and we were in.

The track inside the Prgressive Auto Sales Centre was technical and soft for Round 4 of the 2018 Rockstar Energy Triple Crown Series. Photo by James Lissimore

As we entered the arena you could see the floor was packed for the pre-race pit party and we made our way down to check out the track and get some autographs for the kids. First thing I noticed was that the dirt was extremely soft and squishy. More on that later. The teams were set up with bikes and riders right on the track signing autographs for the kids. The riders were all great with the kids and there were lots of happy excited little faces running around, autographed posters in hand.

I must say the crowd was impressive. The line ups for beer and poutine were long, and as the floor emptied and everyone made their way to their seats it soon became evident that it was going to be a full house. I’m not sure what the official numbers for attendance were but there was nary an empty seat, and that included the private boxes which all seemed to be occupied. I know the attendance at the first three rounds has been good but the people from Jetwerx, who are coincidentally from Sarnia, had to be very pleased with the crowd.

The racing got started right on time, and for the most part I would have to say it was pretty darn entertaining. The 250 class was dominated all night by defending MX2 National Champion, Huber Motorsports, Monster Energy Kawasaki mounted Shawn Maffenbeier. Rookie Pros Marco Cannella, aboard his OSTFF / Rockstar Energy Yamaha, and Red Bull Thor KTM’s Tanner Ward were not quite up to the pace that Maffenbeier was setting. Even though Ward was the only 250 rider who was tripling into the rhythm section, which was pretty cool, by the end of the 12-lap main event both were quite a ways back of Maffenbeier who now takes a commanding lead in the series over the rookies.

The Rockstar Energy Pit Party is a great time to meet your favourite riders and maybe get a few cool photo.

Honourable mention must also go out to super fast vet racer, “The People’s Champ” as I like to call him, Ryan Lockhart, who made the trip from BC and raced his KX250F against the factory equipment to a very credible 5th place overall in the final. Lockhart came into Sarnia 2nd in the 250 series points and actually rode in 3rd place for much of the final before losing a couple of spots right near the end. Still a solid performance, which leaves him still battling for 2nd in the standings coming out of Sarnia. I would imagine he plans to contest the next race in the series that takes place in Barrie next weekend. If he finishes Top 3 in the Arenacross portion of the series, will we see him outdoors? Time will tell.

As for the 450 class it was pretty much the Cole Thompson show. Much to the delight of the hometown crowd, Thompson cruised the big 450 Red Bull Thor KTM to victory in both the Dash for Cash and the 450 Main event. In my opinion, GDR Honda Canada rider Colton Facciotti looked just as fast and definitely as smooth as Thompson but his starts, or lack thereof, did him in on this night. It seemed to me that while he got great jumps off the line in both the Dash and the 450 Main, Colton shut off just a tad early coming into the first corner causing him to get pinched off by a few other riders. In the 450 Main he tangled with OTSFF Yamaha rider Dylan Epstein and ended up basically in last place on the first lap. To me, it was this same issue with the starts that derailed his chances of making the main event at the Daytona Supercross a few weeks ago, so hopefully he gets that sorted out sooner rather than later. Facciotti rode well once he got going, fought his way up to 3rd place and was challenging Matt Goerke for 2nd when a lapped rider veered into him going through the rhythm section, taking him out of the race and probably out of contention for the first leg of the Triple Crown Championship.

Cole Thompson dominated the 450 main event in front of his hometown fans. Photo by James Lissimore

Speaking of Matt Goerke, the OTSFF Rockstar Yamaha defending 450 MX1 Champ was back and battled to a second-place podium position in the final. I must say Goerke looked a little sketchy to me at times, specifically while tripling into the rhythm section, but to his credit he did it on every lap and could very well have held second even if Facciotti had not been taken out. Facciotti’s mishap late in the race turned out to be Tyler Medaglia’s good fortune as the Huber Motorsports / Monster Energy Kawasaki rider cruised on by the downed Facciotti for, what I would call, a quiet 3rd place at the checkers. I didn’t really notice Tyler over the course of the night that much, other than when he was doing one of his really-cool balance wheelies during opening ceremonies, but in the end, there he was on the podium.

I would have to say that, for me, as much as I love watching motocross, I could have done with a little less amateur racing over the course of the evening. As I mentioned previously, the track was soft and, to the organizer’s credit, they brought out the bobcat on several occasions to smooth out some of the ruts. Keeping things safe was the idea behind this I’m sure, and it worked as there were, to my recollection, no serious mishaps during the races but it did seem to make things drag on a bit. After all, I really don’t think we needed to see a PW50 class with only one rider in it. But having said that the crowd did seem to get a kick out of it, almost as much as they did in seeing the little guys throw their one hundred plus dollar goggles into the stands after their wins. Not too sure if the parents would find the same amount of amusement in that.

All in all, a good night, though, and the new series seems to be starting off on the right foot in Ontario anyways. Hopefully the momentum continues to grow as they move on to the next stop in Barrie. There was talk last night of a couple more American riders showing up for the next round so that should be interesting. And maybe, just maybe it will be a bit warmer next weekend.