Yamaha Motor Canada Presents The Monday Gate Drop

Good day, and welcome to another edition of the Yamaha Motor Canada Monday Gate Drop. The Blu Cru had a great weekend at Walton Raceway with MX101 Yamaha riders Marco Cannella and Shawn Maffenbeier leading the way. Both riders finished just off of the podium and now they look forward to Round 2 of the 2021 Triple Crown Series this coming weekend at Gopher Dunes.

Wow!! This is all I have to say about this past weekend at Walton Raceway. It was an incredible four days spent at Canada’s ‘Motocross Town’ and other than things going a little sideways on Saturday afternoon (more on this later) I think everyone had a great time. The XC race was fun to watch on Thursday, the opening round of the Triple Crown Series was an entertaining event on Friday, the AMO race on Saturday was very well attended, and then of course the second round of the Triple Crown Series with the never-been-tried-before three moto format had everyone’s attention yesterday. Four days, multiple events, great racing, fun bench racing, all on the grounds of Canada’s most famous track.

The XC race on Thursday was a massive hit with everyone! Photo by James Lissimore

Let’s begin with the opening round of the Off-Road Ontario XC race on Canada Day. When I arrived at Walton Raceway around noon on Thursday the XC race was wide open. As my family and I drove through the paddock area all we could see were bikes with large gas tanks and very tired-looking riders. This was my first time witnessing an off-road race in person and the first thing that stood out to me while touring through the pit area was just how passionate these riders are. Some travel to the races in cars with their bikes on the back, some are in pick-ups and trailers, to me, it looked like they love racing so much that they just try and get to the event anyway possible. I love this and while I was watching the riders traverse the log section of the XC track the rider’s heart and passion were even more on display. The XC race was a great way to kick off the Walton One weekend and it looked like everyone had a great time.

GDR Honda rider Tanner Ward was on fire all weekend as he took home both overall wins in the 250 class. Photo by James Lissimore

With the XC race in the books, Friday was the opening round of the Triple Crown Series and it most certainly didn’t disappoint anyone. Watching our best riders compete on the challenging Walton Track was exciting as there were numerous battles in both classes. The only part of Friday (or Sunday) I didn’t like was that the pro riders only got one practice/qualifying session before their opening motos. The pro riders have always (even in my day) had two sessions to learn the track and get their bikes all set up for the main motos. When your only practice is also a qualifying session it forces the riders to go wide open during their first laps on the track. Also, it demands that the riders stick to just one line (the fast line) and not deviate to make new lines. In talking to some of the riders and teams they all seem to agree that moving forward two practice sessions are the way to go, even if the first one is only 10-12 minutes. Other than that the schedule ran well and as I said the racing was great.

Young BC rider Jacob Piccolo won his first-ever pro national moto on Sunday and looked very fast all weekend long. Photo by James Lissimore

In the 250 class, Tanner Ward ended up taking the overall win at Round 1 with a solid 4-1 moto score. With Ward’s teammate Ryder McNabb taking the opening 250 moto win and Dylan Wright winning both 450 motos, it was a clean sweep for the Honda Canada GDR Fox Racing Team. In the second 250 moto, Tanner had a newcomer to the series Darian Sanayei on him for pretty much the entire race but he refused to give up the lead. Tanner showed a lot of mental and physical strength in holding off Sanayei and taking his second ever moto win and overall pro-national win. Tanner admitted to me last night that he came into this weekend not feeling as confident as he should’ve been feeling. Although he came in feeling like he was in terrific physical condition thanks to his new trainer Todd Schumlick, due to some knee issues he was lacking a little seat time. But Tanner has a lot of experience for a young pro and he no doubt drew on some of that this past weekend. His GDR Honda looked good on Sunday with the red plates and it will look even better this coming Saturday at Gopher Dunes with the same colour backgrounds.

Has there ever been a Canadian rider this good at 15 years old as Ryder McNabb is? Ryder won the opening 250 moto on Friday and was solid all weekend long as well. Photo by James Lissimore

Two riders who have come a long way in a short time are Ryder McNabb and Jacob Piccolo. Both are young (Ryder isn’t even 16 yet) and extremely talented and both worked hard over the off-season down in the USA. I was amazed this weekend at not only their speed but also their fitness and determination. It was great to see Ryder take his first-ever national moto win on Friday and it was even more impressive to see him come from almost last to sixth in the second moto. For Piccolo, his first-ever national moto win came yesterday in the opening 250 moto, and then he backed that win up with a come from behind last to 7th in Moto 2, and then a strong second in the third 250 moto. To watch these kids battling for wins against 250 class veterans like Ward and Marco Cannalla is truly amazing. Ironically, both McNabb and Piccolo are former Walton TransCan Champions so to find success in the pro ranks on the same track is cool. I will also mention that I was impressed with the riding of Darian Sanayei as he got better and better as the weekend went on. He comes to Canada this summer with a lot of experience from racing in both the USA as well as Europe. He has great racecraft and in talking to him after the race yesterday he seems like a nice guy and he’s happy to be racing in Canada in 2021. Look for him to become a title threat beginning this weekend in the deep sand at Gopher Dunes. Actually, the Top five in the 250 class are flying and as a group, they’re going to make these next few rounds fun to watch. Look for Cannella to join the list of first-time winners this weekend at Gopher Dunes as his speed and high level of fitness will shine on the always challenging Gopher Dunes track.

How is this for a battle in the 450 class? Look for Dylan Wright, Jess Pettis, Cole Thompson and Marshal Weltin to battle for wins all summer long. Photo by James Lissimore

In the 450 class, I’m sure many thought that after Dylan Wright’s solid 1-1 moto score on Friday that he was going to run away with this championship again. However, I don’t think it’s a secret that Dylan came into the opening round nursing some serious injuries and those injuries could act up at any time. Also, during the final moto on Friday Dylan went down while leading and injured one of his fingers so badly that it needed stitches. On Sunday morning it was even more clear that Dylan wasn’t 100% as he only completed a few laps of practice before returning to his trailer. During the motos yesterday he also didn’t do himself any favours by getting bad starts and having to battle from behind. Dylan would still go 1-4-4 for third overall at Round 2 in one of the gutsiest rides of the weekend. Injured or not, this kid is as tough as nails and he showed that all weekend long at Walton Raceway. But in the dog-eat-dog world of professional motocross when your competition senses even the slightest weakness they always seem to pounce.

Jess Pettis won the 450 class overall yesterday and took the points lead from Dylan Wright. Photo by James Lissimore

This is what happen yesterday as the trio of Jess Pettis, Cole Thompson, and Marshal Weltin all stepped up their game in the 450 class. For Pettis, he appeared to enjoy the three moto format as he went 3-1-1 for this first-ever 450 Pro National win. As you can tell there were a lot of ‘firsts’ this past weekend at Walton Raceway. Anyway, Pettis is fit, hungry, healthy, and he looks great on his KTM450SX-F. To show you how hard this kid works he told me on Thursday night during opening ceremonies that only three weeks he wasn’t in a good spot with his riding and bike set-up. However, Jess and his team worked everyday with getting everything dialed in, and coming into Walton he was feeling great on the bike. Well, all of that hard work paid off as Pettis is now a 450 National winner and your 450 points leader heading into Round 3. For Thompson, he looked a little off on Friday as he went 4-4 for fourth overall. But to Cole’s credit, he rebounded nicely yesterday finishing 2-2-2 for second overall. I feel like Cole needed this opening weekend to gain back some confidence and to find his speed again. Overall he looked great and this weekend should be another solid one for the #16. Finally, I love watching Marshal Weltin ride as he’s just such a hard-charger. Whether he’s in first or fourth the likable Kawasaki rider is wide open and doing everything he can to get to the front. In talking to Weltin last night he said he was happy with his riding but a little unhappy with his overall finishes. However, when I asked if he was looking forward to this coming weekend at Gopher Dunes, he did get a little grin on his face and said that he and his team have a great set-up for sand. So the stage is now set for Round 3 at Gopher Dunes where the riders only have one moto on Saturday morning so they can let it all hang out. Like this past weekend at Walton Raceway, Round’s 3 and 4 at Gopher Dunes should be another great two days of racing.

Kawasaki rider Darian Sanayei rode great this weekend and was able to take a moto win on Sunday. Photo by James Lissimore

All in all, it was a great weekend of racing at Walton Raceway and as I mentioned the only issue that came up was at the AMO race on Saturday when the final ten motos had to be cancelled because of too many injuries at the event and the subsequent overcrowding at the local hospital. It was a tough call and when AMO Race Director Ryan Gauld was forced to take the stage to make the surprising announcement that the day was done, you could hear the emotion in his voice. I’m not sure what the solutions are for trying to have fewer crashes and less serious injuries like we saw on Saturday. I know for my second moto we were forced to roll the step-up after the start on the opening lap. I had no problem with this and maybe that has to happen moving forward in the Amateur classes. I don’t feel like the track at Walton Raceway is dangerous by any means but we’re operating in a new world where almost every class has at least 25 riders in it and some have full gates. That is a lot of riders leaving the gate at the same time on numerous occasions during the day. Unfortunately, the odds catch up with everyone and there are crashes. I can confirm that many discussions are going on as the powers at be speak about how to improve safety and to try and ensure this doesn’t happen again. I hope that everyone who was injured on Saturday is going to be okay moving forward and trust me when I say that we’re all thinking of you. For this weekend at Gopher Dunes, don’t forget to check the AMO website (www.amoracing.com) as 13 classes will run their motos on Friday afternoon. Thank you for reading and please have a great week! If you have any questions or comments please email me at chris@mxpmag.com.