Good day, and welcome to another edition of the Yamaha Motor Canada Monday Gate Drop. Yamaha has been a proud supporter of this column for the past three years and we thank them for their continued support.
Let me begin this week’s Gate Drop from Canada’s roughest sand track Gopher Dunes, which over the past year has been transformed into a multi-purpose riding getaway. Campsites, multiple tracks and trails, a fully stocked pro shop, and this past weekend, the host of the 2021 Triple Crown Series SXTour opening two rounds. With the original SX track being torn down to make room for the new Vet track at Gopher Dunes, a new one had to be built and this time it was bigger and better than ever. Even with two days of scorching heat and bright sunshine this new SX track held up well and by the final main events on Saturday night, it was in its best condition. The track for the opening two rounds this past weekend featured a long start straight, six decent length lanes, as well as both easy and technique obstacles. All in all, it was a well-built track and most of the riders enjoyed it. Racing these four SX rounds only two weeks after the final outdoor round at Walton Raceway is a tough ask for our riders and as a group, I thought they performed well this past weekend. Yes, there were some crashes (more on that in a minute) but considering 98% of our riders only started riding SX last week, I think all of them rode great. I won’t go into all of the results from Friday and Saturday as below is a link to all of them, but instead here are a few notable performances from Gopher Dunes.
No surprise here as KTM rider Cole Thompson was unstoppable all weekend long in the 450 class. Cole looked like he was on a different level than anyone else this weekend and only Marshal Weltin was able to put a pass on him early in the second main event on Saturday. Even off of the track Cole was different than he was all summer long as he appeared happy and loose as he walked around the paddock. Obviously, Cole loves SX and it shows from the moment he takes to the track. His bike is set up perfectly, he has that SX flow, his timing is impeccable, just about every part of his SX riding is perfection. Cole was fun to watch this past weekend and it’s going to be difficult to challenge him at the final two rounds.
Most Entertaining Race:
Well, this one is easy. I think all four 250 class main events were nail bitters as we didn’t know who was going to win. In fact, all four main events featured a different winner and these races were so exciting that after Friday night I was kind of hoping they’d go with three 250 main events and go down to just one 450 main event for Saturday. In the opening 250 main event on Friday it was great to see young BC rider Tyler Gibbs get his first big win. I rode with Tyler last week at the Compound 138 SX track and he looked great. So it was no surprise to see him run up front this weekend. He ended up second overall on Friday night but ran into a little trouble on the second night. Either way, it was a great weekend for Gibbs and he should be even better this coming weekend.
I think this one is a tie as in the 450 class we witnessed some great riding by Casey Keast and Westen Wrozyna. Again, I had the pleasure of riding with both of these riders last week and I was instantly impressed with how well they were flowing around an SX track on their new 450 machines. Both are solid SX riders so it was great to see them battling for podium finishes on both nights. Wrozyna was even pushing Weltin for second in the closing stages of Main Event 2 on Saturday. As for Keast, he just looked comfortable on the 450 and with each lap, I think his confidence grew. I love watching Casey navigate an SX track as his precision and flow are on par with that of Cole Thompson. With some more hard work and some good luck, Keast’s best days could still be ahead of him. After another week of practice look for both riders to be on the gas and looking smooth at Rounds 3 and 4.
For me, this one was once again easy as rookie pro rider Sebastian Racine showed remarkable improvement throughout the weekend. I also rode with Racine last week and he didn’t look all that comfortable on an SX track. Even on Friday at the opening round he was tentative and unsure how to successfully navigate the technique track. But what a difference 24 hours make when you’re a young, talented, and confident rider. After finishing 11th on Friday night in what I would call a very smart and safe race, Racine came back on Saturday looking like a new rider. From the opening lap of practice, he was more aggressive and faster through the challenging whoop section. His solid practice resulted in a good gate pick for Main Event 1 and from there he rode great to finish 6th overall. It was like watching a young SX rider be born and I was happy for him and his family. I know SX can be intimidating for young riders who don’t have a lot of experience on these types of tracks. But if you start small and try and progress slowly and safely you will figure it out. And trust me, practicing and racing SX will make you a better outdoor rider as it’s all about bike control.
This one without a doubt goes to our newly crowned two-time 450 Champion Dylan Wright, who despite winning the 450 title two weeks ago has really had a challenging season. Actually, if you go back to a year ago at the Triple Crown SXTour rounds when Dylan injured his knee, the past 365 days have been tough. After rehabbing that original knee injury throughout the off-season, Dylan had to figure out a brand new CRF450 without much testing time down south. To make matters even worse he injured his other knee just before Round 1 at Walton a few months back, then at the opening round he broke one of his baby fingers. As he was nursing that through the MX Series he took a hard hit with a big crash in Deschambault and then on Friday night while running third in Main Event 2 he took another hard hit with a spectacular get-off. This time he knocked himself out and suffered a deep cut on his arm. When I spoke to Dylan on Saturday afternoon he looked sore and tired and ready for some time off. He told me that he had been unsure about even lining up for any of the SXTour rounds as he hadn’t done much SX testing. His goal this year was to repeat as 450MX Champion and once he had done that he felt like his 2021 season was a success. The funny thing was that his crash on Friday wasn’t even in one of the technical sections of the track as Dylan said that he just made a mistake while trying to catch Weltin for second place. It’s a shame this happened as Dylan does have the potential to be a really good SX rider, he obviously just needs to spend some time riding it. His technique is good and although he’s not as smooth or naturally gifted at SX as say Thompson is, Wright’s natural aggression more than makes up for it. Dylan will now head home to try and heal up before beginning to prepare for the MXoN event in Italy in four weeks. In my opinion, if Dylan can go to Italy at least somewhat healthy then he has a chance to really put on a show in the MX1 class. With his speed, determination, and yes, aggression, I feel like Dylan Wright could make a name for himself at this event.
As I said at the beginning of this column, it’s a big ask of these riders to get SX ready in ten days and then come out swinging at the opening round. Many looked rusty and tentative on Friday, but to their credit, they came back on Saturday and looked much better. Marshal Weltin is another perfect example of this as he looked hesitant on Friday but by the final main event on Saturday he spent a few laps battling Thompson for the lead. Weltin will no doubt be hitting the test track this week to try and find even more comfort and flow on his big KX450. Riding a 450 on a tight SX track is not an easy task as it can be a fine line between going fast, staying in perfect control, and then making a mistake and launching it into Row 5. With a 450 it’s not that hard to jump sixty feet at any given time, the hard part is jumping thirty feet, landing in the space of two feet, and then jumping another thirty. And then doing it for 20 laps without making one mistake. It’s not easy and that’s why not every rider can do it successfully. It takes practice and that is precisely what the riders will be doing this week.
Well, that is it for me this week. I hope everyone has a great week as we welcome in September on Wednesday. In many parts of this country, September produces some of the best riding weather we see all year so hopefully, you can get out and enjoy some early fall riding. Also, the ISDE begins this week in Italy and Team Canada is ready to go. With some of the most extreme riding that our riders have faced all year long, it’s not going to be easy. However, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger right? Go Canada Go!! Please have a great week and thanks for reading.