Yamaha Motor Canada Presents The Monday Gate Drop

Good day.  Welcome to another edition of the Yamaha Motor Canada Monday Gate Drop. As we said last week, Yamaha has now released their 2021 motocross and off-road models. They will soon be on the showroom floor of your nearest Yamaha dealer. For all the information on the 2021 models, visit their website at www.yamaha-motor.ca.

After months of anticipation and uncertainty, this coming weekend the 2020 Rockstar Energy Triple Crown MXTour will kick-off at the roughest and toughest track Canada has to offer, Gopher Dunes. Back in the mid-2000’s Gopher Dunes was the site of the second round of our National Series. This weekend is the first time they will host the opening round. This venue, combined with the new three moto format introduced in 2020 promises that this weekend is most certainly going to be a challenging two days of racing for both the riders and their machines. However, before the riders get ready to play in the sand, a few of the series’ contenders headed to Walton Raceway yesterday for Round 4 of the AMO Ontario Provincial Series. This race became even more important ten days ago, when it was confirmed that Walton Raceway will now host the second round of the Triple Crown Series, instead of Moto Park. So this weekend gave the riders one more chance to work on their rut riding skills and bike set-ups for Round 2. Unfortunately, after a decent day of practice on Saturday and just seven motos on Sunday, Mother Nature unleashed her fury with a 20 minute rain/wind storm of epic proportions. Not since the famous storms of 2011 and 2016 has Walton Raceway witnessed so much rain in so short a time. Within minutes, since the track was unrideable,  AMO thankfully cancelled the remainder of the day. I didn’t see the track after the storm, but I can imagine how muddy it was and how much water has built up in the valleys. Calling off the rest of the day was a great decision: This track has some very big events coming up. To prepare for these, the track needs some clean-up. Sadly, since the storm moved in so quickly, many people will be looking for new awnings and tents this week. As I left Walton Raceway, I saw piles of mangled tent frames on the ground.

So now we take a break from regional racing and we turn our focus to our pro nationals. This off-season has definitely been long for some of these riders.   No doubt they’re chomping at the bit to race.  Finally, this coming weekend they will get their chance as the gate drops on Round 1.

Since I don’t really have much news to report today, I’ll begin my MXTour predictions with who I think might find success in the 450MX class in 2020.

We’re definitely going to miss Colton Facciotti on the track this summer. Now that he’s retired from professional racing will he be able to guide Dylan Wright to his first ever 450MX Championship? Photo by James Lissimore

To begin, my initial thought on the 450MX class is that today, no clear- cut favourite  to win this 2020 title is predictable.   The last two years I would’ve said that Colton Facciotti was the favourite coming into the 450MX series, but obviously I cannot say that  this time around. In fact, if we look back to last summer’s 450 series, the Top 2 riders in the final point standings (Facciotti and Alessi) won’t be at the starting gate this weekend at Gopher Dunes. It’s definitely going to be strange to see Colton walking around this summer, not on the track battling for this championship. I can’t remember the last time he wasn’t on the gate for an opening round; I don’t think he’s ever missed the start of a 450 series. Anyway, for those of you who haven’t been out to any Ontario races so far in 2020, Colton has been there as a moto dad, keeping a close eye on his GDR Honda riders as well as his SSS Suspension clients. So with no defending champ and no runner-up from last year on the starting gate, we’ll have to look at Phil Nicoletti, who finished third overall in 2019. Since Nicoletti was also the overall Triple Crown Champion,  he has to be the favourite heading into Gopher Dunes. Even though Phil hasn’t raced since the Hamilton SX late last year, he comes into the weekend as ready as anyone. From talking to him and to a few other people, I know Phil has been training hard during the off-season. If you’ve ever seen videos of him riding, his sessions are as close to actual motos as you can get. Phil will be ready.  Whether he wins this weekend or at Round 2, or if he doesn’t win a moto all series long, his best attribute will be his ability to remain consistent. If you discount Phil’s mishap at Sand Del Lee last summer and give him at least 25 more points, he finishes only a few points shy of Colton in the 450MX. Also, prior to SDL last year, Phil was beginning to build some momentum in the series. He comes into this year knowing the tracks and what to expect from each venue. Phil will be good and he will be entertaining, both on and off the track!

Since he’s the defending 2019 Triple Crown Champion, I think Phil Nicoletti has to be considered the favourite coming into the opening round at Gopher Dunes. Photo by James Lissimore

Another rider who will without a doubt be better than he was in 2019 is KTM Canada rider, Cole Thompson. Last year, Cole started off the series with a convincing win in Calgary. He finished with a moto win in the final round at his favourite track in Walton. In between, though, his 450MX series was a mixture of bad luck, mishaps, and a wonky back. I know it’s easy to say, but if you remove his derailed chain in PG, his points- docking in Manitoba, and his huge crash in Quebec; if these incidents hadn’t occurred,  the summer of 2019 would have been a different story for Cole. Undoubtedly, Cole will be competitive this weekend at Gopher Dunes.  Followed by back-to-back races at Walton Raceway (a track he’s been very good at in the past), Cole could leave Round 3 as 450MX points leader. So far, Cole has looked very good at the AMO events.  He’s done more sand testing than ever, before heading into this weekend.

Tyler Medaglia comes back to the 450 class in 2020 and he should be as competitive as ever aboard his KX450. Photo by James Lissimore

The next three title contenders this summer are riders Matt Goerke, Tyler Medaglia and Shawn Maffenbeier. After suffering a very serious injury near the end of 2019 , Goerke  hasn’t raced since last fall.  He could need a few motos to feel comfortable again. The good news is that he’s headed to a track this weekend where he’s been very good in the past. This familiarity will no doubt ease his mind as he lines up for his first gate drop of 2020. Also, with three motos this weekend, this new format will work in Goerke’s favour.  Only one moto on Saturday morning  will give him a chance to assess things, regroup, and  head into Sunday feeling even better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Goerke win a moto this weekend, but I predict that that victory won’t come until Sunday.

Medaglia comes back to the 450MX class after a season battling with the kids in the 250 class last year.  This thought may sound strange, but I believe that Tyler will be Tyler this summer! Meaning, he will get good starts and run up front, probably even winning a few motos. Also, if some riders are faster than he is, he will still be a pain in the butt to pass, and since he never gets tired, he’s not going to fade. Also, his best moto will most likely be the final moto on Sunday:  you can never count him out. If I were racing against him, I would probably dislike him on the track because he’s just so tough to race against . However, I’m not. So I love Tyler and wish him a great season.  I hope he’s still racing this series when he’s 40!

Prior to getting injured last summer, Shawn Maffenbeier had a great 450MX Series going. Let’s hope he can have the same start to the series that he had in 2019. Photo by James Lissimore

Let’s hope Shawn Maffenbeier can pick up where he left off in 2019 before he got injured after Sand Del Lee. At the time Shawn was coming off a solid third overall in SDL and by all accounts was riding better than ever. Shawn is a fan favourite and also one of the most popular riders in the paddock.  You’d have to look long and hard to find someone who doesn’t hope Shawn has a great series. Right now he looks fit and ready to drop the hammer this weekend to get off to a solid start in the 450MX series. If he does, those feelings from the first half of 2019 will come flooding back and he’ll again be a solid podium guy. For this year, five podiums might just get the rider a 450MX Championship.

If the pre-season races are any indication, Dylan Wright is going to be very fast this summer in his first ever 450MX Series.

Finally, last but certainly not least, is rookie 450 rider, Dylan Wright! Coming into this summer. Although he’s a rookie, Dylan is exactly where he wants to be. He’s a wild card, a diamond in the rough, so to speak, and probably the most unpredictable rider on the 450 starting gate. He could holeshot and win, he could crash five times and still maybe win, or he could finish outside of the Top 5. At this point, no one knows how Dylan will finish when this series concludes in early September, but if he stays healthy, he’s going to win motos. I’ve made this prediction a few times over the past few weeks, but I’m convinced that Dylan will be the fastest rider this summer in the 450 series. He may even win the most motos, but how he does in those other motos  will determine how he finishes in the series. After watching Dylan through the first half of 250MX series last year, Tony Alessi commented that Dylan reminded him of a cross between Bob Hannah and Damon Bradshaw, and that he should be racing in the USA. That is most certainly high praise from Tony. I don’t think he’s far off in his assessment of Dylan. The kid might look a little out of control at times (last year he looked a lot smoother), but no one can say that he doesn’t give 100% whenever he’s on the track, regardless of what position he’s in. He’s fit, strong, and his belief in his own abilities far exceeds that of most riders on the starting gate. I can’t accurately predict where Dylan is going to finish this summer (no one can), but I can assure you he’s going to be fun to watch. As a former pro racer, trust me when I say that by Round 2 or 3, all of his fellow top riders are going to dislike racing against him. Again, Dylan’s in a great spot right now since he has zero pressure heading into this series. If he wins, what a great story it will be; if he doesn’t,  no worries. There will still be some entertaining stories to write about his series, I’m sure. He just has to remain healthy and make sure he lines up for each moto in this series.

So there you have it: My predictions for what will most likely be the most unpredictable series we’ve seen in a while. Beginning right from the opening gate drop,  the racing is going to be excellent.  It’s a shame that this summer, no fans will be allowed in the gates. If you want to watch this incredible racing live, load up your bike and sign up for one of the amateur classes. Unfortunately, if you live on the west or east coast, you may have to wait until next year. These are crazy times and this series will no doubt be just as crazy!

Stay tuned until tomorrow when I’ll take a look at the 250MX class. I wish everyone a great week and a safe week of riding.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any comments or questions, please email me at chris@mxpmag.com.