MEC 2017: Marvin the Millionaire
Imagine earning a million dollars (845,000 euros or 753,000 pounds) in the space of nine and a half hours? Marvin Musquin took his first practice laps at the Sam Boyd Stadium in a hot and breezy Las Vegas at midday. By 21.30 he was celebrating Monster Energy Cup victory by winning all three ten lap races with some fast and slick soil to judge and a rapid Joker Lane diversion that was more ‘short cut’ than handicap.
Of course this is a simplification. The 27 year old has been working most of his life to get to the point where he can boss the 450 division of supercross; he has invested and gambled in his career and suffered injury and setbacks. He is a multi world champion and a 250SX champion; a cool million is probably not too unreasonable. The Frenchman will have been a factory KTM rider for a decade next year and when he starts the 2018 AMA Supercross series as one of the main contenders for the crown, and as the Austrian’s lead hope with the retirement of Ryan Dungey this summer.
In the weird void between an end-of-season spectacle and a pre-season testing exercise, the Monster Energy Cup was an apt stage for Musquin to display the increasing competitiveness on the 450 SX-F in what will be just his third campaign on the bigger bike in 2018. He had the starts, the technique and the confidence to streak ahead, and on a ‘softened’ course with a one minute lap-time. “It is a super-cool track but there are no big whoops like we have every week for seventeen rounds,” he said on Friday and during the pre-event press conference. “This race is actually a perfect ‘first race’ coming from Europe,” he added in reference to HRC star and 2016 MXGP World Champion Tim Gajser.
The Slovenian was one of the other headlines at this seventh edition of the race that morphed from the original US Open and is now an event used by riders and teams for different reasons; some through obligation and others for more supercross dialling-in (the latter the motivation for new KTM recruit Broc Tickle to make his debut on the SX-F and he ran top five). Gajser had minimal supercross practice and already had difficulty adapting to a suspension setting needed for the hard demands of the discipline. The works CRF450R looked soft and unstable; PulpMX honcho Steve Matthes spotted the irregularity in practice. The twenty one year old was running as high as third in the restarted first race (stopped after three laps due to Justin Bogle’s crash and several minutes of unconsciousness) but then lost two positions and went down in the same rhythm section as Bogle. Tim was winded from an impact by the handlebars but the damage to the Honda was greater and the team could not get the bike into race trim in the 50 minutes before it had be back behind the gate for the second race.
It was hard to judge much from Gajser’s showing. He was taking chances but rode in the same loose and attacking way as we’ve seen frequently in MXGP. He admitted that he lost concentration in the lead-up to his spill and it’s debatable how much speed he would have carried across the entire evening. Look out for some exclusive reactions from the #243 on the website tomorrow.
Gajser, Bogle and Eli Tomac were counted out of the running in the opening phases. Tomac, the 2016 winner, was the pre-event favourite and was the only rider who looked capable of dicing with Musquin. When the KTM man belated took the Joker Lane it put both of them back on track together for the lead of the first Main and a brief dispute was ended when Tomac lost rear end grip into the rhythm section and bounced hard. The night began quickly for Eli, and finished just as fast.
Anderson remarked that he was pushing so much to catch Musquin that a series of small mistakes would always keep him adrift. Often the gap hovered between three-five seconds.
It was Musquin’s evening and he ran unchallenged in the second race and took a holeshot in the third that put him at least five bike lengths ahead of Anderson as the split pack looped around and co-joined in the run to the first jump. Tomac commented beforehand that starts were essential for thoughts of three chequered flags and the million and it was not a simple prospect. The metal start gate was originally trialled in Las Vegas before it was adopted by MXGP but the grill extended down a steep drop and an awkward run onto the dirt. Riders described a g-out effect from the bounce.
Impressions from the Sam Boyd? The new team of announcers tried ridiculously hard to amp proceedings but were irritating and overbearing; more style than substance. When the music came over the impressive PA system it was a relief. It was a busy gathering. The Paddock Party of FMX, Drift cars and Duel racing was packed through a sunny afternoon and the 35,000 seating was 70-80% full. The facility is still one of the most scenic and idiosyncratic places to stage this one-off. There is a distinctly relaxed vibe compared to an AMA Supercross round and there was a notably decent presence from industry brands and figures. Based twenty minutes from the Strip and the nucleus of hotels it is also easy to combine the racing with many other facets of a good weekend away.
Senior Director of Operations 2 Wheel for Feld Motorsport Dave Prater commented that although the MEC will return to Vegas next October there is still the long-mooted chance the meeting will transplant and move around the United States.
“It is still on the agenda,” he said exclusively. “We’ve contemplated it a few times but the Sam Boyd Stadium gives us a unique footprint because you can take the track outside the stadium and there are not many places in the country – if not the world – where you can do that with the true supercross width of 22ft.”
“That’s not the only thing that has kept us here because we also have a good relationship with Sam Boyd and Vegas and Supercross,” he added. “There have been two events here for a long time with the Supercross, US Open and the Monster Energy Cup for over twenty years. It is always a successful place for us. I think we will eventually take it to other places but we’re committed to 2018 and we’ll see what happens. In the short-term we’ll probably stay southwest of the United States and California.”
KTM came away feeling encouraged by the 2017 Monster Energy Cup and the run-out for new settings and rider (and perhaps tempted to review Marvin’s bonus agreement for 2018), Husqvarna also pleased with Anderson coming back from injury and only having ridden for a month while Wilson was nursing a cold and joked that his husky voice meant he was finally entering puberty at the age of 25. The near escapes from Tomac and Bogle mean that this race cannot be taken lightly. Thirteen year old Jet Reynolds won the Super-minis to continue his rocket rise through the sport.
While there was a slightly anticlimactic feeling during part of the evening, Musquin’s second race win raised the tension and then his brilliant and jubilant victory and cash-rich display saved the MEC. His success proved that the money can be banked, and you don’t need a force of nature like Ryan Villopoto to do so (in 2011 RV claimed all there was to win: SX, MX, MX of Nations). The Monster Energy Cup missed personalities like Ken Roczen, Chad Reed and Cooper Webb but it was also a little snapshot of how open and fascinating the next AMA SX calendar could be.
Images by Taku Nagami/Monster Energy