The ET mystery
Round eleven of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series just took place in Indianapolis, Indiana and the bizarre season of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac continued. The out-and-out fastest rider with the most wins in the last two years (zero titles of course) has been slowly losing grip on this 2019 title and no one seems to know exactly what’s been going on.
After eleven rounds in 2018, Tomac had five wins but he was far behind of eventual title winner Jason Anderson due to missing a race and crashing out of another one. In 2017 he had six wins after eleven rounds but wasn’t the points leader then either. This year though, might be the ultimate head scratcher for Tomac, his team and his fans. His three wins, while second to Cooper Webb, are far from the total he thought he would have.
In Indianapolis he was poised to do big things, he started well and ran third for a bit behind his teammate Joey Savatgy and leader Marvin Musquin of the Red Bull KTM squad. Things were fine at this point and even better when he got by Savatgy and closed up on Musquin for the lead. The usual “thing” when Tomac gets near the front was for him to take off. He did just that last week in Daytona. His poorer races have generally come when he can’t get a start and work his way through traffic.
But this weekend Tomac couldn’t make a move on Musquin and not only that, RM ATV/MC KTM’s Blake Baggett found a way by as did Webb. Yeah, the same Cooper Webb he came into the race trailing by 19 points in the standings and a rider he has to absolutely start beating as the rounds wind down. Tomac went from being right on the leader to being 20 seconds down at the finish. It was another mystifying night for the #3. Fifth place Justin Barcia of the Monster Yamaha team got way-closer to Tomac than he should’ve by the end of 20 minutes plus one lap.
Every time “we” think Tomac will gain control of the series and start making headway (after an injury kept him off the bike for much of December) he drops the ball the very next week. After breaking through for his first win in San Diego, he got a terrible start in Minneapolis and could only get a sixth. Two rounds later in Detroit, he rode very impressively to win the Triple Crown but the next week, in Atlanta, he didn’t get a start and couldn’t really move forward and scored another P-6. The next week, last week for those scoring at home, he won impressively at Daytona only to come to Indy and really struggle.
Up, down, up, down: the series goes on for Tomac who currently holds the title of rider with the most 450SX wins (24, ninth all time) without a championship. He’s third in the series, 21 down to Webb and now 7 down to Marv after his first win in Indy. Musquin now seems to be the rider that’s next up to challenge Webb with eight podiums in the last nine races. Tomac, along with Honda’s Ken Roczen, appear to be fighting the dog days of the schedule right about now.
I was speaking to John Tomac, Eli’s father, in Detroit and asked him about the race in Dallas the previous week where Eli was leading, got passed by Roczen, crashed and then went backwards. John just said that Tomac isn’t the type of rider to push through when he wasn’t 100% comfortable on the bike. Arm pump develops when you’re not feeling one with the motorcycle and it seems that it’s an issue here and there for Eli. John indicated that some testing during the week worked wonders and ET3 would be better in Detroit. And he was, and we just all figured it was time for Tomac to be Tomac.
But then after Detroit came the race in Atlanta, then Daytona and now here we are again. More questions than answers about Eli Tomac and his ability to get a 450SX title. He’s taken the last two 450MX championship so we know that’s not a problem but man, as I’ve said before, I’ve never seen an elite rider in the sport with so many ups and downs. James Stewart had some inconsistencies of course but the downs were crashes, that was it. Stewart never had rides where he just went backwards. Eli Tomac’s a tough rider for me to figure out.
The teams got a new bike and I’m sure are learning things about it all the time and Tomac’s crew chief, Mike Williamson, left the team recently so there are things being done behind the scenes to try and improve Tomac’s comfort level with the machibery and team but the erratic results still linger.
If it was any other rider, I’d write the chances of jumping two guys and 21 points to win the championship as impossible but I can’t do that yet with Tomac. He’s so good – we’ve all seen it – that he can perhaps go on a run here and get that first 450SX championship but the odds are going down every week with the hot-and-cold performances. If he doesn’t get this title, one where he finishes every single race and isn’t competing against a legend like Ryan Dungey, it’s going to lead to more questions about what’s going on upstairs and whether his program is working good enough to get an indoor crown.
The wild ride that is Eli Tomac continues to thrill, amaze and confuse all at the same time. It’s been fascinating to watch.
By Steve Matthes @pulpmx
Photos by Monster Energy