Zach Osborne talks 2021 Supercross: schedules, track variation, fans, rivals, Bakers Factory and being the outside bet at title success

Fly Racing’s 31-year old Zach Osborne enters his third season of competition with the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna FC 450F. Already a double 250SX Champion, the veteran is a popular and highly-rated racer who took some time before the deluge of activity in the build-up to Houston to speak to the Paddock Pass Podcast.

Here are some of his words on various issues facing the seventeen-round contest and the full podcast show below where we chat Supercross generally and get WorldSBK racer Eugene Laverty’s take on the sport.

On getting ready to go…

Typically, we ride Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday in our training camp and this week we are down to Tuesday/Wednesday and then we fly on Thursday to have all our Corona tests before Houston. The last few days have just been about time with the family and tidying things up for the RV before we leave. A bit of a ‘calm before the storm’.

On missing California [the first time in 25 years that the series doesn’t open in California] and the spectacle of Anaheim 1…

I think there is definitely a little bit less hype and I anticipate a bit less atmosphere than the usual season-opener but at this point we are all just happy to go racing right? We’re ten months into this whole thing [pandemic] and we’re just happy to have a schedule that looks quite solid at the moment.

On his elevated position in the pecking order for 2021 and the expectation…

I feel a lot less pressure from a personal standpoint. Maybe the expectations have gone up from outside of my circle but for me personally to wrap an Outdoor title and kinda ‘solidify’ myself as one of the guys in the 450 class – to be in that elite group – means a lot of weight off my shoulders. I had a lot of peace over this off-season to do what I felt was right every day rather than hammer the practice track. Over the summer I learned how and when to trust my instincts more; that’s probably the big difference this season, being able to relax and enjoy the racing instead of bowing to the pressure of getting the job done.

On the Aldon Baker training regime with Red Bull KTM dup Cooper Webb and Marvin Musquin and any differences…

It’s pretty much business as usual. We’re all pretty level-headed guys and there are not a lot of shenanigans or games. Marvin and I are both 31 and Coop’s 25 but a seasoned champion. We all know the level is high every day and we also know there will be days that are both good and bad. We all have a mutual respect for the work.

On the intensity of the calendar and four weeks of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday triples…

It’s like having half the job! The hardest thing for us normally is the travel. You race Saturday night and you’re up until 1-2 am, fly home early Sunday am, at the track Monday and Tuesday and fly again Friday with the training in between. There is a lot of riding and grind that doesn’t have to happen with these mid-week races. I would be happy with 5-10 more events if they ran these Tuesday dates because, for us, it’s less riding and more racing compared to the usual Saturday-to-Saturday programme. It’s a much better system because we are not wasting laps and energy during the week. We’re going racing and that’s how it should be.

On facing the same venue three times in one week…

I think it will be more consistent and more controllable for the second and third events. Take Indianapolis as an example. When they bring the dirt in and it’s been snowing that week or it’s super-soft and wet then it can dry-up and harden and then you have a much different surface. I think you saw some of that in Salt Lake last year where we had a bit of everything: a complete dust bowl the first week, the next race was a bit better and then we had a complete mudder. It’s a good thing, even if it is a hard turnaround for the DirtWurx [Track Design] guys but with some more lead-time this year they should have been able to design tracks where they are not moving so much dirt but pushing lanes around. That will make a difference I believe. Overall this format suits me compared to the older one.

On a third season on the 450, moving from 14th to 6th in the previous two and feeling at home on the bike…

We have a couple of new bits on the bike that I think will make a difference for me, mostly in the whoops. At the same time I’m always learning and there always seem to be ways to improve. I’m also still keen to learn, and I think that’s a big thing. People who are ‘over it’ become tired of the grind and they cannot see the fun or the value in it anymore, but I am still really enjoying what I do. I feel more comfortable and in a place where I know what I am doing on the 450 now compared to the first two seasons, even if during the training camp period of the first year I was probably riding the best I had been in my life. I then made a small mistake that turned into a catastrophe only two weeks before the first race. There are always consequences when you race…but with the 450 and the weight and the power and the grid because of the schedule there are some days when you just have to think ‘it wasn’t my day’. I think I have a much better mix, rhythm and feel for that now, and more trust in myself after the motocross title to not feel guilt or to pine; that’s what I mean by trusting my instincts more.

On racing with limited crowds and the impact as a racer…

Take Vegas [his last lap-last corner championship win at the Samy Boyd Stadium]: the crowd reaction is a huge part of the memory still. The electricity that was in the stadium that night, and the guys down on the floor that were going mad….We’re in a strange and unprecedent time right now where everything is different and we have to accept it and move forward. With all the other motorsports the biggest advantage we have in motocross is how the crowd can get close to the athlete. In Supercross we’re signing autographs every day and the night before the race, the accessibility is a huge benefit for our sport. It sucks for the fans and for the sport not to have that but I really hope we can soon get back to the point where we can race in a full stadium and with fans in the pits. I’m not sure how many fans there’ll be at the events now but a 25% capacity in a stadium like Houston means 10-15,000 I believe, so it will still be rather bare. The stadiums in the U.S. are massive, so 10,000 in a 60,000 venue still looks like there are not many fans. It is something we’ll have to get used to until this thing goes away.

On the absence of crowds affecting performance…

It is strange. Like going through the pack…going back to that Vegas race: I felt like every time I made a pass people saw it, because I could hear a small roar every now and then as they realised what was happening. Fans reactions are a big thing in sport in general. I definitely think there is something missing without the fans and some sports here have been playing fake fan noise and it’s so terrible! It shouldn’t be like that. But it’s where we are. I wish we could have fans and people could see Supercross for what it is again.

On his rivals…

I do believe there is some vulnerability around the pits but I have to have an overview and realise all the same pitfalls are also there for me and I have to avoid them from the get-go and start the series on the right foot, like I did with the Outdoor season. I don’t know if there is a way to carry momentum from outdoors to supercross because the break is typically so long but I did it from Salt Lake to Outdoors: I won the last Supercross race we did. If I can pounce in the beginning and bag some points in the first three, six, eight races then I can be ‘in it’ down the stretch.

On handling the prospect of rivalry in the Bakers Factory…

This is my fifth year with Aldon and there haven’t been any run-ins…other than the one between Marvin and Cooper at Houston in 2019. We have a good understanding – or I do with Coop anyway – that if it goes down to the last corner then I’m gonna smash him. If it’s for a win then he’s getting it! He’ll say the same. There is a level of respect but with the level of professionalism we have comes pressure to win. If I am not going to take that opportunity then I might as well hang up the boots. We all have the understanding that if the three of us get a start then we’ll be 1-2-3 and have to grind it out to see what happens. We also know there are no holds-barred when there are hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line in a single night. When it is time to go then it’s time to go.

On the main opponent to be measured by…

Hmm, it’s hard. There is no clear-cut guy because there are many contenders. I think after four, five, six rounds we’ll have a much clearer picture of what it will look like. I know that Marv and Coops will be strong because of the training we do and how much guidance we have. I think you have to put some weight behind that, and the goal is to all be ‘there’ together at the end. For me it will be about getting off to the right kind of start.

On the value of a 450SX title…

It’s the most highlighted and the most revered championship in my opinion…and it’s the one I don’t have, so it’s like completing the mantle! I’d genuinely love to win it and before the summer I did not think I’d have the chance to have a 450 championship; it’s not that I didn’t hold myself to that standard but I didn’t feel I’d have the possibility or the range to get it done. Now I’ve opened that door I don’t know where the sky will end. I don’t know where the limit is. It is a different approach for me this year compared to other seasons where I might have been focussed on the podium or a win. It’s a different feeling.

By Adam Wheeler @ontrackoffroad

Photos by Husqvarna images/Align with us

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