Well, we made it! The 2021 Monster Energy SX series kicked off this past weekend in Houston, Texas and with limited capacity, no interactions between fans and riders, limited interactions between media and riders- we’re all [still] adjusting to the new normal.
Not ideal by any means but we’re getting through this series the best we can and help these teams and riders do what they do best right? The small pockets of fans there (rumored 12K) were pretty loud and into the racing also. That was nice to see and there was a bit of a fan fest out in the parking lot also so the promoters of SX, Feld Entertainment, were trying what they could do to make the races seem “normal”.
As far as what happened on the track, well that was pretty nutty indeed. GasGas had a successful debut with Justin Barcia winning the opening round for the third year in a row. It was the first non-Anaheim CA SX opener since 1996, it was Troy Lee Designs first ever 450SX win and it was the first win for the GasGas brand.
Oh and don’t forget, it was the first win for an air shock equipped bike as well. Lots of things to break down here and get into. One is that some people are acting like this is a big upset but this just in, after a few bad years at JGRMX, Barcia’s been pretty good at Yamaha the last few. After ten rounds last year, he was fourth in the points, just two back of third and not that far off the lead. And he had won a race.
As much as the Yamaha YZ450F gets a bad rap when it comes to professional racing, Barcia made it run for him, it seems that people forget that stuff. He’s won 450SX Mains and 450MX motos on the Yamaha and even though he’s had some visible frustration with the set-up of the bike, he’s mostly had it work well.
This GasGas though, a ‘KTM factory bike’ through and through, should be easier for the crew to narrow down as far as setting it up for the different types of tracks we’re going to see throughout indoors and out. That will be a plus for Bam Bam for sure.
Honda’s Ken Roczen pressured Barcia for most of the main event but the #51 held firm, a couple of mistakes got Roczen close enough to probably make the pass if he wanted to get a tad greasy but as everyone knows, you don’t want to do that to Barcia. He will make your life miserable, nobody plays that game better than Justin. I would bet Kenny was thinking long term, not getting into a battle with Barcia that he can’t win and, if the #51 bobbles, then take the win. If not, take the still impressive second and go onto Tuesday’s race.
So with title favorite Eli Tomac of the Monster Kawasaki team having one of his typical less-than-stellar openers, with Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb having an off night, this launches Barcia and his team right into the mix no matter how this thing goes. Last year he started off with a first and a second and as I said, was a top five guy when the series paused due to COVID.
It’s still hard to see someone like Justin, with the number of years he’s been in the class, take a giant step up to be a real title contender but stranger things have happened. He works hard, his team and bike is great and he knows what to do. It’s just the week-to-week grind it takes to be a SX champion: it isn’t something we’ve seen him be able to do. Injuries and some so-so weeks seem to bite him.
But wouldn’t it be cool if Barcia was indeed a changed rider? Imagine having someone as aggressive and hungry as he is thoroughly into the mix with the usual guys? To me, as I stated, I think Barcia’s reputation helped him hold Roczen off in the main event, no one wants to poke the bear with Justin. To have him be consistently pushing serious points each week would be great for the series and in a year of nothing being normal, why not have a GasGas win a 450SX title?
By Steve Matthes @pulpmx
Photos by GasGas Media/Align.with.us