The 250 West region has been an interesting series thus far. Whilst it may not be the deepest field I have ever seen, the drama at the front has been exciting. I really expected this to be a two-horse race between Austin Forkner and Dylan Ferrandis, the defending champ. Although I had Justin Cooper penciled in for several podiums, I certainly did not expect him to put up a 1-2 at the first two rounds. Whilst I still have the same two as the ultimate deciders of this title, the situation has certainly changed.
At Anaheim 1, Dylan Ferrandis was firmly establishing himself as the alpha early in the day. He looked solid and confident, proudly wearing his 1W number plate. He was setting the fastest laps and, even more importantly, Austin Forkner had a huge crash in the difficult whoops. Everything was setting up for a great opening win to set the tone for the series. His Achilles heel would rear its head yet again as the night wore on though. In Ferrandis' USA tenure, his one weakness has been starts and his first lap race craft. He has consistently put himself into a bad situation early in the races, both indoors and out.
That deficiency has opened the door time and again for others, most notably Adam Cianciarulo last year. This season, the beginning of the race has again been a big problem. At A1 he rounded the first lap in seventh place whilst his most prominent challengers, Forkner and Cooper, were already in first and second place. That puts so much pressure on Ferrandis to put in heroic laps. He not only has to deal with the chaos that is 250SX traffic, he also has to be significantly faster than the two leaders.
He was only able to catch up to second place and was also aided by Forkner's excursion, as we know. Not a disaster by any means but certainly a compromise after setting the fastest lap in both timed qualifying and the main event. It's just another example of opportunity left on the table. The key for Ferrandis' title defense as the 250SX West continues might come down to whether or not he can sort out his starting woes. Every other piece of the puzzle is there but the singular missing piece might be his undoing.
What about Forkner? He could very well have won the first two rounds. A huge mistake followed by a mental blunder pushed him back to fifth place at the opener. He did bounce back with a win last weekend, sending a clear message that he was ready to claim what was so narrowly his last season. Even with a five-point deficit to Justin Cooper, I still feel Forkner and Ferrandis are the two most likely champions. Forkner still needs to shake some rust off, in my opinion, but a win had to do wonders for his confidence last weekend. If he can manage his emotions down the stretch, he might be able to get Mitch that indoor title that brutally eluded both he and AC9 last season.
I am not sure why I am still skeptical of Cooper but something just hasn't clicked for me yet. If he reels off another win or somehow extends his points lead, it might be time for me to reevaluate the speedster from Long Island. After all, he has the series lead and has been rock solid thus far. His starts are usually spot on and his speed looks to be improved over last year, so maybe I am just late to the party? I will still wait and see before I start predicting wins for the #32 but he has made me look foolish thus far.
Outside of those three, I just cannot see the title going elsewhere. They are too good and too solid to allow anyone else in. Podiums at races? Sure. Guys like Brandon Hartranft, Alex Martin, Christian Craig and Jett Lawrence will be opportunistic just like they were in St. Louis. To think they can get into the title mix just isn't realistic to me. That is a bit of a downer to think the title is only possible for three guys but such is life. At least we have a real battle at the top and it's between three riders instead of two!
As for my pick, I was heavy on Ferrandis going into the season. I thought and still think this is his title to lose. I am definitely worrisome over his starts though. I will stick with the fast Frenchy, but I am not as confident as I was. Forkner's win may have stoked the fire we saw burn so brightly last spring. Cooper, to his credit, is quietly soaking up the points lead and red plates that go with it. He could sneakily steal this title away if he keeps this torrid pace. With only two rounds done, there is surely a lot of drama left to unfold. Who you got?
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Sean Ogden