Round one of the 250SX East series is in the books! While the main event might not have been a battle for the win, there were certainly several storylines to talk about. Last week we took a look at many of the riders and made a few predictions. Now, after having a full day to absorb, let's revisit many of these stars and chat about a few pleasant surprises as well as a few riders with disappointing starts.
Shane McElrath: Well, that's one way to get things rolling My pick for the opener, Sugar Shane certainly didn't disappoint. He won his heat and the main event with relative ease, his starts making life much easier. He is an opening round assassin and has been doing this for years regardless of the coast. I am not sure if it's a mental calm that he possesses or maybe just has his pre-season prep more dialled in than most. Whatever the reason, he finds a way to send a clear message to everyone in these opening rounds.
The real question will be in his ability to maintain this same edge. He has struggled towards the end of the series in more than one year. I think he is the clear title favourite but I have said that in previous seasons also. This 2020 season, though, with his equipment, experience and confidence looks to be his best shot for the elusive 250SX title.
Chase Sexton: I am very high on Sexton leaving round one. I liked what I saw from him every time he hit the track. He looked much more confident than in 2019, attacking the track and asserting himself. He looked like he truly believes in himself. I wondered how he would carry that #1 plate but he is definitely approaching this series like it's his to lose. His technique and skill set is not in question but I just wondered if he would step up mentally. He answered that question with a resounding yes. He is going to have to match McElrath in the early laps but if he can get out with him, buckle up because it's going to be a wild ride.
Jeremy Martin: After a long lay-off, J-Mart made his return. His back injury sustained in June of 2018 was nearly career ending. GEICO Honda stuck by the former national champ, keeping him employed and patiently believing in their veteran star. He came out swinging in Tampa, qualifying fastest and proving that he still has "it" in him. Supercross has always been a rollercoaster for Jeremy Martin but the last time we saw him he was winning races as the 2018 season wound down.
The key to his season will be consistency in his first lap positioning. He has had a tough time in years past, allowing his competitors to build early lap advantages that are too much to reel in. Similar to Sexton's path, J-Mart's title chances will rise and fall within the first 100 meters of many weekends.
Garrett Marchbanks: One of the nicer surprises was Mitch Payton's offering from Utah. Marchbanks had a rough 2019, not really showing the potential that many expected. It's clear that he put the work in last off-season as he looked faster and fitter than ever. Ivan Tedesco is his riding coach and if anyone knows the 250SX class, it's Tedesco. I really liked what I saw from Marchbanks, mentally and physically. He wasn't scared of the moment and wanted to put himself into the battle. Last year I really didn't see him as a threat. He seemingly still had a lot to learn, wading into the deep end with floaties on. This year, though, he appears ready for any and all comers. In a make or break year, he stepped up at round one.
Jordon Smith: Expectation can be difficult to swallow. For Jordon Smith, many expect him to be a serious title contender. He has been in this spot before, nearly winning the 2017 250SX East title. I heard rumours that he isn't 100% healthy so maybe that was the reason for a slightly off night. He wasn't "bad" per se, it just wasn't the performance that will win a title. He is going to have to be better and better quickly. His starts were solid which will give him opportunity but these rounds are coming fast and points will get out of hand quickly if he doesn't improve. Maybe the Arlington Triple Crown will be a better chance to capitalise on his starting prowess.
RJ Hampshire: Steve Matthes' favourite 250SX East rider, RJ didn't get the result he wanted but he did show signs of life. He had the fastest lap and also looked to have great endurance at the end of the main event. His starts were absolutely atrocious which will need immediate remedy as we roll into Arlington. Many wondered how RJ would respond to his home race also being the opener. That's a lot of pressure to manage so maybe he can relax a little as we move into Texas this Saturday. I do think we will see some excitement from the #24, I just don't know if he has the consistency to be a real title factor.
Joey Crown: Making his first main event ever, Joey Crown was a revelation. He was easily the most intriguing PulpMX Fantasy pick of the day but also the highest risk. His +14 handicap looked so enticing but, as I mentioned, he had yet to qualify for a 250SX main event in his career. His off-season win in Geneva looked to help his confidence and poise, as he rode from behind into qualifying position and then backed that up with a super strong eighth place in the main. I was nothing short of terrified when I finalised my team and he was on it. He delivered, though, and might be well on his way to turning his young career around.
Jo Shimoda: Japanese rookie Shimoda had an up-and-down first race. He grabbed a good start and looked like he was ready to log a top ten. It appeared that the bright lights of supercross got the best of him, though, as he tightened up and moved backwards. He was able to salvage a top ten, though, so all is not lost. To be deemed a success on that team, he will need to be battling the likes of Marchbanks and crew. I don't know if he has the top-level speed to be a podium guy but I think he can be top six or seven without too much fuss.
Jordan Bailey: After a few years on Rockstar Husky, Jordan Bailey finds himself on a privateer effort in this 250SX East series. I was curious as to how Bailey would respond. Losing a factory ride can't be easy and I also wondered how his equipment would stack up to his previous programme. He had a tough day in Tampa, never really standing out. He made the main and there's something to be said for that, but a seventeenth isn't really what he had in mind either. This is an important year for Bailey.
Cedric Soubeyras: A French veteran, Soubeyras dropped down to the 250 class this year. Soubs isn't flashy but he gets the job done. He puts in methodical laps and his years of global SX experience help him through dicey moments. Case in point, Josh Hill repeatedly tried to make contact as the main event grew long but the wily vet countered most every move. Hill finally made the pass stick in the last corner but it was still a strong opener for an unlikely 250 racer.
Enzo Lopes: Joey Crown's teammate, Lopes had a tough night. He found himself on the ground a few times but will bounce back. Lopes was a long time JGR rider but has moved to a Yamaha this season. I wondered how that transition would go but we really didn't learn much as of yet. I think Lopes will put in a few top tens this season but he will also likely have a few rough nights like Tampa. Consistency for these youngsters is not easily found.
We now have data to opine upon. This 250SX East series is going to be fairly erratic in my estimation. There are five to six legitimate race-winning level riders. This Triple Crown event on Saturday will be drama filled, every rider thinking they are in the fight to win. Keep an eye out for who can stay calm and think about the overall points. As we saw out west, riders love to toss away valuable points in these 250SX regional classes. Their inexperience is in a battle for supremacy with their intensity and youthful exuberance. Which will win out? We will all know more come Saturday.
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Monster Energy/Octopi