Matthes on: Eli Tomac

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Well, he did it again. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac won his fourth Daytona SX with an amazing ride to catch and pass Honda HRC’s Ken Roczen. The speedway is somewhere where he definitely feels at home and it’s hard to see how anyone can beat him, especially as the track gets rougher and rougher. We caught up to Eli on the PulpMX Show to get his take on the race and some other things this past Monday night. 

MX Vice: Eli. First half of the race, hanging out and doing alright. Everything was okay. Kenny is sprinting, and then you go into beast mode. Do you find some lines? What clicks in your brain to all of a sudden start dropping your lap times like you did?

Eli Tomac: Well, what was on my mind at that point was… The first part of the race is always a hot pace. It’s easy to blow yourself up early if you are going too hard early, especially at that track the way it gets and how bumpy it gets. Really it was just a patience game for me. Then I was like, “Alright, I need to get going if I’m going to get anywhere near Ken.” I was eye-balling him and he was sliding away. It ended up working out that way. My plan worked out – be patient and then make the attack. A couple of guys made mistakes. Most of my passes actually were on mistakes. The [Justin] Barcia pass was a tip-over. Cooper [Webb] kind of tucked his front in the sand – that’s just the way it went. The cards just kind of fell the right way for my position.

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When Kenny is out there – he gets out to ten or twelve seconds whatever it was – are you stressing at that point? You still had to deal with [Jason] Anderson and Webb at that point. You dropped into the 1:10s where no one could go, and then you start catching him. I was like, “Is he waiting? Is he stressing?” It sounded like you were being patient. I was just wondering your mindset. Are you nervous about Kenny getting away? It sounds like you were.

If you would have asked me the question the first half of the race then yes, I was nervous. The second half? No. One of the two laps there I pulled big time out. I’m like, “I’m back in this thing.” I think I looked up at the timer and there was five and a half minutes left. I caught him within those next two laps or something. I was stressing. I’m like, “I’m supposed to win this race, Kenny is out front again and I’ve got to pass Jason, Cooper, Barcia and those guys. This is not good.” It worked out.

Did you find some better lines too? Did you stick to what was working for you? I didn’t really see any. I wasn’t there, so I just watched TV. It looked like you stuck to your lines. I do not know if it just was a matter of picking it up or if you found some better ones. 

The only time I moved or changed lines was the whoops section. I started the main – if you are on the track – on the right side, and then I moved over to the left side. I was kind of riding the edge. That was more consistent for me. The option line would work if you started on the inside and ended on the outside, if you could get the triple clean out of the turn. That’s what was really hard about that. I missed that two or three times. If you miss it though, you’d give up more time. 

Pumping up high there kind of sucked. You could just see your frustration when you were like, “Oh, crap. Now I got to jump up here, and then land…”

Yeah. Anyway, I got that clean a few times, and then I would start catching those guys. There weren’t tons of lines out there to make up huge time. I was kind of just riding, it felt like.  

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Not the greatest Daytona track we have seen. I know Ricky Carmichael is limited with some stuff he has got to do, as far as the logos and sprinklers and the room. There have certainly been better Daytona tracks. I know he tried to bring it old-school a little bit this year too. I wasn’t a fan. I talked to a lot of riders who weren’t fans. Did you like it, Eli? 

I didn’t really have any thought. I didn’t really know how it was going to play out just walking the track. I thought the lines would form in a way that would allow for more passing, but it still kind of funnelled into the one or two lines. For the most part there wasn’t a whole lot of passing going on, without guys making the mistake and allowing the guy to get by. There wasn’t parts where you could just battle it out and then block pass a guy and square him up and do things like that. I’m with you guys there. It wasn’t the best Daytona layout.

We did the math. You got more points after round ten than you have ever had before. You got the red plate. You have got to be feeling good about your chances to get your first 450SX title, as far as [compared to] past performances.

Oh, yeah. Best position, right? Problem is I’m battling Ken Roczen. It’s just going to be who’s the guy that’s going to really flinch first, I feel like, between us two. We are riding so close to the same. I can’t let him get away like that again on the start, especially inside the tighter domes. That’s what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to be within the top guys, and I can’t let the guy run away at the start. Then I feel like I can definitely get it. If that’s not the case, then it’s going to be tough. It’s good to be in the position, but at the same time there is no looking at the end. We are only three points separated from each other so it kind of feels like round one still. 

This year I feel like some starts have been money for you, and some haven’t. Inconsistent starts this year. Good and bad.

Yes. I’ve been trying to fix them, but you can only do so much.

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The Barcia stuff is what everybody is talking about and what everybody likes. They caught you guys post-race talking to each other. I was a mechanic for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times I heard two riders telling each other they are going to kill each other after the race. Did it bother you at all that they kind of posted that stuff?

Between me and Justin, I don’t think it matters much. We left it there at that moment or that situation, and then the rest is just the popcorn for everyone else. I think our mindset between me and Justin… I don’t think that really changes it. We are both going to really believe what we think or whatever. I think what really fired up Justin in the situation there was my handlebar tagged him and it tagged his hand. We bumped, but my handlebar got into him and that’s what pissed him off.

I think it felt a lot like more of a contact than what it really was. Yeah, I did try to drive it in there and I was pissed that I got passed. When you are in the battle with guys – and you are in the train of guys – you are trying to get forward and then someone comes in on the inside of you. You are like, “I don’t want to be going backwards right now.” It was all kind of a rushed situation there. That’s what happens in the middle of the pack. 

New teammate this year, Adam Cianciarulo. Obviously he is out right now. What’s that been like for you to have somebody that is on your level with speed, has won some heat races and set some fast times? Has that helped you a little bit, do you feel? Is it business as usual for you? 

We are not in the truck together so we don’t really interact during race day, so I’m just kind of going along with business. At the test track it was like, “Man, he’s going good.” He definitely pushed me early on. I would say I was riding harder at the test track before A1 for sure. Then race day it’s just like business as usual. Getting second place five weeks in a row by like two hundredths in practice, that started getting annoying

It’s been cool to watch, for sure

Yeah. You know what’s really nice? Having another bike that’s your same colour. Even though motocross everyone is out for themselves, but it really does help having, I feel like, the same colour bike up fighting for that podium position. 

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You are in Colorado during the week so going to sea level this weekend, does the bike feel way different power delivery-wise after riding at elevation quite a bit? How does that go 

It’s bad when I come back from California and then I start practicing here. I’m like, “Wow, it’s a lot slower.” Then I get used to it. It basically takes a week to get used to Colorado again, and then I’m fine bouncing back and forth. I will say it was worse on 250s – I really felt like I was down on power. I would go to sea level and be like, “Man. It’’ like a whole different motorcycle!” Thankfully on the 450 most of the time we can leave our gearing the same, so your wheel position is the same and you don’t really mess with the chassis that much. 

Is there anything different for you personally this year, Eli?

I feel like on race day this year, I’m different. Mentally I feel more at ease. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s just age or the experience. I just feel more level-headed throughout the day. I can manage my emotions better. I feel like that’s been the difference. We are not to the end yet but after this halfway point… Heck yeah, I’ve been better for sure on race day.

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Race Kawasaki

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