Eli Tomac picked up right where he left off.
As the reigning Monster Energy AMA Supercross champion, he wins at Angel Stadium of Anaheim for his first career Anaheim 1 victory.
“This is my 10th Anaheim 1 in the 450 class, so apparently it took me 10 times to figure it out,” said a relieved Tomac.
On paper, it looks to be a near-perfect day by winning his heat race and the main event after qualifying second. In the main event, it was a challenge that only he seems to have mastered.
Colt Nichols claimed the holeshot and was quickly overtaken by Justin Barcia. Barcia and Tomac battled for the first three laps before Tomac snagged the point. Ken Roczen with his new HEP Motorsports Suzuki team followed right behind, with the top seven within mere seconds of each other at one point.
“You hear (the crowd cheering) and there’s nothing you can do about it, so it’s just like, ‘Can you focus?’ You hear the action, whether it’s yourself in a battle or something else on the track, and you’ve just gotta deal with it,” he continued, sharing the excitement from the fans in attendance of nearly 40,000 strong.
A slide on Lap 9 over the tunnel jump knocked the 2022 champion off his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing machine while leading the first race of the season. The mistake relegated him outside of the top five.
“I honestly thought I threw (the race) away. I would be lucky to get the podium,” said Tomac on what was going through his mind at the moment. “But the way the track was, it was so gnarly that I guess there was time to be lost, time to be made. Maybe that was a little bit in my favor.”
Experience was the difference.
30-year old Malcolm Stewart and sophomore rider Chase Sexton led the next nine laps combined. Sexton was able to beat Stewart on the exit of the first hairpin to take over the lead. With a comfortable gap, all he needed to do was be consistent to cruise onward.
But Tomac reeled him in, and Sexton could feel the roar of the crowd. His mistake came from a mis-shift during a rhythm section, allowing Tomac to get around.
“I actually over jumped the quad into the corner, landed in a rut and didn’t realize (the bike) shifted into third,” Sexton explained post-race. “I came out of the corner in third and kept casing the whole rhythm section basically and lost what felt like forever. After that it was really hard to get back into a flow until the last lap when Cooper (Webb) passed me. My last lap felt good and I found some different lines. I didn’t move around enough to see what different lines were doing, and I was kind of narrow-minded on what I was riding.
“That’s something I have to adjust to.”
Two-time champion Cooper Webb had a slow start, reaching the holeshot line halfway back in the pack. Like Tomac, he used his experience to patiently and methodically work his way through the field. With a slippery track and technical layout, he picked off riders and grabbed positions one by one until his last lap pass on Sexton to bring his Red Bull KTM Factory Racing No. 2 team into the second position by the checkered flag.
“It feels good to be up here again,” chuckled Webb after saying he felt ‘washed up’ during Friday’s Media Day. “It was just being smart, getting around guys, but moving forward and not wasting time, not doing anything stupid. At the end, I just felt really good. The track was rough but found some good lines. I was stoked.”
Dylan Ferrandis would miss the podium by one spot followed by Ken Roczen rounding out the top five. Colt Nichols would finish sixth in his first career 450 start, ahead of 2018 champion Jason Anderson. Aaron Plessinger, Adam Cianciarulo and Joey Savatgy completed the top 10 results.
Round 2 of the 2023 Supercross schedule is next Saturday at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, CA on January 14.