Supercross returned to the track Sunday at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, kicking off a run of seven races in three weeks to wrap up the circuit’s season.
The Supercross season was put in limbo in March during an epic duel between Eli Tomac of Cortez and German Ken Roczen, two riders chasing their first season championships.
The rivalry was alive again Sunday.
As the 11th round of the AMA Supercross series got underway, Tomac was third, behind Blake Baggett and Adam Cianciarulo. Roczen was seventh.
Justin Brayton got past Tomac for third in the first lap, and Cianciarulo crashed. Medics went to his side.
A Tomac slip in Lap 7 allowed Cooper Webb and Roczen to get past him. But after back-and-forth battle with Roczen, Tomac began to catch stride, racing from fifth to third, behind Baggett and Web.
In the 10th lap and now fully engaged, Tomac overtook Webb, then roared past Baggett in the whoops section for the lead in Lap 12. By the 15th lap, he had stretched out a nearly four-second lead over Webb. Roczen was about five seconds back.
The three leaders – Tomac, Webb and Roczen – raced unchallenged to the checkered flag for the podium finish. Jason Anderson won a duel with Zach Osborne for fourth.
With the win, his isixth of the season, Tomac widened his series lead over Roczen, 252-244.
The race was another disappointment for Cianciarulo, Tomac’s teammate on Monster Energy Kawasaki, who returned to racing Sunday in Utah after missing three races because of an injury. Until Cianciarulo’s crash in March, the duo of Tomac and Cianciarulo had set the pace for the rest of the field, finishing one-two in qualifying for the first seven races. Cianciarulo entered Salt Lake 1 in 10th place, after his injury in March knocked him out of fifth. Sunday in Salt Lake, he fell further in the overall standings, into 11th place.
Qualifying roundsAfter qualifying rounds Sunday, Tomac was second-fastest, less than a 10th of a second behind Roczen, 41.733 vs. 41.666 seconds. Cianciarulo was third and was followed by Webb and Dean Wilson.
In his qualifying heat, Tomac led wire to wire in the 10-lap race, and finished ahead of Webb, Baggett, Osborne and Vince Vriese. Roczen won the second heat – also wire to wire – ahead of Cianciarulo, Brayton, Anderson and Justin Barcia.
The 250 SX series also got back on track Sunday. Shane McElrath won wire to wire, ahead of Chase Sexton, who trailed him for all 22 laps. Sexton was followed by Garrett Marchbanks, Jeremy Martin and Pierce Brown. Sexton leads the 250SX series with 121 points. McElrath is second with 114 points, and Marchbanks, Martin and RJ Hampshire round out the top five.
How it all happenedThe AMA Supercross bikes came to a screeching halt due to the spreading pandemic after Tomac won his fifth race of the season at Dayton International Speedway on March 7. Several riders were headed to the next race at Indianapolis when the shutdown hit and scrambled to get home.
The series was through 10 of 17 races when engines were turned off.
“It was all kind of surreal,” said Tomac. “One day we were getting ready to go to Indianapolis for the next race, the next everything shut down.”
While the bikes were parked and riders locked down in their homes, Supercross officials kept an eye on developments with the coronavirus, stay-at-home orders in states across the country and in the sports world.
As the country started slowly opening up, Supercross started forming plans for a return to racing to avoid devastating financial consequences, both for the sport and the people who work in it. Officials formulated some of their own guidelines and consulted with other sports to make sure riders, teams and track officials would be safe.
Supercross initially expected to return in the fall, but hearing baseball was looking to return early pushed up those plans.
Supercross initially had talks with five states about returning to the dirt and ultimately decided on Utah, in part because the state gave the green light first.
The seven races, which last through June 21, will have numerous safety precautions in place.
All riders, teams and race officials – 705 total people – have to fill out a screening questionnaire before arriving and will be tested for COVID-19 at the track. There will be daily temperature checks for everyone who arrives at the stadium, social-distancing rules and personnel will be broken down into small functional groups.
Face coverings also must be worn at all times.
The next six races in Salt Lake City are scheduled for June 3 at 8 p.m., June 7 at 3 p.m., June 10, 14 and 17 at 5 p.m., and June 21 at 1 p.m.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.