The ninth round of the 2020 AMA Monster Energy Supercross Championship has come and gone, taking place this past weekend in the state of the art Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. It’s one of the rounds on the east coast that gathers the most hype, namely for the massive crowds and unique dirt compound. The trademark Georgia clay is positively regarded by the riders for the most part, but it can be a little bit tricky as it’s both tacky and slippery, forcing lots of adaptive riding as the track conditions progress. Kyle Dillin returned to the 250SX East class, joining Zane Merrett as the only two riders in the regional classification at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In the 450SX class, it was the same lineup as the previous weekend in Arlington except for Cade Autenrieth who returned to California to prepare for one of the upcoming west coast rounds. The track layout was fairly basic in Atlanta in terms of the rhythm sections and with a short whoop section, there wasn’t much to separate the competitors when it came to lap times.
In the 250SX East class, the riders had to deal with a slight change to the track layout between sessions as Dirt Wurx changed the lip on a small double positioned after the whoops. This placed a lot of importance on the final practice session as the track became a little bit faster overall due to the conditions. Merrett was able to seize the opportunity in the last qualifying practice, clocking a 53.563 second lap time which was good enough for 25th overall, putting him on pace relative to the regular Main Event finishers. Meanwhile, Dillin narrowly missed out on a spot in the night show as he finished 41st overall in combined times, recording a 54.937 second lap time.
In the 450SX class, Chisholm was the fastest of the LS2 riders in 23rd position overall, recording a 53.269 second lap time in the final qualifying session, remaining smooth and consistent throughout practice. Cros completed one of his best qualifying performances of the season in 28th position overall, finishing with a personal best lap time of 54.030. Pauli was a few positions further back in 35th place overall by way of a 52.259 second lap time while Greco and Wennerstrom squeezed into the top forty in 38th and 40th place, respectively.
Merrett was seeded into the second 250SX East Heat and would have to fight hard for a direct transfer to the Main Event given the tight and fast nature of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium circuit. The Texan did his best to execute a strong start and ended up settling into the top fifteen on the opening lap, but he still had some work to do for a shot at the all-important 9th position. Merrett got caught in a hard battle for 15th place that kept him occupied for the first four or five laps, sealing his place in the Last Chance Qualifier as he eventually finished 19th position. In the LCQ, the KTM rider put himself inside the top ten with a shot at progressing towards the top four transfer positions. Unfortunately, Merrett wasn’t able to make much progress throughout the seven-lap sprint race as he eventually finished in 10th position, shifting his focus to the next race in Daytona.
“I started the day off really good, had a good breakfast and coffee as every weekend. Got to the track and we waited about forty-five minutes for track walk, the people up there had no idea what was going on. We got to do a short track walk and I talked everything over with Team Allsouth, went out for free practice and felt great on the bike. In qualifying, I did decent and put in a couple of solid laps then went back to the pits and watched videos to see where I needed to clean some stuff up. I set a really good time in qualifying, 6th in my group and 25th overall. I had the outside gate pick for my heat and got a bad start, fell in the sand and had to go to the LCQ. I had another bad start and just wasn’t myself out there. The whole goal this weekend was to have fun and remember why I race, believe in myself as everyone believes in me, and work on my mental game. I know my speed and fitness are there, but with that being said Daytona is a more outdoorsy track and I’m really looking forward to making my first career Main Event there,” commented Merrett.
In the 450SX class, it was Cros, Greco, and Wennerstrom that found themselves seeded into the first premier class Heat race of the night. The Spaniard was able to achieve a pretty decent jump out of the starting gate, putting himself inside the top ten on the opening lap while Greco and Wennerstrom were at the bottom of the field on the opening lap. Cros turned some solid lap times but ultimately fell back to a 14th place finish while Greco and Wennerstrom finished in 19th and 20th, respectively. In the second 450SX Heat race, it was both Chisholm and Pauli who aimed to track down a transfer position to the Main Event in the action-packed sprint race. Chisholm started in a beneficial position, holding a place within the top ten from the opening lap until the checkered flag, eventually claiming 9th place in order to punch his ticket to the Main Event. Meanwhile, Pauli started back in 16th which left him with little to no chance of advancing through the Heat, earning his spot on the gate in the LCQ with a 15th place result.
In the 450SX LCQ, Cros continued his trend of good starts as he put himself right in the mix on the opening lap while Wennerstrom and Pauli claimed places within the top fifteen. Neither of them were able to make any significant progress towards a transfer position with such a short window from the gate drop to the checkered flag, but Cros fought valiantly up near the front of the field with a spot in the Main Event in his grasps. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to escape from 6th position and lost a little bit of time to the riders ahead, narrowly missing out on a transfer to the Main Event once again. Meanwhile, Pauli made slight progress with a 10th place finish while Greco crossed the line in 19th and Wennerstrom in 22nd.
Cros said “I’m really happy with my race in Atlanta. I’m starting to have more race rhythm and I’m able to ride more laps in the transfer positions each weekend. I ended up 6th in the LCQ, so we’re closer to our goal every day!”
“Atlanta had that good, red Georgia clay so the track broke down pretty good. All in all, it was a good weekend; a fun track, pretty simple whoops, and a fun wall jump into the sand. We qualified pretty easily into the night program. I struggled with solid laps, there was one tuff block that kept ending up on the track that I managed to land on a couple of times, but I felt pretty solid all day and just tried picking off as many guys as possible throughout the night,” commented Greco.
Pauli said “Atlanta always brings a great crowd and atmosphere, and it always gets me excited to go racing. I had a few struggles in qualifying but put in a solid performance during the night program. The result didn’t put me in the Main Event but I’m confident in my riding that I’m where I need to be.”
After having a smooth effortless free practice, I was jiving with the Atlanta red clay right from the get go. But things started to get rough second lap of the first timed qualifier. A small tip over after the whoops left me with a twisted up bike that prevented him from getting a decent lap time in. No worries I thought as the track is always faster for the final timed qualifying session. But things got even more rough in a hurry as I was about to complete my best lap of the day, I cross rutted up the face of the over under bridge, landed on the tough blocks at the top, and got ejected over the bars falling straight to my back from about 15 feet in the air! Once I got the wind back in my sails I got up and looked at the timing on the big screen to see that I was outside the fast 40 to qualify for the night program. The only thing that could hurt worse than leaving a dent in the Mercedes Benz stadium floor would be not qualifying, so I hopped back on my bike and pushed for one lap good enough to advance to the evening program. At the conclusion of qualifying, I was able to post a lap fast enough to advance! Once the races started, a very stiff lower back prevented me to ride with technique required to qualify for the main event. All in all it was a solid effort considering the adversity I faced early on in the day! A week of rehab and rest is the plan to be 100% prepared for Daytona in just one short week,” said Wennerstrom.
Chisholm held it down for LS2 in the 450SX Main Event as he continued the solid form he’s demonstrated all season long. Although he didn’t get the best jump out of the gate and got pushed to the back of the pack in the opening corner, the Floridian showcased his grit and determination for the entirety of the twenty-minute race, pushing all the way until the checkered flag. Chisholm advanced from a 19th place start to an eventual 16th place finish, making quick moves on the first few laps in order to set himself up for clean and consistent laps for the majority of the race.
Chisholm commented “The race in Atlanta was alright. Not great and not bad. I honestly struggled getting comfortable on the track all day. The obstacles and everything were no problem but I just couldn’t get a good flow around the track and just didn’t have the speed on that track most of the day. But when it came time to race I got to the main right out of the heat which is always nice. And in the main event I just still couldn’t get myself going like I needed to. There wasn’t much to separate us out there and tough to make up much time so it was a struggle to get going for me. I finally started to find a groove halfway through the main and rode better which I was happy about. 16th isn’t bad but I want to get closer to the top 10 and I’m looking forward to trying to do that in Daytona next weekend.”
The next round of the 2020 AMA Monster Energy Supercross Championship is set to take place on Saturday, March 7th at the world-famous Daytona International Speedway.