The seventh round of the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship took over Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida this past Saturday night with a host of new and old LS2 riders lining the gates. Some of the regular contenders from the 450SX class made the trip from the west coast rounds while some of the 250SX East competitors were anticipating their season debut. Kyle Chisholm, Josh Greco, Bubba Pauli, Scotty Wennerstrom, and Joan Cros continued to hold down the premier class while Kyle Dillin returned to action for the first time since St. Louis. Parker Fleming made his 250SX East season debut while LS2 newcomer and Monster Energy Supercross rookie Zane Merrett was set to make his professional Supercross debut at Raymond James Stadium in the 250SX East class as well.
The track was shaping up for some great racing throughout the practice and qualifying sessions in the afternoon, featuring a split-lane sand section that was causing the majority of the rider’s mistakes, followed by an equally challenging sand corner. Although the rhythm lanes and the overall layout was fairly basic, the sand in addition to a technical set of whoops before the finish line posed more than enough challenges to the competitors. The softer soil compound on offer in Tampa was one of the biggest things for the 450 riders to adapt to as they’ve been used to the hard-packed terrain of the west coast. Nonetheless, there were still many slick spots on the track capable of catching rider’s off guard if there were any lapses in concentration. In the 450SX class, Chisholm was able to keep up the consistency he’s demonstrated throughout the season thus far and put himself on pace for the Main Event with his qualifying pace, settling into 19th position with a 50.280 under his belt. Cros finished in 33rd position by way of a 52.472 second lap time while Pauli landed in 36th position with a 53.004 lap time to his name.
Greco squeezed into the night show in 40th place overall in combined times, clocking a 53.400 between both sessions while Kyle Dillin narrowly missed out on a place in the fast forty with the 42nd fastest overall time.
In the 250SX East category, Merrett was seeded into 250SX Group C as a rookie making Monster Energy Supercross debut. He showed good speed compared to the riders around him and consistently set lap times that put him towards the top of the timing sheets. Meanwhile, Fleming was seeded into the B Group which presented a completely different host of riders to share the track. Merrett was able to steadily improve from the first session to the last as he bettered his lap time each time he rolled out onto the track. By the time the last qualifying session rolled around, the Texan was able to knock his lap time down to a 54.025, narrowly earning a spot on the gate during the night show in 40th overall position.
Unfortunately, Fleming wasn’t able to put the lap together that he needed to finish inside a qualifying position, ending the day in 58th overall with a best lap time of 57.837 seconds. Merrett was seeded into the first of two 250SX East Heats and he was able to overcome his gate pick in order to pull a decent start, crossing the timing stripe in 11th place to start his first flying lap. An unfortunate mistake around the halfway point dropped him down the order, but he was able to get back on track and greet the checkered flag in 16th position at the line. Merrett started in nearly the same position that he finished when the gate dropped for the Last Chance Qualifier, making it difficult for him to challenge for one of the four transfer positions up for grabs. He pushed as hard as possible in an attempt to make up the ground, but an unfortunate mistake held him back and he finished in 19th position at the end of the race.
Merrett commented “The rookie debut didn’t go as planned as I struggled all day in practice and qualifying. I couldn’t get a good run through the whoops and started jumping, just couldn’t find the flow. I qualified 40th and then the heat race came and I wasn’t riding like myself, I don’t know if it was the first round jitters or the rookie nerves. The goal was to make it to the main out of the heat. We were running in 10th and then I fell before the sand section and jumped back in the race way at the back. Then the LCQ came and I had a bad start and fell again, just wasn’t on it but I’m happy it’s over and onto the next weekend for my home race in Arlington.”
In the 450SX class, Pauli and Greco were the first to hit the track in the first Heat Race of the night for the big bikes. The two of them started outside of the top ten although Pauli pulled one of his best starts of the year, fighting for a shot at the final few transfer positions on the first lap. The Kawasaki rider crossed the timing stripe in 12th place to start his first flying lap while Greco was a few positions further back in 18th. He turned consistent lap times from start to finish and solidly held firm in 18th place all the way to the checkered flag while Pauli gradually fell back to 15th place where he’d ultimately finish. In the second 450SX Heat Race, Cros proved yet again that he’s had his starts dialed in lately, forcing his way to the front of the pack in the early stages of the race. Chisholm was a few positions further back, just outside of the top ten with a transfer position within sight while Wennerstrom settled into 16th place on the opening lap. The first few laps proved to be quite hectic as Cros dropped down outside of the top ten by the third circulation of the track. Meanwhile, Chisholm steadily advanced through the field and locked himself into a transfer position on the third lap of the race, keeping his head down until the checkered flag. The Yamaha rider stayed consistent in order to earn his place in the Main Event while Cros and Wennerstrom were forced to line up in the Last Chance Qualifier.
Cros was able to repeat his performance out of the gate in the LCQ and found himself within reach of the transfer positions in 6th place while Pauli gave himself an opportunity at the Main Event with a 10th place start. Wennerstrom and Greco didn’t have the same luck out of the gate as they crossed the line in 18th and 19th position, respectively, on the start of their first flying lap. Pauli pushed forward, making up a handful of places on the first lap as he inched closer and closer to a transfer position. An unfortunate mistake cost him a shot at the gate drop in the Main Event and although Cros remained consistent until the checkered flag, he wasn’t able to earn a transfer position. Meanwhile, Greco and Wennerstrom finished the race in 19th and 20th, respectively.
Cros commented “Tampa was the first race of the east coast, usually the east is soft but Tampa was really hard-pack and I usually ride hard-pack back home in Spain. I wanted to go for the main but I finished 12th in the heat race and 8th in the LCQ. So, we will do the maximum amount of work again this week to achieve our goals in Arlington!”
“Some pieces of momentum came together throughout the day to give me some extra confidence heading into the night program. A decent start in the LCQ followed by some early passes and I was feeling good, just three spots out of a transfer position but a small crash took me out of it at the halfway point of the race. I’m happy to be back on the east coast and looking forward to Arlington,” said Pauli.
Wennerstrom commented “Excited to return to the east coast, I started the day with a smooth flow while learning the track. Tampa generally provides the biggest, toughest sand sections of the whole season and the 2020 edition did not disappoint. While mayhem could be a word to describe the final practice sessions, I was able to get a few fast times in and seed myself f into the second 450 Heat of the evening. I made some big improvements off the line in both Heat and LCQ races looked promising for a great result, but off-track excursions to avoid downed riders ultimately hindered my final results which left me outside of the Main Event.”
“Tampa this weekend went well. During the first practice and timed qualifier, we had several great lap times putting me in a good position for the night show. After the second timed qualifier, we made a few mistakes and didn’t really improve my time which moved me back several positions but still good enough to slip into the night show. I struggled with fatigue issues through the night but made it through healthy and onto the next round in Dallas,” said Greco.
Chisholm sat on the line in Raymond James Stadium for the Main Event in his home state, lining up in the big show for the fourth time this season. The Floridian was able to secure a fairly solid start, immediately finding himself in a battle with the likes of Jason Anderson and Tyler Bowers for 15th place -- a testament to the immense level of depth in the 450SX class this year. Chisholm settled into a rhythm and saved his energy for the second half of the race, attempting to pace himself for the tumultuous twenty-lap Main Event. He had an intense battle with both Chad Reed and Kyle Cunningham in the second half of the race after settling into 19th position early on. Chisholm utilized his superior race fitness and pushed until the very last lap, making a couple of late passes in order to finish in 17th place at the checkered flag.
The next round of the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is set to take place on Saturday, February 22nd at AT&T Stadium.