Supercross is a different sport but it is also a different scene. This is the second year that I have been able to see the Red Bull KTM guys up close and after a decade of following and writing about the works GP team in the FIM Motocross World Championship it’s always novel to see some variance.
I arrive to the Angel Stadium at Anaheim in east Los Angeles just as the meeting is getting busy. Several inches of snow ruined flight connection times in London but I manage to pay 20 dollars for parking and make it into the baseball arena complex in time for qualification. I find a focussed and efficient crew at work; a team that seminal American monthly magazine RacerX declare as one of the very last true ‘factory’ squads.
A hectic Saturday programme of practice and two qualification periods, media duties, autograph signings (and – so I’m informed – PR responsibilities pretty much every Friday) and then onto the 15 and 20 lap main events themselves means the Orange set-up have to be drilled and slick. People are polite and courteous and some old familiar faces from Europe like Leighton and Kelly add a friendly edge but with seventeen races in eighteen weeks this is a well-oiled machine that clicks through an event at a mean pace from 1pm until 10. Post-race and I find the KTM guys swiftly breaking down the awning and packing the truck in order to head back to their Murrieta base. Oakland is just seven days away and there are further tests to do for Ken Roczen who, on his 250SX-F, is battling hard with reigning champion Eli Tomac and Ryan Dungey with the WP air shock on his 450SX-F.
While Dungey and Roczen hammer through ‘main event’ distances across the imported red dirt of the KTM test track (located just off the 15 freeway north of Lake Elsinore in southern California) the rest of the small crew are hurriedly cleaning the Peterbuilt rig and rebuilding bikes for the 400km trip to Oakland the following week.
Grand Prix distances cross borders and occasionally time zones; the AMA series does the same but inside the confines of the same country.
We keep a respectful distance at the test facility but Ryan wanders over on his break between ‘motos’ to ask if we want to complete our small video interview. He then hangs around for a photoshoot for Red Bull while we wait for Ken to finish riding and then head into a scrapyard for some alternative photos and then have lunch with the 2011 World Champ (click back here to see the exclusive Blog pics this week). There’s just time to head back to the now-deserted track to meet Marvin Musquin and ask him to lie, sit and play with the dirt for a special selection of pics that will – again – soon appear on this Blog. The Frenchman is getting more and more comfortable with Supercross racing and should be a real threat for the East Coast 250SX series and we kinda wanted to show that the earth of the triples and whoops was ‘in his hands’.
Our KTM experience didn’t end in the mud and darkness. The next day we were at the immaculate workshop in Murrieta and stumbled upon Roger De Coster swapping a desk and phone for an apron and lathe to forge a new tool to help his mechanics change wheels. From what we’ve heard it’s typical hands-on behaviour of the former world champion who has helped oversee a radical change of fortunes for KTM’s off-road racing in America.
The workshop is how you might it expect it to be: spotless, organised and with bike components lining shelves and walls, all in their correct place. There is a serious vibe about the space. This is a place of work and one that is geared towards competition. Thankfully there is also the accessibility and an amiable atmosphere that you perhaps wouldn’t find in the nerve centre of many other manufacturer’s racing HQ.
We meet the distinctive orange and blue (?!) colours again in the paddock at Oakland. Truck driver Don proves to be a reluctant interviewee at first but soon dons the shades for some suitably moody shots next to his rig. Similar to Anaheim, Oakland welcomes a mass of fans hovering around the teams, bikes and riders. Later in the night it seems like 70% of the 55,000 capacity have braved the cold winds to find a seat in the open stands. When the light display, introductions, fireworks and fiery ‘atom bomb’ effect have been launched the sense of theatre is palpable. This is racing but in a ‘show’ format. It is pacey, captivating, dangerous and exciting. It is easy to see why Supercross draws such crowds both through the turnstiles and also through the screens, and that’s even taking into account that the series still has to penetrate more prominent cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington (apparently due to high stadium rent costs).
Huge, bucket-sized cokes and pizzas are passed around while we ‘pass’ on the Nachos. Seeing Roczen hunt down and pass Cole Seeley for his first victory of the year capped a memorable KTM AMA American adventure.