Now that the 250SX East season has a few races on the books, let's take a look at those riders who are in their very first season of Supercross. Zac Commans, Mitchell Harrison, and Chase Marquier are nearly done with their 250SX West season, but Benny Bloss and Joshua Cartwright -- and possibly Jacob Williamson if he's riding more races -- still have a ways to go in the 250SX East season. What should we have expected from these true rookie riders coming in to their debut Supercross seasons? How did reality turn out?
Rider Profile: Newcomers to Supercross in 2016
Predicting the "True Rookies" Supercross results based on their amateur data
(To be clear, we're only looking at "amateur" riders, excluding someone like Killian Auberson who has ridden Supercross as a pro in Europe. Also, excluding Mark Worth since he was injured in practice for week 1 at Anaheim.)
First off, before a rider makes his debut in Supercross, there is little comparable history to use when trying to forecast his future performance. There are a lot of outdoor amateur motocross race results, but as we all know, skills for outdoor riding don't always translate directly to the Supercross format. For some riders there's decent Arenacross history to look at, but that is spotty since not all riders competed regularly in Arenacross. This makes comparisons and predictions difficult, but we'll look at what's available.
In terms of these 6 riders' amateur careers, they're grouped surprisingly tightly as they've progressed through the ranks:
It's a bit jumbled (you can see the graph here, and add/remove riders as you wish, as well as see some other details when you hover over the data points), as you can see, and I've added in current 250SX pros Joey Savatgy (grey) and Jeremy Martin (yellow) for a sense of perspective. But that's the thing -- these guys have surprisingly similar success in their amateur careers, even through ages 17 & 18. Jacob Williamson (orange) has performed better than the pack virtually the whole time, though, with the one exception being his age 17 season. Benny Bloss (light green) had a run at ages 13 and 14, then fell back but stayed near the top of the pack through age 18. Mitchell Harrison (purple) came on strong at ages 16 and 17. Just based on the visuals of that graph, I'd put these three riders at the top, and if this motocross data was all we had available to predict their initial year of Supercross, I'd say Bloss, then Williamson, then Harrison. Following pretty closely would be Chase Marquier (brown), then Josh Cartwright (dark green), then Zac Commans (red). Very interesting, though, is that all of these guys had more impressive numbers through age 18 than Jeremy Martin and Joey Savatgy.
Since we do have more data for each rider let's look individually to see if Arenacross or other factors can shed some light on the proper expectations for these Supercross rookies.
After being named the "2015 AMA Athlete of the Year" and "2015 AMA Motocross Horizon Award Winner", Benny Bloss was expected to race the 250SX East season under the Blue Buffalo/Slater Skins Yamaha flag, but they parted ways right before the season opener. Instead he competed as a privateer in Atlanta, then become sponsored again by Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha.
Bloss does not have much in the way of Arenacross results, as prior to this season the only experience I can find for him in Arenacross was in 2010 -- one weekend where he finished 5th out of 20 in Supermini. In 2016 he became the second rider in history to complete the Road to Supercross and make his pro Supercross debut in the same season. In four 250SX East races, he's finished at an average place of 12.5 (13th, 11th, 7th, and 19th), and he's 12th overall in the current East standings.
Conclusion: So far he's making good progress, and though he's not taking the 250SX class by storm as his AMA awards might have suggested, he's got several weeks to keep improving his debut result. Working with a consistent sponsor should help.
There was a "Privateer Profile" on Williamson last week via RacerX so go there for some info on his backstory, taking note that he's not only doing it as a privateer but also that he/his family are focusing on his schooling, which means motocross often takes a backseat. Not only that, but he's living near Detroit, so he has a short riding season working against him as well.
In addition to his motocross data, Williamson has been riding Arenacross since 2008. In 2015, he rode on 7 weekends in the Open A and the Lites East, with what seem like pretty lackluster results compared to his motocross record: top finish was 3rd (twice) and he missed the Top 16 on nearly half of his contests (9 out of 20). On the bright side, 7 of those DNQs came in the first 8 races, while he only had 1 in his final 8. In those final 8 races, he also logged his two 3rd place finishes. So, he was showing improvement throughout the season, possibly because he'd been stuck in Michigan snow and ice leading up to the first race. Going back to 2014, Williamson's best Arenacross finish for either the Open class or Lites East was 4th (also twice); however in 2013 he had 15 races across Intermediate and Schoolboy Senior classes, and he won 11 of them.
In six weeks of 2016 Arenacross, Williamson has a win and a 2nd place, but also multiple finishes in the teens. And unfortunately in Williamson's debut Supercross race at Toronto he couldn't make it out of his heat (although he qualified 14th in practice). But in Detroit, a week later, he made the Supercross Main Event and finished 16th.
Conclusion: In Williamson's two races so far, he's behind Bloss in terms of average finishing position, but considering the circumstances -- riding part time and as a privateer -- Williamson may be closer to Bloss than it appears at first glance.
Winner of the Open 250A class at the most recent Loretta's, Mitchell Harrison also has Arenacross results in 2015, 2014, and 2011-2008. In 2015 he had four races over three weekends, at the Lites East level, where he finished 9th, 15th, 1st, and 2nd, in that order -- on top of that he finished 3rd in the Amateur All-Star race at the Las Vegas Supercross Cup. In 2014 he also had an Arenacross win at the Lites East level. Considering that his age 16 and 17 seasons in the chart above showed a significant bump (the Loretta's win will do that, plus he was 3rd in the Open Pro 450A), along with his very solid performance in Arenacross over the past two years, I think you might bump Harrison up to have a projection equal to or above Bloss and Williamson.
Riding in the 250SX West races, Harrison has 4 Main Event appearances, averaging 16th place (13th, 22nd, 14th, 15th). At Anaheim 2, Harrison qualified 12th in practice, but was injured and didn't enter the Heat Race -- this kept him out of the next week at Oakland. He returned at Glendale, qualifying 11th and finishing 6th in his Heat Race, but had a DNF in the LCQ. The next two weeks he picked up his 14th and 15th.
Conclusion: Harrison's injury makes things a bit cloudy, as injuries typically do, but his results of 13th, 14th, and 15th are more promising than his 22nd and DNQ are worrisome. That said, a Top 10 finish at Santa Clara (or the equivalent at Las Vegas) would go a long way toward proving that he can really improve and be a contender.
Looking now to our "second tier", so to speak, of the Supercross true rookies, Chase Marquier finished 5th in the 250A class and 8th in the Open Pro 450 class at the 2015 Loretta's (granted, there was a crash involved). He also had 4 Arenacross races that year (plus one that looks like it was cut short by injury or other issues), where his top finish was 4th and average finish was 11th. He didn't have other Arenacross records that I could find before 2015, until you go back to 2011. He did race the Las Vegas Supercross Cup as an Amateur All-Star and finished 6th.
Based on that additional data, you would probably lower the expected projection some for Marquier in 2016 Supercross, and that's about how it's turned out so far. His two Main Event results in the 250SX West are 16th and 19th, and he couldn't get out of the LCQ at Anaheim 1 (5th), San Diego 1 (19th), Oakland (5th), San Diego 2 (DNS), and Arlington (5th). (Those 5th place finishes in the LCQs must be killing him!)
Conclusion: It looks like Marquier has some work to do in terms of Supercross, if he wants his sophomore season to live up to his amateur motocross results. Hey, maybe he's more of an outdoors guy (even though he says he like Supercross jumps more), but of course it's still very early.
Josh Cartwright has also been focusing on school while trying to develop a pro career, which is good to keep in mind when viewing his amateur data and making comparisons. He raced Arenacross in 2015, plus one race in 2014. The 2015 results are a bit difficult to interpret because he has three 2nd place finishes and one 3rd, but also had DNQ in 9 of 16 races across both the Lites East class and the Open class. Additionally, in 2014, Cartwright finished 15th in the Amateur All-Star race at the Las Vegas Supercross Cup.
Cartwright did ride one Supercross race in 2015, Atlanta 2, where he finished 18th: while Bloss was the second rider to graduate from Ricky Carmichael's Road to Supercross and qualify for a 250SX Main Event in the same season, Cartwright was the first, doing it the year before. We won't disqualify Cartwright from "true rookie" status, though.
In 2016 Supercross, Cartwright has two Main Event finishes in the four 250SX East races so far, at 18th and 15th. At Atlanta he did not make it through the LCQ (12th), and he did not make the Main Event at Detroit due to an injured shoulder suffered during practice.
Conclusion: Partly incomplete because of the injury and since there have only been four East races, but I expected Cartwright to be on track for slightly better results. Not making the Main Event in the opener could be chalked up to early season rust or jitters, and the injury may affect the final four races if he is able to return. Not to mention the unknowns that come with trying to manage getting a college degree while trying to become a pro at the same time.
This story by RacerX describes how Zac Commans was able to get a head start on his pro career, which I mention because the change of plans -- he was expecting to race several Arenacross events before getting to attempt the Supercross races -- can mess with your training, your travel, and your head. He also had a serious accident the prior year at James Stewart Freestone Amateur National, resulting in a bad concussion that led to a seizure and him stopping breathing temporarily; this had a major effect on his ability to train over the past year, including missing the 2015 Arenacross season.
Upon returning to the track, one of his first races was the Las Vegas Supercross Cup, where Commans competed in the Amateur All-Star class and finished 11th. When he did get to the Arenacross course, he raced one week in the Open class and finished 13th.
Based on the amateur results that were not quite as strong as these other Supercross rookies, as well as his lost training time from the injury, it seems Commans would be projected as an occasional qualifier in the 250SX West with some finishes in the low teens. In the four races Commans was able to attend (he skipped Anaheim 1 while they were figuring out his pro eligibility for Supercross), he has qualified for two Main Events, with finishes of 18th and 15th (oddly the same as Cartwright's in the East). He missed the LCQ at Anaheim 2 (13th). After qualifying 22nd in practice at Glendale, an injury ended his night before the Heat Race. That injury left him out of San Diego 2 and Arlington. He expects to be back for Santa Clara, though.
Conclusion: Another incomplete because of not only the 2016 injuries, but also the previous injury as well as the chaotic start to the season -- however the results aren't so different from what we would have expected. Much too early to think that this slow start is indicative of where he'll top out in Supercross, though the injuries must be a concern for the future.
Compare the average finishing position of these six "true rookies" in Supercross with each other, and it matches pretty well with the predictions from above. Sorted in order of from the original graph:
Benny Bloss was expected to be the frontrunner, and he is clearly having the best rookie season among the group. Jacob Williamson has some work to do since he's only entered 2 races, but we'll have to wait for more from him. Mitchell Harrison has the second best season so far, pending Williamson's further results once the East series resumes its season in a couple weeks. Harrison has the second-best finish (13th) in the group, and his average result is better than the other four (non-Bloss) riders**.
**Although using "23" as the finishing position when a rider either doesn't qualify or gets injured makes for a very rough average. For instance, Chase Marquier has three LCQ results where he didn't make the final by one position, whereas Josh Cartwright missed his LCQ by several spots, but they're both getting a 23 in this chart. If we put in a bigger penalty for finishing lower in the LCQ or for getting injured, then everyone's results would get worse (except Bloss), though Marquier would be hurt less than the others.
Nevertheless, the season still has plenty of racing to go, and lots of opportunities for these rookies to improve their Supercross skills. We'll revisit again once the season closes, and see what more we've learned about trying to predict Supercross ability and results from amateur data.