Supercross shake-up will take title fight to the wire
NOVEMBER 17, 2019: There has been a minor shake-up at the top of the Australian Supercross Championship standings after the fourth round of five, staged in New Zealand at the weekend, and it will be a nail-biting run to the finish at the final round in two weeks' time.
There will be mixed feelings for some of the riders as they head back across the Tasman Sea following Saturday night's fierce battling inside a packed Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, the S-X Open Auckland doubling up also as the first of two rounds in the S-X Open FIM Oceania Supercross Championship.
The final supercross event this season, set for Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium on November 30, will register as the fifth and final round of the Australian nationals and also as the second and final round of the S-X Open FIM Oceania Supercross Championship and it will be a classic red team versus blue team fight to the finish.
Visiting American star Jason Anderson, the US supercross champion in 2018, won the night in Auckland, but Penrite Honda's Brett Metcalfe also stood out at Mt Smart Stadium, the South Australian taking his Honda CRF450 to record a 2-5-3 score-card in his three SX1 class races, good enough to secure the No.3 step on the podium.
Crucially, although Metcalfe remains fourth overall in the championship standings for this class, he has shaved four points off the man just ahead of him – Queenslander Daniel Reardon – Metcalfe moving up from 12 points behind to now be just eight points adrift of Reardon, with the Melbourne event to come.
It was Metcalfe's best result of the season and augurs well for him as the championship heads towards a thrilling conclusion.
"It was a good night of racing, for sure. The starts were really key," said the 35-year-old Metcalfe.
"We made a few minor tweaks to the bike's settings through the night and it just got better and better.
"It's nice to have a good run like this. The last couple of rounds have been a bit down for me. This is my first podium this season, which is nice."
Metcalfe's Penrite Honda team-mate, American Justin Brayton, was also in great form at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night, until an uncharacteristic error in his final outing saw him hit the dirt while leading the race and he lost valuable positions on the track.
Brayton clawed back to finish the race in fifth, but that mistake cost him his championship lead. From top of the standings and three points in front of New South Welshman Luke Clout at the start of the Auckland event, Brayton has slipped to second, albeit just one point behind Clout.
"It was all my own fault. I crashed while leading. I'm disappointed but I guess I'll just have to win the last round," he shrugged.
"The crash tonight was just one of those things, with me pushing up front," said the 35-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa.
"It's a life test for me. I've never been in this situation before. Normally I've got a good points lead going into the last round and I can just ride defensively. Now I'm on the offence. Pretty simple now, just go to Melbourne and win the race."
After Melbourne he heads back to the United States and the Factory Honda Team there, to prepare for Anaheim 1, the first round of the AMA Supercross Championships.
For the vocal Kiwi crowd at Mt Smart Stadium, there was also reason to cheer as Mount Maunganui's national MX1 motocross champion and former New Zealand SX1 supercross champion Cody Cooper eclipsed Anderson in his one-on-one "Anzacs versus the United States" feature race.
Cooper (Motul Honda CRF450) got the jump on Anderson at the start and never looked back, his win a popular one with the vocal crowd.
Cooper will be back in supercross action on the domestic scene this coming weekend, racing at the final round of the New Zealand Supercross Championships in Tokoroa on Saturday evening.