If you would have told me before the season started that seven rounds into the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross, an FIM World Championship series, that Red Bull / KTM’s Cooper Webb would have four wins and possession of the red plate in the 450SX class, I would have questioned your sanity. I had written before the season started that 2019 was a huge year for Webb and his career and he likely already knew that, but I in no way thought he would respond to the bike brand and trainer switch he made in the offseason the way he has. Seven rounds into the series the only questions we have about Cooper Webb is: Can anyone stop him?
Last weekend in Arlington it looked like HRC / Honda’s Ken Roczen would be the man to slow his momentum down when he grabbed the lead and Webb was way back in 7th. Instead, Cooper patiently and methodically picked off every rider one by one until it was he and Roczen mano a mano for the final two laps for the Arlington SX win, the red plate and most importantly, that mental edge.
Cooper had a two-second gap up to Kenny and just two laps to get the job done and he quickly closed that gap by being better through the whoops and pulling the trigger on a quad nobody else was jumping with the track deteriorated in the main event. Then, with just a whoop section and a turn to go, Cooper skimmed the whoops to get alongside the Honda rider in the final turn. The move spooked the German just enough to get him to shut off for a split second, allowing Cooper to make a run at the finish and win the race by 0.028 of a second.
After winning what is being called the closest finish in SX history, securing the red plate and the momentum, Cooper answered some questions about the race from the press.
Can you talk about the last two straightaways of your battle [with Ken Roczen]? You were obviously aware of the situation. Can you take us through the whoops, the corner and the finish line and what was going through your mind?
I knew it was going to come down to the whoops. I think I could tell where I was catching him a little bit and he would pull me a little bit. I was able to do that quad into the turn a few times, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to it with him going to the inside so I followed in behind him. I knew he was going to jump [through the whoops] so I went to the left and tried to skim. I knew he had the inside, and I knew it was going to happen in the last turn but as a racer, you never know which direction you want to go or the guy wants to go. I saw the opening, went and dang what a close race. I didn’t think I actually won until I saw the big screen. (laughs) It was an incredible race for sure.
You mentioned on the podium that once you got into 3rd, you were going to settle for a podium. But then something changed and you said: “never give up.” Was there a moment or maybe a lap where you caught those guys [Musquin and Roczen] or what snapped in you to make you say, “The podium is not good enough tonight. I do need this win”?
I don’t really know. It kind of went through my head, like you said. There was not a huge gap, but a gap to the guys and there one lap where I bit into it a little bit and was like, “Hey, we got a lot of laps left.” I had a few moments of getting squirrely, but I knew if I gave it my all I was going to be happy. It’s crazy how it turned out.
You’ve really improved your starts this year. In the past, you were not a great starter and you said that digging deep at the end of the race was kind of a key for you. Was this a little bit of those old skills coming back for you tonight: where you just had to will it the last five laps to make it happen and come through the pack?
Yeah, for sure. Like you said, my starts have been really good. I was next to I think Joey and Eli, and we all were close and I came out in 7th or 8th. I was in the middle there and it made me get back into the pack. Most of my wins so far have been with holeshots. It was good to dig again, really have to come from behind, get creative and make passes. In that position, I think it actually helped me a little bit, ’cause I was able to learn from every guy I was able to pass. I could see what line was better here or there. I think later in the race that helped me to still be clicking off some good times.
About four or five laps from the end you hit that quad before the whoops, but then you stopped doing it. Was that because Ken had moved over into the inside lane?
Yeah, it was a little close for comfort. The way that corner was, you kind of landed in the middle off the single and wanted to protect it. I didn’t want to chance it and make a close call or anything like that. It obviously was fastet—I think I did it twice—but you didn’t want to do it, come in and t-bone the guy or even get close to landing on him. I started going more to the right to kind of open that corner up and get a good run in the whoops.
In practice, I saw you in the net there. Did you go for it in practice?
No, I was just going for the triple and OJ’ed [over jumped] it. It was a tricky little three there. That take off was really small and kind of unique. I just OJ’ed the triple and went into the net. (laughs)
Congrats on giving KTM the 40th brand win. When you were with Yamaha, you had 24 starts with 2 podiums. With KTM, you have 7 starts with 4 wins. What in the world is going on?
I think you answered your own question. (laughs) But nah, it’s been a real turnaround. Obviously the bike’s incredible. The team is really incredible. Really just the program with Aldon [Baker – trainer] and riding with Marv and the guys. Just being around those guys every day has made me a better rider—a better person. I learn so much from everybody. Luckily I’m able to apply it in the races. It’s just cool. It’s a whole new change for me and a new mindset this year. It’s been going really well.
Photos by: Simon Cudby