Heading into the 2019 Monster Energy Cup, one of the biggest storylines was the 450 debut of Monster Energy / Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo and he did not disappoint. AC went right to the top of the board in qualifying and stayed there most of the day before being edged out of pole position by his teammate, Eli Tomac, in the final qualifying session.
In the first moto of three, AC went to the front immediately and began to check out before washing the front end and hitting the ground. He remounted in 5th and made his way back up to 2nd before the checkered flag waved on the first 10-lap moto. Eli got the win, but with his fastest lap being 55.056 and AC’s fastest lap being 55.057, we knew we might see a great battle if they ever got out front together.
Moto two was much different with the track going backward and AC going into the first turn in about 18th place, but the result would end up the same for the #9. At the end of lap 1, AC was up to 11th and by the end of the ten-lap moto, he was once again 2nd. Eli had the lead early on, but this time it was him that hit the deck and Smartop / Motoconcepts / Honda’s Malcolm Stewart broke through for his first MEC moto win. With Mookie, AC and Eli finishing 1-2-3, they would all three go into moto three, tied with four points each.
The third moto gave everyone the Eli-AC battle they had hoped for. AC pulled the holeshot and by lap two he and Eli were 1-2 with eight laps ahead of them to battle for the win. It was a chess match with Eli in a perfect position to crush AC’s dream of winning his first 450 race. Instead, AC rode like a veteran to keep the defending Million Dollar winner behind him and cross the line with a debut win.
After AC was done with the podium celebrations and post-race press conference, I caught up with him to talk about the race and what the experience in itself meant to him.
Congratulations Adam. Your first race on the 450 and your first win. It seems so easy some times. (laughs) What were your expectations coming into today?
I felt really good on the bike for the last couple of weeks. The first couple of weeks I was riding, I just wanted to take it easy and, and kind of get into it and be smart. Contrary to how I normally ride. (laughs) I felt like I’ve been coming around these last two weeks and the team really has the bike dialed in. I felt comfortable kind of from day one on it. So, my expectations were to be near the front. I wasn’t necessarily saying I was, you know, I think I could win or this or that, but I felt like I was capable of running up front if I got some good starts. I have kind of been struggling with keeping the front end down going over to the gate with all that power. So that’s something I struggled with there in the second man, even the first one. I don’t know how I pulled that off, but I think my expectations were to just to run up front.
Did the win surprise you at all?
No, it doesn’t. I felt like I rode to my ability. I don’t feel like I rode above my ability. I feel like I rode pretty within myself. Obviously, we were pushing, like Eli said, we were going really fast but I didn’t necessarily feel like that’s not something I’ve done before.
In the first moto, you holeshot and are you’re leading and running away and you throw the lead away with a little front end wash out crash. What went through your mind there?
Yeah. It’s funny. I’m like, “not again?” I mean that’s the first thing that goes through my head. It’s like I’m the guy that washes the front. It sucks though cause sometimes you know, back in the day it’s like I lose in front cause I’m not focused. And that front end wash was, or even like the last couple little crashes I’ve had over the course of the year, they’re just little mishaps. It’s not necessarily that. Like there’s a little bit of a shadow from the over-under bridge and I just hit the brakes right as I was turning and suddenly lost the front. I really was just having so much fun on the bike all day. I know that’s cliche, but I just got up and I’m like, okay, this is a test. Like, let’s just see what we can do. I had to pass Malcolm [Stewart] and obviously, he’s no slouch and I had to pass Vince [Friese]—he was riding great—and I got second. I was stoked. I was smiling after.
You got off to a really bad start in the second moto. What happened to you there?
Well, I double-clutched it off the gate and then I was actually okay. And then Kyle Chisholm—who was on my inside—had me by about half a bike length and he hit somebody’s back wheel. He hit somebody’s back wheel and he kind of fell out of the corner and went straight. So I had to stop and then somebody fell on the second corner and I stopped behind him. I think I was like 13th going over the finish line. So yeah, it’s good. I mean it’s good to get that experience and have to race people. It’s nice too, these 450 guys, they’re not too stupid out there. You get outside the top 10 in the 250 class you’re a little bit scared for your life. These guys know what they’re doing.
In the third moto, you have yourself, Eli and Malcolm all tied for the lead. You got the holeshot and held off Eli the whole moto to win the overall. I know how much a historian of the sport and you have been waiting your whole life to get to the premier class so how was it to finally be battling for a win in the premier class?
Well I mean I think a lot of people are hesitant to admit something like this because we’re dirt bike racers and were supposed to be all gnarly, but I’ve honestly looked up to Eli since I was a little kid. He’s always been a few years older than me and always racing in the class above me, so I’m just stoked to be out there with him. I’m stoked to be at the test track with him just to be out there and learn from him. Obviously, it’s not like I’m asking him for an autograph and asking him to sign it for me, but it’s just cool to be out there with him. You know he’s going to race you clean and Eli’s accomplish a lot in his career already. About halfway through that man, I thought to myself, you know, win or lose, this is just… what a great moment.
When Eli got close, because you two were so close on speed, I thought there was really only one place the pass might happen: that sweeper before you head out of the stadium. It was a tough spot because you had to cover the inside and the outside line was faster all night. He got close there a couple of times. What was the thought process in that corner?
In the beginning, I knew he was going to be patient so I wasn’t necessarily worried about guarding the inside. And then a couple of laps in a row I messed up the, the two-table-over-two. I clipped the first one so I had to seat bounced the second one. So when I seat bounced, I knew that he was going to get close. The one time I looked left and I knew it was coming up the inside and so I kind of squared him up there and that kind of stuff. That felt good. (laughs) Then after that, I found that inside line I had tried in practice going double and then jumping on in the dragon’s back and over. It seems like once I did that I kinda neutralized that section on the track.
That was fun to watch. Congratulations again and thanks for the time. Appreciate it!
Photos by: Octopi