IRC TIRES ENDUROCROSS SERIES PRESENTED BY PROGRESSIVE | RD 2 RECAP
The second round of the 2023 IRC Endurocross Series, presented by Progressive, went off on Saturday night in Prescott, Arizona. Coming into this round the obvious question was if Jonny Walker (Beta USA/Leatt) could have another dominating night to extend his series lead. From the Canadian perspective, the story was about if 2022 Endurocross series champ Trystan Hart (FMF KTM Factory Racing) could bounce back from a tough first round, where he placed P5. Other Canadian stories were if Spenser Wilton (HTR GasGas) and Branden Petrie (Sherco Enduro Racing) could push their way into the top 10 overall in the series, and if Melissa Harten (Beta Canada/Leatt) could beat Rachel Gutish to move into a tie for first overall in Pro Women.
After it was all done and dusted, Walker had another perfect night, laying down a blistering hot lap time trial time, sweeping the three motos, and extending his series lead. Hart looked significantly better on the bike this round, although some mishaps left him in P5 for the night after going 5-4-5.
Branden Petrie finished P12 on the night, but, more importantly, moved himself into P10 overall, which saves him from having to get through qualifying motos. Spenser Wilton had a very solid night to finish P11 while dealing with a pretty tough ankle/heel injury that he picked up while training in-between rounds.
Melissa Harten had a great night to finish P2 for the second straight round, getting passed on the last lap to just miss out on P1.
Canadian pros Wilton and Petrie had to race their way into the Pro motos with a qualifier as they came into this round just outside of the automatic-qualifying Top 10 cutoff. They handled the qualification easily with Wilton taking P2 and Petrie in P3 (top 6 progressed). It was good to see Wilton riding so well in the qualifier, as he had hurt his ankles training in between Rounds 1 and 2. He told me that he actually managed to explode his boot in the training incident, and that he wasn’t able to really send any features in this round. Petrie mentioned that he felt really good in the qualifier and was happy to maintain his P3 transfer position without taking any risks to close the gap to first and second.
For the Top 10, gate choice was determined by single hot lap time trials. Trystan Hart was having a good lap and was looking quick until a small bobble cost him speed and momentum. Starting 5th in the hot laps he was in 2nd place with a 36.620 time, but with some big guns yet to ride. Colton Haaker (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Racing), Ryder LeBlond (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Racing), and Cody Webb (FactoryOne Sherco) all laid down times in the 35 second range to pass Hart. Jonny Walker started last, though, and dropped a savage 33.977 lap on the field to announce that he was ready to pick up from where he left off in Round 1, where he went 1-1-1 for a perfect night.
Hart struggled off the line in this moto, ending up mid-field with lots of work to do. Colton Haaker took the hole shot ahead of Walker, and Ryder LeBlond looked strong making an aggressive pass to jump into P3 to start the race. Haaker and Walker quickly separated from the field, with Walker looking for opportunities to pass while riding a few different lines from Haaker. We saw this from Walker in Round 1, too, where he seemed content to patiently ride in P2 behind Hart in Moto 1, while checking out Hart’s lines and taking the opportunity to try different ones behind him. And just like in Round 1 where Walker made the pass on Hart after Hart made a mistake exiting a feature, Walker made the P1 pass after Haaker went down exiting the rock garden. Walker then extended to finish with an 11 second lead, with Haaker recovering for P2 ahead of Taddy Blazusiak (GasGas Factory Racing).
By mid-way through the race Hart had established himself in P6 before finishing P5, but he seemed to be struggling to work through traffic on this quick track with limited fast lines. He told me that he got taken out out by another rider in this moto and moto 2. Spenser Wilton finished in P10, and Branden Petrie finished P13.
The IRC Endurocross series runs second motos with a reverse start order, which put Wilton and Petrie on the front row for this one. Wilton made full use of this advantage with a great start where he just missed the holeshot, ending up P2 to get things going. By lap 2 things were beginning to take shape with the series leaders. Walker had made his way to P7 behind Haaker and Webb, while Hart was in P8. By lap 5 Hart had continued to move forward, but a crash coming out of a triple over a log feature dropped him back to P8, while Wilton had slowly dropped to P6. Walker was in the lead at this point, and starting to check out a bit, but not to the degree he did in moto 1. Hart continued to move back up through the field after his crash, reaching P5 by lap 10, before finishing in P4. Walker, Haaker, and Webb made up the podium. Wilton hung on for P11 and Petrie finished P12.
Canadian riders Branden Petrie (Sherco Endurance Racing) and Spenser Wilton (HTR GasGas) finished the moto in P11 and P19 respectively.
This moto featured Hart’s best start of the night, and maybe his best one since moto 1 of Round 1, coming off the line in 2nd behind Haaker’s holeshot. Walker was a bit further back but was quickly on the move to rectify his situation. On lap 4 Hart had a small bobble in the rock garden allowing Walker to go through and make his way up to Haaker. By lap 6 Haaker and Walker were long gone, while Ryder LeBlond moved up the pack to start challenging for a podium finish. Hart went down one more time in the latter stages of the moto to drop back a couple of positions. Walker continued to apply pressure to Haaker at the front of the race, and made bar-to-bar contact with him exiting the rock garden but was unable to complete the pass. Walker had another go on lap 11, and was successful this time by shutting the door on Haaker exiting a corner and then hanging on for the win and his second clean sweep in two rounds. Webb finished P3 in the moto and P3 on the night going 4-3-3, and Haaker finished P2 in the moto and P2 overall with his strong 2-2-2. Ryder LeBlond was 3-6-4/P4 and Hart went 5-4-7/P5.
Calgary-based pro Melissa Harten (Beta Racing Canada/Leatt) had a great second round in Prescott. Coming into the night in second overall behind Rachel Gutish (GasGas USA), Melissa took advantage of early race mistakes by Gutish and 2023 US Hard Enduro Series champion Hallie Marks (Sherco USA) to move into the lead, where she held on until the final lap when Gutish re-took P1 shortly before the finish line. Melissa noted to me that she didn’t have a great start, but that once she got into the lead she was able to focus on riding smooth and steady, as the lack of serious technical features on this round’s course meant that the only to get slowed down was if you made your own mistake.
This round featured a much faster track that didn’t have any really technical features to separate out riders. Lap times were exceptionally quick, running the 24-second range, which in combination with the lack of major technical features, seemed to limit overtaking opportunities.
Speaking with Shelby Turner (multi-time Endurocross Series champion and series TV commentator this season while recovering from double ACL surgery), she focused in on the short laps and the (predominantly) single race line. Melissa Harten also noted that, from her perspective, there was really only one line.
Although the P5 finish wasn’t, I’m sure, the finish Trystan Hart was looking for in Round 2, my initial impression was that he rode a lot better in this one than the first round. Trystan let me know that he had the same takeaway, with his starts and riding going way better. He got taken out in motos 1 and 2 by other riders, but he was moving in the right direction and much happier with his riding this time out.
Trystan also mentioned that he’s just finished some testing where found a new setting and thinks that it’s going to really help Rounds 3 & 4 in Idaho Falls go much better for him this weekend. It had been a long two weeks for Trystan, though, with Round 1 of the series in Everett, WA, on the 14th before jumping onto a plane for the 5th round of the FIM Hard Enduro Championship in Spain. This was a very physically and mentally challenging event, after which he came right back to North America for this race in Prescott, AZ. I’m certainly not making excuses here and Trystan certainly didn’t even bring it up, but that is a demanding schedule block. Hopefully, being able to remain in the Western US ahead of this weekend’s two rounds will help him get back on track.
Branden Petrie went 13-12-11/P12 in this round, which was enough to bump him into 10th overall in the series and allowing him to skip the qualifying moto for Round 3 in Idaho Falls on Friday. In chatting with Branden after Round 2 he was very happy to be in the Top 10 and out of those qualifiers, but his racing was a bit all over the place this weekend. He noted that he had terrible starts in all three motos, forcing him to come from dead last each one. In Motos 2 and 3 he crashed on the same log jump feature, but that in the end his line through that feature still made him time despite the crashes, due to all the traffic he was working through.
Spenser Wilton rode a low-risk strategy in Round 2 following the ankle/foot injuries he sustained while training after Round 1. He noted that the fast track was more his style, and that he liked the tighter racing that it resulted in. Based on his injury he was focused on not dabbing and making the injury worse. This meant that he wasn’t able to ride the fastest line in some of the jump features, but he also said that this race helped him to build confidence going into Rounds 3 and 4 this weekend.
Full results HERE