Taft can be a polarizing venue. To explain, the terrain becomes quite choppy, sometimes developing deep, square holes that litter an entire straightaway. If riders choose “good” lines—skating the edges, cutting across the chop and finding some smoother track—joy and speed can be found in that. However, if the preferred method is banging right down the main line, it can be a frustrating and taxing experience, both physically and mentally. The constant is that the second round on the 2020 AMA National Grand Prix series is always a challenging one.
Chaparral Motorsports, Precision Concepts, Kawasaki rider Zach Bell was aiming at rebounding from the unfortunate luck at the WORCS opener. Bell had previously enjoyed much success at the Taft venue. In fact, he’d won every race he’d entered there. So, he was looking to continue that streak with a win. JP Alvarez was striving to continue the momentum he’d built over the first two races of the 2020 season. The team had made improvements to the bike to suite Alvarez’s needs a bit more. The goal was to see JP able to charge, comfortably, all the way through the ninety-minute main event with intensity.
Zach Bell — 1st place Pro
Riders who’ve experienced the roost at Taft share a common knowledge: the roost is punishing. Though the terrain isn’t rocky, the dirt packs in such a way as to form golf ball- to soft ball-sized clumps. Therefore, a good start is absolutely ideal in order to avoid the painful, flying debris. When the green lights released the line of Open Pro’s to thunder down the start straight, Zach was quick to pull an advantage. Bell’s KX450 rocketed down the opening straightaway, giving him command of the first turn. From there, Zach instantly pulled a gap, laying down an unmatchable pace. Once he’d opened up a comfortable margin over the field, Bell was able to intelligently manage the remainder of the race to take his second win of the series.
In His Own Words
“I knew the start would be crucial, so I was really aggressive off the line. My KX450 got me off to a really great start and I was able to put in my sprint laps. The class was going really fast today, so I knew I had to be on it. After putting in the sprint laps, I was able to just manage. I felt really good clicking off the laps. Taft is more moto-like and I enjoy that. It’s super choppy. If you go look at any of the straightaways, it’s just gnarly. So, being really precise with line choices and slowing your mind down to get through those spots is important. It’s really hard to do that, but once you can, it makes the whole ride a lot easier. My bike was really good today. Actually, I want to slow down the bike a bit, it’s still a little too fast for my little butt. But, it was a really good day, so I’m excited.”
JP Alvarez — 6th place Pro II
As the row of 250cc Pro II riders went screaming down the starting line line, Alvarez was mid-pack at best. The KX250-mounted rider showed good race craft, ducking inside the pack through the first turn. As a result, he was able to move up to the edge of the top-five. From there, Alvarez battled back-and-forth with numerous riders over the first lap, all jostling for track position. JP was able to climb up to third place as the opening lap wound down. Over the next few circuits, Alvarez was locked in a battle with Robby Schott for second place. JP was able to make the pass just before half-way, but his part in the battling was far from over. Through the pit stop-cycle, JP momentarily took the lead. However, a slight miscue at the pit entrance and a quick stall while refueling cost enough time to drop Alvarez back to fourth place.
Over the next twenty minutes, Alvarez was able to maintain his intensity and close back up to the second- and third-place riders: Mason Ottersberg and Matteo Oliveira, respectively. He made an aggressive out-braking maneuver around the outside of Oliveira to take over third place just before the white flag came out. On the last lap, Alvarez was able to close up to the rear tire of Ottersberg. JP was just a couple seconds behind, but wasn’t able to close in enough to make an overtaking attempt. Though Alvarez crossed the line in third place, his miscue entering the pits was afterward deemed illegal and worthy of a 2-minute penalty. The sanction pushed Alvarez back to sixth place, officially.
Robby Bell, Team Manager
“Overall, it was a really good weekend for the team. Zach was once again able to get the start, which is always so crucial to avoid any dust and roost. His early pace was fantastic, which allowed him to manage the gap after the first few laps. His line selection and flow really agree with the Taft racecourse and it’s a joy to watch him out there.
“I was really happy with JP’s ride. His effort and intensity were high the whole race-length and he’s looking more and more comfortable on the bike. It was unfortunate that one minor mistake cost him a podium position in the official results, but we’re accepting of the judgement and we’ll be better for it moving forward. Official result aside, it was a great weekend for JP and I’m looking forward to his continued progress.”