Eli Tomac of Cortez raced from the middle of the pack to take third place in the last lap of the opening race of the AMA Supercross season Saturday in Anaheim.
It was Tomac’s best finish at the first of two races at the Anaheim track, which set back his season last year.
Justin Barcia captured the win, and Ken Roczen held on for second.
At the start, Tomac lined up in the ninth gate position between Cole Seely and last year’s race winner and eventual series champion, Jason Anderson. Barcia, Roczen, Malcolm Stewart and Dean Wilson lined up in the first four spots.
The rain that began to fall after Tomac’s heat race started again as the main event began, and it didn’t let up.
Wilson was first to the turn and after one lap, had the lead. He was followed by Stewart, Anderson and Barcia.
Tomac was 10th.
Tomac moved into ninth place in Lap 2, eighth in Lap 3 and seventh in Lap 5. He stalked Anderson for three laps before passing him in Lap 8 to come up behind Plessinger, last year’s champion in the 250 Supercross series and a teammate of Tomac’s at the 2018 Motocross of Nations.
As the race among the leaders tightened up, Stewart went down and dropped to fourth in Lap 12, and Barcia took the lead from Wilson in Lap 15. Roczen raced safely in second.
But the most competitive racing was behind the leaders.
Tomac said he raced cautiously in the first half of the main event as he measured the ruts and mud-slicked course. But he then found that he could double-jump the doubles and close the distance between him and the leaders.
After a back-and-forth duel, Tomac got around Plessinger in Lap 17, then overtook Stewart. With three laps to go, only Wilson and his four-second lead stood between Tomac and his best finish at Anaheim 1.
He passed Wilson in the final lap.
Barcia beat Roczen to the checkered flag by 3.053 seconds. Tomac finished 4.890 seconds off the lead and was followed by Wilson and Cooper Webb.
It was Tomac’s first time on the podium on opening day. He said the rain helped.
“I actually thought it would help us that it started dumping that much rain because our heat races were ... just fast enough,” Tomac said in the postrace interview. “It was tough to get around guys. So I thought the rain was pretty good. A pretty wild night. Just glad to get out of here with the podium.”
Last year at Anaheim 1, he started fast and grabbed the holeshot but crashed and injured his shoulder before the race’s midpoint. He sat out the following race in Houston and fell 48 points behind the leader after just two races. Then, in the third race of the season, Tomac broke his losing streak at Anaheim 2, beating Seely and Anderson for the victory.
In 2017, Tomac finished fifth at Anaheim 1 and eighth at Anaheim 2. In 2016, he finished fourth in both races, and in 2015 finished 20th at Anaheim 1 and third at Anaheim 2 and 3. In his first season in the 450SX class in 2014, he didn’t race at the venue until Anaheim 3, where he finished 21st.
Earlier Saturday, Tomac looked like he might have another rough opening day.
In the second heat, Tomac started in the third position at the gate between Stewart and Webb and was in sixth place after the first lap. He got past Vince Friese in the fifth of seven laps and finished fifth, 9.195 seconds behind heat-winner winner Barcia. Stewart, Blake Baggett and Justin Bogle rounded at the Top 5. Baggett posted the fastest lap in the heat, at 59.045 seconds, and was followed by Barcia at 59.131 and Tomac at 59.278.
Roczen won the first heat, followed by Wilson, Plessinger, Cole Seely and Jason Anderson. Roczen posted the fastest lap, at 59.20 seconds.
And after two qualifying rounds on Saturday, Tomac was fifth, with a best time of 54.471 seconds in the first round. Blake Baggett led all qualifiers at 54.346 seconds. Wilson, Stewart, Justin Brayton and Tomac rounded out the Top 5.
The Supercross series next heads to Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 12 for the second of 17 races.