Last Saturday’s stop on the Monster Energy AMA Supercross tour, an FIM World Championship, marked the opening round of the Supercross Lites East Regional championship, along with Round 6 for the Supercross Class. The racing was as intense as it has been all season. Here are a few things I learned at Saturday’s Supercross event:
1. There is a Definitely a Gap in Speed from the Top Five Guys to the Rest of the Field
American Honda’s Trey Canard brought home his first Supercross class victory, proving to the Supercross world that his success filling in for Andrew Short for several races last season was no fluke. Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s reigning Supercross champion Ryan Dungey looked the best he has all season. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto continued to show everyone how focused and prepared he is in 2011. Two-Two Motorsports Chad Reed finished a respectable sixth, while San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart limped to a 15th place finish after laying it down twice.
2. The KTM 350 is Competitive
A couple of weeks ago I speculated about the ability of KTM’s 350 machine to be competitive in the AMA Supercross class – with all the other teams running bikes with 100cc more displacement. There is no doubt that the bike is fantastic (Tony Cairoli won the MX 1 World Motocross Championship in it’s first season of existence). And I know for older guys like me, they are lining up at dealerships to buy the 2011 model.
I’m still not convinced that potentially running around an AMA Supercross track with the world’s best supercross riders doesn’t present a different situation. I’m not saying ‘Yes’, and I’m not saying ‘No’. I’m saying I’m still not convinced. It’s too soon to say.
But could it be the riders? Andrew Short and Mike Alessi have both been top ten guys in previous seasons, but, in 2011, neither has appeared impressive leading up to Houston. That fact is what led to my speculation about the bike. Not only did both Alessi and Short pull top ten finishes in Houston, but 16-year-old Ken Roczen used his week off from the Supercross Lites Western Regional series to hop on board the 350 and race it to a seventh-place finish in the premier Supercross class. After working the bugs out, the Red Bull KTM team should not have any problems with their bikes being competitive. They may need to find someone who can get into the Main Events at every race. Andrew Short most likely will return to his usual, consistent self, but ‘Chapter 2’ of Alessi teamed with team leader Roger De Coster hasn’t appeared as promising as ‘Chapter 1’ did in 2009.
3. Barcia, Barcia, Barcia!
We all knew the kid could flat out fly around a track, but many have openly questioned whether or not his right hand could calm down enough to be a consistent winner. While I still would not describe him as calm, and I would still call him a work in progress. It was pretty obvious to everyone in Reliant Stadium that he possesses the talent. Justin put the Geico PowerSports Honda on the top step at the opening round of the Supercross Lites East Regional championship, finishing ahead of a very capable PC duo in Dean Wilson and Blake Baggett.
4. Whatever You Think the Rest of the Season Will Look Like – Forget It!
And although I mentioned the five names above with the top speed, speed isn’t everything when it comes to finishing 20 lap Supercross Main Events.
James Stewart proved in Houston that on any given night anything can happen. Who would have expected him to finish 15th? I would not have thought that Stewart, or Villopoto, or Canard or Dungey would have finished outside of the top five.
As the season progresses, you can toss Chad Reed in to that category as well. The only reason I hesitate to put him there now is because this is his first season with his own team. There have been some growing pains already and there will be more along the way. The previous event in Anaheim, Dungey’s chain came off – something no one would have expected. This week, Stewart struggles through two crashes to a 15th place finish and Villopoto has to mount the charge of a crazed man to finish fourth. What is in store next week in San Diego?
Currently, Villopoto sits atop the point standings. He leads defending champion Ryan Dungey in fifth place by a margin of 31 points. That very same margin is what separates Dungey from Andrew Short in sixth place. 31 points seems like a lot of points to make up, especially if Villopoto continues to race his way into the top five every week. But, as James Stewart found out Saturday night, all it takes is one off week for everyone to be right back in the mix. That’s part of what makes motor sports racing exciting!
5. Wheel to Wheel, Baby!
For the second race this year, the checkered flag dropped on guys who battled literally all the way to the end. Dungey and Canard swapped the lead back and forth several times before Canard surged ahead around the final turn to take the win. We watched the same excitement at Dodger Stadium a couple of weeks ago. The first six rounds of the 2011 Supercross season have been spectacular. If the remaining 11 races follow the pattern established thus far, we should be in for some great excitement all season long!
Click here to get the latest race results, points and photos from the Houston race