Last weekend in San Diego Ryan Villopoto made a definitive statement: the Monster Energy Kawasaki rider is the man to beat in the 2012 AMA Supercross series. Certainly the defending champ has had his stumbles this season already, but he has also shown he is the quickest to rebound from mistakes and bad luck.
At Anaheim I Villopoto trounced the competition, winning by more than ten seconds over Chad Reed. In the following three rounds, however, he had to deal with two first lap crashes in a row, neither being his direct fault. Ryan recovered brilliantly, coming from nearly dead last after the first lap to finish third in Phoenix, and then fourth in Los Angeles. While round four in Oakland marked the return to the top for James Stewart, Villopoto repositioned himself to take command of the last two California rounds at Anaheim II and last weekend in San Diego.
From the start of the main event, Villopoto had the clear lead, while Ryan Dungey, Reed, and Stewart were all further back. With short lap times, the main separator on the track was the long whoop section after the second turn, and this is where Reed and Stewart shined. Both are known for their whoop-de-doo prowess and their speed was clearly faster as they picked off rider after rider. Stewart finally made his move on Reed for second place as the race neared halfway and looked ready to challenge Villopoto for the lead. But disaster struck for Stewart in the whoop section only one lap later, as he went tumbling off the track. James was uninjured, but got entangled in an electronic cable and took a while to remount. By the time he did, he was almost a lap down.
Meanwhile, Reed continued to plug away, gaining tenths of a second at a time until he was within striking distance of Villopoto. On lap 18, Reed made his move, which is when Villopoto showed that he is more than prepared to win. Before the second triple jump, Ryan was a few feet behind, but he scrubbed the jump low enough that by the time the two bikes hit the ground, they were dead even, with Ryan to the inside of Reed as they set up for the right hand bowl turn. One final block pass is all it took for Villopoto to regain control of the lead and eventually take the win.
Ryan is now, for the second time this season, in the points lead as series heads east and his bike will be adorned with the red number plate for Dallas.
While the premier class continues to deliver some excellent racing, the Lites class is as unpredictable as ever. In the West, Eli Tomac was nearly one full race ahead in the points standings over Dean Wilson when the riders headed to San Diego. However, San Diego was not as kind to Tomac in 2012 as it was in 2011, when he got his first professional Supercross win.
Wilson got an excellent start in the main event, followed by Cole Seely, while Tomac was buried in the pack. The GEICO/Honda rider was eventually able to move up to third, as he was clearly the fastest rider on the track. But just as Tomac was pulling up on Seely, disaster struck in the whoops (in almost the same spot that would later claim James Stewart in the Supercross class main event). Tomac’s front wheel dipped and sent him over the bars. He landed chest first on the next hump. The crash took him out of the race while Wilson went on to take the win and the points lead away from Tomac. Just as it seemed the series would be a runaway for the number 17 machine, things just got interesting as the West riders take a break for several weeks while the East Lites riders are about to get started.
The East Lites Series, like last year, is set to have a field some very fast and talented riders. Some are rookies, some veterans, and one is the defending champ.
Justin Barcia – Justin Barcia is going to be a very tough competitor. The guy who has come to be known as Bam Bam is not afraid to get physical, and his aggression and attitude harken back to the early days of American motocross. Last year he found a way to calm down his mid-flight over revs and work on his timing and patience. It was not a flawless series for the GEICO/Honda rider, but he prevailed in the end with a number one plate. There has not been much word from the Barcia camp in the off-season, and from a rider of his caliber, that usually means he has been putting in the hard work to come out swinging in Dallas.
Blake Baggett – last year, Blake was a revelation both indoors and out. The former amateur star had a mixed start to his professional career back in the 2010 when he managed to win the Houston round of Supercross (which many quickly forgot), but then broke both of his arms at Budds Creek, taking him out for the remainder of the year. When he returned to racing for 2011, he was put on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team and began to deliver almost immediately. A few top three results before decimating the rest of the field at Daytona set Blake apart as one of the few riders who would be a threat at every round. Although the championship eluded him in Supercross and the Nationals, Baggett has proven to be one of most fit and fast riders on the track on any given day. El Chupacabra will be ready to come out of the dark on Saturday.
Ken Roczen – what can be written about the German wunderkid that has not already been put into ink? Beyond his accomplishments (youngest rider ever to win a World Motocross GP at 15 years old; 2011 FIM World Motocross MX2 Champion; 2010 and 2011 Motocross of Nations MX2 Champion), Roczen represents a new generation of riders. His style is a near carbon copy of James Stewart’s, his attitude is that of a German Travis Pastrana, and his desire to win at the highest level rival’s that of Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts.
Last year, Ken arrived on American shores with minimal Supercross experience. By the time the series ended in Las Vegas, he was a constant podium threat and actually won his first main event that very night. The Red Bull/KTM star was supposed to ride the West Lites series but broke his arm only a few weeks before Anaheim I. Now with only a few weeks of riding under his belt, he is will be facing some stiff competition in the East. At all of 18 years old, he will probably not hold back much from the series start. The biggest threat that Roczen brings is that he, like Barcia, knows how to win a championship points battle.
Darryn Durham – some riders use their strength to ride. For others it comes down to attitude. For Durham, there is no hiding a natural ability on a motorcycle. Where others can make a section look scary, exhausting, or even easy, Darryn will make it look fun. The Pennsylvania native is has been riding the East series for several seasons now, but he has had very little success. In his rookie season, he had a decent factory supported ride, but lost it at the end of the year. No big teams picked him up in 2010 or 2011, so he was forced to go the partially-supported privateer route. But he continued plugging away and finally found his stride in the 250 Outdoor Nationals. Aboard off-the-shelf equipment, Durham showed that he could run the pace of the top riders in the world at several rounds of the tour.
This was enough to gain the attention of the most successful team in 250 motocross, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki. Durham, like Roczen, was set to run the West series until an injury sidelined that plan. Now Durham should be healed up and ready to take on a championship run. Considering what he accomplished as a privateer, it would be a safe bet to keep an eye on the number 35 machine when the gate drops in Dallas.
Kyle Cunningham – professional careers rarely go as planned, and for a while, it seemed that Cunningham’s was moving in the wrong direction. With a similar path as Durham, Kyle was a top amateur racer who was awarded a factory supported ride in his rookie year with the now defunct Yamaha of Troy team. But it was not the best of years and he was forced to go it alone in 2008. He pushed and struggled and by the time the Nationals were over, he had finished seventh overall for the year…as a privateer. Since then Cunningham has regained favor with factory supported teams and he most recently joined the Star/Valli/Yamaha effort in 2011, delivering some excellent rides along the way.
Coming into 2012, Cunningham is looking stronger and faster than ever. Sporting the number 19 machine, Kyle will be there every weekend. If he can get win number one out of the way, he could very easily become a championship threat.
Notes courtesy Feld Motorsports
Ryan Villopoto “You really had to be smooth every lap. San Diego’s dirt is really slippery and made it tough to be consistent for the full 20-lap main event. I’ve never won San Diego in the Supercross Class. It was great to get my first win here and end Chad’s (Reed) win streak at Qualcomm Stadium. Hopefully I can start a streak my own as we head to Cowboys Stadium next week. The dirt in San Diego is tough. There are a few tracks that you want to get through safe and San Diego was one of those for me. (Arlington/Dallas) is another track that tends to be a bit different from the rest. It’s really hard packed and requires a unique bike set-up, so I’ll be looking to be smooth and fast to try to get the win”
Eli Tomac “We’ve made (the championship chase) interesting, which is something we didn’t want to do, but we’ve got plenty of time to recover and rest now so that’s what we’ll do. We’ll reload and get ready for the last three races. I’m not going to change anything I’ve been doing because it’s been a great season so far. We just had some unfortunate luck tonight. I feel like I got run over by a truck. I missed the front wheel in the first part of the whoops and it did the huck-and-buck on me. I went down and the bike came down on top of me. I tried to get up and continue but the bike wouldn’t start. It’s a bummer because I could see the two guys in front of me and the race still had a long way to go so it could have been good there at the end. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Dean Wilson “I’m absolutely ecstatic with the win. I knew I needed to run consistent laps out there and get through the whoops as fast as I could all night long. Eli Tomac is a tough competitor, so it’s a bit of a surprise to be in the points lead, but I’m going to work my butt off during the break to try and stay there. The night went brilliant. The difference this weekend was that my goal was to just go out and have fun, that’s when I ride my best. We’ve got a nine-week break but that doesn’t mean the work stops. I’ll be riding some outdoors, but I’ll also keep pushing it in supercross and keep a solid program throughout the break. I’m only two points ahead so it’s still going to be tough.”
Chad Reed “I am really happy that I rode a solid 20 lap race tonight (said after the main event in San Diego). I found myself being a little lazy in the turns and knew I’d have to stay strong and fight for it, if I wanted a chance at the win. The battle between Villopoto and me was good, but he was a little more aggressive than I was. It’s exciting to be headed east and back to Florida with my family. With the changes we have made throughout the West Coast events, we’re hoping for a successful rest of the season.”
James Stewart “This has been a challenging season so far. I actually felt really good during the race last week, but another small thing caused a big problem. It sucks, but that’s where we’re at. San Diego is in the past now, and we have spent a lot of time looking at where we’re at and setting up for the next few races to be strong ones.”
Justin Brayton “It was a tough day for me with that crash in qualifying. After not knowing if I was going to be able to ride at all the rest of the night I am happy with my sixth place finish. I am ready for Dallas and want to continue to build on my finishes the last few weeks.”
Jake Weimer “It was a pretty wild night. It looked like I was going to have a good result once the gate dropped for the main, but things didn’t go my way. Each week I show that I have the speed to be up front, so I’m ready for Dallas and just want to race.”
Broc Tickle “I didn’t have the greatest night. I haven’t ridden the East Coast since 2007, so my main goal is to just improve and ride to my potential.”
Kevin Windham “The track was pretty difficult. The whoops ate a lot of people in the main and unfortunately I was one of them. I felt good the first 17 laps and the GECIO Honda was running great, which makes me feel confident that I am inching closer and closer to the podium. It is frustrating though, having such a good ride and then making one mistake that puts you on the ground. I am looking forward to next weekend and heading east.”
Brett Metcalfe “It was a good night. We were able to put in some work this week and get the set-up back to what we were comfortable with and what we know works. The Yoshimura Suzuki RMZ-450 really worked great all weekend. I was still a little bit off in practice, but in the heat races and the main, I came through. I got good starts, which helped out, and I was able to ride strong. I qualified third in the heat race and got a good gate pick, so I got where I wanted to be, and ripped the holeshot. That was my first holeshot of the year, so I’m really pumped with that. I rode solid, and I rode as hard as I could, and we got a fourth. I’m looking forward to Arlington. It’s always a really tough, technical track and I’m looking forward to keeping the momentum going.”
Nick Wey “The San Diego race went pretty well for me. I was able to overcome so-so starts and pass a bunch of guys in both my heat and the main, where I got 10th. This was my best finish of the season, but I’m still going to work on a few things this week and try to improve overall. I’m thankful to everyone behind me and I’ll just try to keep improving from here. I’m really looking forward to Dallas and intend to keep improving on my results.”
Cole Seely “The night went really well for me. I am happy with a podium heading into the break, as well as sitting way better in the points chase.”
Blake Wharton “I’m really excited to get going in Dallas. I’ve been training and getting ready for the East Coast in California and I’ve been watching all the west races. I’ve learned a lot and I got to train a lot and I feel good on my bike, and feel good on the track and feel like I’m in good shape. We have press day in Arlington, which should be good and will give us a chance to check out the track. I’m just looking forward to getting this East Coast Lites season under way and we’ll see how it goes, but … I feel good.”
Hunter Hewitt “Our first race is in Arlington and it happens to be my hometown race which is cool I guess. It’s just another race in my eyes, but I’ll have my family and friends there that I’ve grown up with. Going into the race, you know it’s the first one, so it’s almost going to be a good gauging point on what everyone has done in the off-season. I know I’ve done my thing, so I know I’m going to be good and strong. I am going there with a clean head, and knowing that I’m going to put in a good solid 15 laps, worry about myself, get a good start and get a good heat qualifying time. I need to make sure I have good starts, that’s what I’m really counting on and I’ve been doing a lot of that at the practice track. Really just staying in my zone, and focusing on myself and just trying to get through this first one and see what my flaws and weaknesses are, and go from there. Thanks to everyone that’s been there supporting me and stuck through. Let’s get racing!”
Kyle Cunningham “I’m really looking forward to Arlington. I’ve had a lot of time to prepare, and I’m just excited to get the ball rolling on the East Coast season. It’s great coming to the first round at home, with all my family and friends. The Star/Valli Yamaha Team has done a really good job with the bike and we’ve been working really hard on testing and making sure it’s ready to go and I feel really prepared right now and just ready to get the season going in Texas.”
SPEED will broadcast the Supercross Class race LIVE at 10:30pm EST on February 18, 2012 in the USA.
Past Supercross Class Winners in Dallas: April 2, 2011 Trey Canard, March 20, 2010 Ryan Dungey, April 5, 2008 Chad Reed, March 31, 2007 James Stewart, March 22, 2006 Chad Reed, April 2, 2005 James Stewart, April 17, 2004 Chad Reed, April 12, 2003 Chad Reed, April 20, 2002 Ricky Carmichael, April 21, 2001 Ricky Carmichael, April 8, 2000 Kevin Windham, February 27, 1999 Kevin Windham, April 25, 1998 Ezra Lusk, April 26, 1997 Jeff Emig, March 23, 1996 Jeremy McGrath, April 29, 1995 Doug Henry, April 23, 1994 Mike LaRocco, March 28, 1993 Jeremy McGrath, May 30, 1992 Damon Bradshaw, April 27, 1991 Damon Bradshaw, April 7, 1990 Jean-Michel Bayle, April 1, 1989 Jeff Ward, April 16, 1988 Rick Johnson, April 04, 1987 Rick Johnson, April 26, 1986 David Bailey, May 4, 1985 Rick Johnson, April 14, 1984 Johnny O’ Mara, April 16, 1983 Mike Bell, March 26, 1977 Bob Hannah, March 19, 1976 Jim Ellis, February 28, 1975 Jim Ellis, March 1, 1975(b) Steve Stackable
Supercross Lites Class Dallas Winners: April 2, 2011 Dean Wilson, March 20, 2010 Blake Baggett, April 5, 2008 Ryan Villopoto, March 31, 2007 Ben Townley, March 22, 2006 Ryan Villopoto, April 2, 2005 Grant Langston, April 17, 2004 Ivan Tedesco, April 12, 2003 James Stewart Jr., April 20, 2002 Travis Preston, April 21, 200: Grant Langston, April 8, 200: Greg Schnell, February 27, 1999 Nate Ramsey, April 25, 1998 John Dowd, April 26, 1997 Kevin Windham, March 23, 1996 Mickael Pichon, April 29, 1995 Damon Huffman, April 23, 1994 Jimmy Button, March 28, 1993 Doug Henry, May 30, 1992 Jeremy McGrath, April 27, 1991 Jeremy McGrath, April 7, 1990 Denny Stephenson, April 1, 1989 Mike LaRocco, April 16, 1988 Ty Davis, April 4, 1987 Kyle Lewis, April 26, 1986 Keith Turpin, May 4, 1985 Bobby Moore.
Supercross Class Laps Led: Ryan Villopoto 59,Chad Reed 24, Ryan Dungey 20, James Stewart 11, Jake Weimer 5, Brett Metcalfe 1
Supercross Lites West Class Laps Led: Eli Tomac 40, Dean Wilson 30, Cole Seely 15, Tyla Rattray 3, Martin Davalos 2
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The House that Jerry built – Cowboy Stadium – home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys – and Saturday’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross!