This Week in Monster Energy Supercross: Seattle
Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, makes its annual visit to the Pacific Northwest on Saturday with a visit to the home of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, at CenturyLink Field. With his fourth 450SX Class win of the 2014 season last weekend in Houston, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto took one step closer to a record-tying fourth consecutive title. Now the Seattle-area native has a chance to wrap up the championship in front of his hometown crowd.
Villopoto had arguably his most impressive effort of the season in Houston, posting a wire-to-wire victory on a night when each of his closest championship rivals had to endure challenges. While he has only one victory to his credit in five 450SX Class starts in Seattle, Villopoto knows how memorable it would be to make history at his hometown race. With a 45-point lead in the standings, Villopoto needs to increase his margin by five points on Saturday night in order to be crowned champion.
“I always look forward to visiting Seattle because it’s obviously close to where I grew up,” said Villopoto. “There’s a special feeling out there knowing everyone is pulling for you and I always try to step up my game. We have a chance to wrap [the championship] up, but we’ll approach it just like any other race. I haven’t had as much success in Seattle as I would like so it’ll be a challenge.”
Team Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart entered Houston as the hottest rider in Monster Energy Supercross, but the five-time winner this season was battling an illness throughout the day and wasn’t at his best when the gate dropped. Nevertheless, Stewart logged 20 consistent laps to finish fifth and move into second in the championship. Now back at full health, he’ll look to return to the top of the podium on Saturday.
“This has been a rough week for me,” said Stewart. “I just had some kind of stomach bug and I’ve been feeling pretty weak. I felt good enough to travel to Houston, but I started feeling worse as the day went on. I rode the first untimed practice and the second timed session, but I was only able to ride two laps because I was feeling so bad.
“In the Heat Race, I got a decent start and was able to pass for the lead but by the second lap, I was just done,” Stewart continued. “I had no energy, I felt really weak and I made a few mistakes, but I was able to win. Afterward, I went back to the pits to try to recover and we were debating whether it was safe to go out and race the Main. I wanted to, so I went out and got an OK start and made my way up to fifth and just salvaged everything I could. I’m happy with fifth, considering how I’m feeling. And I’m really happy about moving up to second in the points. Now I just want to get healthy and come back next weekend. We have three races left and I want to go out and get three W’s. I still feel good as far as riding goes, I just have to get healthy now.”
Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey had high hopes in Houston after showing impressive speed in practice. Unfortunately, the former champion crashed on the opening lap of the Main Event and was forced to work through the field throughout the race. He was impressive in his effort, climbing from 18th to seventh, but lost valuable ground in the championship and is in need of a strong result in Seattle.
Fellow Red Bull KTM rider Ken Roczen made his return to the podium in Houston for the first time in three races. The rookie 450SX Class rider started up front and maintained his position throughout the main event. The German rider has seven podium finishes in 14 starts, making for a strong rookie campaign that he hopes can keep going strong inside CenturyLink Field.
Team Honda Muscle Milk’s Justin Barcia continued his late surge with another podium finish to give him three in-a-row. Over the last month of competition, Barcia has moved from seventh to fifth in the standings and has an average finish of third. He’s coming into his own as the season hits the home stretch and enters Seattle as the defending race winner.
“It’s awesome to be on the podium again. I should have been doing this all season, but better late than never I guess,” Barcia stated. “I want that win so bad though, so until I get that I won’t be completely satisfied. Practice went good and the Heat Race was intense; we were all so close. I got a good start in the Main Event and just rode in second basically the entire time. I’m looking forward to going to Seattle. I won there last year so maybe I’ll have the same luck this year.
Two races in to his 2014 season, Team Honda Muscle Milk’s Trey Canard has to be happy with his results. The Oklahoma rider has finishes of fifth and fourth despite missing the first three months of competition and appears to gain more confidence each time he hits the track. Canard already sits 24th in the 450SX Class standings and could break into the top 20 with another strong ride in Seattle.
“It was an all-around better night for sure. I felt much better in timed qualifying and the jitters were definitely gone,” said Canard. “My starts could have been a little better but all in all I’m really happy with a fourth place. It is a big step up from last week considering I got two positions on the last lap in St. Louis from guys being on the ground. It was a tough track for sure. Hopefully next week the track is good and I can be up there battling with these guys.”
Toyota/Yamaha/N-Fab/JGRMX rider Justin Brayton entered Houston a little banged up after a tough night in St. Louis, and after continued misfortune in practice in the Lone Star State, he was ultimately forced to miss out on the action. Brayton is on the mend from some broken bones and will not race in Seattle.
BTOSports.com KTM’s Andrew Short was in the thick of the hunt at his hometown race in Houston. The veteran has finished inside the top 10 in 13 of 14 races this season and is enjoying one of his most consistent seasons in recent memory. Short’s lone 450SX Class victory came in Seattle back in 2012 and he looks forward to making his return to the site of his greatest triumph.
RCH Racing/Soaring Eagle Suzuki’s Josh Hill has turned his 2014 season around over the last month. Hill has shown impressive speed and was able to claim his first Heat Race win of the season last weekend in Houston. While a crash out of the gate hindered his ability to finish better than 12th, Hill has finished inside the top 10 in four of the last six races. Seattle serves as the Oregon native’s hometown race and he’ll look for a season-best effort inside CenturyLink Field.
GEICO Honda rider Eli Tomac appeared to be in a position to challenge for a podium in Houston, but a crash just past the halfway point dropped him to ninth. He showed resiliency in his effort and is confident he can earn a second career 450SX Class podium on Saturday.
“This day was pretty much like the whole season has been going for me. In practice we were consistently top three or four in every session, so I felt pretty comfortable,” explained Tomac. “The Heat Races have been a bit of a struggle. I’ve been struggling myself and we’ve struggled with the bike a bit. It was no different here. We did make a change for the Semi and I rode really well there and almost won it but ended up second, so that put us in a fairly good spot for the Main Event. In the Main Event, I got an okay start and worked up to fifth before casing a jump pretty hard and going down in the next turn.”
The penultimate stop of the Western Regional 250SX Class Championship will take place on Saturday with a pair of riders in search of their first career titles leading the way.
Rockstar Energy Racing’s Jason Anderson raced to his fourth victory of the season in Houston to add to his championship lead. Just two races remain for Anderson to potentially earn his first career title and he appears ready for the challenge. He’ll bring an 11-point lead into Seattle.
“Good night here in Houston, I ended up with a win,” said Anderson. “I had a kind of weird Heat Race but practice was good and the Main was good and I’m leaving with some valuable points.
Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil Honda’s Cole Seely is Anderson’s primary challenger in the title fight. He posted a fourth-place finish in Houston and has finished no worse than that through seven races. Seely will need to challenge for the win inside CenturyLink Field if he’s to have a realistic shot at his first career title in Las Vegas. He won in Seattle in 2011.
The rest of the Troy Lee Designs squad continues to post the team’s most impressive season to date. Malcolm Stewart has come on strong recently and posted his second consecutive third-place finish in Houston. As a result, Stewart has moved into fifth in the championship with his sights set on continued progression.
Rookie Shane McElrath posted a seventh-place finish in Houston and has five consecutive top-10 results to his credit. McElrath sits ninth in the standings and will look to better his season-best finish of fifth in Seattle.
Jessy Nelson was hoping to challenge for a top five result in Houston after starting near the front of the field, but he still fought to a well-earned 10th-plac effort. Nelson has finished inside the top 10 at every race this season and holds on to seventh in the championship heading into Seattle.
Dean Wilson was hoping to put Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki back atop the podium in Houston and nearly did just that after he pressured Anderson in the closing laps and nearly stole the victory. Wilson’s runner-up effort came on the heels of a challenging evening where he suffered an apparent shoulder injury. Wilson withstood the pain to post his third podium finish of the season and move into third in the championship. He took extra time this week to ensure his shoulder is strong for Seattle so he can try to make a late run at the title.
“Last week didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked but we still managed to finish second,” said Wilson. “I’m sore but my shoulder should be all good for this weekend. I plan to just go out and try to get a win.”
Justin Hill’s attempt to post back-to-back victories fell short in Houston after a hard-fought ninth-place finish. Hill started strong but endured some bouts with misfortune en route to the top 10 effort. Now the sophomore rider heads to his hometown race with hopes to putting on a show for the Seattle crowd.
“It’s cool that I’ll have the chance to race in front of all my family and friends,” said Hill. “I know the crowd will be on my side and I’m confident we have the speed to possibly get another win before the season is out. I’m looking forward to it.”
Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Cooper Webb was eager to return to racing in Houston and the rookie continued to show impressive speed en route to a sixth-place result. Webb has two podium finishes to his credit this season and is in search of more over the final two races. He currently sits sixth in the standings, well within striking distance of fifth.
GEICO Honda’s Zach Osborne made his return to action in Houston after a broken collarbone sidelined him earlier in the year. Osborne was a fixture in the top five all day long and ultimately finished fifth. He sits eighth in the championship standings but has his sights set on moving up over the final two races of the season.
“Tonight offered a lot of positives, especially being my first race back from injury,” Osborne said. “To finish top five, when you look at it, is pretty decent. Even so, I don’t feel like that finish really shows how I am able to ride. It seems like I deserved to be up front, but I struggled just enough in the whoops to kill my chances.”