Fans at Daytona were not let down by racing action as Ryan Villopoto cleared a major hurdle in the 2011 series.
Daytona Supercross has always been something I’ve looked forward to. It’s different compared to any other Supercross race, something like a motocross/supercross hybrid. This year I really couldn’t wait for Daytona. The season’s frontrunners have been hit and miss so far, and you never know what kind of drama will enfold one weekend to the next. Each round it gets more difficult to pick which of the “Big Four” will come out on top. Would Daytona separate the men from the boys and define the 2011 championship?
This year’s track definitely created a battlefield for that distinction. It was longer with lap times stretching beyond a minute and 16 seconds compared to previous rounds which were under a minute. The track also had a new start that was shorter, and it seemed to offer more possibilities for the holeshot.
Above all it was a physical track. Tough spots like the weird moguls section made few riders look comfortable during practice.
“It was sandier than normal,” said Reed. “It was a little less forgiving.”
The less than forgiving aspect was definitely catching guys off guard all night long. Built-up tension over the undecided championship created a lot of nerves by the time heat races started. In Heat 1 Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto looked to have the makings of a great battle. Dungey looked fast and in good form as Villopoto chased at his heels. Maybe it was finally Dungey’s night for a win? Then misfortune struck. Dungey had a mechanical issue with his engine case that took him out of the race. Fortunately, his crew managed to get his bike together in time for him to go out and win the LCQ, but it was a bad way to begin the evening.
Villopoto went on to win Heat 1. San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart won Heat 2 and TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed was seen struggling, so it looked like Villopoto and Stewart had the best shot for the night. Honda’s Trey Canard and Kevin Windham had a great battle in the first heat and both were potential race spoilers for the “Big Four.” JGRMX Yamaha’s Davi Milsaps also looked strong. He had solid practice times and had a good heat race which also sparked favor in his corner.
James Stewart (#7) had a great holeshot and looked unstoppable during the first four laps of the main event.
When the board dropped Stewart got the holeshot and laid down a blistering pace. He was the only one jumping what was called “the wall,” and it was soon renamed to “Bubba’s Section” as he came to own it. Villopoto was a distant second and, although there was plenty of race left, he was pretty much written off. Things quickly changed when Stewart made a little mistake and crashed in spectacular fashion.
It was a pretty nasty crash and if you didn’t know Stewart, you’d think that he’d be out for the race or at least a few minutes to gather himself. But his name is James Stewart after all, and not only is he tough but he’s also pretty determined. He staggered over to his bike and with some help from the Asterik guys he got back on track. The fans went wild. The last time I heard that much noise from a crowd was years back when Travis Pastrana crashed while chasing down Ivan Tedesco in the whoops.
From there on it was Ryan Villopoto’s race. He just laid down the laps he needed and took the win. Reed made up for his not so great heat race and not so great race start with a second-place finish that put him one point behind Stewart in the championship.
Chad Reed: “There was a lot of people going down. I knew the people that were in front of me were going to get a little tired so I’d just have to try and be there in the end.”
“I didn’t get the best of starts,” said Reed. “I had to come through. I struggled to pass. I wasn’t very aggressive. Last weekend I must have used it up. That was it, just had to be patient. There was a lot of people going down. I knew the people that were in front of me were going to get a little tired so I’d just have to try and be there in the end.”
Dungey finished with a decent result of third place after a rough day. When asked about his hardships of the day and the poor gate choice after having to qualify through the LCQ, he said: “I was on the outside. It’s a little bit of a disadvantage, but I’m not going to make any excuses cause its part of racing. We all get dealt a hand and have to make the best of everything.”
Stewart finished an astonishing ninth place after his crash. He was almost a lap down, but kept charging for the finish while Villopoto was on his victory lap. More thunderous cheers erupted from the crowd for his efforts when he crossed the line.
If he can’t claim the bad day at the office award, Canard definitely deserved runner-up after his bad start and crash. He had a good battle with Dungey, but toward the end of the race ran into Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Brett Metcalfe.
The Lites race belonged to Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Blake Baggett. He got the holeshot and after a few laps pretty much checked out. His Pro Circuit teammate, Dean Wilson, was having the sort of day that Canard was having with a poor start and two crashes. Wilson finished eighth, which took him from a championship tie with second-place finisher, Justin Barcia, to nine points behind Barcia in third place.
At one point Ryan Sipes was able to challenge Barcia for second, but he lost the front and had to settle for third.
“Got a good start,” Sipes said. “We rode solid. The bike was great. We’re getting better every weekend and it’s going to turn into wins soon.”
At the end of the night I’d say that Villopoto has separated himself from the pack as a front runner. While it doesn’t mean the championship has been decided, it does translate into a 23-point cushion for RV.
“Got a little bit of breathing room now,” said Villopoto. “That doesn’t mean I can go just hang out and not do what I need to do. I need to keep on winning races and try and get some more points so when it comes down to Vegas, hopefully I have a points gap like that which makes it easier to get through there.”
Others who had a bad day didn’t have a title-killer evening, so the championship battle continues. If anything else it was a great way to kick off the 2011 Daytona Bike Week.