Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto escaped Seattle with a six-point lead in the championship after some crashes and close calls.
Well it wasn’t quite the finish that Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto wanted, but it got the job done. The 22-year-old Washington native was aiming for his sixth win of the season at Qwest Field which would have given him breathing room for the final two rounds in the championship. Instead, RV landed off the podium in fourth and left the Northwest just six points ahead of TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed. But it wasn’t a bad result considering Villopoto’s poor start after getting caught on a tuff block in the first turn. And Villopoto wasn’t the only rider to run into trouble Saturday night.
Nearly every rider found conditions in Seattle on the verge of torture. Similar to last year’s event, ruts played a deciding role and pushed competitors to their breaking point. Ruts the size of canyons gave Dirt Worx plenty to do throughout the day as multiple lines formed on the faces of jumps and through corners. San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart made his fifth win of the season look easy, but it was hardly the case as conditions quickly worsened throughout the 20-lap main.
“I knew the track was going to be tough.” Stewart said. “It was so rutty that once you got stuck in a line you couldn’t really change. I pulled out really quick and had about a 10-second lead and I was just trying to manage the race from there.”
Yamaha’s James Stewart may have made the fifth win of the season look easy, but it couldn’t be further from the truth under Seattle’s brutal tack conditions.
One rider who benefitted from the tough track was Geico Honda’s Kevin Windham. A veteran of mudders, Windham used his experience to power through Seattle’s mess to earn his first podium of the year. It was clear KDub loves Seattle, and Seattle loves him as fans rose to their feet in response to the 33-year-old’s success. His result makes it the second year in a row that Windham has been on the podium in Seattle after winning the event there in 2010.
After tearing his ACL during a crash in Toronto three rounds ago, Dodge Motorsports/Hart & Huntington’s Ivan Tedesco secured the holeshot for the second week in a row. Despite his excellent start, Hot Sauce struggled with pain management and the track’s challenging conditions to finish the race in 14th.
“These starts have been awesome,” Tedesco said. “Those conditions were the roughest conditions with a hurt knee. I did the best I could and we’ll come back next week.”
At the start of Round 15 Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey was just five points behind in the championship. However, Seattle’s conditions were not favorable to Dungey as he fell off the podium for the first time since Indianapolis. A fall during the first lap had him nearly dead last, but the defending champ rose to the occasion by fighting back up to fifth by Lap 10. The following lap saw all his progress wiped clean when he lost it in the whoops. He spent the remaining laps working his way through the field again before taking the checkers in fifth.
“The track was really gnarly tonight,” Dungey said. “It kinda wanted to just come up and bite you, especially by the end of the 20 laps. I got off to a decent start, but I fell down in the first lap and I think I was near last. But at that point, I just put my head down and tried to pick off as many guys as I could and was able to move up and finish fifth.”
One of the biggest moments in Seattle that produced a unanimous gasp from the crowd was Reed’s crash on Lap 18. Nearing the final moments of the race, Reed appeared to have the runner-up spot sealed when he was tripped-up on a tabletop, going over the bars.
“With two laps to go I don’t even know what really happened,” Reed said. “I jumped up onto the table top but it was super deep and grabbed the pegs and just slowed my momentum. The bike got me but it could have got me a lot worse.”
After going down Reed quickly recovered, but it allowed Windham to scrape by and gather distance.
“I’m bummed that I missed second because we are in a points game, but I’m thankful to fight for a podium,” Reed added.
After recovering in third, Reed had the likes of Viilopoto to contend with. RV was really putting in effort toward the end of the race and was determined to make it on the podium after a poor start. With the white flag out, Villopoto grabbed a handful of throttle in the whoops and attempted a pass. With his back end swishing uncontrollably from side to side, RV was bucked off his bike and he hit the mat, nearly taking out Reed in the process. RV lost the fight for the final podium spot, but the hometown hero succeeded in adding a bit of excitement in the final lap.
Honda’s Cole Seely earned his second victory of 2011 in Seattle after coasting over the finish line jump with nearly a nine-second lead.
In the Lites field the west coast riders returned from their two-month hiatus to find a new challenger in TLD Honda’s Cole Seely. Since Indianapolis, Seely has been putting his riding skills to use on a 450 as a fill-in rider for Josh Grant at Factory Honda, and positive results in the premier class left Seely eager to return to West Coast Lites Championship. Few words can convey how well he did in Seattle better than the visual of him coasting to the top of the finish line jump – nearly stopping at the top to declare the win.
Meanwhile the Championship took a major turn as Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Broc Tickle took over the lead by just two points ahead of his teammate, Josh Hansen. The favorite to win the 2011 title after winning three rounds in the first half of the series, Hansen had two months off to recover from surgery on the hand he injured at Anaheim 2. Just one mistake during practice erased this, however, as he crashed hard in the whoops and lay motionless for nearly a minute afterward. Hansen was visibly upset as he made his way back to the pit area where it was confirmed that he reinjured his hand. Despite a good start in the top-three during the main, Hansen was clearly not 100% and he finished sixth after passes by Honda’s Eli Tomac, DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing Yamaha’s Kyle Cunningham and Kawasaki’s Tyla Rattray.
Hansen re-aggravated his hand during practice. He eventually finished sixth in the main and lost the lead in the championship.
“I was in a lot of pain, but I’m in this for the championship,” said Hansen. “I couldn’t just give up. I’m definitely thankful that we have a break so I can try and do what I can to get ready for Salt Lake City. I really want this championship and I’ll do whatever I can to be there when it goes down to the final race.”
But Hansen wasn’t the only one riding injured. Tickle approached Seattle after recently breaking his collarbone and injuring his hand two weeks ago. The 21-year-old overcame the difficult conditions to finish third and take over the championship standings in the process.
“I haven’t been able to ride much after breaking my collarbone a few weeks back, but I don’t want to put it on that,” said Tickle. “I know I could have done better. The track was tough and it was hard to not make mistakes. I’m really happy to have the points lead. I wasn’t expecting it because I know Josh [Hansen] has been doing well with his injury. It’s a bummer he got hurt, but I know he’s not giving up so I have to stay on my game.”
Tomac picked up where he left off in San Diego by snagging his fifth straight podium finish this year. Currently third in the championship just five points from Hansen and seven points from Tickle, Tomac still has a chance to upset team green’s title hopes for the 2011 season.
“That was an awesome main event for me,” said Tomac. “I was feeling kind of rusty. I think that eight-week break caught-up to me, but I was just super excited to get it turned around. By the second lap there were already massive ruts forming on the faces so I had to definitely be on my toes out there.”