Mike Alessi was the fastest 450 rider in qualifying until he crashed and suffered a concussion. He’ll be out for 3-4 weeks and hopes to return around High Point.
The championship race headed in a new direction before racing even got started. Mike Alessi put down the fastest qualifying lap on his Red Bull KTM 450 SX-F – proving that pre-season reports of his speed were definitely no joke. The #800 bike clocked a 2:05.1 lap in his first practice session. The track would only get rougher and lap times longer from there, but Alessi would never have the chance to back that up in actual competition. His 450 cross-rutted on a jump and Alessi smacked the ground hard, knocking him unconscious. It caused a red flag on the second practice session, giving him a concussion and earning a trip to the hospital for evaluation. He returned before the day was through and announced on the PA system that he’s hoping to return in a few weeks. It’s a major shame because coupled with his knack for holeshots, Mikey was looking at a serious shot at the title.
KTM’s day got even worse when Andrew Short suffered mechanical problems with his KTM 350 SX-F. The bike started smoking heavily on the final lap of Moto 1 where Short limped into ninth. His bike let go in Moto 2, however, which left him in 17th overall. It’s not the way Shorty wanted to start the season, but something the tough-luck racer is becoming accustomed to. The brand got a solid performance from Mike Brown who came out to score points and retain his career #3. Brownie was the highest placing KTM rider in 15th (13-15 moto scores).
Top: Andrew Short’s KTM barely made it
through Moto 1 and eventually let go in
Moto 2. Above: Marvin Musquin had a solid
debut in the 250 class.
Highlights for the orange team came from Marvin Musquin in his first AMA Motocross race. The reigning FIM MX2 champion sampled American racing at the USGP at Glen Helen and found some rhythm in Northern California. He was the fastest 250 in qualifying. He gated near 10th and after about five laps settled into a groove and climbed steadily to finish fourth in Moto 1. Sixth in Moto 2 gave him fifth overall in his first race. He was followed by Gareth Swanepoel (9-5) on a Yamaha giving the Europeans a great opening day. KTM also found the podium in the WMX class with Stephanie Laier.
The track was amazing, and amazingly rough. Rain throughout the week kept it moist and the Dirt Diggers tilled in truckloads of rice hulls. Rice is a major agricultural product in Northern California and the hulls are basically waste products. They retain moisture and are tilled into the starting line and corners much like sand at other tracks. It made for a loamy, spongy consistency that was awesome. The track developed multiple lines for great racing opportunities, and none of them were smooth. Ryan Villopoto called it “one big braking bump” in the press conference.
Speaking of RV, It’s easy to look at his Moto 2 fade and think he’s in trouble, but that isn’t necessarily the case. He reported afterward in the press conference that he’s been struggling with flu-like symptoms in the past week, but was quick to point out it was no excuse. Instead he offered that the team needs to work more on getting the bike dialed in. With such a tight race for the Supercross title, RV says he skipped outdoor testing late in the SX season to focus purely on the stadium racing and ensure the championship. Villopoto ran up front throughout the day and definitely has the speed. Watch for him to rebound and get back to winning races once his KX450F is properly tuned and he gets into motocross mode.
Kevin Windham hauled in a very popular holeshot in Moto 1 and put his factory Honda, or should we say Josh Grant’s factory CRF450R, into the early lead. The veteran slipped backward as the race progressed, but K-Dub is definitely going to be a factor this season. We spotted Trey Canard moving around on a crutch. The injured Red Rider is a team player and was way up on the infield hill wearing a headset when we saw him.
Reed was definitely on his game for Round 1. Interestingly, and perhaps it has something to do with it, Reed was the most nonchalant and carefree rider on the starting gate. Just minutes before the start of Moto 2 he told a camera crew that he wanted to “get the moto over quickly and go hang out at the beach or something.” Well, if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself so Reed went out and showed the rest of the field fast lines around Hangtown’s brutal course. The Australian powered down to the moto victory, held off Dungey and celebrated with the fans. Reed’s podium appearance after Moto 1 garnered a few random boos from the crowd, but there was nothing but cheers for #22 after his impressive late-afternoon performance.
All you Jason Lawrence haters are going to love this. Suzuki City had an RM-Z450 prepped and ready to go at Hangtown and J-Law pulled a Houdini. The notorious bad boy never made an appearance, leaving the team high and dry. When will his second chances run out? When will the goodwill dry up? This stuff can’t continue to happen, can it?
Another rider whom fans highly anticipated at Hangtown was the return of Christophe Pourcel. After missing the entire Supercross series, Pourcel signed to the MotoConcepts Yamaha team. Pourcel had decent results for his rookie 450 motos finishing 7th and 11th which places him 8th in the point standings. He had to come from way back in Moto 2 so it’s definitely a good start for the Frenchman’s season.
Things weren’t quite as successful for a pair of Yamaha YZ250 two-strokes that attempted to qualify for the 450 class. Out of 70 racers, Tanner Young and Bryan Brimhall failed to make the final cut, posting 63rd and 64th, respectively, after the morning sessions.
The battle for hottest energy drink models was in full force and always a good time, but there’s also a new beverage in the market. FMF Power comes in 16-ounce bottles with screw-on cap. We ran into Donnie Emler Jr. and scored a taste of the Citrus Lemonade flavor (also available in Fruit Punch). The drink tastes delicious and has FMF’s own PowerBlend of natural caffeine, Panax Ginseng, green tea and yerba mate extracts. Lil’ D warned that the cap is there for a reason so you don’t have to drink the whole thing. He claims they’ve got a big kick! Make sure to check them out in
the pits at the next race.
We watched Ryan Sipes take a big digger on the start of Moto 1. He injured his wrist and will be out for awhile. Regardless, even if the Yamaha rider had stayed on two wheels, the Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki team was taking no prisoners. Mitch Payton wound up with an overall podium sweep and was attacked by his racers, Blake Baggett (2-1), Dean Wilson (1-3) and Tyla Rattray (5-2) with champagne. The day couldn’t have gone much better for the green team. Baggett was faster with every passing lap, showcasing the young rider’s fitness. Rattray is his regular gritty self and Wilson won Moto 1 with ease. Defending SX Lites champion Broc Tickle had troubles with crashes, but ultimately it was a good day for the Monster crew.