Taking place in front of a sold out crowd at Sam Boyd Stadium, the 2011 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship finale in Las Vegas was epic. Everything from the scale of the event to the level of competition was big, giving fans a heart-pounding experience the entire evening as riders worked on the finishing touches within each championship series. Words cannot describe the spine-tingling spectacle of seeing 20 riders with throttles pinned entering the stadium from starting gates that were out of sight. If you could listen through the roaring cheers of 39,506 fans, you would hear the dull revs as riders awaited the gates to drop. As nerve-wracking as it was, it was a real blast and it’s a shame it’s not included at more events.
The curveballs thrown at Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto this season couldn’t keep him down as he clenched his first ever SX title. Over Vegas’ dry, wind-swept track RV managed a comfortable ride to finish the final race of the season in third.
“I have some Lites titles and race wins, but to get this 450 SX title is awesome,” said Villopoto. “I had the skill and speed, but just lacked the fitness. We came into the season ready, and it’s an awesome feeling to finally get it for me and the guys.”
Witnessing Villopoto win his first championship was just a fraction of Vegas’ entertainment lineup as fan favorite, Kevin Windham, had a few surprises up his sleeve. In addition to completing a wicked triple-section transfer jump during opening ceremonies, Windham also posted the fastest qualifying time, becoming one of the biggest surprise factors of the afternoon.
James Stewart (#7) crashed in the whoops while leading and collected Kevin Windham in the process. It was a premature and disappointing end to the best 450 battle of the night.
The later it got the more the track seemed to dry out. One section of the track which snuck-up on riders was the long starting straight followed by a tight ninety-degree turn toward the finish line jump. Riders who were too hard on the throttle were unable to manage the turn, so a fine balance had to be maintained. Contrary to the bigger championship picture, fan attention was riveted on the fight between Windham and San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart in the beginning half of the SX main. Stewart’s crash produced a gasp from the crowd that was more out of frustration than surprise…that is until Windham became involved. Windham’s trip over the handlebars was the major shocker of the evening as it eliminated the top-two riders in the contest.
“Stewart was doing some amazing jumps,” said Windham. “I thought it was time to step-up my program and so I started doing this quad after a triple. Stewart was charging hard through the whoops and I saw him go sideways, and the whoops are so difficult. It didn’t work out for me and it rung my bell pretty good.”
But they weren’t the only ones scratched from the match. An uncommonly high number of riders were unable to finish in Vegas, including Windham, Stewart, KTM’s Mike Alessi, JGR Yamaha’s Justin Brayton, Moto Concepts Tommy Hahn and TiLube Kawasaki’s Robert Kiniry among others.
Attention was so focused on Stewart and Windham’s crash that most didn’t notice as Villopoto escaped the wreckage to take the lead. With TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed and Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey on his tail, RV used his head and noticeably backed off. It was the right move, as he only needed a top-five finish to grab the title. Meanwhile Reed and Dungey took it down to the wire, with Dungey nearly passing the Aussie on the final lap. After 17 rounds of bitter competition, the series officially closed with Villopoto just four points ahead of Reed – a testament to just how close the championship was.
Chad Reed had the last win of the 2011 season and ended on a high note with second in the championship.
“I think this last race just lived up to the hype of the whole season,” said Reed. “People were fast and people were crashing, all I could do was try to win the race.”
The Lites series reached a new level of competition by hosting a main event for each series before clashing the top 250 riders in the East/West Shootout. Before the two forces could meet, both divisional championships had to be decided. With a massive holeshot to start the East Coast main, Geico Honda’s Justin Barcia was in prime position to wrap-up his first championship, especially after Dean Wilson’s poor start. A couple turns proved to be Barcia’s nemesis, however, as he crashed twice over the course of the East Lites main and Shootout. With Bam Bam absent from the front, Yamaha’s Ryan Sipes took over with Kawasaki’s Blake Baggett in tow.
The match came down to an important section of track that Sipes was able to quad. For much of the race he was gaining a significant advantage over his rivals. But Sipes’ advantage quickly turned to disaster on the final lap when he came up short and lost his momentum, allowing Baggett to close the small gap and make the pass for the win.
“It was great to go out with a win,” said Baggett. “I had such a crazy season that it’s good to know I’m capable of being patient and having a good final round.”
Seen here with his No. 1 plate, Justin Barcia seized the East Lites Championship despite his many crashes in Vegas.
The ultimately victory was bestowed on Barcia as he clenched the Lites East title ahead of Wilson, who finished fourth in the final race of the season.
“I’m lost for words right now,” said Barcia. “It hasn’t set in yet that I’ve won the championship. It’s been an awesome season. The racing has been crazy all year and I’ve had a lot of fun. I have an awesome team behind me that have given me 100 percent support every race. This is a moment I will remember forever.”
Fans were beaten over the head with competitive racing in the West Coast Lites race. With just two points separating Kawasaki’s Broc Tickle from Honda’s Eli Tomac, it was either rider’s championship. Featuring crashes, extensive position swapping and team strategy, the match proved one of the highlights of the evening as Josh Hansen, Tomac, Tickle and Kyle Cunningham had the fight of all fights. Perhaps the best part of it all was the clean racing throughout. After Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen won the event, Tickle, Cunningham and Cole Seely all exchanged hugs atop a triple in a great moment of sportsmanship.
It was a memorable night for Tickle, who won the West championship just six points ahead of Tomac.
“It really is a dream come true,” said Tickle. “I still don’t think it’s real. I know it happened but I still can’t believe it. The past few weeks have been pretty bad for me. I’ve struggled in practice and in the races. I am so happy right now and hope I don’t wake up from this dream.”
Cunningham (#35), Tickle (#20) and Seely (#36) all had a moment of congratulating each other after close racing in the West Coast Lites race.
With the best of the best from the Lites series funneled into the East/West shootout, the field was completely stacked with talent. Ultimate bragging rights were on the line as Barcia, with his new No. 1 plate installed, got the best hookup out of the gates again. Newly-crowned west champion, Tickle, faced an uphill battle after starting the contest outside the top-15. But Barcia was headed for trouble again as he took another digger in his second match-up of the evening.
This time around it was Sipes’ turn to shine. Following Barcia’s crash, Sipes took the lead and immediately set about keeping it. With nearly all sections of the track dialed in, Sipes glided over his competition for the win in the Dave Coombs Sr. Memorial East-West Shootout.
“(This is) cool,” said Sipes. “After losing the East main the way I did, it’s nice to come back and get this (win). I feel good and I feel that was the best way to end the season.”
With such awesome racing over the course of the 17-round series, it’s sad to see the last results of the season recorded. Here’s a hats off to an outstanding championship and all the riders who made it possible.