Fireworks, BBQs, American flags – 4th of July weekend is just around the corner, folks, and there’s no better way to get in the spirit of things than a trip to the Red Bud National for Round 6 of the 2011 AMA Pro Motocross Championship. For those of you who want to make the trek out to Michigan but can’t, you’re in luck. NBC Sports is hosting its first of two live broadcasts for 2011 at Red Bud, putting motocross in homes all throughout the country. Now at the halfway point in the season, the championship fight is in full swing with TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed still clinging to an eight-point lead ahead of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto. Adding to the tension in the championship picture is Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey, who took his first overall of the season at Thunder Valley while breaking Reed’s final moto dominance. The gates are set for an explosive match-up of talent, so here’s a primer of what to watch for at Red Bud.
Winning three of six rounds so far, Reed has had a stellar start to his 2011 outdoor season. But Reed’s reign up top will be in jeopardy this weekend as Dungey and Villopoto continue to work out the final kinks in their program. Regardless, the Aussie is on solid footing with great consistency so far in the series. Only finishing off the podium once at High Point, Reed has repeatedly put himself at the front of the pack through his starts and error-free riding. After trailing Villopoto and Dungey in the last round, he appears confident about how to put himself back in the thick of it.
Chad Reed is looking to make some improvements to get better results in his first motos.
Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey will be looking to repeat his results from last year with a win in both motos.
“We need to make some improvements, and I think I know where we need to make those,” Reed said.
Villopoto had a slow start to his MX season this year, but he’s been making up for it by finishing second overall for the past three rounds. Adapting his riding skills to suit the demands of motocross, we’re already seeing what made the 22-year-old into the 2011 Supercross champ. If he can strengthen his performances in Moto 2, RV2 stands an excellent shot at taking his second title this year. But he’ll first have to get by Dungey.
As the defending motocross champ there’s a lot of pressure on Dungey to reinforce his dominance. While he’s third right now in the series, it’s important to remember that RD5 suffered a DNF three rounds ago at Freestone which pushed him 28 points down on Reed. Dungey has displayed great poise in rebounding from the misfortune and is now seven points closer after finishing on the podium in every moto since. Most importantly, his performance at Thunder Valley proved he was capable of overtaking both Reed and Villopoto – a task not easily done in Colorado’s thin mountain air during the final moto.
“I’m looking forward to Red Bud,” Dungey said. “It’s a great track and one of my favorites. I was able to pull off wins in both motos there last year. Hopefully we have a little momentum from this one and I can pull off a couple more.”
Honda’s Kevin Windham had a surprise return at Thunder Valley after the vet was expected to take the rest of the summer off. Following his strong results while temporarily filling in for Josh Grant, Windham decided to extend his participation in the series at select events. And boy was Windham glad he did. The Mississippi native finish fourth overall for the second weekend in a row, and is currently fourth in the championship behind Dungey. Coupled with Grant re-injuring his knee in Colorado, it appears Windham has now become a permanent fixture in the 2011 outdoor series.
“The fans have played a big role in my decision,” said Windham. “The crowd support at each race has been kind of overwhelming. I can hear them cheering me on all around the track and so many people come by the transporter to see me and talk with me that I’m just amazed.”
Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider Blake Bagett (above) remains on the hunt for the points lead trailing Tyla Rattray (below) and Dean Wilson.
The story remains much the same in the 250 division as Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki squad continues its domination. With three of its riders currently occupying the top-three positions in the series, there’s little doubt that the color green will be included on the championship podium. All that remains to be seen is which teammate can remain the most consistent throughout the next seven rounds.
Blake Baggett pushed the series even closer this past weekend after sweeping both motos at Thunder Valley. While he’s shown us that he can be unbelievably fast, he’s also displayed a reckless side that has left him off the podium entirely through two rounds. Crashes aside, Baggett has already taken double victories at two rounds and is third in the standings, just 20 behind Dean Wilson.
“I hope I can try and get two in a row because I haven’t been able to put together back-to-back weekends,” said Baggett.
Standing in the way of Baggett’s two consecutive overall victories will be Wilson, the Scotsman only finishing one race this season off the podium. Despite currently holding the lead in the series, Wilson still hasn’t tasted overall victory this year as he continues to struggle with his starts.
“I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and eventually a win will come,” said Wilson. “It is a little hard because I know I have the ability to win, but I’m focusing on the championship.”
The final piece of the puzzle is Tyla Rattray. The South African recently lost the lead in the series to Wilson after recording his worst finish so far in fifth, but with two wins to his name this season he remains one of the top riders in the field.
“I know I am capable of much more, but I’ll have to put this one behind me and put in a solid week to get ready for the next race,” said Rattray. “I have had good results at Red Bud and maybe I can get another win there.”