Chad Reed (center) has never won in Colorado. His forecast looks good this year with plenty of momentum and a factory Honda CRF450R.
The 2011 AMA Pro Motocross Championship is hiking up to Lakewood, Colorado’s Thunder Valley MX Park this weekend. One of the most anticipated rounds on the schedule, Thunder Valley sits 6182 feet above sea level within the Rocky Mountains and poses a unique challenge. Riders will face thin mountain air that’s taxing on both their bodies and machines. So far TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed has been dominating the outdoor series, winning three of four rounds and taking five moto victories – most of which were in Moto 2 where endurance is key. Round 5 will be particularly daunting for the Aussie, however, who’s yet to win in Colorado. It will be a tremendous opportunity for Reed and his new team if he can continue his winning ways and wedge even more space between his rivals.
“Fortunately I was able to get it together for Race 2 and take home the win,” said Reed about his Budds Creek effort. “I wouldn’t say my riding was perfect, far from it, but it was a whole lot better than Race 1 and I was happy to race a solid 17 laps. I need to hit my marks in all races. I can’t give these guys anything or they will get away. I am proud that we have not lost a second moto this year, but I need to work on these opening races.”
Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto is settling into a groove after taking his first victory of the season at High Point. RV claimed a win at Budds Creek in the first moto where, despite stalling his bike in the final four laps, he maintained a sizeable lead ahead of his competition. The Washington native could have posed more of a threat for Reed in the final moto if it weren’t for a bad stomachache which left him in pain throughout the 30-minute moto. Currently trailing Reed by 15 points, Villopoto will look for strong performances in both motos to chop away some of the Honda rider’s advantage.
The only other rider besides Reed and Villopoto to achieve victory so far this season is Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey. As the only return winner at Thunder Valley in the 450 class, Dungey holds a strong advantage over the field after taking 2-1 moto scores from the event last year. Thunder Valley also holds special significance for Dungey as he returns for the first time since helping USA win the 2010 MXoN.
“We’ve got Lakewood coming up and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Dungey. “Last year we were able to get a win there in the AMA Pro MX Championship race as well as the MX Des Nations. It’s always a great track.”
American Honda’s Josh Grant saw his first return to racing at Budds Creek since injuring his knee in Round 2 of the 2011 AMA Supercross Championship. After multiple surgeries and five months of down time, Grant returned to finish 10th overall with 8-10 moto scores. Now, Grant stares down Thunder Valley after winning the first moto there last year ahead of Dungey. This will be a good test of his fitness.
Another top contender to keep an eye on at Thunder Valley is Muscle Milk/Toyota/JGR Yamaha’s Davi Millsaps. While he recorded his first overall finish outside the top-six at Budds Creek, Millsaps has been a continuing threat in nearly every moto this season. Regularly battling within the top-five, he’s 25 points behind Dungey right now, but has Aussie Brett Metcalfe breathing down his neck at just 12 points back.
Josh Grant finally returned from injury at Budds Creek and now heads for Thunder Valley where he won a moto last year.
Andrew Short will enjoy his home-track advantage as he returns to his native Colorado (he now lives in Texas). The Red Bull KTM rider is always fast in Lakewood and still has throngs of fans rooting for the #29. Shorty needs a good result to turn around his season, but the power-robbing oxygen will be of extra concern on his smaller 350cc machine.
One individual that has been absent from action in the last two rounds is Frenchman Christophe Pourcel. After racing in the first two rounds, Pourcel has been running into issues at High Point and Budds Creek with his bike setup and team manager, Mike Genova. There have been rumors through Facebook and Twitter that Pourcel may be parting ways with MotoConcepts Yamaha, but official word has yet to be released.
So far the 2011 250 championship is a storyline that’s only been written by Mitch Payton’s Pro Circuit Kawasaki team. Tyla Rattray, Dean Wilson and Blake Baggett are the only race winners so far this season, and there hasn’t been much in the way of competition for these team green riders. Despite sharing three moto victories apiece so far, Wilson and Baggett still trail Rattray in the championship. The South African rider has been a model of consistency in the early part of the season after finishing on the podium in every race. He’s already shown that he’s capable of overcoming tough conditions by winning the overall under Texas’ brutal heat, but it remains to be seen how he’ll manage with little oxygen in high elevations.
Out of the remaining 250 riders, Wilson was the best finisher at Lakewood last year in third place. The Scotsman has yet to claim an overall victory this season but has been in the running nearly every round. At Budds Creek Wilson seemed to put the final piece of the puzzle together after executing a great holeshot in the first moto. However, he struggled in the second moto, starting the race outside the top-10 before eventually finishing in third. Whether Wilson stands a shot at taking the next round will largely depend upon his start.
“The track has some pretty tough parts that will be challenging, but usually we have a lot of fun when we race there,” said Wilson. “It will be different without the humidity, but then we have to deal with the elevation.”
Don’t let Baggett’s lackluster performance in the last round fool you. Although he had poor starts and failed to finish in the top-five in both motos, Baggett’s determination has been a major highlight of the 250 class this year. He seems 100% set on winning each and every round, and I’d be shocked not to see him in the thick of it during the next round.