Pala AMA Motocross Preview 2011

September 9, 2011
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

Ryan Villopoto won a major battle with Ryan Dungey at Steel City to claim the double victory and a 14-point lead in the series.
Ryan Villopoto has a little breathing room at Pala as he seeks his first 450 outdoor title.

It’s down to one final race in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Two motos, just over an hour of racing and the most coveted outdoor MX championship will be decided at Pala Raceway in Southern California this weekend. The 250 class is wrapped up, but there’s still potential for drama in the premier 450 division.

Ryan Villopoto is knocking on the doorstep of his first 450 Motocross title. Bad luck and injuries have plagued his outdoor career on the big bikes, but the three-time 250 Motocross champion and 2011 Supercross champion has a solid lead heading into this final pair of motos. This is only the second time that Pala has hosted a National, but being in Southern California, Villopoto has put in plenty of laps there. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider will use his 14-point cushion over Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey.

Dungey claimed this race last year at its inaugural running. The defending champion is about to lose his #1 plate and it’s hard to say it’s his fault. The RM-Z450 has been a weak link this season. For whatever reason, mechanical issues have sabotaged RD’s defense. Last week he was left standing on the gate in Moto 2 as the rest of the riders thundered away, his bike refusing to run in the pits. Through unbelievable determination, the Minnesota native has stayed close in this championship. Dungey has only one option for Pala – win both motos and hope for some bad luck on Villopoto’s part.

Suzukis Ryan Dungey could have lost the championship at Southwick if not for his skill and determination.
It’s now or never for Ryan Dungey. His bike needs to stay together, he needs to win both motos, and he needs to give Ryan Villopoto some of his bad luck.

One rider who might help him along is Honda’s Justin Barcia. The Wild Child has been killing it on the 450 now that he’s filling in for Trey Canard. Barcia is the most likely to bump Villopoto back a position, though Dungey’s teammate, Brett Metcalfe, has been on fire lately as well. Chad Reed was leading this whole thing until his big crash. There’s nothing he’d like more than to end on a positive note after the bad luck piled up here toward the end.

Watch for Les Smith to see how he fares as the replacement for injured Davi Millsaps on the Muscle Milk JGR Yamaha team. Another wildcard is Mike Brown who is registered with his KTM 450.

Dean Wilson secured the championship a round early this year but the Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider also won this race last year with a 1-1 sweep. Sometimes having less pressure allows riders to go even faster. We’ll have to see if that’s the case this weekend but his teammates Tyla Rattray and Blake Baggett have unfinished business. The South African is holding down second place by nine points. Baggett has been mercurial this season and he can put a definitive stamp on the season if he pulls out a come-from-behind runner-up for the year. Whatever happens, it’s clear that Mitch Payton will have a sweep of the top three spots in the season standings. Needless to say, that’s pretty remarkable.

Justin Bogle - Southwick Motocross 2011
Justin Bogle is one to watch in the 250 class.

Gareth Swanepoel is the only rider to win a moto this season aside from the Monster PC boys. The South African has come on strong in the late stages aboard his DNA Shred Stix Yamaha. Also, Justin Bogle entered the professional ranks after his highly successful amateur career and proved to have front-running speed, if not stamina. Combine that with the recent return of Red Bull KTM’s former FIM MX2 world champion, Marvin Musquin, and there’s plenty to be excited for in this division even though the title is predetermined.

The women are finishing their season as well with Round 8 of the WMX Championship at Pala. Honda’s Ashley Fiolek has the series well under control with a 22 point lead over DNA Shred Stix Yamaha’s Jessica Patterson. JP was knocked off her top podium spot a few years ago by the upstart Fiolek, but the veteran shook herself off and returned to form in 2010. Now she’s under the gun to keep Fiolek from stealing her crown yet again. These ladies have quite the rivalry going. Despite Fiolek’s strong lead, a single mistake could blow this series apart. A few positions back are some good battles as well. Alexah Pearson is trying to snag seventh from Marissa Markelon, and MotoUSA Langston Motorsports Kawasaki’s Vickie Golden is poised to break into the top-five. Reigning World Women’s Motocross Champion, Stephanie Laier, who scored third overall at Hangtown in her first American race, will be back to compete with the JDR J-Star KTM team.

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