As well as offering viewers a preview of what’s to come in the 2012 supercross season, the night was filled with great racing and plenty of action.
The inaugural Monster Energy Cup got underway in Las Vegas, Nevada’s Sam Boyd Stadium this past Saturday. The one-off race was designed to capitalize on the entertaining stadium racing format of the 18-round AMA Supercross series with some added thrills that can only be provided in a wild destination like Vegas.
The event was the first opportunity to see what pros are competing with what teams/brands for next year’s racing season. A number of riders, including Mike Alessi and Nick Wey, were riding brands they have competed on in the past, though without full factory support (Suzuki and Kawasaki, respectively). The reduced sales of dirt bikes combined with other economic factors have made it increasingly difficult for even top-level pros to secure genuine factory support. Yet, New Zealand’s Ben Townley was able to nab a coveted Pro Circuit ride for this race only.
As many predicted, the newly crowned motocross and Supercross champion left with the million dollar pay check having won all three motos in the run-what-ya-brung open class. This was the first race Villopoto competed without the support of long-time team manager Mike Fischer who was recently axed from the team. It didn’t seem to matter though as Villopoto was untouchable the entire night and easily able to distance himself from the rest of the field within the first few laps of each race.
KTM’s Ryan Dungey showed off his skills on a bike he’s only had a few days to practice with, taking second overall.
“It’s pretty unreal,” said Villopoto after nabbing the largest prize in any dirt bike race to date. “I’m happy we were able to pull it off. To back it up next year would be hard, so if we do, it would be great. I can’t thank my team enough for this amazing victory.”
KTM’s new-hire Ryan Dungey put in a solid performance despite having minimal seat time aboard his new Orange machine. Dungey only committed to the race a few days prior and he looked comfortable at most parts of the track. We did notice the rear end of his SX-F would occasionally swap through the high-speed whoops section, which proves the team has some more chassis set-up work to do before Anaheim 1 in January.
From a fan perspective the first moto of the night was one of the better races as Dungey and Townley had a great battle with Townley ending up finishing ahead by less than a bike length. Dungey had multiple opportunities to pass him but it would require a questionable pass that could have put either rider on the ground. Dungey has a reputation for being a clean racer, which while noble, also prevented him from achieving a better result. The rest of the races were less thrilling as the track proved to be difficult to pass on.
Notably absent from the race were Chad Reed and James Stewart. The Australian chose to instead enjoy the short break between Supercross and motocross series at home in Oz. Stewart chose not to race because he says he isn’t ready.
The unique course of the 2011 Monster Energy Cup was intended to blend indoor and outdoor elements in to a challenging course.
The track inside Sam Boyd was a long course with lap times in the 1’30-range which is about 50% longer than a typical Supercross layout. There were plenty of jumps and obstacles including two gigantic hits – one giant double inside the stadium and another one in the motocross section. The course held together well and required minimal maintenance throughout the night’s show. Some riders expressed concerns that the terrain composition was really rocky, another problem was how one-lined it was in many spots making it difficult to pass slower riders. Although the race allowed riders to compete on any type of dirt bike most stuck with the 450cc four-stroke configuration as it offers the best power-to-weight and is the easiest to ride.
In addition to the pro class, the Monster Energy Cup featured an amateur class consisting off the countries top 250-A and B racers including Justin Hill and Jesse Nelson. And while these guys aren’t technically pros, they ride only a few seconds off the big boys’ pace. Hill was able to win the overall and was joined on the podium by big brother Josh, who is planning on racing Supercross this season with the Hart and Huntington team.
“It feels great to win for Kawasaki and for Monster Energy,” said the younger Hill. “I had an up-and-down year, but this really ends the season on a good note. Hopefully we are able to come back next year and I can try and back up the win.”
Lastly there was also a Super-mini class which put spotlight on some future pros of tomorrow. In that class it was neat to see both two- and four-stroke bikes battling out on track. Young gun, Adam Ciancirarulo ended up taking both wins at the controls of his KX85 proving how effective that platform is even against the bigger engine displacement of the four-strokes.
“I am really honored to have been a part of such a great event,” commented Cianciarulo. “I really hope they invite us back. All the fans were awesome and after I won, I could hear them cheering, which was a cool feeling. We only had four laps in our race, so I had to make sure I got a good start. Both starts were exactly what I wanted and it feels great to win at the first Monster Energy Cup.”
Aside from the racing, there was an FMX competition offering $40,000 to the rider who could perform the Best Trick. Australia’s Mark Monea was impressive landing his “Carry On” trick which is basically a front flip 360. Cam Sinclair crashed hard on his run, breaking his leg in the process. Kyle Loza also crashed trying his bike flip stunt but unlike Sinclair he we was able to walk away.