Ryan Villopoto cemented his rank in the Monster Energy Supercross series by winning the 2012 season opener in front of a sold-out crowd at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California Saturday night. The reigning champ emerged as the clear victor having never been challenged throughout the 20-lap main event.
“It was a phenomenal night for me,” commented Villopoto after the race. “I didn’t have the heat race I wanted, so I didn’t have a great gate pick.”
In spite of this the long-time Team Green rider still nabbed the holeshot and the $1500 bonus that goes along with it. From there Villopoto strung together a set of clean laps and opened up a considerable gap before engaging cruise control toward the end of the race.
“Once I was out front I wanted to lay down fast laps and make no mistakes,” said Villopoto. “I did make one small one (almost went over the handlebar), but overall, it was a great race for me.”
(Top) Chad Reed (22) runs down Mike Alessi (800) in the first 450 heat race at Anaheim. (Below) Ryan Dungey chases Andrew Short in the second 450 heat race.
Chad Reed, one of the more vocal riders in the paddock, wasn’t shy in sharing his dislike for the layout of the track: “I’ll be honest, this was a racetrack that didn’t excite me one little bit and it was tough to find the motivation to try and fight.”
Despite struggling in practice, when the gate dropped Reed was all business winning his heat race and finishing in the runner-up spot in the main despite having a tip-over halfway through the race.
“The front went from underneath me,” said Reed in reference to his spill. “The track got really slick in the main event. Even in the home base section when we are landing off the triple. A few times you’re loading the front so hard when your landing you can feel the front give that little catch and release.”
Although he didn’t win, Ryan Dungey still emerged victorious in the eyes of his KTM team having gifted them its first podium finish in the 450 class. Dungey was another rider to tip-over in the main event but was able to rebound without serious penalty.
“The brand-new KTM 450 is working awesome and we put in a lot of hard work in this off-season to get it to where it is and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve got a good set-up. If anything we just need a fine-tuning and show up ready for Phoenix,” said the 2010 champ.
Muscle Milk Honda’s Justin Brayton made a good debut at Anaheim finishing fourth, one position ahead of Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jake Weimer. Brayton had a challenging night so say the least, having to race the LCQ after getting tangled up in his heat and crashing along with Josh Grant.
Having yet to really prove himself, a lot of folks doubted Weimer’s ability to competitively race a 450 but his result at Anaheim it’s clear that he has what it takes to run with the big dogs in the premier class. Grant on the other hand hasn’t raced in a year due to injury and still has a ways to go although he commented that he was “happy” with his 19th-place finish.
Andrew Short, Mike Alessi and Ivan Tedesco all appeared to be in good form showing bursts of speed throughout the night as did James Stewart who finished in sixth place. Stewart even outpaced Villopoto in practice but played catch-up most the night after having less than stellar starts. It’s well known that the Yamaha rider wasn’t too keen on last year’s bike with one of his biggest complaints being how wide it felt through the radiator shroud area.
The Joe Gibbs Racing team is known for its vast resources and ability to address problems that other teams can’t or won’t, so it’s not surprise that the team put its engineering know-how to work by modifying the ergonomics of the motorcycle and making it slimmer. We took an up-close look at the bike and it is visually noticeable how much sleeker the front of it appears now (see photos). During the race Stewart was running with Reed and Dungey until he too crashed. It took some time to get going again which may have cost him a precious podium finish. As always, there’s no doubt Stewart has the talent to win races he just needs to stay off the ground.
In the Lites class, underdog Cole Seely proves that he’s no longer a sleeper having caught up and passed early leader, Tyla Rattray, to win the 15-lap Lites moto.
“I guess I got the target on my back now. I guess I’ve
Cole Seely was aggressive early on in the Lites class, nearly landing on Tyla Rattray to take the lead during the opening lap.
The 2012 Monster Energy Supercross series took place in front of a sold-out crowd at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California.
always been kind of an underdog. It’s awesome to start of the season this way. My main thing tonight was to be in contention as far as points because you can sure lose the season the first round but you can’t win it. I’m pumped to be in the points lead and have the red backgrounds on my bike.”
Although he got beat, Rattray was still pleased with his effort having led a number of laps for the first-time in his Supercross career. Eli Tomac, on the other hand, had a wild night getting taken out in his heat race and having to race the LCQ to make the main. In the main he didn’t get the best of starts but was able to slowly work his way through the field passing Dean Wilson after the Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider made a mistake and ran off track.
Another rider returning to action after an injury-plagued season is Wil Hahn. Hahn also impressed having won his heat race and finishing in seventh place in the main. The Texas rider said he’s put in a lot of work this off-season and feels like he has the speed to run up front.
Riders won’t have much time to relax as Round 2 takes place this weekend inside Phoenix, Arizona’s Chase Field. Lastly, just in time for the Phoenix round, a new Supercross practice track has opened at nearby Wittmann, Arizona and will be open Tuesday through Friday this week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. for riders looking to squeeze in some last minute practice. The fee to ride is $40. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.