This coming Saturday, Monster Energy AMA Supercross riders return to Anaheim for the second of three scheduled events at Angel Stadium. With just two rounds down, the 2013 season is already more contentious than expected, thanks to the expanded field of riders who are legitimate contenders for race wins. Rockstar Suzuki’s Davi Millsaps stepped up big-time in the opener, earning his first race win since 2010 and then, in the following round, Team Honda Muscle Milk’s 450 SX rookie, Justin Barcia, notched the first premier-class race win of his career. Both riders are clearly capable of keeping pace with the likes of defending Supercross champ Ryan Villopoto of Monster Energy Kawasaki, nine-time Anaheim race winner James Stewart of Yoshimura Suzuki and the 2012 AMA Motocross champion Ryan Dungey of Red Bull KTM.
In fact, many of the pre-season favorites limped through the opening rounds in one way or another, helping to open the way for others to shine. Villopoto got hit hard during the first contest at Anaheim, crashing more than once during the main and finishing 16th. In Phoenix, he went down briefly early in the race and was faced with a battle back through the ranks; it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Anaheim 1 though, and he was able to claw his way up to second-place before the finish. Although things have been a bit rocky for RV, he remains an immense threat since the Anaheim 1 debacle was likely the exception rather than the rule for the Washington native this year. In 2012, Anaheim 2 marked the start of a three-race win streak that would have been five races long had it not been for his second-place finish in Atlanta, where he fell short to Dungey. He and his team continue to dial in the KX450F and he remains positive about his chance to challenge for his third consecutive title, a sentiment he made explicit in his remarks following the previous round in Phoenix.
“I wasn’t too happy with my heat race, but the main was a step in the right direction,” said Villopoto. “It still wasn’t quite what I wanted, but the potential is there. We’re continuing to work on the bike during the week and working to adapt to the different conditions each week. If we can stay on the box every weekend we should be in good shape.”
Ryan Dungey will look to make up ground during Anaheim 2.
James Stewart (7) has been fast in heat races but has been unable to break into the top-five yet this season.
Dungey slid out during the main in Anaheim 1 but was still able to make the podium in third. In Phoenix, however, his troubles began early following a huge crash during his heat race from which, surprisingly, he was able to recover and finish 13th. That meant a trip to the LCQ, which he won, but things didn’t improve in the main due to a bad start which left him at the back of the pack. He fought his way up to eighth before the checkers and salvaged some points, but still has some improvements to make off the block if he wants to challenge for the race win in Anaheim 2.
Though he’s historically had success in Angel Stadium, Stewart is in the midst of an uphill battle following a pre-race knee injury at Anaheim 1 that continued to affect his riding somewhat in Phoenix. He’s shown his speed a few times, mainly in heat races, and seems to be content with settling into the top-10 and holding steady rather than pushing hard for top-placement. Following his injury plagued Supercross season in 2012, as well as his stunted tenure in Motocross in 2012, it isn’t surprising that he exercises caution until things start clicking. Stewart elaborated on his condition following the contest in Phoenix.
“Round two was a little bit better than round one,” said Stewart. “My knee was sore but I was able to deal with it in the main event. I got a bad start, but I was able to pass a couple of people, and then I did what I did last week, I just stayed there. I’m happy we got out of Phoenix without damaging anything and I felt a little stronger than I did last week. We have a couple of things to work on, but the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 was awesome. In both main events this year, it’s been phenomenal.”
Two Two Motorsports’ Chad Reed has almost as many wins as Stewart at Anaheim, and he’ll be gunning for his seventh victory there in the coming round. Following the Phoenix contest, Reed admitted that he still has work to do on his bike, but his two fourth-place finishes in the first two races of the season have been enough to keep him within nine points of the overall lead.
Another Honda pilot, Trey Canard of Team Honda Muscle Milk, has fared slightly better than Reed, at least in terms of overall points. Canard heads to Anaheim 2 third in the season tally, having earned second-place in the first contest at Angel Stadium and taking fifth in Phoenix. He was on pace to score the runner-up spot in Arizona, but a final lap crash dropped him off the podium. Once the Oklahoma native sorts out his mental game, he will likely be a consistent force out front for the duration of the season.
“I felt really good all the way to the last lap and did the same thing as last week,” said Canard following the round in Phoenix. “I got too cautious and excited on the last lap and ended up going down, but still got fifth and I’m just grateful to be here.”
His teammate, Barcia, made it well known that he’s got race wins in his sights following his commanding performance in Phoenix. The 450SX rookie had a lead of over 10-seconds mid-race in Arizona, thanks in large part to his phenomenal start. If he can continue getting off the line as quickly as he did in Phoenix, he may be able to join the ranks of Dungey and McGrath as one of the few rookies to claim a 450SX title. The season’s still very young though, and there’s no telling what lies in store for the Honda ace.
Davi Millsaps is currently in uncharted waters, leading in points for the first time in his career. He’s also approaching some impressive records, tieing Ricky Carmichael’s’ record for consecutive 450SX class starts at 96 and fast approaching Reed’s overall record of 110. He also gave Suzuki its first season opener win since 1997. He battled during the 2012 Supercross season for his second-place overall finish and definitely has the chops to remain a contender for the title if he continues to score podium finishes.
Others riders to keep in mind during Anaheim 2 are Villopoto’s teammate Jake Weimer, Team Chaparral Honda’s Andrew Short and JGRMX’s Josh Grant. All three riders have hovered within the top-10 through the first two rounds.
In 250 SX action, Eli Tomac is the man to catch following his second consecutive race win of the season in Phoenix. The Honda ace won the first season-opener of his career in Anaheim 1 and battled from behind to earn his win in Phoenix. He admitted that he’s got room to improve in the start department; a discouraging prospect to the other riders in the field should he actually achieve this goal, because he’s shown a nearly unmatchable pace once he gets to the front.
Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen has the speed to contend with Tomac though, especially if he can improve his own performance off the line. Following the round in Phoenix, where he took second-place, the German rider lamented that his start cost him a chance to battle for the lead.
“I just had a bad start and had to spend too much time coming through the pack,” said Roczen. “My focus this last week has been my starts and I’ll keep working on them so I can get up from early and battle for the lead in the next rounds.”
Others, like Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Martin Davalos, Troy Lee Designs’ Cole Seely and Tomac’s teammate Jessy Nelson have also shown speed early in the season and could push for podium finishes in the coming weekend.
Some riders in the 250 SX West class have struggled though, such as Davalos’ teammate and 2012 Motocross champ Blake Bagget, who may be out entirely for Anaheim 2. Another in the Pro Circuit Kawasaki ranks, Tyla Rattray, has yet to break into the top-five. Suzuki’s Ryan Sipes, Yamaha’s Kyle Cunningham, Honda’s Zach Osborne and Supercross rookie Joey Savatgy have been in and out of the top-10 through the first two rounds and any could make the jump into the top-five as the season wears on.
Anaheim is the longest running stop in the Monster Energy Supercross schedule, with the first event taking place way back in 1976. Anaheim 2 marks the 59th time riders will line up for competition in the city, and it’s sure to be a nail-biter. Stay tuned Saturday night for full race results.