450 Supercross Phoenix podium: Justin Barcia (center) in first, Ryan Villopoto (left) in second and Davi Millsaps (right) in third.
If you haven’t been paying attention to this year’s Monster Energy Supercross series, you should. As the second chapter hosted at Phoenix, Arizona’s Chase Field kept upwards of 50,000 fans on the edge of their seats with riveting action, including big crashes and bar-to-bar racing in the 450SX class.
In the premier event, a new winner tasted champagne from the top step of the podium. Although it is his first 450SX win, Justin Barcia isn’t exactly new to the class having competed, and won, last fall’s Monster Energy Cup aboard a Honda CRF450R. He also gained valuable experience aboard Big Red’s flagship motocrosser this past summer in the Lucas Oils AMA Motocross series. Known for his aggressive and hard charging riding style, many expected last year’s East Coast champ to vie for wins immediately and Bam-Bam didn’t disappoint.
“It was an incredible race,” says the class rookie after flag-to-flag victories in both his heat race and the main event. “It was a weird track for me: the rhythms were awesome but the dirt was really slick—I’m just not use to that.”
Being able to adapt quickly in terms of riding style and track conditions are obvious strong points for the 20-year-old, as evident by his win in only his second race as a full-time 450 racer.
“I like new challenges and this was definitely one of the hardest,” adds the factory Honda rider. “I’ve had to get use to West Coast tracks, fast. The dirt is just really strange. This morning it was really tacky, really rutty, and at the end of the night it is dusty and slick. But we put in a heavier flywheel in my bike to get better traction. In first practice I didn’t [use it], the second I didn’t.”
Although Barcia won the battle, the 450 rider who demonstrated the most grit and raw speed was Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto. The KX450F rider battled back from a small crash early in the main in which the front tire washed out and steadily worked his way through the 20-rider field. Three-quarters through the moto, he set the fastest lap time of the race (’50.880). If Villopoto could have nailed a better launch there’s a high probability he would have bested Barcia and recorded a win in Phoenix—something that has eluded the reigning champ throughout his professional career.
“The track was really slippery [and] I just lost the front end,” explains Villopoto, who finished second after inheriting the position when Trey Canard crashed (un-injured) on the last lap (in the same spot as Villopoto did earlier). “The track was really technical tonight being that it was so slippery. It was hard to do consistent laps—and clean laps and it ended up biting me.”
Still, the two-time Supercross champ felt positive at the end of the night and aims to be better prepared as the series returns to Southern California this coming weekend.
“It was a lot better than it was last week,” tells Villopoto after rebounding from a 16th place finish two weeks ago in Anaheim. “We’re climbing the ladder; made up some good points tonight. It wasn’t exactly where we wanted to be. But we’re taking it step by step and weekend by weekend. There are a lot of points out there for grabs so we’re going to just keep working on it.”
After drawing first blood at Anaheim, Davi Millsaps put in another strong performance in Phoenix, nabbing the final spot on the podium ahead of Chad Reed. Millsaps ro
Trey Canard crashed out of second-place on the final lap. He re-mounted and ended up fifth in Phoenix.
cketed off to an excellent start and ran in second for much of the 20-lap race until Canard slipped past during his late-race charge.
“I got about a fifth or sixth place start and just tried to be patient,” shares Canard. “I really started to click the laps off, making my way into second and I felt really good all the way to Lap 19…”
Unfortunately a big mistake on the final lap would dash his second place hopes: “I saw the white flag and got a little too cautious and didn’t charge that section like I normally would so I came up a little short and went down.”
Canard’s lapse in concentration gifted the remaining podium position to the Rockstar Suzuki rider: “I didn’t know who it was until I got up to him and saw him picking up his bike, and he fell over again,” shares Millsaps,, whose Suzuki RM-Z450 will continue to wear red number backgrounds signifying the championship point’s lead. “I didn’t think I would lead two rounds in a row, let alone be on the podium twice.”
“I was struggling all day with the turns and the slick dirt—and in the ruts— it was just a weird combination,” he continues, in reference to the sketchy track conditions. “It threw every element at us. I was just trying to ride safe, and smooth, and just hit lines that I knew I could hit. They had better lines, once they past me, I tried taking em’ and they worked out better—but they were going that much faster. I’m thankful to be up on the podium and to walk away in third is good for the day.”
A victory in Phoenix continued to elude Chad Reed after his 12th year lining up on the gate in Arizona. Still it wasn’t all bad for the Australian racing hero who returns to California healthy and ready to get back to business on Monday.
“We have come away with some safe points but we really do need to step it up now,” muses the Honda rider/team owner after registering another fourth-place finish. “It’s no secret that I wasn’t happy with how I rode at A1 and while tonight I felt that I rode a bit better there is still work to do with the bike.”
As mentioned in the Phoenix Supercross Preview 2013 article, Reed has been struggling to get the set-up right on his new-for-2013 Honda CRF450R, asserting that he still doesn’t have the confidence to ride the bike to its maximum. Reed and his TwoTwo Motorsports team plan on perfecting the settings during the week at Honda’s SoCal test track.
It was a processional race for the second factory Kawasaki ridden by Jake Weimer. After notching his best career 450 result last year, many expected Weimer to be more of a threat at the front. Although he got a decent jump when the gate dropped, the former West Coast 250SX champ claims he took too much time to find his flow in the main.
“I was in good position off the start of the main,” said Weimer who ended the day in sixth position. “The first lap I struggled getting into a flow and was coming up short in spots and over-jumping in others. I couldn’t quite get into my groove and made too many mistakes. I need to step it up and continue to improve during the week so I’m ready to race on Saturday.”
Stewart says he just isn’t ‘riding right’ yet and hopes to find some more speed this week in preparation for the Anaheim 2 race.
After setting the fastest lap time during practice and winning the second heat race, James Stewart failed to carry the day’s momentum into the main event. Stewart claims that his knee isn’t 100% after tweaking it at the first race in Anaheim. The 27-year-old also didn’t get the best of starts and in a class so rich in talent, that can be the difference between first and seventh—the result Stewart leaves Phoenix with.
“I’m just not riding up to par right now. One reason is because of the injury but the other reason is I that just need to let it hang it out there a little more,” Stewart admits. “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. My knee was sore but I was able to deal with it.”
One year ago, Ryan Dungey made history by notching KTM’s first premier class victory. In fact he impressed the folks at KTM’s Austrian headquarters so much that two of the principle product planners flew in from Europe to see if the 23-year-old could do it again.
But it was a different story this time around. In the first heat race, Dungey crashed spectacularly off the face of a triple jump. Miraculously, the Minnesotan avoided injury and was able to get back out and finish the race in 13th, meaning he’d have to do battle in the LCQ in hopes of making the night show. And battle he did, this time with Jimmy Albertson, finishing a wheel behind him but at least transferring into the main event.
A poor start had Dungey at the back of the pack at the end of the first lap. From there it was damage control. Although he put together some solid lap times through the middle part of the race he was just too out of touch from the leaders to do any real championship points damage.
Ryan Dungey had an off-night in Phoenix in front of some senior KTM brass that had flown in from Europe for the race.
“Ryan didn’t have great starts tonight which affected his overall results,” discloses Dungey’s mentor and team manager, Roger DeCoster. “He came from the rear of the field to finish a solid 8th place and we are grateful to salvage those points. Overall, the bike was running great tonight and once we perfect the starts we should be in the running for a win.”
This week, teams are rushing back to California to prepare for Round 3 that again takes place at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. So far we’ve seen some great racing and with all of the sport’s top competitors still healthy this weekend, it’s sure to be another barn burner too close for anyone to call.