After a five year hiatus the Monster Energy Supercross championship returns to Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. With only four rounds remaining this season, Ryan Villopoto has a grasp on the 450SX championship while East Coast 250SX title contenders Wil Hahn and Marvin Musquin will battle inside the dome.
Josh Hill was the last man to win in the premier class in Minnesota and after his eighth-place finish in Houston last weekend the injury-plagued rider wants to prove to naysayers that he still has what it takes to compete in the class.
“What I have been doing hasn’t been working so I really just tried to go have fun and ride the track as if it was a practice ride during the week,” says Hill. ”If I were to ride that track any day during the week by myself, I’d be having a blast. But for some reason on the weekends I haven’t been having any fun and I haven’t been riding well. I just tried to go out there and ride the track, focus only on myself and try to have as much fun with the track as I could all day.”
Hill hopes to capitalize on this fresh mental outlook so that he can recapture the glory of days past.
“It was awesome,” remembers Hill of his first career win at the Metrodome. “I was 18-years-old and it was my rookie year. Things were just clicking for me that year; I was having a whole lot of fun. I didn’t go to any of the races with any pressure on myself; I just went out there and rode.”
Hill’s teammate Broc Tickle is also anxious to improve… after all no one likes getting beat by their colleague (Tickle finished 10th last weekend). Tickle claims if he can begin Saturday right he’ll be in a good position come show time.
“It starts as soon as the first practice starts,” Tickle reveals. “If you’re comfortable on your bike and you feel like you can jump everything, that’s when everything starts rolling and snowballs the rest of the day. If you feel good in the first practice, odds are that you carry that over to the second practice and into the Heat and Main. I just need to do it and stop talking about it.”
It’s obvious that James Stewart has had his fair share of highs and lows. But the 27 year-old is hanging tough and wants to finish the season with a couple of wins. Everyone knows that he’s got the speed and as long as he stays off the dirt he’s a threat at the front.
“I ended up washing out the front end and I jacked up my front wheel,” comments Stewart in regard to last weekend’s race. “Overall, we made some great progress with the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 and it was running great. It was the fastest bike out there in the whoops. These weren’t the best results, but we worked great together as a team and that’s what counts. Now we’re just looking forward to racing at Minneapolis next weekend and testing for motocross.”
Trey Canard is back in the saddle after suffering a nasty head injury a few weeks ago that forced him to miss the one and only Canadian race at the request of his doctors. The Oklahoma rider has returned to fitness, netting his third podium of the year in Texas five days ago. Still, Canard has yet to obtain a win this season.
“Last weekend was probably the most clear-headed I have been in weeks and probably the best day I have had all season,” Carnard says. “I am grateful I was able to make it on the podium and get my first heat race win of the season. I am looking forward to heading to Minneapolis, and am going to give 100% effort.”
Like Stewart, premier class rookie Justin Barcia has struggled. Although he’s finished on the podium four times, even notching a win, inconsistent results have positioned him well adrift of the points leaders. If Barcia hopes to have any shot at the title he’s going to have to win races and hope his chief challengers run into some trouble.
“I am looking forward to this weekend but don’t really know what to expect,” tells Barcia. “I have never raced in Minneapolis so don’t know how the stadium is, or what the dirt will be like. Last weekend was alright but not what I want. I want to win and know I can, so that’s the goal.”
Chad Reed missed last weekend’s race in Texas in order to recover from a surgery to clean up his knee from the season-ending crash he suffered last year. Initially Reed and co. planned on racing in Minneapolis, but as of right now he hasn’t confirmed. If the outspoken Australian feels fit enough he will be eager to impress the legion of fans that he’s cultivated through the last decade.
“A lot of my knee is better, but some parts are not as strong because I’m still recovering from the surgery and having work done,” shares Reed. “I’m not 100% where I would like to be, but I feel like I am good enough to race at this point. We will see come Saturday.”
There certainly won’t be a lack of fan support for hometown hero Ryan Dungey. The Minnesota native grew-up near the Metrodome yet has only completed inside it once as a pro, in 2008, where he finished runner-up to Hill. Dungey has been on the podium for the last four races and is no doubt hungry for another win.
“Walking down the tunnel of the Metrodome this morning for press actually brought back some really good memories of when I raced in this stadium as a kid with KJSC,” says Dungey. “Funs times! I’m also really looking forward to having many family and friends here this weekend. All in all, I think it should be a really good weekend of racing for everyone involved.”
After starting the season out strong Davi Millaps has slipped in the standings. The Suzuki rider still has a shot at becoming the champ but he needs to win, or at least finish ahead of Villopoto, in the next four races.
In contrast to Millsaps’ strong early results in California and Arizona, Villopoto took time to find his groove. Now he’s on a winning streak, having won six of the last seven races, pushing him ahead of the competition in series points. The reigning champ has been riding flawless as of late and baring any catastrophe, will be the man to beat in Minneapolis.
“We’ve come a long way since Anaheim and have constantly improved to the point where we are now on top,” says the long-time Kawasaki rider. “The field is so close that you really need to have everything dialed in order to win and we’ve been able to do that these past few weeks.”
Perhaps even more exciting than the battle in the 450SX class is the war waging between Hahn and Musquin. The two riders have been going at it all season and are currently only separated by six points. And with only two races left this year the championship will most certainly go down to the final round in Las Vegas next month.
However if either rider makes a mistake Blake Wharton will be there to capitalize. The rider from Texas scored his first win of the season last weekend. Although he is 23 points down on Hahn he still has a mathematical shot at the championship if he can finish ahead of those guys and if they encounter some bad luck.
Unfortunately this weekend’s race will not be televised live on SpeedTV. Instead it will air via CBS on Sunday, April 14 at Noon (EDT). To watch live visit Supercrossonline.com or visit the @MotoUSA Twitter feed for live updates from the race.