The first round of 2013 at Hangtown marked Villopoto’s return to the Nationals after missing all of 2012 due to injury. RV wasted no time after the gate dropped, gaining the front early in Moto 1 and holding off pressure from defending champion Ryan Dungey of Red Bull KTM and Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart. In Moto 2 the Kawasaki rider played catch-up a bit while Stewart and Dungey battled for the lead but by mid-race Villopoto had pushed past both riders and proceeded to build a comfortable gap on the field. Out back, Team Honda Muscle Milk’s Trey Canard and Justin Barcia grabbed fourth and fifth-place finishes in both motos, respectively. Barcia won at the Colorado track in last year’s 250 race and could contend for race wins there in the 450 class if he’s able to get a good jump off the line.
Dungey and Stewart are currently the most accomplished riders at Thunder Valley in the 450 class, with Dungey claiming overall victories in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and Stewart taking the overall in 2008 and 2009. In 2012 Stewart entered the round at Thunder Valley with the points lead after his perfect start to the season, but in Moto 1 went down while attempting to avoid a person crossing the track. The incident forced him to pull out of competition and he was unable to return for Moto 2. For the rest of the season Stewart battled with injuries, missed rounds and failed to live up to the pace he set at the start of the season. He’ll be gunning hard for a strong performance at the track to make up for the utterly disastrous turn of events last year.
Villopoto’s teammate, Jake Weimer, BTO Sports’ Andrew Short and Motoconcepts’ Mike Alessi each scored top-five results at Thunder Valley in 2012 and may battle with the front pack as well.
Roczen went 2-4 at Thunder Valley in 2012, but will be a major contender for moto wins there this year considering his dominant performance in the season opener. The German rider had trouble maintaining pace over the race distance during the previous season, often dropping off in the final laps due to an apparent lack of fitness. He proved at Hangtown that this isn’t the case anymore.
Roczen’s teammate, Marvin Musquin, went 5-5 at the Colorado track in 2012 and will be pushing to get on the podium in Round 2. Musquin led for a brief period in Moto 1 at Hangtown but fell back to finish fourth, and in Moto 2 he battled back from an early crash for another fourth-place finish. GEICO Honda’s Eli Tomac is another with the chops to score moto wins, and he’ll have extra incentive to do well since he hails from Colorado and will have strong support from the home crowd.
Defending 250 Nationals champion Blake Baggett of Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki scored the Moto 2 win at Thunder Valley in 2012 and was a fierce competitor in the 2013 season opener at Hangtown. He’s currently tied with Tomac in second-place overall and will be fighting hard to gain ground on Roczen in Colorado.
These relative veterans of the class will have some additional competition from a host of rookies. MyPlash’s Cooper Webb grabbed fifth-place in his first professional race and appeared confident on his new mount. Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo, who was unable to compete at Hangtown due to illness, may also prove to be a threat as the highly touted rookie is expected to make his official debut at Thunder Valley. Orange Brigade’s Joey Savatgy grabbed ninth overall at Hangtown and will likely improve as he grows more comfortable on his new KTM ride and GEICO Honda’s Zach Bell will be a serious contender if he’s able to maintain pace after his often quick starts.
Bell’s teammate, Zach Osborne, took fifth with a 9-5 result at Hangtown and will be looking to bang-bars inside the top-10, as will Rockstar Suzuki’s Jason Anderson and Blake Wharton.
In addition to the glory of moto wins, there are a number of other benchmarks of success available to riders this year. Motorcycle-Superstore.com’s Holeshot Award acts as a championship within a championship, with riders amassing points for every holeshot they earn. The riders with the most points at the end of the season in the 450 and 250 classes will get a substantial bonus for their achievement – $25,000 to the 450 Holeshot Champion and $15,000 to the 250 Holeshot champ. Currently Stewart leads in the 450s with four points, having scored holeshots in both motos at Hangtown, while Bagget has notched one point and Bell two. Rules designate one point for a Moto 1 holeshot, two points for a Moto 2 holeshot and a bonus point when a rider scores holeshots in both motos.
There is also the Oakley Bomb Fastest Lap Program, which gives recognition to the fastest riders in both classes, won in Hangtown by Barcia in the 450 and Tomac in the 250 class. For the riders who make up the most ground and demonstrate a never-give-up spirit, there’s the Ricky Carmichael Hard Charger Award, which is given in each round. At Hangtown, Troy Lee Designs’ Malcolm Stewart and Cole Seely shared the RC Hard Charger Award as both were able to pass 21 riders in one moto, respectively.
Stay tuned to MotoUSA for full coverage of all the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross action at Thunder Valley, which is scheduled for Saturday May 25, 2013.