Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto looks to extend his lead in the AMA Pro Motocross Championship on his 23rd birthday at Unadilla.
Gone for two weeks but returning with a fury this weekend is the 2011 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross
Championship. The series has become closer than ever now that Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto
snatched the lead with just one point separating him from Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey. Another eight points behind is TwoTwo Motorsports’ Chad Reed, who has struggled in the past two rounds but is not going to give up without a fight.
The Unadilla facility in New Berlin, New York has played host to the MX series for more than four decades, making it one of the most anticipated rounds on the schedule. As riders head back east for three of the final four races, no mistakes can be made by the top three riders as they remain in a dead sprint toward the finish.
Dungey may be well on his way to defending his 2010 MX crown. The 21-year-old comes into Round 9 fresh off a win at Washougal – his third overall victory of the season. In the past few rounds RD5 has become more aggressive, notably seen through his hard block pass on RV at Millville, and you can tell he really wants it this year. But to take the title Dungey will have to first dethrone Villopoto from the top of the standings, and Unadilla would be the perfect spot for him to strike. The Suzuki
rider still has a lot of good memories from scoring the double win there last year, so look for him to come out swinging.
Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Ryan Dungey claimed the overall in the last round at Washougal and won Unadilla in 2010.
“I like the track, it takes a lot of finesse and throttle control, gets really rough and choppy; and I always look forward to going back there,” said Dungey about the legendary 'Dilla.
A perfect birthday present for Villopoto would be the double victory in the upcoming round. Turning 23 this Saturday, RV2 has scored 14 podium finishes as he seeks to add an outdoor title to his 2011 Supercross
Championship. With only one overall win so far this season, Villopoto has yet to score a moto sweep. Adding a bit of uncertainty is RV’s recent switch to Kawasaki’s 2012 KX450F
. The move seems especially dicey seeing as it took him so long at the beginning of the season to dial in outdoor settings, but he’s hoping that two weeks of testing has cleared most of the setup gremlins. Kawasaki definitely wouldn't blow its shot at the championship with an unprepared machine, so the boys in green likely have the new bike dialed.
"We had some great testing days during the break, and I think we can keep our momentum out front," said Villopoto. "It would be nice to get a win on my birthday. I feel like I've been close several times to getting my second overall, so I just need to break through, and I think we can do that at Unadilla."
Reed was easily the most consistent rider in the outdoor series up until his big get-off at Millville. Since then Reed has appeared hesitant and not his usual self, finishing off the podium in the both motos at Washougal
. Before that
Since his crash at Millville TwoTwo Motorsports' Chad Reed has struggled, finishing off the overall podium in the last two rounds.
Reed’s only finish off the box was in Moto 1 at High Point. His misfortune, however, has tightened the title race, and with just four rounds left the Aussie has to step it up. The series has now had two weeks off for Reed to fully recover, so be sure to watch the Aussie as tries to reclaim his spot at the top of the leaderboard.
Once again the Factory Honda
squad has been forced to find a replacement after Trey Canard
broke his femur for the second time this year. The team has called upon Geico Honda’s Justin Barcia to fill-in for Canard in the remaining four rounds, giving Barcia a chance to sharpen his skills in the premier class. Bam Bam is currently seventh in the 250 championship and has been struggling this season with numerous crashes. If he can calm his nerves a bit, Barcia could see his first podium in the premier class. A late-season move to the 450 class like this means he's not in title contention, so hypothetically there could be less pressure on the golden-haired speedster.
“I raced the CRF450R to the overall win at the Bercy Supercross last year and I felt great competing on the bike, so I’m excited to now get the chance to race several rounds in the Motocross series on it,” said Barcia. “I’m also really looking forward to working with the factory Honda team. I feel I’ve grown a lot as a professional racer over the past three years and this whole experience is only going to help me develop my skills even more.”
In the 250 class the championship is also coming down to three riders as Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki remains undefeated so far. Despite having the best finishing average of any rider in the AMA Pro Motocross
Justin Barcia will move up to the 450 class to fill-in for Trey Canard in the final four rounds.
Championship, Kawasaki’s Dean Wilson
has yet to claim an overall victory this season. The Scotsman spent much of his break training in Florida alongside Reed, and with only 13 points separating him from teammate Tyla Rattray he’ll need every advantage he can get in the final four rounds.
"It's been good to go out and ride in different weather and tracks outside of California," said Wilson. "I think it's helped me become confident for the tough tracks we have coming up on the schedule. I'm going to go out there and do my best to get back on the podium."
Rattray has amassed the second-most overall wins this season with three to his credit, the South African taking runner-up behind Wilson and Blake Baggett
in the last round at Washougal. Expect the tension between Wilson and Rattray to get really rough in the final rounds as the two teammates try to take the advantage. Unadilla is a classic natural terrain motocross track with plenty of large rocks. With the heat and humidity of New York state and a constant barrage of stone-filled roost, this is the type of race that rewards gritty, tough performances - which is exactly what Rattray is known for.
"I got a few points last race, but it could have been more if I had passed Dean [Wilson]," Rattray said. "Unadilla isn't that easy of a track, and I know it will be challenging. I have been keeping up with my training and hopefully I can move
Dean Wilson (above) is still looking for his first overall win of the season, but leads teammate Tyla Rattray (below) by 13 points.
closer in the points."
While consistency may not be his strong suit, winning has not been a problem for Baggett this season as he’s claimed five of the eight rounds so far. Even with these wins Baggett is still 17 points behind and looking for more. Quite possibly the fastest rider in the 250 field, Baggett needs to stay on the podium if he’s going to stand a shot at the title this year.
"Unadilla is one of the few tracks I've actually been to since turning pro, and I'm really looking forward to get back out there racing," said Baggett. "It's a little boring when we get so much down time between races, so I'm definitely ready to get back on the track."
While Pro Circuit Kawasaki has enjoyed its reign at the top of the standings all season, recently there have been some threats from DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing Yamaha. Kyle Cunningham
has been the most consistent rider outside the Pro Circuit bubble, with him finishing just off the podium in fourth at Washougal. Gareth Swanepoel has also had his moments, including the last round where he finished right behind Cunningham in fifth. Together, they represent the best odds of overthrowing PC Kawasaki, though the championship remains out of reach at this point for the duo.