St. Louis Supercross Preview

Ryan Dungey sits ten points behind Ryan Villopoto in the points (Photo Feld)
Ryan Dungey sits ten points behind Ryan Villopoto in the points (Photo Feld)

AURORA, Ill. – The second win of the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season for Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey has helped renew the longstanding rivalry between he and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto, the reigning Monster Energy Supercross Champion. As the second half of the season kicks off this weekend from St. Louis’ Edward Jones Dome, for the ninth race of the championship, the battle for the title has been renewed.

One week ago, inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, Dungey fended off a late charge from his rival to help shrink his deficit in the Supercross Class standings to only 10 points behind Villopoto. It was Dungey’s second triumphant effort of 2012, ending a six-week drought from his first win of the season in Phoenix, the second race on the schedule. The win also signified just the second ever victory for KTM in the premier division. The new relationship between Dungey and the Austrian manufacturer has proven to be a successful one, and based on Dungey’s comments last Saturday night, it looks to get better.

Although he didn’t walk away victorious, Villopoto was arguably the fastest man on the track once again last weekend, posting the quickest lap of the main event. A tricky track and a small tip over ultimately cost Villopoto a shot at his fourth consecutive win, but he still enters St. Louis in full control of the championship. The defending champion will once again carry the red number plate into action tomorrow night, looking for his fifth overall victory of the 2012 season.

“The track was tough last weekend and there weren’t too many spots to make up time,” said Villopoto. “Even though Chad (Reed) is out of the chase, that doesn’t change my plan. We lost three points last weekend, so we need to just keep to our goal in St. Louis, which is trying to win races.”

Villopoto’s Monster Energy Kawasaki teammate Jake Weimer has tasted the podium twice this season and will be looking for more of that success from here on out. After finishing seventh in Atlanta, Weimer is looking forward to getting back up front in St. Louis, and potentially becoming the fourth player in this championship.

“I need to find a bit more speed,” said Weimer. “Running for 20-laps is not the problem. I just need to get faster to run with the leaders every week. Being back in Florida during the week should help to change it up.”

Team Honda Muscle Milk’s replacement rider Cole Seely came out swinging in Atlanta. The full-time Western Regional Supercross Lites Class contender showed impressive speed in his 2012 debut on the 450, and will look to continue to gain more experience in the premier class during his time filling in for the injured Trey Canard.

“I felt confident with my performance going from the heat race into the main,” said Seely, who led seven laps and finished sixth. “In the main, I got the holeshot and expected to see someone’s front wheel within the first few laps, but it didn’t happen and I was able to lead for a while. I tried to hold a decent pace for as long as I could, but I got a little tired and some of the other guys got by me. That race was good for me to see where I am in the Supercross Class and it gives me more confidence going into this weekend.”

GEICO Honda’s Kevin Windham hit a milestone in his long and illustrious career, with Atlanta marking his 200th career Monster Energy Supercross start. As a fan favorite and the most veteran rider in the series, Windham’s presence out on the track is something no one in the industry wants to come to an end. Fortunately, Windham’s passion will keep him around for a few more years. Last Saturday, he commemorated his landmark start with an eighth-place effort and will look to mix it up at the front of the field this weekend.

“I knew as soon I came off the line that it was going to be a long night,” said Windham. “Although it left a lot to be desired out there, I am really focused on my accomplishment of being able to stick around this long. With such a competitive Supercross Class, it is hard to go out there and get a podium when you are up against a bad start. I am happy and grateful for everyone who has helped get me to 200 starts.”

Team Honda Muscle Milk’s Justin Brayton was the lead rider for the Honda camp in Atlanta, posting a solid fifth-place finish. Brayton has endured some nagging injuries in recent weeks, but the positive results out on the track are sure to boost his confidence and speed up the healing process.

In Atlanta, Toyota/Yamaha/JGRMX’s James Stewart looked a lot like the blazingly fast rider the industry has been accustomed to watching for so many years. The change in scenery to the East Coast could prove to be beneficial to Stewart, who very well could have had a shot at his second win of the season last weekend if not for some contact out of the gate with another rider. While he sits 44 points out of the championship lead, Stewart is now third in the standings and will eagerly be looking to return to the top step of the podium.

Yoshimura Suzuki’s Brett Metcalfe enjoyed a positive start to the weekend in Atlanta by capturing an impressive third-place finish in his eight-lap heat race. In the 20-lap main event, Metcalfe got a mid-pack start and was running in seventh for several laps before eventually finishing ninth.

“I was looking forward to Atlanta, but it was a tough day,” said Metcalfe. “I didn’t feel comfortable in practice, and it was a tough track for me. That was a bummer because it was a technical track and normally that’s good for me. We had some positives, though; I got some good starts on the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450, but I just wasn’t able to ride to my potential. I just need to go back and regroup for St. Louis. I haven’t been to St. Louis for quite a while, and I’ve never raced the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 there, so this is something new. Also, it’s another round for me to improve, so I’m just going to keep working hard and try to make some progress in all areas.”

Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Broc Tickle ran into some misfortune in Atlanta when he lost his rear brakes during the main event. Adamantly looking to redeem himself and ride to his potential, Tickle is looking forward to St. Louis and putting forth his best effort of the 2012 season.

“I want a good finish so bad to build off of,” said Tickle. “I really like racing in domes, and I know if I get a good start in St. Louis, I’ll be able to ride and finish where I should be.”

In the Eastern Regional Supercross Lites Championship, current points leader, and defending Eastern Regional Champion Justin Barcia, made his way to the top step of the podium for a second consecutive week. It was yet another strong night for Barcia, who now enters St. Louis with a double-digit lead over the field after only two weeks of competition.

“The night went really good for me,” said Barcia. “I had good practices and a decent heat race, but I knew I could be up front in the main. The GEICO Honda CRF250R was running great and I felt awesome. I got the holeshot in the main and ran my own race. With two wins under my belt, I am ready to head into next weekend and grab a third.”

GEICO Honda’s newest rider, Justin Bogle, made his podium debut in Atlanta, finishing third in the Supercross Lites Class Main Event with an impressive performance. Following the controversy he experienced in his Monster Energy Supercross debut in Arlington, it was a step in the right direction for Bogle, who undoubtedly learned a lot through his first two weeks in the championship.

“The track was really good, a lot more technical than Arlington, which I think suits my riding style better,” said Bogle. “I got a sixth-place start and was able to make some passes and capitalize on some mistakes. It was a great night and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”

Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Blake Baggett bounced back from a crash at the opening race of the championship to finish second in Atlanta, and jump up to fifth in points. Baggett, a three-time winner in Monster Energy Supercross competition, sits 22 points behind the leader and is focused on narrowing that points gap.

“I rode every day going into Atlanta and did the same thing this week,” said Baggett. “We tested some new settings this weekend and I feel confident for Saturday. Going into St. Louis the goal is simple, try to win, and try and collect as many points as possible.”

Fellow Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Darryn Durham was hoping to back up his runner-up effort from the first race of the championship with another podium effort. While he still rode well, Durham settled for a fifth place finish last weekend. He still sits second in the points and is coming into St. Louis loose and ready.

“I rode tight last weekend and never got in a flow of clicking off smooth laps,” said Durham. “I’m looking forward to the dirt in St. Louis, its awesome so hopefully I can make up some points.”

Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen posted the fastest lap of the day in afternoon practice from Atlanta, posing a major threat to Barcia at the front of the field. However, in the main event, Roczen made an error in judgement when his bike got caught in the starting gate, forcing the German rider to start the race in dead last. Roczen’s recovery effort and ride through the field was impressive, ultimately finishing sixth, but he now sits 15 points out of the championship lead and has yet to challenge for a win.

Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki’s Blake Wharton was definitely one of the hardest-fighting riders in the Supercross Lites Class at Atlanta. After getting a great start in his heat race, Wharton battled for the lead for most of the heat before a small mistake saw him finish fourth. In the main event, Wharton again got a good start and was running in a podium position for most of the 15-lap race before finishing fourth. This weekend, he enters the site of his lone Monster Energy Supercross victory, which came during his rookie season in 2009.

“I put myself in a pretty good position in the main in Atlanta,” said Wharton. “I had some little problems, but everyone’s going to have problems. In the heat race, I was doing well, but then I crashed. I’ve just got to go and work at it some more. I like St. Louis; I won there in 2009. That sure would be nice, to go there and throw down and take the win.”

Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki teammate Hunter Hewitt also turned in an impressive performance in Atlanta. Like Wharton, Hewitt had a good showing in his heat race, carding a fourth-place finish. In the main event, Hewitt put in a smart, consistent ride, coming from behind to bring home an eighth-place result.

“We made some big improvements in Atlanta,” said Hewitt. “I wanted to set a goal and achieve it, and I did that. I got a 15th-place start in the main event, but I was able to work my way up to eighth place. This was an improvement and I’m excited to carry that momentum over to St. Louis.”

Star Valli Yamaha’s Kyle Cunningham overcame discomfort from his crash two weeks ago in Arlington to run up front and finish third in his heat race in Atlanta. In the Supercross Lites Class Main Event, Cunningham pushed hard but a minor get-off irritated his injured wrist. Trying to salvage a solid result, he backed off and finished seventh.

“The track was fun, I just wish I was 100-percent healthy,” said Cunningham, who was unable to practice during the week. “Things were going really good until I crashed in the main, and then my wrist started hurting, so I had to do what was best to finish the race. Now, I’m looking forward to St. Louis. It’s been awhile since I’ve been there and the track is pretty fun.”