MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – For the past two seasons Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey and RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/Suzuki Factory Racing’s Ken Roczen have positioned themselves at the forefront of the AMA Pro Racing Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
They’ve traded 450 Class championships, with Roczen winning in 2014 and Dungey in 2015, and are once again engaged in a hotly contested title fight to start the season.
After Roczen opened the season with a dominant victory Dungey responded with a win of his own this past weekend, and now just two points separate the longtime rivals heading into round three this weekend in Colorado, at the True Value Thunder Valley National on June 4.
Lakewood’s picturesque Thunder Valley MX Park will provide one of the season’s most unique challenges thanks to its mile-high elevation, setting the stage for another highly competitive afternoon of racing.
The championship’s foray to the Rocky Mountains marks the first round outside of California this year, and while Roczen and Dungey have both made their presence felt in the 450 Class, the competition within the 250 Class has intensified.
Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha’s Alex Martin sits atop the championship standings for the first time in his career, fresh off his inaugural victory this past weekend, and will have the enviable distinction of wearing the red number plate on Saturday afternoon.
At last Saturday’s FMF Glen Helen National, Southern California’s marquee motocross track provided a stiff challenge to the world’s best riders, resulting in a grueling battle for victory across both classes. In the 450 Class, Roczen picked up where he left off at Hangtown and put his Suzuki at the front of the field. He appeared to be on his way to an easy Moto 1 victory until an unusual issue with his motorcycle’s front suspension slowed him dramatically and allowed Dungey, who ran second for nearly the entirety of the moto, to make a late pass and steal the win.
The misfortune dropped Roczen off the podium into fourth and ultimately prevented him from securing back-to-back overall wins to start the season.
The opportunity in the first moto not only gave Dungey his first moto win of the season, but allowed him to control his own destiny in Moto 2. Dungey started strong yet again, but Roczen reasserted himself out front and pulled away. Knowing the runner-up finish would be enough to give him the overall win on the afternoon Dungey settled into second, while Roczen went on to take his third moto win in four attempts.
While the moto win provided retribution to his first moto woes, Roczen left with a bit of a sour taste in his mouth, knowing what could have been. On the flip-side of the coin, Dungey enjoyed the spoils of victory and shaved off four points from the six-point deficit he faced entering Glen Helen.
Fittingly enough, last year’s battle for the win at Thunder Valley also came down to Dungey and Roczen, under similar circumstances. Roczen was poised to secure his first overall win as the defending 450 Class Champion, but a flat tire late in the second moto allowed Dungey to take advantage of the misfortune and carry on to his first win of the season. The win allowed Dungey to take over the points lead, a lead he never relinquished again en route to last year’s championship.
The battle for victory at Thunder Valley one year ago came as a result of heartbreak for Colorado native Eli Tomac. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider opened up the 2015 season by winning the first five motos in dominant fashion, until a big crash while leading the final moto at his hometown race not only took him out of contention for the win, but ended his season with major injuries to both shoulders.
While it’s been a challenging road back for Tomac, his resiliency and determination have put him in a position to make a storybook return to the stop step of the podium at Thunder Valley. While he’s yet to challenge either Roczen or Dungey for victory thus far in 2016, Tomac has back-to-back overall podium results to start the season.
At Glen Helen he showed signs of what made him so successful last season, and with the emotion surrounding this weekend’s return to his home race it wouldn’t be a surprise to the racing community if Tomac became the third different overall winner in as many rounds this season. One way or another, all eyes will be on Tomac at Thunder Valley, who will have the support of his home crowd.
Another rider that will be closely watched this weekend is BTO Sports/WPS/KTM’s Andrew Short. The Colorado Springs native will make his final visit to Thunder Valley on Saturday in his final season of professional competition.
Although he has never won at his home race, Short has enjoyed great memories at Thunder Valley — including two runner-up finishes, four podium results, and a win as a member of Team USA at the 2010 Motocross of Nations, which was hosted at the facility. He has not raced at his home track since the 2014 season, but Short is eager to return to his home state and give his hometown crowd a proper farewell.