Motocross

Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship Returns West to Picturesque Washougal

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With eight stops of the 12 round season completed, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, has reached its "Final Four" on the 2015 schedule. Only four rounds and eight motos remain until a champion is crowned in both the 450 Class and 250 Class.

This weekend, the championship makes its anticipated return to the west coast with its annual visit to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and the picturesque Washougal MX Park in Washougal, Washington, for the Peterson CAT Washougal National. The ninth round of the season gets underway this Saturday, July 25, with the momentum on the side of each respective points leader.

At the previous stop of the championship last Saturday, Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey enjoyed his most dominant outing of the 2015 season, sweeping the 450 Class motos for the first time this summer and extending his already comfortable points lead to more than a two-moto margin. In the 250 Class, Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha's Cooper Webb broke through for his first victory in a season marred by injury, but it was his teammate and championship leader Jeremy Martin who gained the most, distancing himself from the field by a double-digit points margin in a runner-up effort.

The trademark consistency that has made Dungey one of the sport's most successful riders has put him within striking distance of a third 450 Class title. However, up until this past weekend the recent ESPY Award winner had not stood atop the overall podium since the fourth round of the season in Tennessee.

While he was in the hunt for victory at each of the ensuing three rounds, winning a moto in each, he missed out on securing the top spot. Last Saturday at his home track of Spring Creek MX Park, Dungey seized the opportunity to reassert his control over the field, particularly after Autotrader.com/Toyota/Yamaha's Justin Barcia earned back-to-back wins to become Dungey's main challenger.

Fittingly enough, Barcia was once again Dungey's lead foe in Minnesota, assuming the lead early in each moto. Unlike previous rounds, Dungey didn't allow his rival to get the upper hand and put forth an impressive ride to give him the most overall wins in the division with three.
Barcia looks to continue to close in on Roczen for second in the 450 Class standings. - Credit: Simon Cudby
Much like Spring Creek, the Washougal facility is a favorite of Dungey. With four wins in five 450 Class races at the track, including last season, the KTM rider has a chance to make this his most successful track since moving into the premier class in 2010.

It's no surprise that Dungey has an affinity for Washougal. It was the site of his first career Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship victory during the 2008 season in the 250 Class that set off a five-year run of dominance at the track that carried into the premier class.

Since 2008, Dungey has won all but one year at Washougal, which means his fellow competitors are going to have their work cut out for them if they hope to not only end his reign in the Pacific Northwest, but also keep him from moving even closer to this season's championship.

While Dungey's lead in the championship has grown to 56 points, meaning he has a cushion of more than two motos that award 25 points apiece for a win, the battle for the runner-up spot has intensified with Barcia's recent run of success.

Prior to earning his first career win at Budds Creek, Barcia faced a 35-point deficit to defending 450 Class Champion Ken Roczen and his RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy Johns/Suzuki Factory Racing team, who was fresh off his first win of the season. Since then, Barcia's three consecutive top-two finishes have helped him close to within just 13 points of Roczen. While Roczen has been consistent since winning, he hasn't been in contention for a single moto win, which has allowed Barcia to gradually inch closer in points.

One rider who played a similar role to Barcia's a year ago as Dungey and Roczen did battle for the title is Team Honda HRC's Trey Canard. The former 250 Class champion has been sidelined since breaking his arm in March, but the Factory Honda effort confirmed in an announcement today that Canard, who finished third in the championship a season ago, will make his 2015 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship debut at Washougal. Although he hasn't raced competitively in over four months, Canard is more than capable of adding himself to the mix at the front of the field.
Martin brings his largest points lead of the season into Washougal - Credit: Simon Cudby
Throughout the 2015 season, the fight atop the 250 Class has been a seesaw battle between Martin, the defending series champion, and Red Bull KTM's Marvin Musquin. The dominant duo has traded the red number plate on numerous occasions, but last weekend's race in Minnesota proved to be perhaps the most impactful round of the championship thus far.

Martin entered the previous round at the track owned by his parents with a slim seven-point lead over Musquin. By the time the two motos concluded, 19 points sat between Martin and the Frenchman. This points gap is ties the largest margin of the season, when Musquin held a 19-point advantage following the second round of the championship.

In that situation, Martin erased the entire deficit and took over the points lead at the ensuing round. Given how dynamic the title fight has been all season with these two riders, there's reason to believe in the potential of another dramatic shift at Washougal.

With four rounds remaining there is still plenty of opportunity for this battle to evolve even further, but for Musquin it has become a tougher task than it was earlier in the season. The 19-point margin to Martin is the largest deficit Musquin has had to face this summer, and it has been admittedly influenced by an aggravated wrist injury suffered on the very same afternoon in which Musquin saw his 19-point lead erased.

While the Frenchman refuses to use his wrist as an excuse, it's evident that his performance isn't quite at the same high level that it was earlier in the championship. Since taking his last win two rounds ago, Musquin has posted 4-6-8-3 moto results for an average finish of 5.25. Alternatively, Musquin's season average prior to that was an impressive 3.0, and he has failed to land on the overall podium since taking his last win.
Musquin is in need of strong results and as the defending race winner at Washougal, he could rebound this weekend. - Credit: Amy Schaaf Noren
While Musquin has endured through his roughest patch of the summer, Martin has stepped up his efforts and now has three wins in his last four motos, and an average finish of 1.5 during that stretch. The reigning champion is hitting his stride at perhaps the most critical juncture of the season and he now brings his largest points lead of 2015 into Washougal. While Musquin is the defending race winner at Washougal and Martin is winless in two attempts, with a best result of third last season, there's no denying the current shift in momentum in the 250 Class. Simply put, all eyes will be on these two riders when the gate drops on Saturday.

Since making his return to action from an injury three rounds ago Webb has made his presence felt in a big way, which has also magnified the distance that now separates Martin and Musquin. Webb is proving he's going to be in contention for the win from here on out and his role in the remainder of the championship battle is going to be significant. While he is teammate to Martin, it is known there is no love lost between the two Star Yamaha riders, and Webb wants nothing more than to win and make the most of a season in which he had title aspirations before suffering an ankle injury.

Washougal MX Park has hosted a round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship since 1980 and features arguably the most picturesque setting of any track in the sport. Nestled within thousands of fir trees and a stones throw from the Washougal River, the track is a favorite for enthusiasts because of its incredible location, and it has become a destination event for any motocross fan.

Its truly unique track layout winds in and out of the trees that line the circuit, and also sends riders up and down what is affectionately known as "Horsepower Hill." The track surface is a mix of loam and hard pack, which results in a truly challenging task for riders to maintain control while also finding much needed speed. Moreover, the shadows created by the towering trees will be something riders battle all afternoon as they duck in and out of the low light. A win at Washougal is well earned, and it has the potential to have an impact on the continuing championship battles.

All the action from Washougal MX Park can be viewed in Australia on FOX Sport 5 at 6am on Sunday the 25th of July

Top Image: Dungey looks to continue his march towards a third 450 Class title, in search of his fifth premier class victory at Washougal.

Credit: Matt Rice

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