When Ryan Villopoto captured the season opener last weekend at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., to kick off the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season, he became one of only six riders in the sport's history to win this race in consecutive seasons.
The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider joins legends Johnny O'Mara, Jeff Ward, Mike LaRocco, Chad Reed and James Stewart in this elite group. The winner of the season opener has gone on to win the championship 18 times. Tomorrow night, Villopoto will race for his first-ever win at Phoenix's Chase Field.
"We will keep pushing and moving forward to Phoenix this weekend" said Villopoto. "There are a lot of races left so we just need to keep on with our program and try to be consistent."
Villopoto will carry the coveted red number plate into Chase Field as the Monster Energy Supercross Championship points leader.
TwoTwo Motorsports/Bel-Ray Honda's Chad Reed finished second, marking the 115th podium finish in his 142 career starts. Reed won his heat race and rode smooth to a solid finish.
"I'm excited how the Anaheim opener turned out," said Reed. "The goal was to be on the podium and to have a shot at a win, and we achieved both. I was a little off the pace of Ryan (Villopoto) but, I feel we can make up that gap in the coming weeks."
Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey, the 2010 Supercross Class champion, rounded out the podium with a third-place finish. Dungey, who is riding a KTM for the first time in his career, gave the Austrian manufacturer their best-ever Supercross Class result.
"Finishing on the podium at the Anaheim opener was definitely a great way to start the 2012 supercross season," said Dungey. "It was an honor to deliver KTM their first-ever US podium in the Supercross Class last weekend and hopefully it's the start of many more to come. Working with an all-new race bike usually takes a team quite a lot of time testing and developing before you start to see podium level results.
"However, right off the bat we have had no problems dialing in the new KTM 450 and after just a few short months of seat time on the new bike, we are already showing very positive results against a field of very experienced competitors. It's definitely a testament to KTMs determination to produce a championship-contending bike and the team's commitment to ongoing development that positioned us amongst the top finishers at Anaheim. I'm really motivated to get on the podium again this weekend in Phoenix."
In his debut race aboard the American Honda Muscle Milk ride, Justin Brayton earned a career-best fourth-place finish after being forced to qualify through the last chance qualifier.
"It is always nerve racking going into an LCQ, but I was able to win and boost my confidence back up," said Brayton. "I got a decent start in the main and was able to pick it up about halfway through, where I made my way to fourth."
Toyota/Yamaha/JGRMX's James Stewart, a two-time Supercross Class champion, suffered a late-race crash and dropped back to sixth place, where he would finish.
"We learned a lot last weekend in Anaheim," said Stewart. "First race with the new team, their first race with a new rider, first time I'd been racing since last year's supercross season. I mean that was our first real competition together, and in end, it wasn't all the bad. We found some things with the bike and those will help. But, we got a taste of what the competition is going to be like this year, and I think we're ready for more."
Supercross.com Honda's Andrew Short controlled the lead for several laps in his heat race before being passed by Stewart and Dungey to finish third. He went on to finish seventh in the main event. This marked Short's first ride under the newly-formed team between Jeremy McGrath, the all-time winningest supercross racer, and Larry Brooks, who managed McGrath, Reed and Stewart in the past.
After being sidelined with injury for the start of 2011, Villopoto's teammate Jake Weimer entered the 2012 season 100% healthy and ready to claim his spot amongst the leaders. He battled back from a mid-pack start in Anaheim and finished a career-best fifth. Weimer has finished within the top 10 in all three of his Supercross Class races.
"We got some decent points in Anaheim and can only build from here," said Weimer. "I look forward to doing better in Phoenix, knowing my fitness and equipment is the best it could be."
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Broc Tickle made his debut in the Supercross Class last Saturday night and finished in a respectable 12th place after a crash in the main event. After qualifying well within the top 10, Tickle is excited to improve on last weekend.
"I'm happy with how Anaheim went, and I know I have the speed to be up near the front," said Tickle. "In Phoenix, I just want to have some fun, loosen up, and get good starts. If I can do all that, I'll be where I want to be."
Team Yoshimura Suzuki's Brett Metcalfe started out the night in Anaheim on a high note by racing his Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 to a solid sixth-place finish in his eight-lap heat race. Following that performance, Metcalfe went on to get a good start on the Yoshimura Suzuki RM-Z450 in the Supercross Class Main Event and turned laps in the top 10 before finishing up the night in 11th.
"Anaheim didn't quite go as planned," admitted Metcalfe.
"It was a rough day for me and a tough event. It's a tough way to start out the championship, but I battled through, and we came away with an 11th, which wasn't really where we hoped to be, but we're going to take that and move on. We've learned a lot from the day and we've already made many changes based on what we learned. I feel we're already better prepared for Phoenix. Normally, Phoenix is a pretty technical, hard-pack track and you have to be very precise with everything you do.
"You can lose the front end easy in the corners or slide out, and you really have to be on your game. I think bike setup will be crucial. I think with everything we've done this week that we're looking forward to Phoenix and just getting out there and improving on last weekend. We still got a lot of racing to go and we're going to get better, so there's a lot to look forward to."
Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda's Cole Seely had a lot to be excited about leaving Anaheim Saturday night, following an impressive ride to his third-career Supercross Lites Class victory.
"I am definitely excited. It's great to come out on top at a race that gets so much hype," said Seely. "My main focus this year is consistency, as long as I stay consistent each week I think I can win the championship."
Although Tyla Rattray finished second at the Anaheim opener, he views last weekend as a warm up. Rattray took the early lead in the main event and rode a consistent pace but is not content with anything short of a win.
"I'm really looking forward to this weekend," said Tyla. "We shook the cobwebs out last weekend and will be on top of our game in Phoenix."
Coming off his AMA 250cc Motocross title, Dean Wilson was heavily favored to win the opener. Wilson held third place for nearly the entire main event, until a last-lap mishap dropped him to sixth.
"Last week was not the result I was looking for at all," said Wilson. "The team and I have worked hard all week, and I'm looking to come into Phoenix a different man."
Long regarded as the top Supercross Lites Class team, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki has won 35 of 71 races, earned 62 podiums and 68 top-five finishes since 2008. Since the eighth race of the 2010 season, they have managed to earn podium results at every stop.
For Rockstar Energy Suzuki, the night was bittersweet in the Supercross Lites Class. Although Martin Davalos celebrated an impressive win in his heat race, he experienced some issues during the main event and dropped out of the fray.
"Anaheim started off pretty good," said Davalos. "I didn't have the best qualifying time, but I was able to get out in front in my heat race and take the win. Unfortunately, we had a problem in the main event, and I wasn't able to finish the race. It was a bummer for me and the entire team but we'll put that behind us and look forward to Phoenix. We went to the test track first thing Monday morning and got everything figured out so I'm ready for Phoenix. I'm looking forward to it ‰ÛÒ it's my birthday weekend and it's time to turn things around and get it done. I'm going there positive and (prepared) to be as good as I can be, and try to get some results for the team."
His Rockstar Energy Suzuki teammate Jason Anderson, however, celebrated a very consistent evening, finishing seventh in his heat race and seventh in the 15-lap Supercross Lites Class Main Event.
"Anaheim was the first race of the season, so nerves were a little high," said Anderson. "But I had some good practice sessions. Then my heat race had a bunch of pile-ups, but I ended up doing pretty good, and I made it to the main. The gate-drop at the start of the main was a little delayed, and I struggled with that, but I came back and got seventh, so it was a decent night overall. I'm really excited for Phoenix. I feel like my fitness and speed are good. I think I have everything in place and with a good start, I should be able to run up in the top five there."
Star/Valli Yamaha celebrated a well-earned fifth-place finish in the Supercross Lites Class Main Event, thanks to Ryan Sipes.
"I started the day out great in practice at Anaheim, but in my heat race, I went down," said Sipes. "I got up last and had to go to the LCQ but, thankfully, I made it through. In the main, I couldn't find my rhythm so we'll take the points from fifth place tonight and come back next week at Phoenix and try to win it. I got my first-ever podium there, so I'm looking forward to that race."
Meanwhile, his Star/Valli Yamaha teammate Nico Izzi had a strong showing in his heat race with a third-place finish and came in 12th in the Supercross Lites Class Main Event.
"I had a pretty good heat race at Anaheim," said Izzi. "I felt strong and solid. The main event came around and I got a bad start ‰ÛÒ I kind of had bad starts all night. But I came away healthy and with no crashes so I have to look forward to Phoenix. I never raced Phoenix before because I never race West Coast. It looks a little dry and slick but I kind of like that because I'm a smoother rider and it can work out in my favor. I'm going to get some good starts because I'm working on starts all week, and I'm going to come out swinging this weekend."
Two-time World GP Champion Marvin Musquin made his Supercross Lites Class debut, finishing fourth after earning third in his qualifier.
"Fourth place at Anaheim was a good result for my Supercross Lites Class debut," said Musquin. "I was really nervous heading into my first U.S. supercross race, but I think I did a good job controlling my nerves in front of such a big crowd. Unfortunately, I didn't get the best start in the main as I got checked up by another rider going into the first turn. However, I think I came back strong working my way up to fourth spot by race end. I've won two World GP titles in Europe, so my goal is definitely to be up fighting for wins here in the U.S. Now that I know what to expect in the Lites Class - now that the first race is out of the way - my focus is purely to be on the podium each weekend going forward."