The Saturday practice sessions proved to be a prime indicator that there a few dark clouds on the horizon. What began with a perfectly groomed course on Saturday afternoon that had the riders racing each other’s lap times ended with a torrential downpour that pretty much destroyed the track. But the sun was shining bright this morning and, with a few passes of the disc, the track was returned to near pristine conditions.
Still some dark clouds loomed, as Chad Reed get out of shape in practice and injure his knee, leaving his status would be questionable for the race. Then the really bad news hit: James Stewart suffered yet another horrific, high-speed crash two laps into the second practice session that ended his day.
While an injured Reed and a missing Stewart stole from the drama leading into the motos, there was still some incredible racing action that kept the Unadilla faithful glued to the track all afternoon long.
The weather was supposed to be miserable and humid and while it was indeed hot, a nice breeze accommodated the large contingent of fans nicely. But the track was vintage ‘Dilla. The heavy rains the day before in practice created a soft surface, which gave birth to deep ruts and extremely rough conditions. Throw in the rocks and the heat, and the boys had quite a challenge today! Here is how the racing shook out.
Everybody was excited for the opening moto of the 250F class. Red Bull KTM’s Mike Alessi had witnessed his once powerful points lead crumble to a scant five points over the last three rounds. And while Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto was the man responsible for cutting into the lead, Mike did come into this weedend as the last man to earn a moto victory and possibly the series momentum at Red Bud. Also, Broc Hepler, the 2005 Unadilla winner was looking to get closer to his winning form after an off weekend at Red Bud.
The gate slammed down and sure enough it was #800 grabbing one of his patented holeshots and the early lead. In his wake a streaming horde of contenders did their best to chase him down. Meanwhile, Hepler suffered an atrocious start and rounded the second turn in 35th. Up front a spirited duel broke out between Yamaha of Troy’s Andrew McFarlane and Honda riders Josh Grant and Andrew Short, with Short eventually making his way past both and settling into a comfortable second-place behind the sprinting Alessi. Then trouble arrived in the name of a fired-up Villopoto. As Short began to reel in Alessi around the halfway point, Villopoto turned up the wick and drew to the rear tire of Short’s factory Honda. Ryan wasted little time getting around Short and immediately set out after his rival Alessi. As Short seemed to lose his drive, Alessi dug deep in an effort to hold the charging Kawasaki 250F rider at bay. And he did just that for the second 250F moto in a row. Short motored home a distant third, while the Yamaha of Troy teamsters of McFarlane and Brett Metcalfe rounded out the top ten.
Up next was the first 450 moto. While Stewart would unfortunately not make it to the line, Reed did, and the legions of fans were eager to see Ricky Carmichael ride out his last race at Unadilla with #22 in the field. Michael Byrne and Heath Voss would also be making their return to race after long stays on the injured reserve list.
Grabbing the holeshot and the $500 Racer X Gas Card was Team Honda’s Davi Millsaps.
Unfortunately for the competition, Carmichael gated second and wasted little time dispatching the 450-class rookie. But the one lap that Millsaps was able to stay ahead of the 14-time champ put him about almost 10 seconds ahead of third place. While there was not much of a challenge for the lead, there was a huge battle taking place between the injured Reed, Sobe/Samsung No Fear’s Kevin Windham, Motoworld Racing.com’s David Vuillemin, Byrne and Moto XXXer Tim Ferry. Windham would eventually come out on top of this duel and take third while Reed and a surprising Timmy Ferry—who punted Nick Wey at one point—rounded out the top five.
Everybody scrambled from the concession stands to the fence lines for a good spot to watch the second 250F moto. The brutally rough and rocky track had taken its tole on pretty much everybody. The question was, Who would have enough left for moto 2?
Ryan Villopoto found himself out front after battling for most of the day.
In addition, trainer Randy Lawrence reported that not only was his rider Villopoto fairly spent after his first moto, he also got nailed with a rock and had a sore hand. Who would have the juice? It was Josh Grant who came out swinging by stealing the holeshot and the early lead (and $500 from Racer X). Villopoto gated inside the top five and had Short right on his tail. Alessi suffered an uncharacteristically bad start and was hovering around the eighth position. Up front, it was on! A crazy four-way battle erupted between Grant, KTM’s Nathan Ramsey, Short, and Villopoto. The freight rain pulled away from the pack and traded positions time and again; one rider would mount a charge that would take him from 4th to the lead, and then the others would swoop back nby. This mayhem would go on for about five laps before Villopoto eventually made his way to the lead and put up the sails. Short tried to mount a charge but there would be no catching Ryan as he rode away to his fourth overall victory of the year. Meanwhile, Alessi would turn in a not-so-hot seventh-place finish and had the point lead over to Villopoto.
The second 450 moto was a mirror of the first. Millsaps grabbed the holeshot and soon fell victim to Carmichael, who again rode off into the sunset (wearing “Last Tine” on the back of his Fox pants) with his 8th and final career victory at Unadilla.
RC quickly made his way to the front in both motos and never looked back.
The main drama of the moto came by way of Chad Reed making a late race charge at Millsaps in a battle for the final podium spot. Reed seemed to have saved a little for the final laps and mounted a series attack at # 118. But Davi had a little something up his sleeve as well and had just enough left in the tank to put in three solid laps to earn another podium in what is turning out to be a solid rookie outdoor season in the premiere division.
The series now heads to Lakewood, CO to begin the second leg of the series. As far as championships go, it’s all eyes on the 250F class where they are going to enjoy what Mike Alessi predicts will be a “dogfight to the finish.” Well, next race is on Andrew Short’s turf. Rest assured, there will be fireworks once again for these guys in the Lites division.