The 2009 Rockstar U.S. Open was certainly lacking some of the buzz and pizzazz it’s had in past years. We’ve seen some incredible races inside the tiny MGM Grand Garden Arena, as the arenacross track provides close racing, hard passes, and excitement no matter where you look. This year, with the whole “who’s riding for whom, who’s working for whom” stuff still undecided, it was a decidedly calmer Open. James Stewart showed up on the 2010 YZ450F and Ezra Lusk was back after a five-year layoff. That was about it for hype. Ryan Villopoto committed to the race at the last minute and the event became a little more interesting, but he was coming off injury and wasn’t going to be the RV we’re going to see at A1.
The past few years, there has been a $250,000 bonus to the rider who can grab two holeshots, two quickest laps, two heat-race wins, and most importantly, two main-event wins. That check has never been written, but it almost was one time when Chad Reed only came up short by a second-night holeshot. It kept everyone on the edge of their seats wondering if it can be done. This year, that bonus was not offered, and James made mention of it in the press conference. I’m sure he was already working toward being the first guy to collect it.
The track looked to me to be pretty decent both nights. I liked the first night’s whoop section, but I think they were too easy for the dudes. No one really got out of shape in them, and the obstacles were all pretty basic. The second night’s track was reversed, and it offered more passing and better racing than the first. The first night of the U.S. Open might have been the worst one I’ve ever seen, and I’ve only missed one of these things. There were no battles, no racing, and everyone was just following everyone else around.
Saturday night more than made up for Friday, as there was bar-banging, stuffs, Stewie and Adam Cianciarulo both getting bad starts, and more action than you could shake a stick at. Weird how a track change (and I don’t think there was anything wrong with Friday’s track) can produce such drastically different results. The difference between night one and night two was the difference between Star Wars and the one with Jar-Jar Binks.
Oh and the track design didn’t stop Stewie from busting out some ridiculous combos that no one else did. On Friday he did a triple-triple thing that was just kooky. He went crazyballs on all of us once again. He never did it in the race, but he had it in his back pocket in case he needed it.
So to the surprise of no one, Stewart swept both nights of the Rockstar Energy Drink U.S. Open, and you’d never get him to admit it, but it was easy for him. There was some excitement on the second night when he didn’t get the start, but somehow, amazingly, he went from seventh or eighth to third in the second straightaway. He and Reed are so, so good at that kind of stuff. Once he was in third, he snuck by Dan Reardon and then methodically reeled in Villopoto to pass him around halfway and win the 100K.
As mentioned, Stewie was on the 2010 YZ450F, and what a debut for the new machine. The bike looked great out there, and even though it’s got the exhaust out the back, air induction in the front, and a low COG, I’d bet the number-one thing James is pumped on is the FI. He’d never say it, but I know the carburetor gave him the willies every now and then.
Remember how, at the first few supercrosses, James was fighting the bike and didn’t look very comfortable out on the SX track? It was a hang-on-and-pray moment anytime he entered the whoops. Eventually, the L&M team figured it out and the Yamaha looked as good as any bike out on the track. I wonder if the preseason testing for 2010 will be conducted differently, and with an eye on what happened last year. It’s an all-new bike (the wheels and some brake parts are about the same) and requires heavy, heavy testing.
Second overall at the Open was Davi Millsaps in a good ride. He had to come from the back on night one and generally rode pretty well. Despite a moto win at Budds Creek, 2009 was a frustrating year for the #18, and he was very lucky that he had a two-year contract. As he enters 2010 needing a ride for 2011, there should be no problem with motivation, and I know from talking to people that he really doesn’t like that bike. Well, he needs to embrace the song “Love the One You’re With,” because he’s got a whole year with that bike and has to pull it together. He’s got talent oozing out him and needs to apply it or he’ll be right where so many others are right now, which is looking for a ride while the music is about to end.
Speaking of that, I spoke to Honda manager Eric Kehoe and he informed me that they are trying to find some money for Ivan Tedesco. They really want to re-sign IT9. I figured something had to be going on behind the scenes, because you don’t hear a lot of whispers about Ivan “The Not So Terrible.”
I would say that on a buzz-factor rating, Ezra Lusk returning to race the U.S. Open (he broke the news on my Racer X Podcast - just another reason you should be listening!) was very high. Maybe the most anticipated thing of the weekend even. The Georgia native, wearing his customary #11, got better each and every time he got on the track. He looked tentative the first night (which is understandable, as it was his first race in five years) and didn’t qualify. The second night he posted the fifth-best practice time and made it directly out of his heat into the main. Once in there, Yogi showed good endurance and consistent speed to finish eighth.
Was the comeback a success? Hard to say, really. I would’ve thought he would make both mains, but it’s the U.S. Open - outside of James Stewart winning and Davi Millsaps making both main events, anything can happen, so I wouldn’t put too much stock in Yogi not making the main. In speaking to him a few times, he’s taking this thing very seriously and won’t be coming back if he doesn’t think he can be competitive. If we find out he’s coming back to supercross, he’s going to train and ride a ton and will put in a good showing, just because he’s going to work hard at it.
Michael Byrne was in the house. From Italy to Las Vegas, the member of the 2009 Australian MXoN team came out to the MGM to bang bars with everyone. It was quite remarkable to see Byrner out, as he suffered a big get-off over in Italy and had some gnarly bruising in the rib area. He struggled with some crashes in practice, but he did put in a good second-night ride to get fifth.
It was Michael’s last ride for the Rockstar/Makita Suzuki team, and like a lot of other riders, he’s trying to find a ride now. It’s amazing to me that a guy like Byrne can’t seem to find anything, but these are the times we’re living in now. His immediate plan is participating in Chad Reed’s Australian SX series. He’s going to miss the first round to recover from his Italy/Vegas jaunt but will pick the series up in the second round. He’ll also ride a Suzuki over there.
The promoters of the Open added something pretty cool (at least to me.) It was a mechanic’s challenge, where the top three in each heat had their mechanics line up behind the starting gate and they had to swap a wheel and then push their bike down the start straight and over a chalk line. The winning mechanic scored an extra point for their rider. It was pretty exciting, but there were some glitches and snafus that caused some controversy. The biggest problem is that the rules weren’t written down on paper, and teams tried to get around that. Some teams installed quick Supermoto axles and chain blocks, some went with a 100-size tire to allow more clearance when pulling in and out, and some guys had a shaved-down axle nut that only needed to be spun on.
The teams were told that it had to be as you raced it, but then some of the teams that I spoke to that … umm … pushed the rules a bit say they were told differently. Anyway, it was a bit of a mess, as some tempers got heated, but in the end, Carlos Rivera (Millsaps) won the first night and Matt Jory (Blose) captured the second. Ryan Villopoto’s mechanic, Mike Williamson, didn’t even line up the second night, as they stuck to the rules and weren’t happy with all the fudging.
Speaking of rules, more than one team found it hilarious that they were told during riders’ meetings that the AMA Supercross rules were going to be applied. They were all told that their motocross side-plate numbers weren’t going to fly, and that rules are rules. The reason they thought it was funny was because there is no way that Stewie’s 2010 YZ450F was homologated. Like, what was the AMA going to measure the frame against if they decided to check it out?
Hey, remember Bridgestone pulling out of supercross and motocross? Well, the fallout from that is that Dunlop now has the majority of teams in the pits. The Pro Circuit team stuck to its Bridgestones, as their deal went to October 31. Everyone else that was B-Stone (L&M, Kawi, Yamaha, and Suzuki) has made the jump to Dunlops, and reports are that everyone is happy with the new rubber. Remember, tires are a hugely important deal to these guys, and losing Bridgestone was a blow to riders and teams. By all accounts, Dunlop has stepped up great with product and support for these guys. I’ll be following this story closely.
Matt Boni of the hometown Hart & Huntington Honda team didn’t make many friends this past weekend. Boni is an up-and-coming rider who captured the top privateer award in supercross this year and suffered some bad starts throughout the weekend. No worries for him, as he was aggressive and forced a lot of passes out there. That’s what you have to do, but try telling that to the riders he block-passed everywhere! Anyway, he was fast and aggressive; keep an eye on him in 2010.
Man, I felt sorry for Heath Voss this weekend. He was a human pinball out there and seemed to be getting stuffed anytime I looked up. You could tell on the second night that the frustration was getting to him, as he was just plowing into guys and riding defensively, trying to survive. In Saturday’s LCQ, there was a massive pile-up that benefitted him hugely. He was almost dead last but went around a crash and into the next lane but then tried to jump from one lane onto the other, clipped a Tuff Block, and went down in a heap. A fitting end to a frustrating weekend for the 13.
Ryan Villopoto decided to race at the last minute, and you can’t really judge anything from this weekend. He bent a shifter the first night and DNF’d. Second night he led for about half the main before Stewie got by and pulled away. He was probably the second-fastest rider there this weekend, and it was good to see that he didn’t just fold up when James got around him. He tried to re-pass in a hopeless move that might’ve pissed James off, but it’s good to know that he’s sending a message that he’s going to try and be there in 2010.
GEICO Honda’s Dan Reardon surprised most everyone with his great starts and solid third-overall ride. Reardon has had a ton of bad luck ever since moving over here, and I’m not sure what he’s got cooking for 2010. I can’t imagine that anyone has room for him on a team, but his ride this weekend had to have helped his cause.
Matt Goerke was there under the Moto Concepts truck, and what was interesting was the presence of all the factory Yamaha personnel at the race. Remember, the factory Yamaha team is not going racing next year, but apparently, Goerke is going to lease out a full factory bike. With Stewie there with the 2010, there was team manager Jim Perry, motor builder Bob Oliver, Dyno Dan Rambert, and Ray Johnson was even spinning the wrenches for Goerke. But they were all under the MC truck – a strange sight indeed.
The man with a thousand lives, Josh Hansen, showed up this weekend with his new ride: a Monster/Pro Circuit Kawasaki 450. Hanny, as usual, looked the part of a pro motorcycle racer and qualified both nights for the main (one of nine guys to do that) but didn’t get any results to really speak of. I’m a little confused because this press release says he’s going to ride a 450 in this year’s supercross series, yet the Pro Circuit guy I spoke to said he’s going to ride a 250 on the West Coast for the team. I guess we’ll see what happens, and I honestly have to wonder what the hell Mitch Payton is thinking giving Josh this ride when there are so many more riders who have put in real results the last few years. Payton obviously knows something most of us do not.
I did hear that Hanny’s whole ride is being paid for by Monster and that he’s got some influential friends over there helping the green claw decide on support. We all know Josh has the talent, but there’s an old saying about leopards and spots that I think applies here.
Chris Alldredege won the hotly contested 80cc race by edging out phenom Adam Cianciarulo at the finish of the second night. AC won night one pretty handily and looked to have the event in control. A bad start did in the young redhead from Florida (where have you heard before?), and even though on outright speed he looked to be the fastest, he’ll have to avenge his defeat next year.
That’s it from my hometown and the U.S. Open. Thanks for reading, and email me at email@example.com for any feedback or kooky ideas you may have.