Racer X Notebook: Steel City

Racer X Notebook: Steel City

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  • Who has good eye sight? Anyone have binoculars? X-ray vision? No matter how well you can see, you weren’t going to find traction at Steel City. Heavy rain on Wednesday and the usual summer forecast of scattered thunderstorms kept the track crew guessing on what they should do for track prep, with fears of ripping the track up too deep only to have the rain come down and soak it into a mudder. Then the weather turned out unusually hot on Friday and Saturday. Pretty much every rider and team mentioned that the track was slick, and the sponsor plug, “My Dunlop tires were hooking up,” was only a relative term.


  • As usual, the Steel City track was technical, even without the slippery dirt thrown into the equation. The track runs in a valley, which offers up superb sight lines for fans, who can stand at the top of the facility and see just about every inch of the course. This leads to a lot of up and downhills and off-cambered turns for the riders. And the jumps are some of the most technical on the tour. Steel City’s technical layout, slippery soil and hot and humid weather made this one the 100 percent opposite of last weeks race at Southwick.

One of the many spectacular views at Steel City.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

  • Some of Southwick’s weather problems came courtesy of Hurricane Irene, and that wreaked havoc with the travel plans of most of the teams. Ironically, Pittsburgh’s airport ended up being the destination for most last Sunday, as it was the closest major airport not shutdown by the hurricane. Then most of those that flew home from Pittsburgh last week ended up coming right back to it a few days later for Steel City! The Monster Energy Kawasaki team, for example, didn’t get back to California until Tuesday, and after building Motocross of Nations stuff on Wednesday, they headed right back to Pittsburgh again.


  • Kawasaki is exceptionally busy with MXoN efforts, since Ryan Villopoto, Blake Baggett, Dean Wilson and Tyla Rattray are all racing next weekend in France. Rattray is too old to race in the FIM’s MX2 class (for 250s) so he has to race a 450 at the des Nations. He spent a few weeks riding a 2011 450 to get ready, and then last week he got on a 2012 race bike for some final testing of the bike he will actually race over there. Also, Great Britian’s Tommy Searle, winner of the MX2 overall in the GPs over the weekend in Germany, will be on a KX450F for the des Nations, since Wilson has the GB MX2 spot. Should be interesting to see how the 250 riders perform on their big bikes next weekend.


  • As Steve Matthes reported in Observations this morning, Team France was considering dropping Gutier Paulin from a 450 to a 250 at the des Nations to make room for Christophe Pourcel on a 450. This would bump Marvin Musquin off the team, since Musquin has been struggling with injuries for most of this season. Musquin’s 3-3 performance at Steel City may have squashed that plan, though.


  • Honda has yet to send out an official PR, and probably won’t until the season is done, but the rumor that Justin Brayton was moving to the team to race alongside Trey Canard seemed pretty solid at Steel City. Brayton’s current team, Muscle Milk Toyota Yamaha, had the right to match any offer, but they’re happy to see Brayton get a shot with the factory Honda squad. As for who will ride for JGR next year, Team Manager Jeremy Albrecht says, “he’s looking at everything.” For sure, we’ve heard some wild rumors about riders this team could go after, but nothing is set yet.

Is Brayton on his way to Honda?
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

  • Brayton’s move to Honda presumably ends Josh Grant’s unfortunately injury-riddled run with the team. A likely scenario for Grant is to join the Valli Motorsports team, which will get major sponsorship support from the Metal Mulisha next year, and of course JG is a Mulisha member. But, once again, nothing is signed. Valli plans on running a 450 and 250 effort next season, most likely still on Yamahas.


  • And yes, Honda has room for Brayton. For anyone wondering why the team doesn’t just bump Justin Barcia up to the 450 team full time next year, remember, he still has a Lites East SX Title to defend next year for GEICO Honda.  Barcia rode well to fourth in the first 450 moto, but pulled out of moto two with stomach problems.


  • The Rockstar Makita Suzuki team explained that their problems with Ryan Dungey’s bike before the second moto last week were all electrical—no problems with any major engine components. The team checked the coolant in Dungey and Metcalfe’s bikes after the first moto and they hadn’t lost a drop, which indicates the motors never got too hot and everything was in proper running order. A lot of teams will swap engines out between motos at Southwick, but Suzuki didn’t bother because their engines worked fine—as proven with Metcalfe and Dungey’s strong second-moto rides. It may have looked like the team was scrambling to swap Dungey’s motor out between motos, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, everything was running fine until moments before the moto, when the bike suddenly died. They swapped out every electrical part in a fire drill to get the bike into the race—not a moment too soon.


  • It’s looking more and more like Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki will have two openings next year, with Broc Tickle forced into the 450 class for supercross and Tyla Rattray looking for a 450 ride outdoors. Darryn Durham has been talking to Mitch Payton about grabbing the spot, but, as usual, nothing is signed yet.

Plouffe finished 19th overall in his pro debut at Steel City.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

  • Nico Izzi returned to action at Steel City, but this time on a 450 for Valli Motorsports Yamaha. He rode strong early in the motos but ended up with 24-30 scores.


  • Chris Plouffe and Kyle Peters made their pro debuts at Steel City, Plouffe with JDR J-Star KTM and Peters with DNA Shred Stix Star Racing Yamaha. They finished 19th and 20th overall, respectively.



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