Authors: Jason Weigandt and Chase StalloWe’ve taking you through the year that was for supercross, now it’s time to hit the great outdoors. Honda will kick things off, but look out for all the major brands in the weeks to come.
(Photos: Simon Cudby, Andrew Fredrickson, Jeff Kardas, Brian Robinette)
Shoulder Surgery Sidelines Wharton for Year
GEICO Honda's program of grooming top amateur riders before unleashing them in the pro ranks has shown obvious success: Trey Canard, Justin Barcia and Eli Tomac made a big impact for the team, and now Justin Bogle looks poised to do the same. But one rider slipped through the cracks. After a rough supercross season, Blake Wharton elected to finally get his tweaked shoulders fixed, causing him to miss the full outdoor tour. He also lost his ride with GEICO and will be Suzuki-mounted in 2012.
Reed Fires Out of the Gate
Defending AMA MX Champion Ryan Dungey won moto one at the opener, and he led moto two. This was the same recipe we saw from Reed in 2010, and Dungey looked set for a 1-1 day. But no one told Chad Reed. He had only committed his TwoTwo Motorsports team to the outdoor tour two weeks earlier, but apparently that was enough time to get his outdoor groove on, as Reed outdueled Dungey down the stretch to snag the Hangtown overall for the second-straight year.
Contracted to ride supercross only, Kevin Windham grabbed a Honda ride as a replacement for the injured Trey Canard in American Motocross. But a big crash with James Stewart at the SX finale threatened to knock the veteran out of the Hangtown opener. But KW showed up in California anyway, used the few laps he had on press day for testing, and promptly led the first 450 moto of the year. The fans went nuts!
Major injuries had delayed Christian Craig's pro career, but he finally showed his potential with he holeshot the first 450 moto at Freestone. Then he led the best riders in the world for seven laps! Craig had a few other flashes of brilliance before a wrist injury knocked him out for the season, but he definitely proved his potential.
Kawasaki riders dominated the first two rounds of the 250 class, and while a long list of riders on other brands were expected to challenge them, the first rider to do it was a complete underdog. Privateer Darryn Durham stole the show at High Point, his home track, leading most of the first moto until nerves got the better of him. DD would soon prove this was no fluke, as he rode just as well at the next couple of races and proved to be a thorn in the side of the factories.
After a few races, it was clear Chad Reed was in it to win it. Ryan Villopoto had found his outdoor form again, and Ryan Dungey was strong as usual. But Reed had an answer for each advance, and continued to build a points lead as the season went on. His Budds Creek win on Father's day, with his son Tate watching, illustrated the veteran versus the kids battle brewing for the 450 title.
The Kawasaki boys kept winning, but hope was not lost for the GEICO Honda team coming into RedBud. The previous year, Trey Canard launched his second-half comeback at this event, and Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia were hoping to catch fire here. Not this time. Tomac crashed out in practice and Barcia crashed while leading moto one. He couldn't get his bike running for moto two. After this, the title picture was all green.
One bright spot for GEICO Honda at RedBud—Wil Hahn finally returned to racing after getting hurt in practice at Anaheim 1, and then injuring himself again coming back. Wilbur even pulled a holeshot in his return. But he would be back on the injured list before long.
Josh Grant was also hurt right at the beginning of the season, but finally made his return from ACL surgery at Budds Creek. One race later, in Colorado, he tore the ACL in his other knee. He tried soldiering on, but soon it had become a lost season for JG.
When Reed bested Dungey again for the first moto win at Millville, Dungey's home track, and the ripped past Villopoto for the early lead in moto two, the Reed love had reached fever pitch. Momentum, karma, fans, points, you name it, everything seemed on his side. Until an uncharacteristic crash for him—for anyone—left him flying above the track without his bike. Reed was on a high before the crash. But when he came down, so did his title hopes.
K-Dub showed he could run the pace early in the season, but the long, hot, grueling summer races began to wear the veteran down. After Budds Creek, he was supposed to be out, but he pulled a Brett Farve and made a return. By Millville, he was burnt out completely, and called it a season. The fans loved every minute of it, and it seemed like Kevin did, too.
In just his rookie season in supercross, Trey Canard quickly implanted himself into the title chase. Rapidly turning the “Big Four” into the “Big Five” with clutch wins over front runners Dungey, Villopoto, Reed and Stewart, Canard was on the cusp of stardom. Then tragedy struck. Canard broke his femur practicing, cutting a brilliant rookie SX season short. After missing the first six rounds of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, the Oklahoma native made his 450 outdoor debut at Millville picking up right where his supercross season left off. Canard finished third that day and was looking to play the role of spoiler down the stretch. Then in an absolute soul crushing crash at Washougal, Canard re-broke his femur sidelining him for the year.
Ravished by injuries, GEICO Honda called upon rookie Lance Vincent to help fill the shoes of Wil Hahn, Blake Wharton and Jimmy DeCotis. During his brief stint under the factory tent Vincent proved up to the task. Although slowed by the rookie learning curve, Vincent produced two top ten moto finishes and more than held his own with good starts in a field littered with talent.
After missing the first eight rounds due to an elbow injury suffered in supercross, Jimmy DeCotis returned at Unadilla and quickly showed why the GEICO team snagged the privateer folk hero when Hahn went down. Fatigue would plague DeCotis early in his return, but after nailing down a bundle of starts GEICO decided to reinvest in the Massachusetts native and signed him for the 2012 season.
Hot-shot amateur prospect Justin Bogle, fresh off his Horizon Award winning performance at Loretta Lynn’s, made his highly anticipated debut at Unadilla. And what a debut it was. His 6-6 stat line doesn’t do justice to the performance Bogle put in at the Dilla. Bogle ran up front early in both motos putting to rest any doubts that the blood thirsty waters of the pro ranks would faze the baby faced rookie.
Overshadowed by a remarkable debut from Justin Bogle was GECIO Honda losing Wil Hahn for the season once again at Unadilla. After fighting his way back from a broken back—which ended his supercross season before it even began—Hahn looked primed to return early in the outdoor season. But Hahn was struck by the injury bug while testing and missed the first five rounds of the series. Hahn made his season debut at RedBud and was putting in solid results before another hard crash at Unadilla would mark the end of a tumultuous first year with GEICO Honda.
The Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs Honda team experienced great success in supercross with Cole Seely, who notched a couple of main event wins. And one of them, in the rough, rutted conditions in Seattle, signaled that Cole would be an outdoor contender as well. It never materialized, as Cole was seldom seen near the podium. His teammate Travis Baker struggled, too, leaving Christian Craig to garner the team's headlines with his 450 rides. But then Craig went out with an injury. Better luck in 2012, guys.
Justin Barcia has never been known to back down from an on-track confrontation. He’s nicknamed “Bam Bam” for a reason. He has no problem running someone high and asking questions later. Barcia tried to battle through mistakes in the 250 class in 2011, but luck didn’t seem to be on the New York native’s side.
When Chad Reed fell from the sky like a comet crusading towards Earth at Millville, most thought the crash would not only end Reed’s season but maybe his career. But the gritty Australian somehow managed to land of the soft packed side of the jump and recovered to finish a respectable fourteenth—salvaging his chance to add another championship to an already impressive resume. In the weeks following, Reed seemed out of sync, struggling to find the rhythm that lead him to the points lead early in the season. The championship train finally came to a halt at Southwick. Although mathematically still alive, Reed was hanging on by a thread as the series entered the eye of Hurricane Irene. Reed would compound a first moto DNF, with another in moto two closing the door on the dream run that was 2011 for Reed and TwoTwo Motorsports.
Southwick has always been kind to riders from the Northeast, especially to those from the state of Massachusetts. But no one could have predicted what would take place on an overcast day in late August. Mike Sottile (pronounced Sot-till-ee) is a regular kid, working out of a box van, with his dad as his mechanic. But for one day Sottile would forever stamp his name in motocross lore as he set the fastest qualifying time in practice—besting multiple time champions Chad Reed, Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey. He logged his fast lap when the track was smooth during an early practice, and just moments after the lap, the skies opened, the rain came and everyone's pace slowed. This was a classic David vs. Goliath at its finest—and arguably the biggest upset in motocross history.
Having played second fiddle to teammate Darryn Durham throughout 2011, Eleven 10Mods Alex Martin was finally able to break through from behind Durham’s shadow at Southwick. As Hurricane Irene was rapidly approaching the eastern shoreline, Martin was putting in a career ride at the Wick. After leading throughout much of the second moto Martin would finally succumb to the pressure of the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki duo of Tyla Rattray and Dean Wilson. Martin would fend off a late challenge from GEICO Honda rookie Justin Bogle to take home his first career podium finish and further supplement his status as top privateer for 2011. A Mart's parents own the Millville track, but at Southwick, he proved he doesn't need a home track advantage to run with anybody.
Many were critical of Justin Barcia and his riding style after his 450 debut at Unadilla. Whether you agree or disagree with his unique, aggressive style there is no hiding the fact that the kid straight ripped on the 450. He dazzled the home state crowd in his debut, and then proceeded to snag his first career moto win under a torrential downpour at Southwick. If not for his bike blowing up in moto one we may be talking about his first career 450 overall.
Just one year removed from Eli Tomac take the opening round win at Hangtown (his first pro race) and Trey Canard hunting down Christophe Pourcel for the 2010 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, GEICO Honda took a major step backwards outdoors in 2011. Overcome by injuries to Wil Hahn and Blake Wharton and down years for Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia, GEICO struggled to secure spots on the podium, rather less taking home race wins. To make matters worse their fiercest rival—Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki—was dismantling the 250 class en route to a near perfect season (Gareth Swanepoel won moto one at Southwick). Tomac grabbed one saving grace for the team by finishing the season strong and taking fourth in points-at least he was the first non Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider.