Observations: Washougal

Observations Washougal

July 25, 2012 4:25pm

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Washougal, round eight of the 2012 Lucas Oil Motocross Championship, is a tricky place. On one hand it has ridiculously amazing scenery and is a joy to go to. On the other hand, it’s not easy to see much of the track and it’s not a fun track to race on for the riders. The tire guys are always scrambling and trying to ease hard feelings after seven rounds of perfect traction, and the goggle guys are constantly trying to find a non-existent lens that works great in the sun and shadows. It’s beautiful on the outside but inside, she’s a beast!

I am definitely in the camp that the Washougal track needs to get some new dirt brought in. I heard they did get some new dirt this year but I don’t think it was enough. I also believe that the changes they made a few years ago in taking the Chuck Sun tabletop and catcher’s mitt out were for the worse. Most other improvements, like moving the start two years ago, were for the better. I don’t think there’s a track on the circuit that’s moved their start around like Washougal; I’ve been going there since ’96 and this is the fourth different one I’ve seen. When I was a mechanic, this track produced so many rider complaints that it wasn’t even funny. It’s slippery and rocky base confounded the riders and at one point I remember a tire guy telling David Vuillemin, “You’re just going to have to deal with it,” and by “it,” he meant the feel of your front end going away at any moment.

Tires were once again key this weekend and the previously-incredible-and-perhaps-unbeatable-unless-he-beats-himself Blake Baggett of the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team went out in the first moto with his usual combination of tires. It proved to be a horrible choice as Baggett went from second to fifth in the opening laps. That’s not that big of a deal because, well, it’s Blake Baggett y’all. From there though, it got worse as multiple crashes knocked Baggett back to sixth. What was the deal?

Blake Baggett changed back to his regular open tread pattern in the second moto at Washougal, after running a different front tire in the first moto.
Carl Stone photo

It seems that Blake prefers an open tread pattern on his front tire, which works better in loam and sandy conditions, and when you team that up with a 120 width rear tire (which most guys now use on 250s due to the horsepower they’re getting out of them. Lots of 2.5 wide rims as well. These aren’t your 100/100-19’s anymore people!), you get a lot of push in the front end. Baggett felt that it wasn’t a good combination and he lost some serious points to Justin Barcia (first moto winner), Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen. He also lost some points to Marvin Musquin and Wil Hahn, but I think we can safely say they’re outta this thing.

Baggett changed his tire combo for the second moto and presto, just like that, made up a lot of ground on leader Justin Barcia. Passing Bam Bam late and running away with the moto win was, in Baggett’s dad Tom’s words, “a massive salvage job” for Blake. The points gap was eighteen going into Washougal, it was eight after the first moto and was dangerously close to being five. It ended up being eleven when Baggett passed and beat a very ticked-off Barcia. It’s crazy that tire choice (and probably a bit of restraint) could make the difference, but in talking to the Pro Circuit guys, it seems that it did.

(Note: The PC guys told me Baggett ran his regular front tire in moto one then switched in moto two, but in the post-race press conference, Baggett said he ran a different tire in moto one and switched back to his regular tire in the second moto. Totally opposite stories! You never know with these dudes. Either way, whatever they had in moto two was better!)

If you’re Mitch Payton or a fan of Baggett, you’ve got to be a bit nervous about what’s coming after the two-week break. We’ve got a couple of Justin Barcia specialty tracks coming up in Southwick and Unadilla. Barcia was leading a 450 moto there last year until his motor blew up, but he went on to dominate the second moto. He’s won there before on a 250F, and he’s got a great shot at erasing his eleven-point deficit in the next two races. Blake’s results, coupled with how he holds it together in the next four motos, are going to be key to how he finishes in the championship.

And not too far back is Eli Tomac, who can still win this thing. He’s just over a moto back, although it’s been a while since Tomac has been the best rider of the weekend. Still, if Baggett or Barcia falter, ET will be right there. But if I were in Vegas (wait, I LIVE here), I’d be a betting man and put my dineros on either Barcia or Baggett taking this thing home.

Eli Tomac ran a hard second behind teammate Justin Barcia at Washougal.
Carl Stone photo

And King Kenny Roczen seems to be fading a bit here as the season rolls on. A rider that found himself on the podium at every single race through five rounds now finds himself without one for the third consecutive time. The American series is much more of a grind than the GP series and perhaps Kenny is finding the going a bit tough right now. I still think he’s doing fine, but with him heading off to Germany during the break to go race, I wonder if he and his dad think that Roczen could be a bit tired. If it was me, I’d be all about R&R in these next two weeks. Then again, I’m not Ken Roczen and family.

The debate still rages on. Is Roczen doing well in this, his first year at the Nationals? I believe so. The number of podiums and laps led also indicate that. He’s also been very close to having an overall win. The German is 18-years-old and is doing just fine, and he’s going to get better. Think about that for a second and down it like a lager.

The streak is over! The streak is over! Ryan Dungey’s amazing ten-moto win streak was broken when Mike Alessi won the first moto at Washougal. It wasn’t easy, Mike had heat on him for a long time by The Dunge, but it was a perfect storm of factors that enabled Mike to win: a hard-to-pass-on track, exposing the one weakness that Dungey has (an inability to force things and make passes happen), some luck (Dungey crashing) and pure raw speed on Alessi’s part. It’s nice to see Mike do it on a bike that, which is good, but isn’t a factory KTM. In a way it’s redemption for Alessi, father Tony and Mike Genova, who owns MotoConcepts. Great for Genova as well, because it’s his company’s home race and he no doubt had a lot of his employees there to witness the achievement of the 800.

What should we make of Dungey’s snub of Alessi at the end of the moto? Well, put it this way. Alessi has been a thorn in the side of Dungey all year, as well as an expert in counter-attack measures. Dungey ate rocks for 27 minutes, he almost went into the crowd, he lost and he probably wasn’t very happy. I can think of more than a few riders who wouldn’t have been that pumped to celebrate with the guy they just lost to. [Editor’s Note: Later, in the post-race press conference, both Alessi and Dungey were cordial with one another. When Alessi was leaving the mic, the two of them shook hands as Dungey was about to take his turn at the mic] Besides, did anyone else think that Mike was wanting a little more than just a fist pump? I understand he was mega-pumped, but this wasn’t the moto to determine the best motorcycle racer ever in the whole universe, it was just the first moto at Washougal, with another one remaining. I don’t make anything out of this. Dungey did relent and give him a handshake, and I understand Mike being happy. But it did have many in the pits talking, I assure you.

Do the Mikes, Alessi and Genova, deserve a spot on the U.S. squad at the des Nations?
Carl Stone photo

Roger DeCoster, team USA manager for the upcoming MXoN, gave an interview with Motocross Action in which he dismisses Alessi as a possible member of Team USA with this comment: “I’m not so sure about what kind of support, equipment-wise, he’d get in Europe. Also, looking at lap times from the Nationals, there are 250 guys going almost as fast as Dungey, and Dungey is going a lot faster than anybody else that he’s racing right now.” To be fair to DeCoster, he made this comment before Washougal and last time I checked, there’s nothing on my wall besides a plaque commemorating me as being a member of the last Team USA to lose the MXoN (Zolder 2003).

But still, I feel like this tosses aside the fact that DeCoster would rather send someone who has never been to the event on a bike he’s not currently racing (one of the 250 guys), than a proven 450 rider who is capable of beating Ryan Dungey. Trust me, even before Washougal, I was saying this. Mike’s been on the podium at Southwick before on a KTM 350, so sand speed (The MXoN will be held at a sand track this year) isn’t an issue. I had a conversation with Genova, and he said he’d be 100 percent behind the team to do whatever it took. If you want more of my opinion, I’d hold the second 450 spot for James Stewart until he figures out if he’s healed up enough. But in the case of what came first, the chicken or the egg, JS7 isn’t going and Roger’s not going to pick him anyways.

Like I said, Roger’s better at this stuff than I am, but if I’m DeCoster I go to Genova and say, “Mike, we need two complete race bikes, a suspension guy from your team and two mechanics to go over there. This is going to cost X. Are you in?” I have no doubt Genova would be in. Mike’s got experience in Europe, the team is behind him and he just beat Ryan Dungey (and has given him his only real competition this summer since Stewart went out), so there you go. Instead, assuming Baggett wins the 250 title, you’re sending Barcia, a rookie to Europe and the MXoN, on a bike that’s had a shit-ton of problems in the sand (Metty running out of gas, Short blowing up in practice, Reed and Barcia DNF’ing last year) and ignoring the fact he hasn’t been on a 450 for over a year? I don’t know man, I hope it all works out!

Andrew Short captured his first overall podium since Thunder Valley at Washougal.
Carl Stone photo

Let’s take a look at the results shall we?

250 Overall Results
1. Justin Barcia 1-2 Hon
2. Eli Tomac 2-3 Hon
3. Blake Baggett 6-1 Kaw
4. Marvin Musquin 3-4 KTM- Musquin was great this weekend but once again barely missed out on the podium. What’s this guy got to do?
5. Ken Roczen 4-7 KTM
6. Blake Wharton 7-6 Suz- Another solid ride for Wharton. That’s two in a row for Purple Rain. The break’s probably coming at a bad time for him.
7. Justin Bogle 9-5 Hon
8. Wil Hahn 5-10 Hon- Hahn was good in the first moto and in the second, it was weird to not see him move up. He kind of just stayed where he was.
9. Ryan Sipes 8-8 Yam- Sipes dropped down at Washougal and will be on the small bike for the rest of the year due to injuries on his team. Sipes practiced on a YZ250 two-stroke to get ready for the race because he doesn’t have a practice bike quite yet. A nice showing, all things considered.
10. Jason Anderson 10-9 Suz- Jason Anderson last year? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Anderson this year? Raiders of the Lost Ark.
11. Malcolm Stewart 11-11 KTM- Mookie’s best race since Thunder Valley, in terms of points scored. That’s right, Thunder Valley seems like two years ago now.
12. Jessy Nelson 13-13 Hon- Sometimes perspective is needed. If I told you that with four rounds to go, a rookie named Jessy Nelson who only has one thumb and was fresh out of amateur racing would be ninth in the points, would you have believed me? Exactly.
13. Travis Baker 14-15 Hon- And what about Baker being in tenth? After a sub-par (for him on that bike) year-and-a-half, I’d say Travis is making a case for himself to go back to TLD for next year.
14. Martin Davalos 18-12 Suz- Davalos came back after being out for a long time and 18-12 is about right. He’ll get better as the series marches on.
15. Killy Rusk 16-16 Hon- Reader Cody says it all in an email to me yesterday- “Matthes, Killy Rusk was top 20 in this week’s race at Washougal. Can you give him some props in your feature more than just his name. Watched him and Eli grow up and battle it out here in Southern Colorado, you knew they both had the ability, he just needs more support. In a box van with just him and his dad.” Good job Killy and Cody!
16. Alex Martin 12-36 Hon- Martin’s team, Eleven10 Mods, is just cursed this year. It’s like they sold their soul last year and in 2012, the rent is due.
17. Tevin Tapia 17-17 KTM- First time all year that Tapia has scored points in both motos- best race of the year for him.
18. Jake Canada 38-14 Hon
19. Ivan Tedesco 15-37 Kaw- Pretty sure Tedesco is going to be out for the rest of the year with a bad knee. MRI readings should be done any day now.
20. Dakota Tedder 19-19 Kaw- 19-19 for twentieth? Man at Millville this would have gotten you an eighth overall!

Martin Davalos returned to action at Washougal and finished 14th overall.
Carl Stone photo

450 Overall

1. Ryan Dungey 2-1 KTM
2. Mike Alessi 1-2 Suz
3. Andrew Short 4-3 Hon- Shorty got back on track with a podium, but he’s going to need some luck to move up any higher in the points than the fourth he’s currently in.
4. Jake Weimer 3-5 Kaw- Weimer fell over in a turn early in the second moto and his overall podium went out the door with that crash.
5. Broc Tickle 6-4 Kaw- Everywhere you go you hear “Tickle to…” rumors. BBMX, H&H, JWR, KTM- it’s all out there.
6. Tommy Hahn 7-7 Hon
7. Kyle Chisholm 8-10 Kaw- The Chiz’s best overall result of the year. He thinks that maybe he’s found a shock that suits him. Let’s hope so!
8. Christian Craig 10-9 Hon- Craig’s getting better and working his way back into shape. This wasn’t a really physically demanding track and was right up Craig’s alley. He’s looking for a ride next year.
9. Weston Peick 9-11 Suz
10. Josh Grant 17-6 Kaw- Props to Grant for getting up in the first moto when he went down hard while running in second. I thought that would be it but he kept fighting and ended up with four points when many others would have packed it in.
11. Justin Brayton 5-36 Hon- Brayton had a crash in the second moto and pulled her in. He’s ok but was shook up from the get-off. Too bad because he was starting to find his groove.
12. Vince Friese 14-14 Suz- Sigh. Friese got into it with Peick in practice and once again claimed he had “no idea” why Weston would be angry or do anything to him. There’s only so many times one can cry wolf before we stop listening.
13. Ben LaMay 12-16 Yam-Great ride for Lamay. Is it just me, or have privateers started to put in some great rides these last couple of weeks? Remember Lamay qualified fast last week, he’s on a roll!
14. Fredrik Noren 22-8 Hon- The Swedish rider has been hurt and just getting back into the swing of things. Let’s put it this way, his eighth in the second moto is by far his best finish in his year-and-a-half on the circuit. Great ride for Noren, who is a really nice guy.
15. Kevin Rookstool 16-13 Hon- Endurocross guy comes back to his roots and puts in a couple of great rides. Who knew?
16. Michael Byrne 13-17 Suz
17. Derek Anderson 19-12 Kaw
18. Mike Brown 11-35 KTM- Brown’s bike broke again in the second moto. Browny’s been pretty good in his return to motocross, and only needs three points to retain his National number 3 for next year. Anyone want to bet he does it?
19. Tyla Rattray 15-18 Kaw- I was up in the Kawi rider lounge after the race and Tyla was seriously depressed. He wasn’t good at Washougal and my jokes about retiring weren’t making the mood any better. Rattray is in talks with Star Valli for a 250SX/450MX ride and has to make some noise. I know he just got back from a long injury layoff but it’s not happening for him as of yet.
20. Les Smith 40-15 KTM- Smith has had a ton of DNF’s and problems with his Dungey-replica KTM. There’s just not enough aftermarket parts out there right now to help the guy out. When he’s holding it together, he’s fine.

Three Yamaha 250s (only one privateer) in the 40-man field is not good for Team Tuning Fork. The bike isn’t that bad, but it’s in dire need of an update from the mothership, and it’s showing at the pro level. I don’t know what Yamaha has up their sleeve but I hope in coming years, it doesn’t involve an oil tank and a carburetor.

“Top” Jimmy Albertson went down hard in the first moto and was KO’d for a little while before eventually getting transported to the hospital and cleared to go home. It was by all accounts a scary crash. Jimmy’s ok, but it was tense there for a little while. Combine that crash with Nick Wey’s Millville crash and long recovery ahead of him, and my favorite riders are taking a beating!

Speaking of favorite riders, Cole Thompson was picked up by the Star Valli Racing guys to move from his privateer Honda 450 to a Yamaha 250 for the rest of the races. Now, to me I might have stayed on the Honda 450 as a privateer. After all, Cole was killing it but then again, Thompson wants a ride in the 250 class next year and was paying for everything out of his pocket so it’s a tough decision. I just know that going from a Honda 450 to a Yamaha 250 in less than a week and adjusting to the new class speed and intensity is a tall order. But nevertheless, Cole’s a Canadian and that’s what we do- adjust.

Cole Thompson suffered a big crash in his Star Valli Rockstar Yamaha debut.
Carl Stone photo

Unfortunately Cole crashed hard in the first moto and was dingy for a while. Since he did it on the first lap, he didn’t get much time on the bike or in that class. In practice, he qualified twelfth, which is pretty good. Let’s hope he comes back after the break feeling fine and much more comfortable to show what he can do.

With the move to Star Valli Racing, there were some contracts in Thompson’s life that he had to sign, which I helped out with a bit. Thanks to Tony Gardea, an agent in the sport, for just giving the Star alli deal a quick looky-loo and making a couple of changes to help Cole and his brother Kyle out in terms of the deal. I felt like a courier out there running back and forth with the contract and getting the changes done from Tony and for Cole. Just the things I do for a Canadian kid that I’d love to see succeed down here.

Thanks for reading, email me at matthes@racerxonline.com and we can chat. No really, please do.