450 Words: Reflections

450 Words Reflections

January 29, 2014 3:15pm

One month down in the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. That means eighty main-event laps are in the book, counting Saturday night’s Oakland race, won by defending champion Ryan Villopoto, who became the first man to win two races in this title chase. That’s no surprise—RV is working on his fourth consecutive title, and many had him pegged as the heavy preseason favorite. But the championship so far has not been a walk in the park for Villopoto, nor has it been without surprises. These are the unexpected developments that have stood out to me so far.

Villopoto has the red plate, as expected, but his crashes in the first two Anaheim races were something of a surprise. Ryan is riding as well as he ever has, and he’s rarely been out of control. The first crash came in a soft corner—a familiar booby trap for the champ. The second came in a million-to-one shot of getting James Stewart's boot stuck in his front wheel. If not for those spills, he would be comfortably out front.

Villopoto had a second crash at Anaheim 2, in the last turn via a seemingly slow-motion block-pass by longtime rival Ryan Dungey. The Red Bull KTM rider has also had some trouble staying up, but amid criticism that he’s either too soft, too vanilla, or not aggressive enough, the last-turn collision with Villopoto was something of a surprise to me. RD5 is among the most accomplished riders in the 450 class, and the fact that he hasn’t won yet—given the circumstances and crashes around him—is also a surprise.

The three time defending champion will take the red plates with him to A3.
The three time defending champion will take the red plates with him to A3. Photo: Simon Cudby

It’s not such a surprise that James Stewart hasn’t won yet, because his crash at A1 cost him the win, in my opinion, but we’ve seen him crash like that before. However, #7 has been methodically working his way back toward the front ever since. The patience he’s showing right now as he gets his balance and momentum back could lead him to another chance at winning very soon.

When both RV and Yoshimura Suzuki’s Stewart fell in the opener, it was Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen who seized the night, taking a resounding win in what was technically the kickoff of his rookie 450 season (he has done a few 450SX races before). Roczen is showing fantastic speed and maturity already, taking the red plate back at Anaheim 2 and basically riding with a big-picture frame of mind. K-Roc has won championships before, and he and team boss Roger DeCoster know that the longer he stays in this, the more confidence he will have in doing what Jeremy McGrath did in 1993. (If he stays close to RV as we head back east, I can only imagine what the shared practice and training sessions with Aldon Baker will be like for Ryan and Ken…)

Of course the biggest surprise to probably everyone has been the resurgence of Chad Reed, the never-surrender Australian who has been on the box three times in four races, and famously won the retro race on his Discount Tire Kawasaki. Like Roczen, the longer he stays in this, the more confidence he will gain. His win at Anaheim 2 was the highlight of the season so far for many, but hopefully not the only one to come.

One of the better moments through the first four rounds.
One of the better moments through the first four rounds. Photo: Simon Cudby

And JGR Yamaha’s Justin Brayton gets a nod for simply being a faster version himself. The likable Brayton has been in the thick of things all month long and nearly broke through for a first win at Phoenix. Don’t be surprised if it happens, but it will take the right circumstances to come together, including a start like he got at Phoenix.

Among the less positive surprises has been some un-BamBam-like riding by Justin Barcia, who just looks uncertain on the Muscle Milk Honda right now, and of course his teammate Eli Tomac has yet to line up for a main event after his run-in with Jake Weimer on the first lap of his first heat race. GEICO Honda’s Wil Hahn has not been the fast starter he normally is, nor has Brayton’s teammate Josh Grant. And the RCH Suzuki squad is struggling with injuries and poor finishes, as well as seeing their guys outshined by semi-privateer Weston Peick.

We are a month down in this series, and more big surprises are certainly ahead of us, waiting in currently frigid cities like Detroit, Indianapolis, New York, and even Atlanta. But so far it’s been so good to watch. Can’t wait to see what happens next.