Ryan Villopoto's dazzling 450 class debut and a solid return to outdoor competition by Chad Reed made the opening round of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross championship at Glen Helen Raceway May 23 a good day for the Thor/Parts Unlimited team.
Ryan and Ricky Together
Villopoto, who closed the Supercross season with two wins in the final three races, carried that fine form into the first of the 12 events that make up the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and proved emphatically that moving up to the 450 Class won't pose a problem for him.
The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider overcame mid-race deficits to win both motos on a demanding Glen Helen track he said was the roughest he'd ridden in a couple of years. The 1-1 sweep by Villopoto left him linked with the legendary Ricky Carmichael as the only riders to capture three consecutive 250 Class motocross titles and win their 450 Class debuts. He's also only the third rider to win his first race in the premier division.
It's Not the Start, It's the Finish That Matters
Villopoto didn't get good starts in either 30-minute plus two lap moto. He was fourth on the opening lap of moto one, but had moved into third by the time holeshot-winner Mike Alessi bobbled in a deep rut on lap two. Josh Grant and Villopoto got by Alessi there and eight laps later, the Thor star took the lead and pulled away.
In the second moto Alessi once again got the holeshot with Villopoto barely in the top 10. The Poulsbo, Wash., resident slowly moved into contention by winning a battle for third with Reed and overtaking Grant for second. At that point, a little over halfway through the moto, Villopoto still trailed Alessi by about 15 seconds. He caught him and passed him with just over two laps remaining and won by 2.6 seconds.
Return Full of Positives and Promise
Reed, who hadn't raced outdoors since 2006, didn't finalize his plans for this season until a few days before the opener. It was hard to detect any negative effects from his layoff, however. The Rockstar/Makita Suzuki star was the fastest in practice and qualifying (with a 2:35.751 lap that was a tenth of a second better than Villopoto) and had solid rides in both motos while finishing fourth and third. He just missed the overall podium with a fourth place result.
"I was really more comfortable than I expected to be," Reed said. "I didn't expect to be the fastest guy in practice and I was. There's a realistic side of things, and we tested twice and came racing. We made a lot of changes throughout the weekend that were positive ones. It's promising."
Up and Down Day for Hill
Josh Hill got mixed reviews on his performance at Glen Helen. Hill, who hadn't raced since the Jacksonville, Fla., round of the Supercross series on April 4, finished ninth in the opening moto. The second moto was full of misfortune, however, and the 19-year-old Oregonian struggled home 30th to finish 17th overall.
No Short Circuits for Pro Circuit
A first-moto win by Christophe Pourcel and solid overall performances by Tyla Rattray, Jake Weimer and Austin Stroupe made opening day enjoyable for Mitch Payton's Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team in the 250 Class.
Pourcel, who won the Supercross Lites East title, was making his U.S. motocross debut. He won the opening moto after a spirited battle with Ryan Dungey, but got shuffled back in the pack at the start of the second moto and finished seventh. Despite the rough moto two finish, Pourcel still claimed second overall to set the tone for the remaining 11 rounds.
Rattray, who also was making his American motocross debut, took fifth in the opening moto and was runner-up in the second after an intense battle with Dungey. The South African grabbed the final spot on the overall podium in third. Weimer had a solid but quiet day with finishes of sixth and ninth to bring home eighth overall. Stroupe fell during a red-flagged start to the first moto and limped home 13th, but rebounded to claim fifth in the day's final race to capture a top-10 overall finish in ninth.
Morais Missing, and Married
Pro Circuit was missing the services of rider Ryan Morais, who will be out until at least the final month of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum. He hopes to be able to ride in the final two races.
The enforced layoff does have a plus side for Morais. The 26-year-old Temecula resident recently married Hannah Short, the sister of rider Andrew Short, and with Morais unable to ride for a while the newlyweds will have some time to adjust to married life.
The Price Went Up, Then Fell
Monster Energy Kawasaki Team Green rider Sara Price had one of those good news, bad news days in her first race as a professional. Price showed excellent speed in challenging eventual winner Ashley Fiolek and finishing second in the opening Women's Class of the Lucas Oil Motocross Championship moto. However, Price fell while working her way toward the front and finished fifth in the second moto, dropping her to fifth overall.
With the first grueling round of the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship in the books, the series heads north to California's state capital in Sacramento for the 41st Annual Hangtown Motocross Classic from Prairie City SVRA.
Villopoto carries an eight point advantage in the 450 Class while Reed sits 12 points out in fourth, but just four points out of second. In the ultra-competitive 250 Class, Pourcel sits eight points out of the top spot with Rattray on his heels one point behind. Weimer and Stroupe have some ground to make up in their fight towards the top, but with such unpredictable competition, each rider could easily grab the overall win next Saturday.
As the Women's Class of the Lucas Oil Motocross Championship enters the second of its eight rounds, Price sits 16 points out of the lead but is well within striking distance of third, sitting just two points back.
About Parts Unlimited
Parts Unlimited is the world's largest distributor of aftermarket accessories in the powersports industry and is owned by LeMans Corporation headquartered in Janesville, Wisconsin. Parts Unlimited sells to over 12,000 dealerships world wide and continues to expand its market penetration with its sister companies, Parts Canada, Parts Europe and Drag Specialties.
Parts Unlimited continues to promote racing through its campaign WE SUPPORT THE SPORT®, helping to drive consumers to dealerships, while entertaining its dealers through hospitalities at the events it sponsors.
About Thor Motocross
Thor is one of the originators of motocross apparel. When Torsten Hallman made his first U.S trip to race and promote motocross in 1966, he inadvertently started to develop Thor riding gear. Thor is a hardcore, grass roots company that understands what it takes to reach the top and more importantly, how to stay there. It is one of a few companies with over 40 years experience in the motocross marketplace.
Thor, a house brand company for Parts Unlimited, combines design and marketing with superior distribution to reach it's thousands of dealers and consumers priding ourselves on key selling features like quality, strength and performance. Thor is more than a brand. It is a lifestyle.