MORGANTOWN, W.V. - The 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship continues to grow into one of the most memorable and anticipated seasons in history. Through the first three rounds of racing, the on-track action has been exciting and the points battles are looking as though they could come down to the wire.
However, the latest twist in the championship hunt is one nobody wanted to see. Current points leader and two-time race winner Mike Alessi will also be on the sidelines after breaking his kneecap early this week in preparation for Saturday's Monster Energy National Presented by Centra Bank at High Point Raceway in Mt. Morris, Pa.
Alessi was dominant in Texas, asserting himself as the man to beat in the 450 Class. However, the recent heartbreak has opened the door for a long list of riders to make their move to the front of the pack and claim what has become an elusive championship. At this point, it's anybody for the taking.
The 250 Class action was stellar for the third week in a row and once again, the same two faces stood atop the podium at the conclusion of each moto with Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Christophe Pourcel and Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Ryan Dungey. The pair has swapped victories this season as Pourcel claimed the overall in Hangtown during round two and Dungey grabbed the overall at the season opener from Glen Helen and last weekend's race at Freestone Raceway. Moreover, Pourcel has claimed each first moto win in 2009 while Dungey has taken the checkers for each second moto.
After a spectacular battle in Texas one year ago, Honda Red Bull Racing's Ashley Fiolek and Honda of Houston's Jessica Patterson put on a show again for the fans in the WMX Class' first moto. Fiolek grabbed the early lead before Patterson positioned herself at the front late and appeared to be on her way to victory. However, in the final sand section leading to the line, Fiolek dug deep to pull out a last gasp pass in the final 20 feet to win by a bike length. She would go on to sweep the motos after Patterson found trouble in the opening corner of the final moto.
This weekend, the series makes its way to the East Coast for a historic event. The always exciting Monster Energy National from High Point Raceway will surely provide some of the best on-track action of the season, but highlighting Saturday's race is the first round of the Monster Energy Triple Crown of Motocross and the first-ever live network television broadcast of motocross on NBC, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET.
With close battles headlining the 450, 250, and WMX classes, the thousands in attendance at High Point and the millions watching at home will be sure to see some fireworks.
Despite the loss of Alessi, Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki is still loaded for the remainder of 2009 with Chad Reed and Michael Byrne. Reed currently sits second in the standings and with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his teammate will inherit the top spot. While the Australian native has never won an outdoor motocross race in the U.S., he has been inching his way toward the front and during his last visit to High Point posted a pair of runner-up finishes behind Ricky Carmichael in 2006. For fellow Australian Byrne, Mt. Morris was a source of frustration in 2008, but the veteran rider is making considerable gains each week in his recovery from injury, bringing home seventh last weekend.
"Probably one of the things about High Point is you never know what's going to present itself," stated Reed. "The track has probably changed since I last raced it, but overall the dirt is good. There's the possibility of weather coming through so there could be heat, there could be mud - it's awesome. I love the clay and the ruts and I'm really looking forward to it. I got my first ever 250-class overall win there and I'm hoping to get my first 450-class overall there too."
"Now that we're back on the East Coast, I've been able to train at home and get back in my regular routine," explained Byrne. "I've spent some time by myself, working on things that I needed to that would help build strength in my shoulder. I'm going to continue doing that as I get ready for High Point. The stronger my shoulder gets and the more comfortable I get on the Suzuki, the better my results will be."
The resurging Honda Red Bull Racing squad was strong once again in Texas. Hometown rider Andrew Short was Alessi's biggest threat throughout the day, bringing home second and third place moto finishes to capture his first overall podium of 2009 and solidify himself in the points chase. Teammate Ivan Tedesco also maintained his recent wave of momentum. The Florida rider was battle tested in moto two after a rough start, but fought his way to a ninth place finish to capture fourth overall. Last season in Southern Pennsylvania, Short used a pair of fifth place runs to take fifth overall while Tedesco was battling an injury and grabbed 13th. Honda's third rider Davi Millsaps sat out Texas as a result of an injury suffered at Hangtown but is slated to return to action this weekend.
Monster Energy Kawasaki has had arguably the toughest season so far in 2009. The defending championship team lost its primary rider Villopoto while he sat atop of the point standings and it has also had to sit out reliable veteran contender Timmy Ferry, who is still recovering from a broken heel. The team welcomed two new faces under the tent last weekend in Ricky Dietrich and Branden Jesseman. Dietrich is a well known off-road competitor on the West Coast and was very impressive in his debut, bringing home seventh and sixth place finishes to take fifth overall. He returns this weekend to a track that could suit his off-road style. Jesseman unfortunately added to the 2009 headache Kawasaki has had to endure. The former Supercross Lites champion crashed hard in the first moto and was unable to start moto two, leaving a one man effort behind Dietrich this weekend at High Point.
"I learned a lot last weekend," said Dietrich. "I'm going to approach the motos a little differently and really work to stay strong throughout the whole race. It looks like it will be muddy and I think that works to my advantage. I know I'm strong in tough conditions."
Jagermeister KTM's Justin Brayton continued to learn what it takes to make the bigger, more powerful 450 machine work in Texas. Each week presents a new challenge for the young rider, but he continues to acclimate himself and bring home solid results. Teammate Josh Summey had one of his best outings of the season in Texas and after a rough race in Mt. Morris last season, hopes to build on that momentum.
"It's good to finish in the top ten," stated Brayton. "But I would really like to be competing for a top five position. I am improving each week and I feel that I have the stamina to run up front I just need to work on my starts and being more aggressive."
"I have had my share of problems so far this season," commented Summey. "I finally got the start I needed during the second moto at Freestone and I learned a lot about running up front in the pack. I have taken that knowledge with me and used it in my training this week. Hopefully I have made the necessary adjustments to run up front and stay up front for this weekend's race."
At Factory Yamaha, Josh Hill had an up and down day in Texas. A hard charge in the first moto boosted the Oregon native's confidence and also earned him the RC Hard Charger Award. Last season he finished ninth at High Point and would like to replicate that result.
With Dungey's convincing win in the final moto at Freestone, he helped solidify himself at the top of the standings in the 250 Class. He currently sits six points ahead of rival Pourcel and has a podium finish of third last year in Mt. Morris to give him additional confidence heading into Saturday's race.
"First off, High Point is always a fun track," boasted Dungey. "They have a cool layout that runs around the facility and I'm super-pumped on that. Also, they have really good dirt and the track is rough and rutted and I like that. It suits my style and it suits the Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z250. On top of that, there's a little bit of elevation changes and that's always good to throw in the mix, so I'm looking forward to it."
Pourcel has been on Dungey's heels all season. The French rider has made a successful transition to the pace and competition of American Motocross and even though he has never seen the tracks the series travels to, he quickly acclimates himself and runs at the front of the field each and every week. His smooth, patient style has proved beneficial this season and will come in handy this weekend in Pennsylvania. Teammates Tyla Rattray and Jake Weimer have had solid seasons as well. Rattray, much like Pourcel, has never been to tracks in the U.S. and despite his unfamiliarity, consistently runs in the top five. Weimer had a career-best runner-up finish at High Point in 2008. So far in 2009, he has yet to get the start he wants and hopes all the hard work he's put in during the week will pay off this weekend.
"I just want to keep riding smart," said Pourcel. "There is still a lot of time left in the season and my goal is the championship. I'm going to stay patient and push when I need too."
"I just need to get a little faster," explained Rattray. "I worked on some things this week and I think I can be at the front at High Point. I haven't been to any of these tracks so it takes a couple of laps to get familiar, but I know I can be right there."
"I need to put a whole moto together," stated Weimer. "I need to get a good start and ride like I am capable of and I'll be up front. It has been a tough outdoor season so far, but I know I can do better and I'm working hard to get back up on the podium."
GEICO Powersports Honda continues to impress and is undoubtedly the most consistent team in the 250 Class. All four of the teams riders are regular top-10 finishers and each are capable of running at the front of the pack on any given occasion. Trey Canard has led the way for the team, becoming the weekly podium finisher everyone expected him to be. While he missed High Point last season due to injury, his third place result from Texas will help give him confidence. Brett Metcalfe is the veteran of the squad and can always be seen in or around the top five. He finished fifth overall last weekend and also captured fifth in Mt. Morris one year ago. Blake Wharton has never been to High Point, but the Texas native is a quick learner. He was strong at his home track last weekend and will be one to watch on Saturday. Justin Barcia has been the revelation of the 250 Class. His raw speed puts him at the front of the field regularly, however he has found trouble on each occasion in which he has had to work his way through the field. He experienced his worst result of 2009 last weekend and will be looking to rebound at the Monster Energy National.
For Muscle Milk/MDK/KTM, Great Britain native Tommy Searle has had to learn on the fly like his international counterparts. He possesses the speed and ability, but he is still figuring out how to adjust to the pace of each moto and maintain his endurance. Wil Hahn did not perform as well as he would have hoped at his home race in Texas, but is still a much stronger rider than he was one year ago and he hopes to improve on the 18th place finish he posted at High Pont in 2008.
"I have been getting great starts but fading toward the end of the motos," explained Searle. "I am changing my focus to my endurance and overall conditioning so I can maintain my race pace longer and make passes at the beginning and at the end of the race."
Even though Fiolek has won each of the three WMX Class races, the competition at the top has been intense and she will need to earn her second straight title. Rival Jessica Patterson has been challenging in nearly every moto and has almost stolen a couple victories. Additionally, Sherri Cruse and Vicki Golden are slowly making their way to the top of the field in what will soon be a four-woman battle for the title. With High Point being a new venue for the women, it will be interesting to see how things play out on Saturday.
Prior to the historic live broadcast on NBC, fans can catch live video feed of the first motos in each of the three classes streaming on the internet at www.allisports.com beginning at 1 p.m. CT.
For more information about the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, please contact media coordinator Brandon Short via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (949) 365-5752.
For fan and racing information on the 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, log onto www.allisports.com.
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