Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
With a level of anticipation reserved only for this race, Angel Stadium of Anaheim once again played host to the season opener for the AMA Supercross Series. With round one of 17 in the books, the 2012 season once again promises to be the best in recent history with five riders generally recognized as having legitimate Supercross class title hopes.
Led by defending champion Ryan Villopoto, the field is stronger and deeper than ever. Other former Supercross and motocross champs lining up next to the current #1 are Ryan Dungey, Chad Reed, James Stewart and after returning from injury in the next week or two, Trey Canard. Adding to the depth are several other big names in the history of the sport such as Kevin Windham, Brett Metcalfe, multi-time Lites champ Ivan Tedesco, Josh Hill, Josh Hansen and the list goes on.
Following last weekend’s sold-out event, though, it’s clear that the standout in the field is Monster Energy/Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto. At one point leading the main event by over 20 seconds over Chad Reed, Villopoto made short work of the field of champs before taking the checkers after 20 laps of domination.
Having retained the services of Aldon Baker -- who's previous clients include Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and just about everyone else who's been a title contender in the last 10 years -- it was little surprise that Villopoto came in 100% ready. The other three of the top four also seemed well prepared, especially in Dungey's case, who switched teams, brands, mechanics and just about everything else in the off-season.
Behind the untouchable Villopoto, the racing was intense as Stewart, Dungey and Reed were within a few seconds of each other at several points, and each of them hit the ground at least once throughout the main event. It was Reed, though, who was able to keep it upright and consistently fast enough to garner a solid second ahead of Dungey and Stewart, who crashed with two laps to go and ended up a disappointing sixth in the main event.
The track itself was widely regarded as “challenging” by every rider, with a variety of unusual obstacles that essentially tried to break up any rhythm. Coupled with particularly moist and tacky dirt (especially for a southern California round), several riders were quoted as being surprised by the track, and that their pre-season testing hadn’t been sufficient in preparing them for the event.
The Supercross Lites class racing was excellent with a depth of talent nearly as impressive as the premier class. A bit of a surprise, Lucas Oils/Troy Lee Designs/Honda’s Cole Seely matched his L.A. win from last year with a convincing (and probably eye-opening) win over Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki teammates Tyla Rattray and Dean Wilson.
Following Wilson’s crash late in the race, it was Eli Tomac of the Geico Honda squad that rounded out the podium -- no doubt a surprise for the youngster after qualifying through the LCQ after a crash right out of the gate in his heat race.
Re-united with the man who picked him out of the B class amateur ranks, Roger Decoster, Dungey is now part of the Red Bull KTM factory team. Landing on the podium in his first attempt was impressive, no doubt, especially considering he battled nearly race-long with Stewart who went back and forth between fifth and third throughout the main event.
Not surprisingly, former champ Ricky Carmichael came to Angel Stadium to announce the live broadcast on Speed Channel. Here he is prior to practice, discussing track conditions and probably pointing out lines to former rival Kevin Windham.
2010 FIM MX2 World Champion Marvin Musquin made his highly anticipated debut in AMA Supercross in the Lites class. After an untimely injury last year prevented him from Supercross competition, Musquin looked prepared, healthy and ready to come in and leave his mark in Anaheim. After qualifying strongly and looking smooth and fast all night, Musquin ended up just off the podium in fourth position.
Perhaps another surprise to many was the outstanding result for Muscle Milk Honda's most recent recruit, Justin Brayton. Coming off of a solid 2011, Brayton was looking better than ever on the factory CRF450R and against the predictions of many pundits, pulled off a ride that nearly landed him on the podium in his first attempt on the Honda. Brayton's fourth place in the main was all the more remarkable considering he had to come from the LCQ to do it.
With another great and exciting season opener, the 2012 AMA Supercross series heads to Chase Field in Phoenix for Round 2. Watch for a rejuvenated James Stewart to once again set fastest qualifying time as he tries to get to the front early and prevent Villopoto from another runaway win. Never to be counted out, though, are Dungey and Reed who proved they have the speed, desire and fitness to run at the front every weekend from here on out. Check local television listings to catch the live coverage on SPEED this Saturday night.