Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
On the heels of crowning a new (the same) Supercross champ last weekend in Houston, the crew heads down to New Orleans, Louisiana and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for Round 14 this weekend. After a tumultuous history following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2008, AMA Supercross last visited the Superdome just a year after the catastrophe and enjoyed a great crowd turnout in what was at that point a recently refreshed stadium. Having been removed from the schedule several years prior (after a long history in the sport), the Superdome was a bit of a substitute that year for the Dallas/Irving round, which had been put on hiatus for the year while the new Cowboys stadium was being built in Arlington.
Back in 2009, things were a lot different in the Supercross series. Chad Reed was running the #1 defending champ's plate on his factory Suzuki RMZ450 while James Stewart was poised to take it back from him on his San Manuel Yamaha. Also on the podium that night was none other than Broc Hepler, who after having taken off most of the season to that point, managed to hit the podium in only his second try that season. Of course, Hepler has since retired and Reed crashed out of this year's series several weeks back.
Fast forwarding to last weekend, Ryan Villopoto once again made mince-meat of the competition and snagged an impressive win in the main event - his eigth of the season. The dominant performance spanned the entire series, including when all of the top 4 or 5 were on the starting gate with him. It's testament to the fact that Villopoto's earned this title (which he wrapped up a record four rounds from the final) just as much as anyone ever has, regardless of who's now out with injuries and who is not.
With his second Supercross class title in the books, Villopoto's nailed three national championships in the last eleven months, for a career total of six national titles and a couple more regional Lites titles. Very few racers in the history of the sport have been as consistently able to win a series as Villopoto has, and this has been much of the toughest competition in history as well. With the title already nailed down it's safe to say that Villopoto has already begun intensive testing on his outdoor motocross setup, while all of his primary competitors are either healing up from injury or trying to finish out the season strong with four rounds to go. In other words - he's already at a big advantage to nail down the outdoor title months before it's even began.
One of RV's primary competitors who's been stunned by his success is certainly James Stewart. After having a relatively miserable season (by his standards), Stewart showed up in Houston with virtually no hope of regaining the title or even reeling Villopoto in enough to prevent him from taking it. What resulted was an impressive heat race ride followed by (somewhat predictably) a hard crash in the main event while working up from another poor start. Disgusted and somewhat frazzled by the get-off, Stewart walked off the track for a DNF. It's unclear at this point what his status is for New Orleans, but his participation doesn't seem likely at this point.
The latest rider to succumb to the speed necessary to win this season was Kevin Windham. After posting the fastest qualifying time in both sessions and in front of a large contingent of friends and family (this is a relatively "home town" race for the Louisianan), Windham pushed Stewart hard in their heat race. Swapping the lead several times with the #7, the Ragin' Cajun had the crowd on their feet for the duration... until a horrific crash over a triple left him flipping and tumbling down the track and out for the night. We've since learned that the injuries sustained will keep him out of the remainder of the series and, since he'd had no plans to race the outdoors, we'll probably not see Kdub on a bike again until Anaheim 1 next January.
With Windham out, the race for 2nd in the series tightens up a bit. At the front of the pack are two riders: Justin Brayton (above) and Stewart's teammate and new star of the JGR/Toyota/Yamaha team Davi Millsaps (below). In Houston, Millsaps got the upper hand by nailing down a remarkable 2nd place and keeping Villopoto honest for much of the main. Brayton's off-night resulted in a fifth, which puts him ten points behind Millsaps who's 3rd behind Ryan Dungey, who is out for the season.
Next up for a shot at a podium finish for the series is Villopoto's teammate Jake Weimer, who's sitting in sixth position and is eleven points behind Brayton. Between them is Stewart in fifth, but since his participation in the next few rounds is questionable, it seems likely that Weimer will be battling Brayton primarily for that final podium position. In Houston, Weimer was fast all night and even injected himself into the intense battle between Stewart and Windham in the first heat race, putting up some impressive lap times in the process.
Finishing fourth in Houston was Mike Alessi, who's great start certainly helped. But not as usual, Alessi managed to keep the pace and tuck in behind Weimer and the gang in the lead pack and keep himself in a top spot. It was a great ride for Alessi and if the same Mike shows up in New Orleans, a podium is not out of the picture.
Ken Roczen managed to nail his first East Regional Lites win of the season, after what could only be described as a truly bizarre Lites main event. Roczen took advantage of a situation with Justin Barcia (more on that later) by being in the right place (2nd) at the right time (last lap) to move into the lead and grab the win. Roczen was beyond ecstatic, as was KTM, as the young German seems to improve every week. He held off a race-long challenge from Blake Baggett too, which made it even more impressive.
Justin Barcia retained his dominant points lead after finishing up 2nd despite being knocked to the ground while lapping Lance Vincent on the final lap of the main event. After leading nearly ever inch of the main event, Barcia was understandably upset with Vincent for his action and, unfortunately, chose to take it out on him while Vincent was still down on the track and being attended to by the Asterisk medical crew. Barcia was fined $5,000 by the AMA for his actions and has expressed remorse for his actions publicly several times since the incident. He can theoretically wrap up the Lites East title this weekend in New Orleans.
Last but not least before signing off, we must mention the latest remarkable ride put in by satellite team (MotoConcepts Racing) rider Jake Canada. Canada continues to impress everyone by nearly making the podium several times this year, and in Houston was knocking on the door for 3rd. Particularly impressive to do so in the Lites class, which is dominated by high-dollar factory bikes that need expensive rebuilds every weekend, Canada has shown his worth and there is a lot of talk about him moving up in the world for next year.
That's it for now, but check your local TV listings for SPEED's coverage of the New Orleans round this weekend, and don't forget to come back here for live timing and scoring, plus the best photos from the weekend.