Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
With the Supercross Lites Eastern Regional championship decided last weekend in New Orleans, this weekend the series gets back on track out west with the return of Western Regional Lites racing at Seattle's Century Link Field (formerly Qwest Field). Located in the heart of cool, damp Seattle, Washington, it's the hometown race of defending and recently crowned champ Ryan Villopoto, who was born and raised just a ferry ride away in Poulsbo, WA.
Known for weather best described as "Brisk", and for a track surface lovingly referred to as "cocoa powder with a volcanic pumice spice" that ruts up a lot like Southwick on a rough day, Seattle is always a wild card in the series. This weekend's weather predictions are leaning toward chilly and a chance of rain, but this can and most likely change and, probably toward the ominous side.
The track layout itself in Seattle is often a moot point, as the surface is usually about as solid as a sand pit, which means everything gets so deeply rutted and torn up that most riders are reduced to just trying to survive let alone clear all of the obstacles as they were designed. This has often proven to work in the favor of riders such as Kevin Windham and James Stewart (both on the podium last year), but since they are not around this time, it's anyone's guess who will make it to the stage this year (besides Villopoto, of course).
And speaking of The Champ, Villopoto once again made quick work of the competition in New Orleans last weekend, putting a ton of time on everyone right out of the gate and walking away to an uncontested win. With the title locked up a couple weeks ago, what could be Ryan's motivation at this point? Record books, and padding his bank account with the race win bonuses paid out by his sponsors and the AMA. That, and the fact that Villopoto is a champion at heart and to give anyone else a shot would possibly provide them with motivation heading into the outdoor season, and he'll have none of that. If the other Ryan (Dungey) shows up this weekend to try and retain 2nd place for the season, look for a battle royale between the two as Villopoto does his best to keep the #5 KTM under his thumb.
The real race now in the Supercross class becomes the one for 2nd and 3rd in the points. Leading that charge is not Brett Metcalfe (pictured above), but Davi Millsaps and Justin Brayton. With the possible return of Dungey to mess up their chances, they will be out for blood in Seattle if for no other reason than bragging rights when it comes time to renew contracts later this year.
One other early contender who absolutely, positively seems to be out of the picture at this point is James Stewart. After a nasty tumble at the last round after returning earlier than most expected, Stewart was a no-show at NOLA. Even his bike was removed from the JGR/Toyota/Yamaha pit area, which was a forboding sign for the former multi-time champ. Rumors circulated all weekend that his relationship with the team had finally hit the chopping block, but the official word out of the JGR camp is that everything is fine and Stewart is just letting his hand heal up before the outdoor season begins. Reading between the lines and listening to very well-sourced rumors, though, leads one to believe that this is far from the actuality of the situation, so stay tuned for developments over the next week or two.
Undoubtedly stricken with disappointment with not being able to race his home-town race, Kevin Windham showed up to at least give it a go in practice at the Superdome. After a couple of very slow laps with a pair of very sore shoulders, Kdub pulled out and decided that putting around the track during opening ceremonies with his custom Saints-inspired jersey was more his speed for the weekend. Loved passionately by the miniscule crowd, Kdub brought down the house even without risking his neck with his signature opening ceremony transfer jumps.
Adding to a night that was surpisingly filled with drama throughout, Jeff Ward Racing's Josh Grant surprised everyone with a strong ride to land on the podium in 2nd place. His best finish of the year by eight positions, Grant looked fast, fluid and comfortable as the return of "the old Josh Grant" looks to have taken a huge leap forward in just one weekend. It will be fun to see if Grant can make it two in a row in Seattle, as he was obviously quite pumped with his great finish.
Also putting in a remarkable performance in the Superdome was Nico Izzi who, to the shock and dismay of everyone including himself, put down the fastest lap time in the first timed qualifying session. Eventually ending up fifth overall in qualifying, it was still quite an effort for Izzi, who's struggled with a horrific lower leg/foot injury from a couple of years back and all that goes along with being down and out for such a long time. His race results left a lot to be desired after a couple of crashes, though, but Izzi has to be pretty excited that he has at least proven to the masses that he has some of the speed he's been trying so hard to re-claim since that crash in Toronto a few years ago.
Bringing back some much needed top-gunnery in the premier class, several rides returned to action in New Orleans after being on the bench for much of the season. Number one on that list is without a doubt Andrew Short. Having gotten the short end of the stick with his team which has apparently folded with no announcement (Supercross.com/L&Mc Racing), Short was pitting out of the Honda hospitality transporter for New Orleans. Ending up fifth in the main event, Andrew must have been fairly happy with that considering he's been out for so long.
Also on the comeback path, although a very short-lived one, was Hart and Huntington's Ivan Tedesco. The #9 was back on the track in a bit of a surprise, as nobody really expected him to be there with no communications from the team indicating he would be. His return was fraught with trouble, though, as Ivan admitted that he'd probably jumped the gun after suffering with severe arm-pump that forced him to miss the Main event after a promising LCQ ride nearly took he and leader Davi Millsaps to the ground on the final lap. Wil Hahn was happy to capitalize on the mistake, though, and Ivan went back to the pits with a big question mark on whether he'll return for any more races this season.
Another regular top-ten rider - Nick Wey - made his return to action in New Orleans as well. It's always good to see Nick's aggressive, perfect style back out on the track, and despite his long hiatus, he was still able to pull off an eleventh in the main event. That leaves Nick 14th in points heading up to Seattle this weekend.
Nailing down his second of back-to-back East Region Supercross Lites titles was Justin Barcia. As the AMA's Director of Supercross Kevin Crowther hands the plate over to Barcia, he must be thinking 'last week we fine him, this week we hand him a championship plate', but nevertheless Barcia's the champ. Again.
Getting his first career Lites win AND first podium was Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's wild child Darryn Durham (center). Durham put in a flawless ride in the main event after chasing down Eleven10 Mods' holeshot artist Alex Martin on the second lap to go on uncontested for the victory. Durham is well known as the class clown of the Lites East, and put in a display in and around the podium that had everyone smiling. Look for Durham to again be a factor in the final East Lites main in Vegas, and also in the Dave Coombs Sr. East/West Shootout.
Of course the real story heading into Seattle will be the rejuvenation of the West Lites title chase, and the battle going on between Dean Wilson (top) and Eli Tomac. This time, Wilson will be running the red background of the points leader after Tomacs disastrous San Diego round dropped him out of a commanding lead with a DNF to Wilson's win. Look for both riders to be at their absolute best, although it's worth noting that Tomac is still recovering from a broken elbow sustained in a practice crash the week following San Diego. Regardless, be sure to check back here for practice and race updates throughout the day this Saturday, plus be sure to check your local listings for the LIVE television coverage on SPEED.