Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
Following a surprisingly eventful Seattle round last weekend, the 2012 AMA Supercross Series slips south - about halfway between Seattle and Las Vegas - to Salt Lake City for the penultimate round. Salt Lake's Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah has been an on-again/off-again affair for Supercross. This being the eight visit to the multi-purpose stadium, one thing that's been consistent each time is the weather's inonsistency. Or rather, not whether will it be cold, but rather how cold will it be? Several times in recent years Salt Lake's served up a decent helping of snow for the racers who brave the high altitude facility, and if not greeted with heavy wet white stuff, then loads of cold rain has welcomed the troops.
In the foothills of the Wasatch Mountain range and just to the east of the Great Salt Lake, Rice-Eccles this year looks to have refreshingly moderate weather. With highs expected to be in the 60's along with at least a bit of sunshine, it promises to be a welcome change from the typical SLC Supercross conditions. The track itself should something very similar to the image above, with a short start straight that leads directly into a rhythm section, a 180 bowl turn then onto a set of triples. Featuring two whoops sections, four 180 bowl turns and a long sweeper back onto the start straight, it should provide for some excellent racing.
But the question may be: Who's left to race?? Well the answer is simple - everyone but Ryan Villopoto. The victim of a simple tip-over at the beginning of the Supercross main event, the defending and newly crowned champ popped his knee out of place and damaged his ACL and meniscus, requiring surgery and recovery that will not only end his Supercross season, but his outdoor season as well. It's a hefty blow to Villopoto, his team, and fans of the sport around the world, since this also means it's unlikely RV will show up at the Motocross of Nations this late summer, either. The one thing he's got going for him? He was crowned the 2012 Supercross champ a couple of weeks ago, so he'll be running a #1 plate for at least half the year in 2013.
This of course means that the feeding frenzy to get in the books as a supercross class winner is going to be at a fever pitch for the last couple of rounds. First up was Seattle main winner Andrew Short, who shocked the globe with his victory in front of the 50,000+ fans at Century Link Field. Short and good friend Ken Roczen (who was a part time teammate of Short last year on the RedBull/KTM team) diced for the top spot for several laps before Kenny backed it down and Short pulled away for a perfect 20 laps.
Andrew Short and the #29 have been fan and industry favorites for years now, and despite being a factory rider and without a doubt one of the top in the sport for several years, Short had yet to win a Supercross main event. With his win, Short achieved a goal that must have been seemingly unreachable just a few weeks ago when he was re-habing a shoulder injury from a crash earlier in the year. His team - Supercross.com Honda - was also looking highly volatile and had apparently lost it's title sponsor just before Andrew was to return. With a crew dressed in black and pitting out of the factory Honda hauler (since the team had no money to drive their own), Short's victory likely went a long way to nailing a new title sponsor for the team as the outdoor season approaches.
But Andrew Short and crew weren't the only smiling faces at Seattle, not by a long shot. The podium was full of shiny white teeth as Ken Roczen got his first-ever Supercross class podium and also the first-ever for the KTM350SXF, a bike that'd been criticized as not "enough" for top-level Supercross performances. Roczen proved the pundits wrong by putting in an impressive ride that kept him ahead of Jake Weimer, Justin Brayton and Davi Millsaps all the way to the checkers. More big smiles were on tap from Ryan Sipes (top right) when he literally came out of nowhere in the West Regional Lites main event to go onto an uncontested win. Also returning from an earlier season injury, Sipes ripped a solid start, squirted around the inside and checked out as title hopefuls (and increasingly aggressive rivals) Dean Wilson and Eli Tomac slowed each other down behind him. This was Sipes' 3rd career Lites win, the last of which was last year's Dave Coombs Sr. East/West Shootout in Vegas.
And speaking of shiny happy people, count another foreign KTM rider as another - Marvin Musquin's ride from way back in the pack to knocking on Sipes' door at the finish line was a beauty. Clearly proud of his ride yet wishing for five more laps to run down Sipes, Musquin's 2nd place equaled his best finish of the year. His first ride back on a 250cc Lites bike, Marvin had previously been racing the East rounds on the same KTM350SXF that Roczen put on the podium later this night.
Somewhere in between the gloom of Ryan Villopoto and the glee of those riders just mentioned lies Brett Metcalfe. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, Metcalfe was ready to do some damage and get his first Supercross podium of the season for both himself and the destitute Yoshimura Suzuki team. As is evident from the photo above, though, Metcalfe's hopes were stomped out by an early race collision that left his RMZ450 with a completely destroyed header pipe. Brett's desperation only increased, though, so - again - look for the #24 to be on the podium in SLC.
Then there's this guy, the one right in the middle - Ryan Dungey. He and his team chose to come back from his collarbone injury before the end of the season... for what? To try and put a stamp on 2nd place for the season? To get some race-intensity-yet-no-real-pressure-to-win training in before the outdoor season? To put a little extra cash in his pockets while he can? The answer to each of the above is: Yes. Dungey had a bunch of good reasons to come out and show everyone he's still in the elite few riders that can run Villopoto's pace, but he unfortunately didn't have a chance to prove it thanks to RV's crash early on, and a tip-over by Dungey that left him back in the pack to ultimately end up sixth on the night. Considered the odds-on favorite to win out the season, Dungey may have his hands full with riders like Millsaps, Brayton, Short and Weimer who also feel the Win Fever like never before. This will be fun to watch.
But this, this right here folks is what's got everyone talking - the Wilson/Tomac rivalry in the Lites class. Trading paint, rubbing elbows, banging bars, and just downright racing for the title, these two heirs apparent each have a lot to prove in these final two races. Swapping the red plate for this weekend, it was Tomac who came out ahead in Seattle and thereby regaining the points lead (by just a few) heading into the penultimate round of their series. If both riders make it to the main event unscathed, look for more of what we saw in Seattle this weekend in SLC.
Hey, just because almost every single top Supercross class rider is on the injured reserve is no reason to not remain excited about this season. There are so many other battles going on in each class, plus the return of Dungey and the revitalization of Andrew Short, that there's no excuse to check your local TV listings to see when Round 16 of the 2012 AMA Supercross Series is on in your area. Also be sure to check back here for the latest photos, race results and of course Live Timing right here at AMASupercross.com