Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
MuscleMilk Honda's rookie phenom Justin Barcia had a nearly perfect night in chilly Phoenix last weekend, with a heat race win and uncontested 450SX main event victory. After a rough but promising start the previous weekend at the Anaheim opener, Barcia put his head down for round two and went to work. Two holeshots were relatively easily translated to two commanding victories in front of the nearly sold-out crowd at Chase Field.
The start of this season has been tough on all of the top title contenders so far. Last weekend, Ryan Villopoto went down hard a couple of times and was banged up a bit. James Stewart severely tweaked a knee during practice, and even Barcia and his teammate Trey Canard went down at key moments that affected their main event finishes. Then in Phoenix, Canard went down again, as did former champ Ryan Dungey, who suffered a hard tumble in his heat and barely qualified for the main event. Add to that another crash by Villopoto and an ailing Stewart, not to mention Chad Reed reportedly struggling with his bike setup, and it has been an interesting couple of weekends.
Many pundits have stated that this is the season of the rookies in the premier class, yet only one rookie (Barcia) has made an impact so far. Canard could probably still be considered a sophomore, but beyond that, Barcia is the only true rookie in the class and it's not much of a surprise that he's up front after winning the Monster Energy Cup just a few months ago.
Perhaps more surprising are the so-so result of some of the veterans, which is equaled by the outstanding rides put in by Davi Millsaps. What's the story here? The most obvious rationale would be starts. Villopoto's and Reed's have been mediocre to poor, while Millsaps has been in the top two each time -- and he hasn't hit the dirt yet this season. Clicking off consistently fast laps after getting the holeshot is a recipe for wins, and at A1 at least, this worked for the #18. At Phoenix, however, he showed signs of weakness when he dropped back a few spots toward the end of the main, allowing Canard and Villopoto by. Had it not been for Trey's last lap slip-up in a corner, Millsaps would not have made the podium and RV1 would've ended up third.
But let's re-phrase that: Canard made another mistake and Millsaps did not. It's a long season, folks, and consistency is key here. Thus, Millsaps' bike carries the red plate into Anaheim II this weekend.
Look for a resurgence from Ryan Villopoto. He's shown he has the speed, and if he gets a good start, look out. He also knows he cannot allow Barcia to gain even an ounce more confidence, as the rookie is already strutting around on the track like he owns it. Those two riders have never gone head-to-head on a Supercross track before, but when they do, it's bound to be a great race.
While we're at it, let's mention a few of the under-performers that many thought would be much better (or at least in the top five) thus far. Their lack of great finishes is a testament to just how deep the 450SX field is this year: JGR Yamaha's Justin Brayton and Josh Grant; Chaparral Honda's Andrew Short; RCH Suzuki's Broc Tickle; Motoconcepts Racing's Mike Alessi; Stewart and Monster Energy Kawasaki's Jake Weimer. While Weimer has at least managed a top-five finish, the rest have failed to deliver.
But, of course, there are 15 rounds left to race!
In the 250SX class the excitement is somewhat subdued thanks to Eli Tomac's complete dominance. It's clear now that Tomac believes (as does most everyone else) that he can win out the West regional series whether he starts up front or not, so all he needs to do is keep it on two wheels and the title is his. This dominance has to be disconcerting to the 450SX guys too, though, as if Barcia joining the ranks isn't enough, they've then got this Tomac kid to worry about next year (or maybe even this year during East Coast rounds if Honda decides to put him on a 450 in the premier class). If Tomac can wrap up the title before Dallas, there's simply no reason that we won't see him in the 450 class for the remainder of the series.
Clearly second best in the class has been German wunderkind Ken Roczen. With two solid second-place finishes, he's clearly distanced himself from the rest of a relatively stacked field in the western region.
At this point, everyone else in the 250SX class is just trying to keep up. Monster Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Blake Baggett is out with a wrist injury sustained at A1, and teammate Martin Davalos, while showing great speed and potential, is a bit like a broken record as far as his ability to show great speed and potential -- and then suddenly hit the deck hard and end up in the LCQ. Although, with all due respect to the #40, his ride in Phoenix was outstanding, and it landed him on the podium after he led the main event for a few laps.
So heading into the second of three Anaheim events this weekend, this is what we see: a rejuvenated Ryan Villopoto, an extra bold and confident rookie named Justin Barcia, a revitalized (and maybe a little more careful on the last lap) Trey Canard, and a nearly desperate Ryan Dungey.
Oh, and a runaway win for Eli Tomac.
Check back here at www.amasupercross.com for Live Timing & Scoring all day and night Saturday, our new Facebook page for photo updates throughout the weekend, and of course check your local TV listings for CBS and SPEED's outstanding next day coverage of round three of the 2013 AMA Supercross Series.