Story and photos by Jeff Kardas
Anaheim may have marked the return of Ryan Villopoto to the 2013 AMA Supercross Series. After qualifying first (by nearly a half-second per lap), winning his heat race, then coming from behind for a dominant main event performance, it appears the old RV is back. With the possibly damp and certainly quite cool weather predicted for Oakland this weekend, the stars seem to be aligning once again for a great night for the defending champ.
Whether or not it's for good remains to be seen, though, as several of his competitors also put in outstanding rides last weekend in Anaheim. Most notably, Trey Canard ended up keeping Villopoto somewhat honest on his way to second place. Clicking off lap after perfect lap, the #41 Honda rider is thus far the comeback story of the season. After horrific injuries sustained just one year ago, Canard has helped define the winner's pace in every race this season so far.
Davi Millsaps, the current and only points leader for 2013, is also holding his own -- much to the surprise of many. In what is generally regarded as the biggest surprise of the year, Millsaps' win at the first round in Anaheim was quietly considered a fluke. Millsaps, however, has backed up his win with a near win in Phoenix, and then another outstanding performance. If not for a slide out in a very slippery flat track-style corner last weekend, Millsaps may well have remained in third for his third podium of the year.
The man who took advantage of Millsaps' error, Chad Reed, is himself looking somewhat rejuvenated. Finishing only one position better than he did in the previous two rounds, Reed's third place was more of a story of how he rode and his level of confidence than it was simply a result. The Thunder from Down Under had been reportedly struggling with bike setup (primarily, his new air forks) so far this year and was never able to push the envelope of speed vs. control. For Anaheim 2, Reedy found it and it was clear that he was feeling it as he battled his way back from a so-so start to pass Villopoto (briefly) and contest for a podium position with Millsaps -- a battle that he won.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was James Stewart, whose main event results continue to suffer most likely due to his well-publicized knee injury that's forcing him to ride somewhat defensively. This has worked to his favor for races short enough where he can ignore it (like heats, which he's won and finished second in recently), but combine the inability for aggression with the length of a main event (20 laps) along with a pack of very hungry and aggressive competitors, and we end up with a James Stewart who barely cracks the top 10 in mains. Oakland last year was a win for the #7, so this may be a make or break event for him.
The 250SX class at Anaheim 2 (and probably Oakland this weekend) was somewhat predictable, again. Eli Tomac won. Perhaps the most notable change from the norm is that Lucas Oil/TLD/Honda's Cole Seely proved that he had the pace to run up front after a holeshot, putting him squarely at the tail-end of what's now considered the Elite 3 in the class -- including Ken Roczen. Seely put the hammer down out front for more than six laps before Tomac was able to find his way around both of them to take the win.
It seems almost a foregone conclusion at this point that Eli Tomac will win every West Regional 250SX round this year. He's clearly the fastest, most mistake-free and aggressive rider on the track, and the talk now is what will happen when the series heads east? Will Honda see fit to put the Next Big Thing on a 450 to get his feet wet not only in the premier class, but also on the tracks and dirt out east? What effect will Kevin Windham's recent retirement have on the likelihood of this? While Windham's now available Geico Honda CRF450R may indeed end up under Tomac at some point, it's not likely since the #14 Honda is supposed to be at each remaining round anyhow, with Windham pulling off his patented opening ceremony transfers for his droves of fans whether he's planning to race or not. Another factor in whether Tomac will ride is, of course, his position in the 250SX West points standings by the time Dallas rolls around in a few weeks. If he can wrap the title up early, then there seems no valid reason not to put him on the bigger bike. However, if Ken Roczen keeps getting second-place finishes every weekend (and losing only 3 points per round), then it seems less likely that Eli will hop up to the big leagues.
Regardless, this weekend in Oakland is guaranteed to be exciting and interesting, despite the chill in the air and threat of precipitation. Will the Villopoto ball start rolling again? Can anyone kick it up a notch to derail RV's growing confidence? Will Millsaps be able to finish far enough toward the front to retain that red plate for yet another weekend? Or will Reed -- or possibly even Stewart -- be able to kick it up and be a factor in the points race?
To find out for yourself, check back here at www.amasupercross.com or on our Facebook page to check out Live Timing & Scoring and photos from practice and around the pits.