Round 3: Motocross 338 Southwick, Massachusetts
The Sandbox at Southwick
Jun. 11, 2006
The Sandbox at Southwick
While all of the tracks on the AMA Outdoor National Series are different, Southwick is really the only one that can be called "Unique". Riders have a love/hate relationship with Southwick. Those that are good in sand love it, while those that struggle in sand hate it. Southwick has always been known for its deep, horsepower-robbing sand and has been the site of many an upset over the years.
This weekend at Southwick we are looking at a few surprises. John Dowd, who retired at the end of last season, is here to show off his sand skills. Dowd went 3-3 last year at Southwick for a 3rd Overall on the day. Travis Pastrana has had tremendous success in the sand at Southwick and is making one of his rare appearances on the National tour. Travis is riding a nearly stock RMZ450 this weekend and is trying to stay under the radar. As always with Travis, no one knows what to really expect. It's always a good show in the end.
Doug Henry, who seems to be a factor whenever he rides, regardless of discipline, is here for his yearly dose of The Wick. Henry rides Southwick each year and has managed to hold on to his National #19 for several years by gaining points at this one race each season. Henry went 6-6 last year. Henry is coming back from a nasty crash in Supermoto at the end of 2005 that left him out of commission for several months. Henry is no stranger to coming back from serious injury, having come back from a crash that resulted in a broken back and another crash that resulted in two broken arms. Nothing seems to stop this guy.
Everyone is ready to see what two cagey veterans and one freestyle legend can bring to Southwick. Either way, the chance for a shakeup in points is definitely strong.
In Saturday practice James Stewart set the bar, showing that he is definitely back from his horrendous crash at High Point two weeks ago. On Sunday James and Ricky Carmichael traded fast times with James setting fast time in practice session 1 and RC upping the fast time in practice session 2. The real surprise on Saturday was Davi Millsaps setting 3rd fast time in practice. On Sunday Chad Reed and Tim Ferry stepped it up to beat Millsaps times, but considering that this is only Davi's 3rd race in the Motocross class, his times are truly impressive.
In the Lites class, Pro Circuit Kawasaki's Matt Walker showed his sand skills on Saturday and set the fast time in practice, followed by Villopoto, Metcalfe and Langston. In Sunday practice Andrew Short, Josh Grant, Mike Alessi, Troy Adams and Andrew McFarlane all stepped up to set the fast times, which should be a good indicator of what the sands of Southwick hold in store for the Lites class.
Perhaps the biggest news of the weekend has nothing to do with the race at Southwick. Late Friday night the FIM made the official announcement that the 2007 Motocross Des Nations will be held at Jonathan Beasley's Budds Creek Raceway in Maryland. This is something that many people have been working on for several years and it is finally a reality. Set aside September 21-23, 2007 on your calendars if you are interested in seeing the best in the world complete in our own backyard.
Lites Class (250F)
If there is anything that KTM's Mike Alessi has learned in his short Professional Motocross career, it's that consistency is the key to a championship. So far Alessi has been the most consistent rider in the Lites class and this is reflected in his series points lead. Alessi has also shown consistency in his starts and once again he was out in front early in Lites Moto 1.
While Alessi would eventually get caught and passed by a hard charging Andrew Short of Team Honda, he would manage to hold on for second. Short, on the other hand, threw down and continued to increase his lead by nearly a second per lap over the rest of the field.
Because it is Southwick we had a couple of new faces in the lead pack. Kyle Chisholm took the holeshot in Moto 1 and managed to hold on for a 7th place finish and Matt Goerke showed his sand skills by finishing a career best 4th while splitting the Yamaha of Troy Australian freight train of Brett Metcalfe and Andrew McFarlane, who finished 3rd and 5th respectively.
The big news from Lites Moto 1 was the detonation of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki's of both Ryan Villopoto and Grant Langston. Villopoto was arguably the fastest Lites rider on the track, but suffered again from a combination of a bad start and eventually from what appears to be an over-tweaked Pro Circuit motor. No one can argue that Mitch Payton and the folks at Pro Circuit know how to make massive power, but it appears that they just pushed it too far this time in the deep sand at Southwick.
Lites Moto 2 was a pass-fest. While Brett Metcalfe took the holeshot and would manage to hold on his lead despite massive pressure for several laps by Honda's Josh Grant, what was going on behind him was pure chaos. In the mix were Mike Alessi, Grant Langston, Andrew McFarlane, Nathan Ramsey, Matt Goerke, Matt Walker, Ryan Villopoto, Andrew Short, Kyle Chisholm and Jason Lawrence. On any day, any of these guys has a legitimate shot at a win, or at least a top five.
Alessi was once again......consistent. He managed to hold 3rd place throughout the Moto, even though Josh Grant would drop back and Grant Langston would move up to 2nd.
With both Andrew Short and Ryan Villopoto making their way up through the pack, the running order of the top ten would change every lap. Once again the Lites class is stacked and presenting some of the most intense racing seen in years.
Just looking at the results one can see how intense the racing is in this class. Andrew Short took the overall with 1-4 Moto finishes, followed by Brett Metcalfe with a 3-2, Mike Alessi with a 2-3, Andrew McFarlane with a 5-6, Josh Grant with an 8-7 and so on.
While Mike Alessi still commands a 25 point lead over Andrew Short for the season, there is only an eleven point gap between 2nd and 6 th, which really means that Alessi has five guys within easy striking distance. One DNF for Alessi and we are in the middle of a six way battle for the points lead in the Lites class.
Motocross Class (450F)
With Stewart's extremely ugly crash at High Point two weeks ago, nobody was really expecting him to be running at full race pace. But, even with a right knee that was painful enough to require Stewart to be helped on and off the bike and in and out of the factory semi, James brought his "A" game to Southwick.
Motocross has always been a sport that is all about guts and determination, and James Stewart proved that he has plenty of both. Stewart holeshot Moto 1 and held off a charging Ricky Carmichael for nine laps. While Carmichael was able to keep Stewart within striking distance right up until he made the pass for the lead, he was also having to ride at that same insane pace that both riders have been riding at all season long.
The Motocross Class has really become the Ricky Carmichael/James Stewart Class as both riders are running average lap times that are much faster than the rest of the field, and both are hanging it out over the edge. These are the two fastest riders, EVER, battling it out head-to-head, lap-after-lap.
Once past Stewart, Carmichael began to open up a lead, running lap times 1-2 seconds faster than Stewart. This is when disaster struck and Carmichael went down in the sandy whoops of Southwick on lap 15. This allowed James to get back by and open up a commanding lead. It took Carmichael nearly 40 seconds to get back up and running again, but he was still in 2nd , nearly three seconds ahead of Chad Reed.
As the laps of Moto 1 wound down, Carmichael closed the gap between himself and Stewart from 33 seconds at the end of lap 15 down to 4 seconds at the finish, but James had just enough cushion to hold off Carmichael and take the win.
In Motocross Moto 2 Stewart once again took the holeshot with Carmichael right on his tail. This time RC didn't wait so long to make his move. On the 4th lap Carmichael threw caution to the wind and jumped over Stewart to take the lead. In typical Carmichael fashion this was done with both feet hanging off the bike and landing in one of the roughest sections of the track, as RC proved once again that he can hang on through just about anything.
Once past Stewart, RC continued to widen the gap by nearly two seconds per lap, which clearly showed that James was not one-hundred percent. Even at less that full steam James managed to continue opening up a gap over Chad Reed in 3rd .
On the last lap disaster struck James once again as his Kawasaki's motor locked up in mid-air and he came crashing down to earth. Despite not crossing the finish line, Stewart's placement when RC crossed the checkered flag earned him an 11th place finish for Moto 2 and a 4th overall on the day.
And as for the other racers on the track in the Motocross Class, well, everyone needs to step up a couple of steps if they intend to run with either Stewart or Carmichael. The next two fastest riders were Chad Reed, who seems to be a perennial 3rd place finisher in the outdoors and Davi Millsaps, who continues to impress in his first season on the big bikes. In both Motos Davi was faster for the first half than Reed, but fatigue seems to be playing a role with Millsaps and Reed's consistency allowed him to get ahead of Davi as the laps wore down and Davi's lap times dropped off.
At the end of the day it was Carmichael with the overall (his ninth at Southwick), Reed 2nd and Millsaps 3rd . For Millsaps this is his second podium finish in three races.
The veterans weren't much of a factor today with Travis Pastrana and Doug Henry both running mid-pack races. Pastrana failed to finish the first Moto, but did provide some excitement in the second Moto when he stalled his bike in front of RC and Stewart while they were battling for the lead. RC went inside and Stewart went outside to get around Pastrana, who was attempting to start his RMZ450 in the middle of one of the deep sand turns.
John Dowd, the oldest man in Professional Motocross, showed that he hasn't lost much speed since last season with 6-7 finishes on the day for 6th overall.
James Stewart proved to everyone that he has the guts to stick with it and to get out there and salvage points. If it wasn't for the bike failure in Moto 2 Stewart would still be sitting 4th in points for the season. The big question that remains is whether James will be healthy enough after his last lap crash to give it a shot at Budds Creek.
We will find out next week as the Toyota AMA Outdoor National Series heads for Budds Creek MX Park, a great track with great soil that will put everyone back on an equal footing. The "what if" factor is in full swing as RC and Stewart continue to run at a "Win or Crash" pace that seems to have everyone scratching their heads.And what if Stewart doesn't make it out for Budds Creek, well then, the championship is pretty much in the bag for Carmichael as long as he can maintain his consistency through the end of the season. Will the GOAT back it down a notch? Check back next week for the next thrilling saga.