Villopoto strikes first blood at A-1

by Jon Row

Ryan Villopoto returned to racing Saturday night besting Ryan Dungey, James Stewart, Trey Canard and Chad Reed to win 2011’s first Monster Supercross event. The odds were not in his favor. James Stewart out-qualified the field and aggressively won his heat. The sold out Anaheim crowd anticipated Stewart would dispatch the doubters and the competitors in the main event. Trey Canard had qualified second overall and looked ready to prove his new factory Honda ride was well deserved. Ryan Dungey and his Rockstar Makita Suzuki wanted to overcome the “If RV, Chad and Bubba had been healthy last year…” knocks on his 2010 championship. Chad Reed wanted to beat them all and prove he can do it without factory support. Villopoto however just wanted to race again after the ugly accident that broke both his femur and his run for the 2010 crown. Villopoto told us he’d been training hard and he proved it at Anaheim, leaping his Monster Energy Kawasaki past early leader Ivan Tedesco on lap four and never looking back. Villopoto is definitely back and a force to be reckoned with.

On the defensive after an embarrassing MX return at Unadilla, James Stewart came to A-1 determined to remind the fans, the competition, and himself, he’s the fastest guy on the track. More riders now want to challenge him though believing they can force him to miscue. Less than 90 seconds into their heat, Tedesco on his new Hart and Huntington Kawasaki gave Stewart the first shot. After being passed by Stewart, Tedesco attempted a mid corner center punch that brought James to a stop. Stewart’s vulnerability stemmed from a mid-pack start that required unwanted risk taking to get the heat win. Another bad launch in the main event gave Stewart the same dilemma. This time he showed uncharacteristic restraint, cautiously waiting and working past a dozen riders and lappers even though he was able run a second a lap faster than anyone else. James could have even made a last lap run on Dungey for second overall but chose not to. Stewart is getting older and perhaps wiser. Dungey, meanwhile looked fast and comfortable, avoiding, at least for the first event, the proverbial liabilities of the “hundred pound” #1 plate and “bull’s-eye” jersey, plus the loss of Roger DeCoster.

The main’s final laps were borderline boring as the top five spaced out and settled in, mindful that championships are rarely decided at the first race. Staying healthy is on everybody’s mind. Only nine riders were able to ride the full series last year. This year, everyone wanted to at least get through Anaheim unscathed. Fortunately, most did.

Since the first running in 1979, A-1 has provided plenty of disasters and surprises. A nice surprise this year was Justin Brayton’s heat win. Chad Reed’s late-forming new Two-Two race team is another. Going head to head against the factories, even in their currently restrained budget status, is still ambitious and expensive. Reed’s 5th place finish given the limited time on his new but not-so-trick Honda was impressive.

Track builder Dirt Werks provided A-1 with a slightly slower, loamy layout, reasonable jump faces and plenty of passing room. For new Red Bull-KTM team members Andrew Short and manager De Coster, tighter layouts at upcoming venues may provide better opportunities to showcase the 350’s potential.

Kawasaki sweeps first West Coast Lites event

Josh Hansen led a Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team sweep of the Lites class. Hansen took over the main event from early leader Broc Tickle just past the halfway point and never looked back. Teammate Tyla Rattray rounded out the podium. Ken Roczen, KTM’s 16 year old German import, was fast qualifier but a mid pack start held him to 7th overall. Don’t be surprised to see him on a podium soon though.

What they’re riding…

Anaheim Supercross Entries and Brands

Supercross entries: 52
Honda: 16
KTM: 3

Lites entries: 57
Kawasaki: 23
Honda: 17
KTM: 6
Yamaha: 6
Suzuki: 5

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