By Jon Row
The first round of the 17-race Monster Energy AMA World Supercross Series got off to a knock down start tonight in Angel Stadium. A-1 riders and fans dodged the weather and a potential mud fest when previously forecasted daylong thundershowers arrived as just two bits of mild afternoon drizzle.
On a beautifully groomed track, augmented with five extra truckloads of lime and sand in anticipation of more rain, the action was anything but mild. Four top 450 qualifiers were within 1/100th of a second of each other. Honda’s Trey Canard led the herd followed by Frenchman Christophe Pourcel (KTM) and Suzuki’s James Stewart with his first SX ride in over a year. Fourth place on virtually the same nanosecond was Eli Tomac on his new Kawasaki ride.
Nine riders were within a second of Canard’s time, testimony to the intensity of off season development, few rulebook changes and rider conditioning. Perhaps more telling - most of the current riders and their crewmembers have switched brands two or more times in the last three years. Net result: fewer speed secrets.
Massive flame and fireworks ceremonies greeted a sold out 45,050 seat Anaheim crowd and took the edge off clammy 57-degree temps but on the track the action was red hot.
With a unique split-gate grid designed to minimize bottlenecks and fate-changing first lap mishaps, the long start run and 180 degree turn pitched riders over the Tuff Blocks in almost every race.
Riders blew the wide open “screw the brakes” first turn in every heat and both main events including a six rider pile up in 450 heat #2. Six riders went down and three including Ken Roczen DNF’d spectacularly. 2015 Champion Ryan Dungey discovered the huge “weight “ of carrying his new number one plate in heat #2 when he was taken down and forced to ride a Semi.
Dungey’s Semi win was upstaged by Weston Pieck unleashing a flurry of welterweight worthy punches onto Vince Friese’s head then pushing him over the hay bales after Friese took them both down in an aggressive first lap pass. Pieck’s boxing skill display will no doubt result in fines or suspension. He was ejected for the night.
Zach Osborne was the 250 heat one winner and reigning champ Cooper Webb took the second heat. The 15-lap main event saw Troy Lee Design’s Jessy Nelson and his KTM get the hole shot and hold off Webb’s Star Yamaha for 10 and half of the 15 lap final before Webb turned on the afterburners and cruised to the win. Zach Osborne on the Husqvarna was a distant 3rd.
Justin Barcia took the hole shot and early lead dicing with Stewart and Marvin Musquin before Stewart went down hard at the end of the second lap. Laying in a berm, apparently dazed enough to make track officials stop the race James was unable to make the restart. Unfortunate for him, the fans and the series.
Restart beneficiaries included Canard and Seely who together had dominated Heat #1 but were squeezed to mid pack on the first launch. Seely took maximum advantage, grabbing the hole shot this time with Barcia, Tomac, Dungey and Canard in tow.
On lap seven Trey Canard nailed Ryan Dungey taking him down although Dungey was up and underway quickly. Canard subsequently picked off Tomac then Barcia. By then Seely had a seemingly insurmountable lead but Jason Anderson and his Husky were on a tear. Anderson had tailed Canard through the field and on lap nine passed him for second. He then caught Seely with seven laps remaining and went on to take a convincing win. Dungey had been trailing the lead pair after Canard fell back to eighth on lap twelve. Dungey methodically worked his way up to Seely, sqeaking by on the last lap to steal second place. Eli Tomac was a solid fourth overall on his new Kawasaki. The remaining top ten order was Roczen, Reed, Canard, Millsaps, Wilson and Brayton.
Roczen, Reed, Stewart and Barcia all looked good and showed speed in different sections. Once again though, James Stewart reproved the old Anaheim adage: “You can’t win a Championship at Anaheim 1 but you can surely lose one”
Stay tuned. It’s going to be a great 16 race finish.