The 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship put one of the final rounds of the season into the books on 13 April with a trip to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN. It was officially the 14th Round of the series, meaning that we have now enjoyed 14 weekends of indoor racing since the flag dropped on the first meet at the beginning of the year. Fourteen times the riders, race teams, and the myriad of support groups involved have come together to create a night of entertainment like no other, and it will all be over soon.
The stop at the Metrodome was the final round of the East Lites series until the Las Vegas finale in May, so the final points for that class had to be earned here. Imagine the pressure on riders and teams to get results worthy of landing a title; it’s intense and no effort is spared to get the rider and bike to the front. The Supercross premier class, though, has two more before that stop in Sin City, so there remains some time to rack up top finishes and to earn Championship points. These additional opportunities to earn points does nothing to make these end of season races any less stressful in the 450cc class, nor does it allow anyone to relax, at least those pursuing the crown.
The season is coming to a close and every aspect of Monster Energy AMA Supercross begins to take on more significance at this point, so all those who still have the chance to take it all have their entire team on edge. Every adjustment, each new part, and all the thousands of tiny decisions become immenently important and have the potential to become land mines which can end a title run in a split second. No one wants to slip up and so everyone is careful, except the racers, who must ride their hearts out and leave everything on the dirt all in the name of victory. Now that we know the stakes, let’s take a look at how the MotoSport.com riders handled the Metrodome:Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:
A mere week ago, the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team had a weekend of mixed returns with star premier class warrior Davi Millsaps recording only a 5th place finish in his race, but teammate Blake Wharton brought home his first win of the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. Even with the middling result and the phenomenal finish, both riders maintained their respective positions in the overall standings; Millsaps holding firm in second and Wharton sitting third in Lites East. Mathematically, at least, both of them had the ability to rise to the top and take the title. The Metrodome had to bring better results for either of them to advance, though, as the riders ahead of each Rockstar racer also made their starts. Let’s see how it all went down in Minneapolis.
Davi Millsaps, Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki’s premier class veteran, experienced a weekend in Houston which did not fit into what we are all used to from the rider. He finished in 5th at Reliant Stadium, and only earned 16 points. Fortunately for his 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship hopes, he held steady in 2nd place overall only a few points away from 1st. Arriving in Minneapolis, Millsaps seemingly had his work cut out for him; he would need to finish very high in order to hold his spot and still have a chance at the crown. And so it was like this that he went into Qualifying Practice. The first session out had Millsaps pull in the fifth quickest run around the track, but his second – even with an almost one second faster time – resulted in a placement as seventh quickest and giving him fourth choice of gate in the Heat 2 race. Once the gates dropped on the Heat, Millsaps grabbed the holeshot and shot to the front of the group. Fellow Suzuki rider, and former Champion, James Stewart was right behind him, though, and would not let go. For the first two laps, it went this way, with Stewart anywhere from a half to two seconds behind Millsaps ad looking to get through. In the third lap, it finally happened; Stewart came through the inside and took over the lead. Stewart began to gap him, but Millsaps held that space to under a second. Come four laps from the finish, Stewart clips a course obstacle and goes down. He comes off his bike and hands the lead to Millsaps who narrowly avoids Stewart’s downed Suzuki. That was all he needed as there were no other riders within reach of his lead, and Millsaps took the Heat win, his sixth of this season.
His very fast lap time in the Heat – his quickest of the night - combined with the win gave Millsaps first gate choice in the Main. His selection is important for positioning, and when the gates dropped on the Main, Millsaps doesn’t get the holeshot, but does get away at the front. At the end of the first lap, Millsaps sat in 4th. The second lap allowed him to get by another rider very quickly and he advanced to 3rd before he was even half way through the circuit. With the 4th, 5th and 6th place riders fighting hard for supremacy, the top three ran without much incident through the first half of the race. Millsaps held steady in 3rd, but the gap to 2nd started to grow. After this point, the 1st and 2nd place riders, Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto and KTM-mounted Ryan Dungey, began a duel for the win. This left Millsaps in his spot, though it allowed him to gain a tiny bit on the race leaders. Millsaps finished exactly where he spent much of the race, in 3rd place, and earns the precious 20 Championship points which come along with that result. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep Millsaps in 2nd overall and he is now in 3rd with a total of 276 points. That is only one point out of second and a mere 23 from the top. With only three more events for the Rockstar Energy Racing rider, Millsaps has serious pressure on him to bring home the results so he can lay claim to the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship.
Last week, in his closest-to-home event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, Rockstar Energy Racing Lites East rider Blake Wharton finally took victory in his race – this after nearly achieving the feat on at least one previous ill-fated occasion in the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship. To him, you can be certain that it felt good and had to give him some relief at finally standing atop the podium. It was a stellar result, to say the least, but it did not advance him in the overall standings and he remained in third. At the Metrodome, Wharton would need another great race. Coming into Qualifying Practice ready to go, Wharton was second quickest in his early runs, proving his speed is still there. In the second session, he shaved some time but finished fourth quickest, still well ahead of fifth, though. It was enough to give him second gate choice in his Heat, the first, and put him in a position to get a similar start in the Main. When the gates dropped in the Heat, he first had to contend with 2013 AMA Arenacross Champion Tyler Bowers. But, he nailed the holeshot and took the lead into the first turn. BY the start of the third go-round, Wharton held onto the top slot but Bowers was right on his tail section. Indicative of his drive for this win were his lap times, which were quicker than his best in Qualifying. This kept Wharton well ahead of his challenger and the gap grew with each lap until Wharton took the top spot and the victory.
Given the first gate choice by virtue of that Heat performance, Wharton lined up in a premium slot for his Main Event. The gates drop and Wharton finds himself off the line and in the front group; no holeshot, but good positioning. By the second corner, Wharton held 3rd place but was nearly side-by-side with 2nd, Honda-mounted Wil Hahn. Right at the beginning of the second lap, Wharton took over 2nd position and began his attempt at opening a gap and catching race leader, KTM rider Marvin Musquin. It was very short lived as Hahn came roaring back to challenge for that 2nd slot just two turn later. And then, right after this, Bowers came rushing up and took over 3rd. It continued in this order for most of the Main Event, with Wharton holding fast to the rear end of Bowers. Near the end of the seventh lap, Wharton and Bowers come together and Bowers goes down, thus giving Wharton 3rd again. The distance to 2nd position was enormous, though, and Wharton, try though he did, could not gain enough time to catch the rider up there. Fortunately, 4th was just about as far behind Wharton. This became the final order with Wharton securing the final podium slot by bring his Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki home in 3rd. That was worth 16 more Championship points, bring Wharton’s total to 153 and setting him 25 points away from 1st overall. He has only the finale in Las Vegas in which to earn those precious numbers, but he does have two weeks off to get ready. We’ll see Blake Wharton again when the AMA Supercross Championship arrives at Sam Boyd Stadium May 4th.
What a weekend for the Rockstar team; two third place showings! Next week, the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship will make its way west to Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington, marking the return to the Lites West region. This means that Blake Wharton will sit out and get some much needed rest, but Rockstar Energy riders Jason Anderson and Ryan Sipes (hopefully) will return to action for the team. Davi Millsaps will be there too, chasing the 2013 AMA Supercross crown which he may still capture. With so much on the line, the racing will be some of the best so far this year, and with a questionable weather forecast, it could get even more entertaining. We will see you there!