Round three brought the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship to Blountville, Tennessee, and Muddy Creek Raceway for the inaugural Built Ford Tough Tennessee National. Believe it or not, this is the first trip for the off-road series to the southeast U.S. in around 15 years - and it has been almost 40 years since Motocross racing last visited Tennessee. That's a long time to go without racing in a part of the country where many of the sport's best racers are born and raised. It's easy to see why this round was so well attended given that. Of course, the favorable weather played its part too.
Now that the Tennessee National is wrapped up, the season's first quarter is through and there are only 9 rounds left for riders to earn their Championship points. Already it is possible to see the early leaders building up their totals, and those behind them are paying close attention and running their own math. Every race counts, even at this early point in the outdoor series. This is why we are here - to watch these brave humans fight it out on the track for ultimate off-road supremacy, at least for one year...
Our MotoSport.com supported racers had another good trip to the dirt. Every rider saw some improvements over the previous round's results and almost every one of them accumulated more towards their season points total. Every rider qualified for their respective Motos, and each one went out and started their respective race against the best in the sport. Who could ask for more? Well, it is a safe bet to assume that any one of them - Ryan Sipes, Jason Anderson, Nico Izzi, Blake Wharton, Nick Wey, or Derek Anderson - would have wanted to do better. That is in their nature.
However, it is in the nature of those of us who watch them to cheer them on and to have pride in the performance each rider gives every weekend irrespective of the results. We want to watch them race, to see them get better, and we want to know how they performed when the dust is finally out of the air. The latter is where we are now, so let's see how the riders we know all well fared in the weekend of racing at the Tennessee National.
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:
At the last round of the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team suffered a little in one or two categories, but still came away with more valuable points and had everyone finish safely. The team arrived at the Tennessee National ready to get to down to the business of getting even better results. Ryan Sipes went through some difficulty last week, and he would need to get the jump on his 450MX competitors to make up for that in this trip. With the entire 250MX contingent seeing improvement last week, there was some pressure on Blake Wharton, Jason Anderson and Nico Izzi to repeat that progress at this round. Here we can see what transpired down south...
Ryan Sipes followed up his debut in the 450MX Class of the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship for the Rockstar Energy Racing team with a middling set of results at Thunder Valley. It was a rough time, and Sipes knew he would need to find something to lift himself up the order at this round. When he went out for his first session in Qualifying Practice, Sipes did exactly this by lapping the track with the 4th quickest time. However, when the second session was finished, some of his competition had found even quicker lines and his best this time was comparatively slower than his first and he landed back in 10th. With only his best time counting here, he settled in at 7th overall also giving him that gate selection for Moto 1. What that does not show very well is how Sipes was running faster all throughout his early ride; he looked capable of holding his own when the racing began. When the first Moto started, Sipes got off the line well and held with the lead group going into the first few bends. Then disasater; while riding in the top five, he went down and had some trouble getting his bike back up and running. This cost him several places and the highest he could achieve by the finish was 9th.
That set him up for a start in Moto 2 not too far away from his 7th position in the first race. Unfortunately, it actually got worse in the second race. After getting hung up in an early crash, and working very hard against the track, other riders and himself, he could only pull his Suzuki into 21st position at the Finish. The first race granted him 12 points, but that second result garnered none. Sipes left Muddy Creek Raceway with only those 12 points and now has a total of 49, which places him in 10th overall in the Championship. Fortunately, Sipes did not drop down the chart too far and there is time to make it up. Sipes, though, was none too happy after the racing wrapped up, and it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that he will work even harder at the next round - it's going to be fun to watch!
Rockstar Energy Racing rider Blake Wharton had a better time in the 250MX Class at this round compared even to last week's results. Wharton found more speed and was able to get better lap times as a result. It is more evidence of his continual improvement. In his first session out for Qualifying Practice at Muddy Creek, Wharton lapped in the top ten, finally bringing in the 8th quickest time in that first ride. His second trip in Qualifying was even better for him, but his fellow 250MX riders also lapped quicker, so Wharton could only net 15th quickest. That turned out to be his best overall as well, so he had 15th gate selection for the first Moto. When the gates dropped there, Wharton took off with the top half of riders and pulled into the top 10. He held his place there for much of the race, bettered his best Qualifying time, but by the end had to settle for 11th.
That gave him an even better start for Moto 2. Once that race got under way, Wharton again held himself within the top ten riders and lapped even faster. It was enough to allow the Texan to ride his Suzuki across the Finish in 9th place. The two Motos combined to earn Wharton 22 points and a slight promotion in the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro 250MX Championship standings. He now holds 11th overall with 57 points, only 4 points from the top 10. With Wharton pushing ever harder for fitness and performance, we are sure to see his time on the track get more interesting at each successive round.
Jason Anderson, Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki's current highest ranking 250MX competitor, experienced issues which held him back from landing where he and his team felt he should have at the Tennessee National round. Given the results he had at the previous Colorado round, it was expected that he could jump up in the standings at this event. In Qualifying Practice, it looked as if this were to become reality. In Anderson's first session, he lapped 6th quickest of the group. As with his teammates, he had to deal with the other riders finding quick lines in the second Qualifying session, but Anderson was still able to make the 8th quickest circuit in that attempt. This set him up for a top 10 gate selection in the first Moto. Right out of the gates in Moto 1, Anderson shot ahead and found himself running in the top 3 giving the New Mexico native a chance at bringing home a podium for his team. Unfortunately, his Suzuki was not cooperating in this endeavor, and bike problems relegated Anderson to a 7th place finish. Still, he did have a better starting gate in Moto 2.
The start caught Anderson out in this second race, though, and he ended up running near the end of the line at the beginning. With some serious effort and some crafty riding, he was able to pass riders and make up ground right up to the Finish Line. His final placement was 7th, giving him an identical result to Moto 1. These two matched finishes earned Anderson 28 points towards the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro 250MX Championship, placing him in a very respectable 6th overall with 77 total points. If he can just get his bike and his starts to work together, next week's race should see Anderson finally make his inevitable jump up the order.
Nico Izzi, or Dominic Izzi as he is officially known, also experienced some of what his fellow Rockstar Energy Racing teammates had to deal with at the Tennessee National. Izzi had ups and downs, but it could be argued that he had the worst of it in the end. Starting out in his first session of Qualifying Practice, Izzi was seemingly on fire; he rode to the 4th quickest qualifying lap in this attempt, beating out all of his teammates.
When every other rider found their quicker lines in the second session of Qualifying Practice, Izzi was right there with them. He did not do as well as the first trip, but his overall 7th place was a significant improvement over what he was able to pull off last week in Colorado. Plus, having a gate choice for Moto 1 ahead of those who serve as his fiercest competitors, Wharton and Anderson, surely lifted Izzi's confidence. When the gates finally dropped for the first race, Izzi pushed ahead and into the top ten riders. Everything was in order for Izzi to have a stellar Moto at this point, but it was not to be.
In the early going, Izzi had a close encounter with another rider and somehow punctured his radiator. He was unaware of this fact, though and he continued to press ahead with the race. When he was just about to enter the penultimate lap, and he was on the Finish Line jump with the white flag ahead of him, his RMZ gave out on him. He was airborne with no bike and landed hard on his feet. Unfortunately, the damage his body experienced kept him from even starting Moto 2, so his night was done at this point. Izzi came away from Muddy Creek with a mere 3 points. That dropped him down a little in the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro 250MX Championship standings and he now holds 17th overall with 26 points. Seeing Izzi gain speed in Qualifying was encouraging and it bodes well for next week, when it is hoped that his bike will hold together long enough for him to capitalize on that performance.
The trials and tribulations of racing off-road motorcycles are very well known to the Rockstar Energy Racing team - they've been around long enough to have experienced much of it. Rockstar Energy Racing's racers are continually improving on their speed and most are seeing ever higher finishes, even if the racing gods have other plans. If only mechanical issues had not dealt such a significant blow to the team, almost everyone would be celebrating a well-handled trip to the Tennessee National. Ryan Sipes is moving ahead, but he does need to find some better fortune and avoid the nasty race pile-ups. Blake Wharton and Jason Anderson both took the next step forward in their class and we can likely expect to see them do that again next week. Hopefully, Nico Izzi's injuries will not prevent him from building on the improvements he witnessed this weekend - and he too needs better luck. The fact is, the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team keeps the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship interesting each and every round, and they keep getting better. With the trip to the High Point National in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania, coming in less than a week, you won't want to miss what this team has in store for the fans!
Last week, in the dirt of Thunder Valley, Nick Wey had a difficult ride and only earned two points after two Motos. When he took to the dirt at Muddy Creek for the Tennessee National, he was eager to redeem himself. Last week's 30th gate selection for the first Moto had to become a fluke. In his first Qualifying session in Tennessee, his drive to improve became obvious when he brought in the 24th quickest lap. Wey followed that up with an even faster time, though it was only good enough for the 25th position in the second session of Qualifying Practice, but it was a far cry better than where he started in Moto 1 last week as it guaranteed a better gate selection for this night's first Moto.
That first Moto began and Wey managed a solid start and ran with the top half of the field. He bounced around some, but kept moving gradually forward, taking riders one by one. When the checkered flag dropped, Wey had pulled ahead of many he lined up next to and came home with a 19th place. This provided a better gate for Moto 2. When things were underway in that race, Wey again had pulled off a decent start and ran in the same top half as in the first run. He could not get the same push he had in that first event, but Wey was still able to finish higher than he started. He finished Moto 2 in 17th. Those two results earned Wey 6 precious points for the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro 450MX Motocross Championship, and demonstrated a far better performance than he has had all year. He now sits in 25th overall with a total of 8 points, only one back from 24th. Nick Wey is finally getting comfortable, and he has seen his finishes improve due to this. Next week at the High Point National, Wey will be one to watch!
Last week, at the Thunder Valley National, Derek Anderson seemed to finally be coming to terms with his Kawasaki as he was able to qualify for both Motos without being relegated to the Consolation Race. At the Tennessee National, Anderson put on a repeat performance; though he did go down the order slightly, he again easily made the night's premier races. In Anderson's first session of Qualifying Practice, he had some difficulty getting around the track and could only lap 34th quickest. However, like everyone else, the second session provided better track conditions and faster times, and Anderson ended seven slots ahead of his first placement with the 27th quickest lap.
That was also his position for gate selection in Moto 1, and it helped. Once Moto 1 was in progress, Anderson managed to get into the top half of the field and had to ride hard for his position throughout the event. His abilities came through, though, and he passed several riders on his way to finishing in 21st position. Moving ahead 6 slots in gate selection set Anderson up with a better position for the second race. After the gates dropped on Moto 2, Anderson began to advance and had made as high as 16th place after a first turn pile-up claimed some of those who started ahead of him. By the end of the second lap, though, Anderson's day was done. He did not finish Moto 2 and thus earned no points for his trip to Tennessee. With three rounds of the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship now done and recorded, Anderson sits in 28th position overall with 4 points. Though details are unavailable for what exactly happened to him in Moto 2, we are all hopeful that whatever it was will be resolved by next week's round at the High Point National and we can all watch as Derek Anderson gets even quicker!
1. Marvin Musquin (KTM) 2-2
2. Eli Tomac (Hon) 4-1
3. Ken Roczen (KTM) 1-4
4. Blake Baggett (Kaw) 3-3
5. Zach Osborne (Hon) 6-5
6. Jason Anderson (Suz) 7-7
7. Justin Bogle (Hon) 12-6
8. Kyle Cunningham (Yam) 8-11
9. Blake Wharton (Suz) 11-9
10. Cooper Webb (Yam) 5-15
1. Ryan Dungey (KTM) 3-1
2. Justin Barcia (Hon) 2-2
3. Ryan Villopoto (Kaw) 1-4
4. James Stewart (Suz) 4-6
5. Mike Alessi (SuZ) 6-5
6. Clement Desalle (Suz) 5-9
7. Kevin Strijbos (Suz) 14-7
8. Andrew Short (KTM) 12-10
9. Trey Canard (Hon) 29-3
10. Broc Tickle (Suz) 13-11