Tuesday Race Update - 26 February 2013

February might as well be over for race fans as this was our last race weekend in the unfairly shortened second month of the 2013 calendar. Still, even with its lack of a full complement of days, it was a busy month for competitors in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship and those riding in the AMSOIL AMA Arenacross series - four weekends make for four trips, four practices, four Heats, four Mains, and at least four of everything else, and more if the rider crosses classes or is relegated to LCQs.

Our most recent events had the AMA Supercross Championship setting the track in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the teams lining up for Arenacross at the INTRUST Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas. The Supercross Lites continued to run in the East Region but the Arenacross Lites teams were back in the West. After another action-packed weekend of competition, it is time to look in on the teams and riders supported by MotoSport.com and get an update:

Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:

An arrival in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship meant a return to the red clay and soft sand top layer with which all who ride there are intimately familiar. What this often means for riders is quality passing opportunities and decent ruts for solid runs. For the Rockstar Energy Racing crew, it simply meant another day in the dirt to prove to the fans that this team is serious about racing and has only the Championship as its goal. With both current Championship points leader Davi Millsaps and Lites East rider Blake Wharton in the line-up, no one had any reason to doubt this stern pursuit.

Even though he was back in his hometown for this event, Davi Millsaps was eager to go racing with no extra pressure on his shoulders - it's just another night to work hard to him. In Qualifying Practice, Millsaps was in his usual spot at the top of the order with the fourth fastest time overall on the night. With that decided, he was setup to ride in Heat 1, and he lined up in the second slot for the eight-lap race. Gates dropped and Millsaps took the holeshot and led all riders going into the second corner. In the early running, he was challenged by KTM rider Andrew Short, but this did not last and Millsaps cruised to an easy win with more than 8 seconds separating him from second place. Though he did win it, his fastest lap in the race was a 52.4 compared to fellow Suzuki rider James Stewart's 52.3 in winning his Heat 2 race; some foreshadowing of what was to come.

Finally, it was time for the Main Event, and Millsaps was lined up in 2nd right next to Stewart. When the race started, Millsaps was a bit slow off the line and came around the first turn in 6th, while Stewart jumped ahead with the holeshot and took the lead. While the leader, Stewart, and second place rider and current Champion Ryan Villopoto started to gap the field, Millsaps had to battle back for position with Kawasaki rider Jake Weimer, finally making the pass in lap 4 and taking third. Throughout the remainder of the race, Millsaps maintained a lonely spot in third, but towards the final laps he began to chip away at the leading duo...but so did the riders behind him. This arrangement did not change, and when the flag dropped on the final lap, Millsaps secured yet another podium finish. His performance rewarded him with 20 more points, holding him in first overall with a 22 point lead on new second place holder Villopoto. Of course, being in the lead now that over half of the season is complete bodes very well for Davi Millsaps, and it means that he will continue to carry the Red Plate as the next round begins.

Rockstar Energy Suzuki rider Blake Wharton arrived in Atlanta on a high from taking second place in the first Lites East event this season the previous weekend. Following a stellar performance like that is difficult, but Wharton was destined to make the attempt. In Qualifying Practice, he rode with the fastest riders, improved his times in each outing, and managed the fifth fastest time. This was certainly good enough to give him a good spot in his Heat, and that would be good for making the Main - as if it was in doubt. In his Heat 2 race, Wharton took off and was riding in the fourth slot by the time he came around after the first lap, and it was there that he would stay until the very last lap. There at the end of the race, Honda rider Zach Bell hit the ground and handed Wharton a third place result.

The combined finishes led him to a 6th place start position in the Main Event. Once the race began, Wharton was quick to move up into the 3rd spot after the first turn and held steady until lap 3. When he came around for that lap, he found himself dicing it up with KTM-mounted Marvin Musquin, and Wharton was passed and landed in fourth. This was where he remained for the duration, only being challenged once late in the race, and 4th was where he finished when the checkered flag dropped. The finish was good for another 18 Championship points, but it was not enough to keep him in second overall in the Lites East championship. With six rounds of the Lites East to go before the big finale in Vegas, Wharton holds 3rd overall with 40 points, only 5 back of second place.

The 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is now over half-way through and the Rockstar Energy Suzuki Team has something all teams long for at this point in the season - the overall lead in the Supercross premier class Championship and the Red Plate that is issued with it. Obviously, this is due to the incredible performances coming from veteran rider Davi Millsaps, a man on fire since the season began. If anyone is looking for a good example of consistency, Millsaps is it, and it is consistency which wins Championships. Blake Wharton has been turning in his own dependable finishes, though it is very early in his season, and there is no reason to think this will not continue. Rockstar Energy Suzuki is leading the way in the Supercross series this year, but will they finish there? Stay tuned and make sure you watch the next round in St. Louis at the Edward Jones Dome on March 2nd. As this series has been doing all year long, it is only going to get better!

MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing:

Round 8 took all competitors in the AMA Supercross Championship to Atlanta for competition within the Georgia Dome and the second event in the Lites East region. MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing brought rider Gareth Swanepoel to the event, while riders Ricky Dietrich and Kade Mosig await the series' return to the West. With one rider competing against the best in the world, and with a great first race result last weekend, where would Team MotoSport.com/ADR place this weekend? Let's see...

The atmosphere in the Georgia Dome is always charged, and the fast red clay and deep sand never fail to give fans an exciting night. MotoSport.com/ADR rider Gareth Swanepoel helped bring up the temperature under the lights with a solid improvement during his Qualifying Practice which ended with him in the top third of riders, and an impressive improvement of over half a second after two runs. When he lined up for the Heat 2 race, he had helped himself to a 10th place start, but this quickly changed once the gates dropped. Swanepoel got off the line in 8th position to run with the top half - and nicely inside the transfer slots - and held on to this spot through much of the race.

Only near the end was he really challenged by Kawasaki-mounted A.J. Catanzaro, though it was too late to keep Swanepoel from making the Main for the night with one slot to spare. With his and the other Heats wrapped up, Swanepoel was lined up in 16th for the Main. When the gates dropped, however, and the full group had rounded the first corner, Swanepoel had dropped down in the order a bit to 20th position, at the very back. He would not stay there for long, though, and by the third lap he had made up one spot. Three laps later, he was into 17th, and two laps later he found himself back in his starting spot. That was where Swanepoel was to end his night, and he closed out his second race in the Lites East with a 16th place showing. It was not where he wanted to be, and was an off performance compared to a week prior, but it was good enough for another 5 championship points. With six rounds remaining in his series before the Las Vegas finale, MotoSport.com/ADR rider Gareth Swanepoel holds 14th overall with only one point keeping him from moving up to 13th.

The second round of the East Lites was a little more difficult for the MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing team; though we are seeing improvements already, the competitors are also amping things up. With so few races, every point counts, and there is no doubt that rider Gareth Swanepoel knows this very well. Next weekend, when the Supercross Championship moves on to St. Louis and the Edward Jones Dome, the East Lites will continue and so will the MotoSport.com/ADR team. Gareth Swanepoel has his mission and will surely be ready to gain more ground and work hard for those elusive championship points. Make sure you tune in!

MotoSport.com/JBR/Spinechillers Racing Arenacross Team:

The AMSOIL AMA Arenacross series took their show back to the West region with a stop in Wichita, Kansas, at the INTRUST Bank Arena. With the Race to the Championship in full gear now, every one of these events gains more importance as the season nears its end. It was yet another region change for the Arenacross, so teams had to shift riders around, and the track was a bit different as the whoops were removed for another rhythm section. The MotoSport.com/JBR/Spinechillers Racing team came in force, but it was a rough trip for them; with only three riders reporting results, this will be a brief update. Nevertheless, rider Willy Browning came into this event with a race win in the premier Arenacross series - and was even interviewed on track due to his outstanding performance - and teammate Nathan Skaggs arrived with work to do and points to earn.

Nathan Skaggs, team captain for the MotoSport.com/JBR/Spinechillers outfit, started out well, but ended up having a rough time of it in Qualifying Practice where he went down hard and re-aggravated an old injury. This kept him from running with his usual group and thus landed him in the Arenacross LCQ in 13th position. Since teammate Steven Mages was injured in his earlier Heat race and could not participate in the LCQ, Skaggs was essentially in 12th for the start. He had no choice but to make one of the top two transfer slots in this event or his Race to the Championship would be over for the year. Skaggs turned in an absolutely stellar performance and came from the very back to ride in 4th at the beginning of the event.

During the race, he continued to creep forward, slowly picking off third, and finally taking over second place in an exciting last lap pass to advance to the night's Main Events. Skaggs starts off Main 1 slotted in 6th position, but once the gates dropped and the race was into its third lap, he had fallen to 10th. By the sixth lap, he had advanced as high as 7th, but when the checkered flag dropped, Skaggs finished Main 1 in 8th. Main 2 was somewhat different as the start order was reversed and Skaggs had to start his race from 9th.

In the race, he was set in 8th place early, and it was in this group that he ran for much of Main 2. In the end, Skaggs took his KTM to an 8th place finish, just like Main 1. His overall result was 7th, and this was good for 18 points. Skaggs now sits in an overall 7th in the Race to the Championship with 37 points, only two points arrears of his teammate, Willy Browning, who is in 6th. Considering the way the weekend started for Nathan Skaggs, this result is an example of incredible effort to overcome the many obstacles he faced in Kansas. Rest assured, next weekend will be a better one for Skaggs and his team.

Rider Steven Mages of the MotoSport.com/JBR/Spinechillers team has been known as a real workhorse for the team, often taking on more than one class every weekend. The trip to Kansas, though, made for a rotten weekend for the talented rider. His run in Qualifying Practice was enough to get him into Heat 2, and he started from 7th in that race. Unfortunately, in lap 7, Mages ran into a group of downed riders and was out of the Heat. He incurred injuries in the accident which eventually forced him to end his weekend early. So, even though he had a berth in the LCQ, he did not take to the track. We are all hopeful that Steven Mages will be recovered and ready for action next weekend! He's a big part of this team...

Willy Browning, as noted earlier, came into Kansas on a high after tasting victory in the previous weekend's Arenacross Main. The track in INTRUST Arena was agreeable for him as it was seriously tacky and was perfect for forming good ruts. After Qualifying Practice, Browning managed to secure himself a 6th place start for Heat 1. Unfortunately, the start was no good at all, but in his usual form, he put in a phenomenal performance and advanced up the order quickly to fourth, where he sat for most of the race. Until the end, anyway, where he pulled an impressive pass and finished in 3rd and landed himself a spot in the Head-to-Head Bracket races. In the Head-to-Head he lost out in the first go around, but that is exceedingly easy in a two lap race format.

When the Arenacross Main started, Browning had a 5th place start. Early running was good but, in the fifth lap, Browning gets smacked by another rider and locks bars with him leading to a big fall. Even with this setback, though, he gets back up and passes his way up to finish in 7th! With the reverse starting grid in Main 2, Browning had to start in 10th. Once the gates dropped and everyone was off, Browning moved into 11th position, but by the halfway point he had advanced to 9th. It was looking like he was on his way to a similar finish to Main 1, but it was not to be as he was passed in the final laps and that put him in 11th at the finish.

With these results, Browning took an overall 9th for the night, and he gains another 16 points. This does not move him at all in the Race to the Championship, and he remains in sixth, but he is now 1 point behind fifth place. Browning also had to salvage his weekend from bad luck, let's hope this is the end of that!

There are no reports from Tanner Sisson, who rides in the Arenacross Lites West series, Zach Easter or Caleb Rhoads, both of which are SuperMini riders, so we will have to wait for an update from them at the next round. Speaking of which, the AMSOIL AMA Arenacross series puts stakes down at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, next weekend, so it's not a long trip for the competitors this week. Given the misfortune suffered by the MotoSport.com/JBR/Spinechillers Racing team in Wichita, let's all hope that the short distance will give the riders time to recover and recuperate ahead of next weekend's competition. Make sure you tune in and watch riders Nathan Skaggs and Willy Browning vie for the crown in the Arenacross Race to the Championship on March 2nd!