Author: Brent Stallo
Seeing as we're facing a week off in the 2011 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross schedule this weekend, we decided to break our Looking Forward feature into a two-part segment. There's already plenty to speculate on regarding the 2011 season, and with the riders getting a break in between Freestone and High Point, we have a feeling the first round on the east coast could produce some drastically different outcomes. This week we'll touch on the Lites class and next week we'll dive into the controversial 450 class.
High Point can be one of the most unforgiving tracks on the circuit if given the chance. Nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania, just west of the infamous Racer X office in Morgantown, WV, High Point is well known for producing some of the best racing in the states. The soil is rich, the ruts are deep and the weather is always a question mark. Rain always serves as the great equalizer in our sport and High Point is known to produce plenty of it. But before we begin looking forward, let's take a look into the past to help gauge our 2011 predictions.
The 2010 race at High Point gave riders the best of both worlds. The first moto was overcast and cool, leaving the track in mint condition for the 40 fastest 250 riders in the land to do battle and the second moto was, as predicted, a true mud fest. Justin Barcia had experienced some heartache in the first two rounds and rolled into High Point looking to prove a point, and that's exactly what he did. Barcia led the first moto from start to finish and reestablished himself as a top Lites contender. However, Tyla Rattray wasn't far behind in second and was poised to take his first overall of his American career. Blake Baggett - then on a Rockstar Energy Suzuki - was also determined to break free from his rookie status as he placed third in the first moto with series points leader, Christophe Pourcel and his teammate, Dean Wilson rounded out the top five.
Moto two saw quite different results. Barcia and Baggett struggled in the rain to finish 21st and 9th, respectively, and Dean Wilson slipped a position to 6th. As he had done numerous times throughout his Lites career, Pourcel dashed to the front of the pack and took the second moto win. However, it was Rattray who would walk away with the last laugh, as his 2-2 moto scores were enough to give him his first and only overall of 2010.
So what does all this tell us? First and foremost it tells us not to be surprised if Rattray makes High Point is second consecutive win of 2011. The South African has admitted that the east coast tracks fit his style better and he's been known to show improvement with time off. He'll be one to watch out for after his win at Freestone. Rattray smells blood in the water and High Point may prove to be his striking ground.
But don't count out Rattray's two deadly teammates, Dean Wilson or Blake Baggett or GEICO's motivating force of Justin Barcia and Eli Tomac. Not unlike years past, the PC vs. GEICO rivalry is strong this year and by the looks of things someone from one of these powerhouses will walk away with the title in 2011.
While the juggernauts of PC and GEICO are ever-present, let us not forget those in waiting. Kyle Cunningham put in an emotional podium performance in his home state at Freestone and he will be looking to ride the wave all the way through the east coast. KC sits fifth in points and could prove to be a contender should High Point go according to his plan.
A few other notables that we foresee putting their name in the hat for a top five or top ten performance are Martin Davalos of Rockstar Energy Suzuki/MotoSport, Gareth Swanepoel, Nico Izzi and, believe it or not, Ryan Sipes. Davalos finished sixth at High Point and was the recipient of the Ricky Carmichael Hard Charger award. Should he find himself in the lead pack off the line, he could do some damage. Swanepoel is another rider to watch out for. The European has quietly become a top five threat this year. He finished 11th overall at Freestone, but finished as high as fourth in the opening moto. He currently holds down the number seven spot in the points chase and is looking to improve his stock at High Point.
Let us not forget Nico Izzi, either. He's shown tremendous speed early in the race at the first two rounds and if he can get his bike dialed in just a bit more he may be able to hang on for a top five overall. Oh, and what about Ryan Sipes? The Supercross standout has had an atrocious start to the 2011 outdoor season after being a top contender coming in. While he may be out of the title hunt, that could play to his favor. Sipes will be riding with a chip on his shoulder at High Point, and with a rider as talented as him that could prove dangerous for all 39 of his competitors.
One thing is for sure, rain or shine, High Point is sure to produce some of the most epic action of the season. Be sure to log on next Friday as we look forward to the 450 class at High Point.