Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Rice-Eccles Stadium hosted the 16th Round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, which was the second-to-last stop of the 2013 season; only Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, where the final Lites Championships will be determined, remains. Yes, only the Lites classes have yet to wrap up. In Salt Lake City, Monster Energy Kawasaki rider Ryan Villopoto finished his season - and that of the rest of the 450cc Class - by taking his ninth victory of the season in the Main and securing the 2013 Championship in the process - his third consecutive.
This season witnessed high flying talent, come-from-behind victories, tragic last lap crashes and way too many injuries to good riders; in other words, a typical Supercross Championship run. Of course, a race series is made of much, much more, and the fans had full access to the ups and downs competitors and teams faced throughout the season. This year even featured a tight points race for all crowns, adding more weight to each start and every finish. Now that it is coming down to the final event, it is time for those involved to pull out all the stops and to leave everything in the dirt in pursuit of position.
The Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is out of reach for one very important MotoSport.com sponsored rider, Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki's veteran Davi Millsaps. However, with the final standings still not solidified, Millsaps does have the ability and capability to come out of this season in the runner-up slot. Both the Lites East and West crowns are yet to be awarded, and MotoSport.com has riders in both regions, but only one has a mathematical possibility of taking it all. May 4, 2013 comes in less than a week, meaning that only a few days are open for speculation. Once AMA Supercross waves the final flags for 2013 in Las Vegas, we will all know the outcome. Let's take a look at the proceedings inside Rice-Eccles Stadium and see just how well prepared the MotoSport.com contingent is for the finale.
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:
Inside the CenturyLink Field in Seattle just over a week ago, the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team displayed tenacity thanks to premier rider Davi Millsaps landing a third-place finish in a difficult and very wet Main race. His Lites West teammates did not encounter the same level of fortune, though they did have their own issues to battle through. A bad start in the Main caused issues for Jason Anderson which held him to a mid-pack finish in his race, while a return from injury, and the resulting long lay-off it caused, did not hold Ryan Sipes back as much as feared and the rider actually finished in front of his fellow Rockstar Energy partner. As this stop is the last before the finale, the entire team was on hand with their best efforts, and this paid off for Rockstar Energy Suzuki Racing in a myriad of ways:
With last week's round seeing Rockstar Energy Racing's Davi Millsaps start out a bit behind in Qualifying before he turned up his throttle to capture a 3rd place finish in the Main, his ride in Salt Lake City would have to be much better if he was to take over 1st overall again. Well, when Qualifying Practice finally began, Millsaps did everything he had to in order to come out on top. In his first Qualifying outing, he topped the charts as one of only two riders running in the 47-second range. The second trip out was slightly down on the first, though his first time still granted him the top slot and first gate choice in his Heat 2 race. The gate choice worked out very well for Millsaps. When the gates dropped on the Heat, Millsaps leapt out to the 2nd spot right at the beginning - it was a very good start, but his biggest challenger, Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto, held 1st at the first corner. It was a tight contest, with Millsaps actually passing Villopoto at the Finish at the end of the first lap only to give the lead back at the next turn. This only lasted until the very next corner where Millsaps finally took over the lead. From that point onwards, he barely looked back and he gained more time, bit by precious bit, on 2nd place throughout the Heat. Millsaps held on to the lead and crossed the Finish line with a Heat victory and first gate choice in the Main event - just what he needed to this point in his hunt for the Championship; all he had to do now was to finish a few places ahead of the points leader Villopoto in the Main.
The line-up for this Main Event was particularly important for riders in the AMA Supercross Championship given that the entire season was riding on this event. Millsaps took his preferred slot, but so did Villopoto, who had secured third gate selection, and right beside Millsaps. When the gate finally dropped to start the Race, Millsaps had a decent start and had landed in 3rd position by the second corner, right behind Villopoto. Within mere moments, though, Millsaps dropped back to 5th and Villopoto had taken over the lead. This could not possibly hold, and by the time the group passed the Finnish to end the first lap, Millsaps was up in 3rd - the man was on a mission. Through lap 3, KTM rider Ryan Dungey, holding 2nd position at the time, and Millsaps dueled hard and ran practically side by side until the end of the lap. In the end, Millsaps took over 2nd place and started his climb towards Villopoto. Slowly, with each passing lap, the gap to the front closed. Villopoto did put a halt to the steady gain at first, but it did not hold and the distance between the two went back and forth, with Millsaps gaining time in one section and then losing some in the next. All the while, KTM's Dungey was right behind Millsaps with only about half-a-second separating the two for much of the first half of the race. With 9 laps remaining, Dungey caught up to Millsaps, and both riders pulled marginally closer to Villopoto - but both also had to fight through lapped traffic which handed a slight advantage to Millsaps. Closer and closer to Villopoto as each corner came and went, and Millsaps was gaining on the leader. With only five laps to go, the top three riders were all within less than 2.5 seconds apart. When there were only two laps left, this had fallen to less than 2 seconds between 1st and 3rd.
The final lap came around and Millsaps and Dungey both knew that Villopoto would take the Championship if he won, so both riders turned it up to 11 in their pursuit of the leader. Millsaps cut the gap to less than half a second in the final go-round and was hot on the 1st place rider's rear wheel. It would not be enough to take the win, and Millsaps brought home a very hard-fought 2nd place on the night. This left Monster Energy Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto to take the race victory and the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross FIM World Championship. Rockstar Energy Racing's Davi Millsaps put on one incredible show in Salt Lake City, turning in one of his best showings in all of 2013, but the points were just not there. He does hold the runner-up slot now with 318 points, but Dungey is right behind him a mere 3 points in arrears. The series finale in Las Vegas will decide the remaining positions, so tune in to see if Millsaps can hold onto his ranking.
Jason Anderson, Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki 250cc Lites West rider, rode well in the opening events during his trip to Seattle. His Qualifying Practice and Heat performances gained him good positioning for his Main there, but the conditions and a bad start held him to only a 10th place finish in the night's most important Lites race. Even with this mediocre result, Anderson jumped up one spot in the overall standings. Thus, he went into Salt Lake City primed to show that last week's small points pickup was an anomaly. In his first Qualifying Practice in Rice-Eccles Stadium, Anderson was running as fifth quickest, and was one of only seven riders lapping under the 50 second mark. His second outing was even quicker, and he finished Qualifying in 3rd giving him the second gate choice in his Heat 2 race. Once the Heat race got underway and the gates dropped, Anderson rode around the first corner in first position, grabbing the holeshot while taking the lead. In the second lap, though, Anderson is passed by KTM-mounted Malcolm Stewart, and he falls back to second. Anderson kept the orange bike in sight, though, and bit at his heels in the following laps. Anderson gained on the leader slowly, eating away tenths in each corner, until the two were side by side in the final lap. When the two entered the whoops, though, Stewart took off and Anderson was left to settle for a 2nd place finish in his Heat. This did secure him the fourth gate choice in the night's Main.
Lining up for the second-to-last race in his class, Anderson was fired up and ready to go out and school the competition. The gates drop and through the first corner, Anderson held 3rd position, and was tightly packed in with the leaders. At the end of the first lap, Anderson had managed to get around last year's Lites West Champion, Honda rider Eli Tomac, to take over 2nd. Within less than a lap, Anderson then advanced to take over the lead, passing Honda-mounted Zach Osborne. It wasn't long before Anderson began to gap the field. He held the front position like he was made to be there - he had seized a four second advantage at the half-way point - and was not challenged for the remainder of the race. In the end, Jason Anderson crosses the Finish line in 1st place and brings home his very first Lites West race win in dominating fashion.
Of course, with the Main Event win, Anderson earns 25 points. This gives him enough to move up one slot in the overall standings so that Anderson now holds 4th with a total of 124 points. Unfortunately, with nearly 40 points separating him from the top slot, Anderson will not have the chance to win the 2013 AMA Supercross Lites West Championship, but he will surely fight just as hard for the win in Vegas next week. Even a quick glance at the results Anderson has seen this season should demonstrate how far he has come in this series. And, most of all, it will show how hard Jason Anderson works for the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki squad and should prove that you do not want to count him out in his final race of this year.
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki's other Lites West competitor, Ryan Sipes, had a good comeback ride last weekend in Seattle. After sitting out for much of the season due to an injury suffered in the AMA Supercross Championship's second trip to Anaheim earlier in the season, Sipes pulled off decent results in Qualifying and in his Heat, and even beat his teammate, Anderson, to the finish line in the Main. It was better than what many expected, and it gave him enough points to keep him out of the basement of his class. Inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, in Qualifying Practice, Sipes again led his teammate in the first outing by posting the fourth quickest time overall. But, in his second trip out, his best was 10th quickest. Since the best lap time is used, he ended up with fifth overall after Qualifying, and Sipes found himself with third gate choice for Heat 2.
When he gets out of the start, Sipes pushes his Suzuki into the front group and by the end of the first lap is holding a tenuous grip on 5th place. Slowly, Sipes began to gain on 4th position, Kawasaki rider Tyler Bereman. At the mid-point, Bereman was passed and Sipes took over 4th. It was now time for him to take on 3rd place rider Tyla Rattray. Bit by tiny bit, Sipes gained time at first. However, with only one lap remaining, Sipes started to slip some, and Kawasaki's Rattray solidified his hold on 3rd, leaving Sipes holding where he was. And, it was in 4th place where Sipes ended his Heat race, giving him a ride in the Main and the eighth gate choice. Sipes lined up and waited for the race to begin.
When the gates finally dropped, he was off and running with the lead group. By the mid-way point of the first lap, Sipes was holding position around 7th. At the Finish, after the first lap, Sipes had fallen back one spot to 8th. He continued to fight for position, slowly closing the distance between himself and 7th place rider, KTM's Malcolm Stewart. At the end of the seventh lap, Sipes takes advantage of a mistake by Eli Tomac - who was ahead of Stewart - and gains a spot to 7th. But, Tomac was the 2012 Champion, and he kept himself on the rear fender of Sipes in the following lap. It would not last as long as expected, though, as Tomac fell back further and Sipes started to gain on 6th, which he finally took over in the next lap. When Zach Osborne goes off the track, Sipes slips past into 5th but then he loses it to Chris Craig and his Honda. Right behind him, at this point, was Tomac again, who had started to ride like the Champion he is. Within a few corners, Sipes was overtaken by last year's title holder leaving the Suzuki rider in 7th. The order at the front did not change so Sipes ends the race in 7th position bringing him 14 points. After only participating in 5 of eight rounds held thus far, Sipes still sits in 15th place with 59 points. Not bad at all, and he does have a very good opportunity to move up in the final standings next week at Sam Boyd Stadium - it will be one to watch for all of his fans.
The penultimate round of the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship witnessed the premier Championship being taken by another team, but the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team has much to be proud of this season. Their last-minute signing of Davi Millsaps brought in Championship-level talent and allowed the team to hold the lead throughout the first half of the season and to carry the hope of winning it all right through to the end of the series. Calling it exciting would be understatement. Millsaps impressed all who watched him this year and he definitely has the fitness, skill and drive to continue to compete at this very high level. Lites West riders Jason Anderson and Ryan Sipes have not been much different; Anderson won his first race at the Salt Lake City round, and Sipes battled back from a severe injury to earn a top-ten finish at the same event.
Next week, the Lites titles for both East and West regions will be decided, and Rockstar Energy Racing has at least one rider with a chance at a title, Lites East rider Blake Wharton is only 25 points out of 1st. On May 4th, Las Vegas' Sam Boyd Stadium will host the Monster Energy Cup, and every 2013 Champion will be presented with their trophy. Don't miss this final round; it is guaranteed to be a wild ride from the first flag until the last rider winds his way off of the dirt.
Current 2013 Points Standings
1. Ryan Villopoto 346
2. Davi Millsaps 318
3. Ryan Dungey 315
4. Justin Barcia 261
5. Chad Reed 224
1. Ken Roczen 163
2. Eli Tomac 158
3. Cole Seely 135
4. Jason Anderson 124
5. Martin Davalos 114