The opening round of the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship at the Red Bull Hangtown Motocross Classic in Sacramento signaled the start of the outdoor racing season. Most of the riders have just finished up the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship, often called the "indoor" series, and only had two weeks to wind down and get ready for a return to action in the sun. Everyone was ready to go on May 18th, though, and no one held back - the roost was thick from when the bikes first hit the dirt up until the very last race of the evening.
As this is the beginning of the series, all riders came into Hangtown without any points and no Championship advantage...yet. Of course, there are always the favorites and the picks for who will perform well at which round, but this is all speculation and is worth about as much as a weather forecast; it's all in the percentages. Only what happens in the dirt matters, and only the results gained there have any value in Pro Motocross.
MotoSport.com, a company dedicated to two-wheeled racing in all its forms, supports many racers in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Among those wearing the logo are Michigan native Nick Wey, Colorado racer Derek Anderson, WMX racer Jessie Wharton of Washington State - for three times this year, anyway - and the entire Rockstar Energy Racing team, which consists of Ryan Sipes, Jason Anderson, Domonic "Nico" Izzi, and Blake Wharton. It is a long list of talent, skill and drive which represents some of the best of what this sport has to offer.
The Hangtown Classic is done and recorded, so let's now have a look back at how the weekend worked out for those riders sporting the MotoSport.com patch:
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:
It was just over two weeks ago when we last saw the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team in the dirt and much has changed since then. Veteran rider and 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship runner-up Davi Millsaps has made the decision to not race in the Pro Motocross series this year so that he can have work done to his injured knee in preparation for 2014. In his place, Supercross Lites West rider Ryan Sipes has been drafted to take on the premier 450MX Class this year, a big promotion and one for which he is ready. Sipes' fellow Supercross Lites West competitor, Jason Anderson, has joined Supercross Lites East rider Blake Wharton and Dominic Izzi to contest the 250MX Championship. That makes four riders to watch this season, and it could mean four chances at obtaining the 2013 crown for the Rockstar Energy Racing team. It's going to be a hectic season, and one which has the potential and likelihood to be most entertaining for all.
Our last visit with Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki's Ryan Sipes witnessed him return from an almost season-long injury to record three top-ten finishes - one a top-five at the Las Vegas finale - demonstrating that he had healed and was ready to ride. Now that the tracks have left the stadiums, Sipes gets to start over and has an entire new season with which to work. At the Hangtown Motocross Classic, he was moved up into the 450cc Class to ride where teammate Davi Millsaps did for the team in Supercross, so he also had a new set of competitors and a whole slew of new challenges to overcome. In his first Qualifying Practice with the fresh bike, he performed admirably and was in the top 15 riders of his Group. Sipes' second outing in Qualifying was even better as he landed in the top 10, but the overall lap times for everyone were slower, so his first result was his best and that was what his gate choice in the first Moto was based on. Sipes managed to face some of the big AMA Motocross names in a typical rough and tumble Hangtown race and gain ground. He started with the 13th selection, diced it up with a tough group holding the back of the top-ten, and crossed the finish line in 8th position. That brought him better placement for Moto 2, and the advantages that come with that. At the start, where he lined up next to the same riders he challenged in the earlier event, Sipes managed a great start and ran with the front group. As the laps piled up, Sipes ended up fighting for 7th place with another Suzuki rider, Weston Peick. This battle was fierce and continued until right at the end of the race, where Sipes pulled around Peick and secured his 7th place showing. The two top-ten results gave Sipes 27 points which means that he sits in 6th place overall in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship after one round. In case it is not obvious, the racing which Ryan Sipes produced for the Rockstar Energy team in his first 450MX race was impressive, and his finishes set him up for what is sure to be an exciting year.
Blake Wharton's 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season was his best so far, and the Lites East rider finished the season in 3rd overall in Championship points. If not for one fall late in the year, Wharton might have taken the crown. To say he was ready to race when the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team arrived in Hangtown, then, might border on understatement. In his first trip out in Qualifying Practice, Wharton lapped in 17th position in a field of over 80 riders. When he went out the second time in Qualifying, where everyone's times went a little longer, Wharton could only bring a top-20 time, though. Even so, his first outing made certain that he would be in the night's 250MX Motos, and his second trip out sealed it. Starting Moto 1 with the 17th gate choice had Wharton at a bit of a disadvantage, and it would be a hard fight to gain ground. The gate dropped on the night's first 250MX Moto and Wharton was away, but he found himself only in the front half of all riders. Though he moved up the order briefly, Wharton's final standing in the race was identical to his starting slot, and so he passed the checkered flag in 17th. Thus, this was where he began Moto 2. Wharton had a far better second race, getting off the line in a better spot and running further up the order. Once he managed to pass a few riders in the early going, he kept up a good pace and picked up a few more. At the end of Moto 2, Wharton had advanced into 10th place. The two finishes gave him a total of 15 points, which currently locates him 14th overall in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross 250MX Championship and really is not too bad of a start. Hopefully, Wharton is merely getting warmed up to the outdoor tracks and we will see a steady progression to the front just as we witnessed him do in Supercross.
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki rider Jason Anderson also had a good year, this in the 2013 Lites West Supercross Championship, finishing in 4th overall. His Las Vegas result was a bit of a disappointment coming as it did on the heels of his first ever race win in Round 8 at Salt Lake City, but this only added to his ambitions. At the Hangtown Classis, this was on full display. In Anderson's first ride in Qualifying Practice, he lapped behind only one other rider, Honda-mounted Eli Tomac, thus earning the 2nd quickest slot. The second Qualifying run was much like the first, though he was only 3rd fastest. Since it is the best time which counts, Anderson earned the second gate selection for the night's first 250MX Moto. That first race of the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship was not what either he or his team wanted. With a bad start, and very fierce battles throughout the top ten riders, Anderson could only manage a 12th place finish. What is missed by the raw numbers, though, is how he came up to 12th from as far back as the high 20s. However, even with an incredible performance, his gate choice in Moto 2 was not great, but things were to improve. Staring out in Moto 2, Anderson got away fairly well and landed in the front group. Throughout the race, he and KTM rider Marvin Musquin fought hard for position; Musquin ended up winning this battle and Anderson actually fell back two slots as another rider passed him with only two laps remaining. This gave Anderson a 6th place finish in that race, which was far better than the 12th spot in the first event, and it all added up to 24 points. Anderson then left Hangtown with 7th overall in the 250MX Championship standings. It is a good start to the season, though it is very likely that Anderson would have wanted to earn more points. Next week, he will be even more motivated.
Dominic Izzi did not race the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship because of a torn ACL, which he finally had surgically repaired. The Rockstar Energy Racing team did not want to put too much pressure on him, so he sat out the season recovering. When he arrived at the Hangtown Classic, he was ready to get on his bike and race. During his first Qualifying run, Izzi pulled in with the 7th quickest lap, putting him right in the middle of his two 250MX teammates. His lap times in his second Qualifying Practice were slightly slower, but it was better compared to the other riders sharing the track with him in this session, and he was 5th quickest overall. The best time is used for gate selection, so Izzi ended Qualifying with the 7th position. Moto 1 did not go to plan for Izzi. At about the half-way mark, he fell. When he got back up, he then stalled the bike, and was finally under way shortly thereafter, but in 23rd position. When he reached the finish line, the best he could do was 22nd and out of the points. This placed him very far back for Moto 2, starting in 23rd; a tough hill to climb. Fortunately, the second Moto went better for him, and he managed to put some riders behind him. In the end, though, Izzi's low order start cost him and he finished Moto 2 in 16th. Since he could only collect points from this second race due to his low first race result, he scored a total of 5 points on the day and that puts him in 21st overall in the 250MX Class of the 2013 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. It takes time to not only get healthy but also to get back into the groove of racing after a major injury like Izzi experienced. As the season rolls on, his mojo is sure to improve.
The Rockstar Energy Racing team had a wild ride at the Hangtown Classic, with some riders encountering unexpected success and some unfortunate letdowns. This is the sport of racing, though, and there is always next week - well, until the end of the season. Right now, with only the first round of the 2013 Motocross Championship season wrapped up, there are many more chances for the Rockstar team to work hard and taste victory. The next round will be May 25th at the Rockwell Watches Thunder Valley National in Lakewood, Colorado. Will Ryan Sipes continue his stunning debut? Can Blake Wharton regain his momentum? Will Jason Anderson stand on the top step again soon? Is it possible for Nico Izzi to come back from a nasty knee injury and perform with the best? Only the following weeks will prove if any of this is to happen - we already know it is possible because nearly anything is in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
The WMX series for the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship is billed as a "Triple Crown" because it has been reduced to only three rounds. It is unfortunate for second-year participant Jessie Wharton, but certainly not something which will hold her back. Wharton (who has no relation to Rockstar Energy Racing's Blake Wharton, BTW) is young but experienced, and has a single-minded dedication to achieving greatness in the sport of women's motocross. At the Hangtown Classic round, the WMX series pulled off a double-header, so at least she had two chances to earn some points at this round. In Qualifying Practice, Wharton went out in her first run and pulled in the 21st quickest lap. Her second time out was slightly slower as the track lost some grip, but she actually landed higher up the order. However, it is the quickest overall time which counts, and that was her first run, so she had the 21st gate selection. In her first Moto, she managed to get off with the first half of riders and maintained a quick pace. This allowed her to move up a full 5 spots from where she essentially started and she finished Moto 1 in 16th. This improved her gate choice for the second Moto a little and allowed for a better start. Wharton ran into some tough rivals in Moto 2, though, and the best that she could manage was 17th at the checkered flag. In the end, this left Wharton with a total takeaway of 9 points from the Hangtown weekend and she sits in 16th overall. Consistent results are very useful, but you can be absolutely certain that Wharton would rather have consistency at a far higher level. If anyone knows anything about this young racer, there is little doubt in their minds that Jessie Wharton will keep moving up the charts. Her next event will be the High Point National in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania.
Longtime friend of MotoSport.com, Nicholas "Nick" Wey, has been involved in off-road racing long enough to become a regular in the sport. After all, he has been racing professionally for over 15 years. For the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, he is again running a privateer effort in the 450MX Class. At the Hangtown Classic, his weekend started off a little rough and that hampered his performances throughout the racing. In Qualifying Practice, Wey could only manage to find enough speed to be 29th quickest. However, the Hangtown track always has a very full field, and his time put him well within what he needed to get to the night's Motos.
In Moto 1, his rather inopportune starting slot did cost him, but Wey was able to get into gear and move ahead of several other riders who qualified above him. At the flag, Wey brought his Kawasaki home in 21st position. It was a certain improvement over his qualifying result and set him up with a higher start for the next race. That Moto 2 race was rougher on Wey and, though he held his own and charged ahead, he could not get very far up the order. He crossed the Finish in 19th. At least he earned points with that second result. Wey now has 2 points after the Hangtown Classic and currently sits in 22nd overall in the 450MX Championship standings. With so many rounds remaining, Nick Wey will have plenty of opportunity to improve and earn far more points. We are all looking forward to what he has to offer in 2013 and very impressed with his efforts after such terrible injuries last season that would sideline most people indefinitely.
Another ride which MotoSport.com is familiar with is privateer Derek Anderson, who races in the 450MX class in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. His career is full of accolades and he has been a regular qualifier in Motocross for several years now. His trip to the 2013 Hangtown Motocross Classic was a continuation of this, but it did take some extra effort to earn his way into night's Motos. His Qualifying Practice was not enough as he could only achieve as high as the 42nd quickest lap after two trips onto the dirt. This relegated him to the 450MX Consolation Race. He was near the top of that order and started with the 6th highest gate selection. Only riders which finish in the top four slots in the Consolation Race make it to the Motos, but at least Anderson was near the front to start. It quickly became obvious that this placement helped him significantly, and he was able to finish in 3rd place to earn a trip to the premier class races. Of course, making it into Moto 1 through the route that Anderson took means that he had to start way down the order; he had the 39th gate selection. And, unfortunately, Anderson was only able to complete 10 laps of the event, so he was officially listed as taking 38th position when the race was done. Once again Anderson had a starting slot far afield from the front of the pack. Even so, Moto 2 was a far better race. After having such misfortune in the first race, Anderson looked like he was more prepared for the second one. He fought hard, moved past rider after rider, and came around to the finish in a respectable 23rd place. Neither result brought Anderson any points, but his time at Hangtown was not wasted. Now Derek Anderson knows who he is up against and what they have for him. His next round in the 2013 450MX Championship is coming up next weekend, so stay tuned.