This past March weekend was a special one for American motorcycle culture as it marked the un-official start to riding season with the world-famous Daytona Bike Week celebrations in and around Daytona Beach, Florida. The Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship helped to kick off the festivities, as it has done for several years now, by holding the 10th round of the 2013 season at Daytona International Speedway on a track designed by multi-time Champion Ricky Carmichael. Riders coming into this event are very aware of its high profile, so the competition at this stop is often very fierce.
2013 proved to be a repeat of years before, with teams all bringing their best in order to land some important championship points and impress the fans in one of the most widely viewed events on the Supercross calendar. Of course, for the MotoSport.com teams and riders, it was no different, and this extreme focus only served to add more excitement to an already action-packed race series. Let's take a look at what the weekend wrought on the MotoSport.com riders:
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki:
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki arrived at the Daytona International Speedway at Daytona Beach, Florida, ready to do battle and under pressure to defend current AMA Supercross Championship points leader Davi Millsaps' Red Plate. Lites East ride Blake Wharton has also had a very productive season, thus he too had work to do to maintain his own Championship position. Daytona's Ricky Carmichael-designed track would have to be conquered by both riders, and with the thick sand causing problems for rider and bikes alike, it would not be easy by any measure. Millsaps wants the 450 class Supercross Championship, and is on pace to claim it; Wharton wants the same in the Lites East region, and has a good pace as well. Would Round 10 help in this pursuit? Let's see:
Davi Millsaps has held the Red Plate as Championship points leader since the very first race of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross season. He achieved this feat by winning the first race of 2013 and then maintaining the position with consistent finishes in all eight rounds following it. When he arrived in Daytona, there was no doubt that Millsaps was the man to beat. However, a rough practice week between races had handed the leader an injury he had to overcome in order to perform at his normal high level. In Qualifying Practice he went in at less than 100% fitness, but the Millsaps momentum held up well and he finished as the fourth quickest on the track after two sessions. The resultant times from those led him into Heat 1 with a 2nd position starting slot, right next to his Suzuki-mounted rival James Stewart.
When the gates dropped to start the Heat, Millsaps did not get his usual start and he was down the order to start the race, this put him in 8th at the end of the first lap. A lap later, Millsaps had taken over 7th, and two laps after that, he was running a very solid 6th. The intense four-rider battle for the 2nd slot allowed Millsaps to make up time to this lead group and he soon joined the fight. Riding in 5th by this point, he was hot on the heels of 4th place rider, Suzuki-mounted Broc Tickle, and he finally passed him in lap 5. By the final lap, the lead three riders had pulled a significant lead and this left Millsaps to easily roll to a 4th place finish in his Heat. The night's Main Event would require Millsaps to improve on this performance if he was to maintain the lead atop the Championship leader board.
At the start of the Main, Millsaps again had a bad start and landed about mid-pack for the first lap of the Daytona track. At the end of that lap, Millsaps was right in the middle riding in 10th, but a lap later he was in 12th. At around lap 9, he was finally able to get past 11th place rider Andrew Short and snagged another slot, and then took one more when another rider bobbled, thus putting Millsaps in 10th for lap 10. As the laps went by, Millsaps steadily drew closer to 9th position, each time around shaving precious seconds from the gap. However, he could not make up the difference and Millsaps finished the Daytona 450cc Main Event in 10th to take away only 11 points from the event. It was defending Champion Ryan Villopoto, after experiencing significant improvements all season long, who took the victory; he also grabbed fifth all-time in Supercross wins and now owns the Red Plate as the series moves on to Indianapolis. Millsaps is now in 2nd place in the overall Supercross Championship standings with 200 points, only two away from the coveted first overall, but with a 12 point cushion over third and seven rounds remaining for the 2013 season.
Rockstar Energy Racing's Lites East rider, Blake Wharton, rode into Daytona with a firm hold on third place in the Championship points race, and was looking to add enough points to make himself even more difficult to catch. At the St. Louis round, Wharton earned a 3rd place result in the night's Main, helping to solidify not only his position in the Championship, but also showing for the critics that his results reflect real talent, not luck. Going into Qualifying Practice, Wharton had a decent setup and a good base from which to work. This allowed the Texan to shave more than a full second off of his times between his two sessions and led to an overall 5th quickest lap. With those results, Wharton was placed in Heat 2 and slotted in 3rd position for its start.
At the gate drop, Wharton gets away a little slow, but obtains fourth by the second corner. Come lap 2 and he found himself battling for third against KTM rider Marvin Musquin, a very short battle after Musquin passed Honda-mounted Vince Friese and left him to Wharton. Shortly afterwards, Kawasaki man Justin Hill leapt forward from fifth and entered the fray, but the second lap ended with Wharton finally taking over 3rd. The fight took something out of the 4th and 5th place riders, and their continual back and forth did not help, and this helped Wharton to take an easy 3rd at the final flag in Heat 2. With all times finalized, the grid was set for the Lites East Main Event with Wharton having to start from the 5th spot.
The Main Event began with a bang, and Wharton immediately charged out in 4th place, but took an uncharacteristic off-track excursion after the second turn in the first lap and missed turn 3 which dropped him back to mid-pack in the order. By the end of the first lap, he had slotted into 7th with only about seven seconds separating him from the lead. In the third lap, Wharton had made it to 6th (thanks to a rider falling down), but had pushed hard enough to be challenging for 5th. He was rewarded for his work by lap 5 and he took over 5th. The battle ahead of him between three riders vying for 2nd place did not help as much as it has been known to do, so Wharton settled into 5th and held it until the checkered flag fell. This finish provided another 16 points, which was unfortunately not enough to hold him in third overall. Wharton dropped slightly to 4th overall in the standings with 76 points, only two points away from 3rd again and 16 points back of the lead.
Though it may not have been the weekend that the Rockstar Energy Suzuki team had wanted to run, both Millsaps and Wharton turned in performances which have kept the team highly competitive and both riders remain in contention for their respective Championships. Lites East rider Wharton had a good race and has continued to perform consistently throughout his season, but so have his closest rivals. Millsaps started his night with an injury sustained during training between St. Louis and Daytona, so he began with a disadvantage even before the bikes put the first ruts in the track. Thus, his work from Qualifying Practice to the final laps of the Main Event must be viewed in this light and he should be applauded as the professional racer that he has proven to be by overcoming adversity and remaining competitive. Our next Monster Energy AMA Supercross round will be in the Lucas Oil Stadium at Indianapolis, Indiana, on March 16th, so get your plans sorted and be ready to watch a hopefully fully recovered Davi Millsaps and hotshot Lites East rider Blake Wharton do battle against the top riders in the world!
MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing:
Daytona Beach, Florida is one of the furthest points east that the AMA Supercross travels to, thus making this another round for 250 riders competing in the Lites East region. For the MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing Team, this meant that rider Gareth Swanepoel would be on the bike in the dirt for the team, and it also indicates that Lites West riders Ricky Dietrich and Kade Mosig were only in attendance for important support duties and spectating. Swanepoel's season has been productive with only the most recent round in St. Louis being an off weekend for the young rider. Daytona would need to bring a return to form if more points are to be earned. As we are all familiar with the fickle nature of racing, though, no one could have predicted what did happen here on March 9th.
Coming into Daytona, MotoSport.com/ADR Lites East rider Gareth Swanepoel had suffered from very rough weekend at the St. Louis round, but he began the season in fine form and was looking to see some improvement in the sand of Daytona International Raceway. In his first Qualifying Practice runs, Swanepoel pulled another half-second off his lap time and was making steady progress to the front. His second trip out in Qualifying Practice was not to be as good for him. In the second lap of the practice, he took a nasty fall and went into the dirt hard. Upon examination, it was discovered that Swanepoel had fractured his wrist - his night was done, unfortunately. The current plan has Swanepoel paying a visit to a specialist to see how much damage was done and whether or not he will be able to return next weekend. Daytona's deep sandy surface turned into a dramatic ride for Gareth Swanepoel, but we hope that he recovers very soon and we see him on the track at the next round.
For the MotoSport.com/Aussie Dave Racing team, the Daytona Bike Week round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship was certainly not what the team had hoped for. However, in racing - and especially off-road motorcycle racing - crashes do happen, and they happen regularly. If you're lucky, you get away uninjured and with a working bike; if not, well you end up visiting with a doctor like Lites East rider Gareth Swanepoel will be doing this week. The next round of the Supercross Championship will be held on March 16th at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Our MotoSport.com/ADR team is on their way, and will hopefully arrive with a healthy and ready-to-race Swanepoel in tow!