Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship
Story and photos by Shan Moore
Kyle Regal (36) grabs the holeshot as the first 450 moto gets underway.
The Freestone National in Wortham, Texas, was to be the race that would tell if James Stewart’s runaway wins at Hangtown would be the norm for the season. And while the Yoshimura Suzuki rider led every lap in Texas en route to a 1-1 overall win, Ryan Dungey was in the hunt for the entire distance, the Red Bull KTM rider keeping heavy pressure on Stewart in both motos.
The 250 race, on the other hand, was an Eli Tomac benefit. The GEICO Powersports Honda rider made his way to the front of the pack in both motos and then separated himself from the competition. Hangtown double winner Blake Baggett suffered from poor starts in each race but still came away with a 2-2 runner-up finish, thanks in part to heroics on the giant wall jump that preceeded the 12-pack whoops section. But more about this later, let’s drill down into the 450 class first…
James Stewart and Ryan Dungey were this close for most of the day.
As usual, it was hot in Texas, but not nearly as hot as it could have been, and certainly not as hot as it was at this race the past few years. Stewart was fast and smooth in practice, while Dungey seemed to struggle and ended the session some two seconds slower than Stewart. Another rider looking particularly good in practice was Jeff Ward Racing’s Josh Grant, who ended qualifying with the third fastest time.
According to Dungey, his team made changes after practice, which paid huge dividends, and when the gate dropped on moto one, it was Dungey and Stewart out front, with Stewart making an early pass to take the lead with a few appropriate jerks and whips.
Moto two was especially tight, with Dungey pulling to within a wheel of Stewart, and a couple of times he look as though he might find a way around, however, Stewart always managed to be in the right line and never gave up his lead. Dungey was upbeat about the gains he had made since Hangtown, but obviously disappointed at not being able to make a pass.
“Sitting behind James, I was trying to make a pass happen, but I was just having a hard time getting it done,” said Dungey. “At the end of the day, we made some good progress coming from Hangtown with the suspension and I felt comfortable really out there, I just came up a little short in both motos.”
Stewart, remember, is still getting used to a bike that he has very little time on, but he seems to be quickly coming to grips with the Zook and with mechanic Lee McCollum.
“I’m out here every week learning,” said Stewart. “As the race goes on, I’m still learning the motorcycle, which is a good thing because I know we can still improve. The cool part is – I was telling my dad – we haven’t had the fork or the shock off since we’ve been here. I think we have a good base and I think we will just continue to get better and better as the year goes on.”
Mike Alessi gave MotoConcepts Suzuki its second podium in a row with a third place finish in Texas. The north California rider had to start from the extreme outside gate in the first moto as a penalty for arriving at the start late. He made the best of it, though, working his way from almost last to fifth. In moto two, Alessi got off the line even up with Dungey and Stewart and settled into a solid third, where he stayed for the remainder of the race.
Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jake Weimer grabbed his best-ever outdoor finish in the 450 class with a fourth overall finish, despite the fact that he went down in the first turn of the second moto and had to come from behind to finish sixth. His first moto third was enough to secure fourth for the day.
“I’m definitely moving in the right direction, and it’s better than I’ve felt in a long time outdoors,” said Weimer. “The best race that I’ve had outdoors on a 450, but had I not fallen in the first turn in that second moto I think I could have been on the podium. I had a good, solid race, and I feel good about it, but it’s kind of bittersweet. Dungey out-jumped me and he beat me to the first turn, and that first turn was so deep that it was hard to get through and I just got bumped and went down. “
Josh Grant went 6-4 for fifth.
After a stellar qualifying run, Josh Grant turned in a solid race to go 6-4 for fifth overall. The Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki rider was not pleased with his performance at Hangtown and convinced the team to make a few major changes to the bike, which he says made all the difference.
Andrew Short was sixth.
Normally a good starter, Andrew Short wheelied off the gate in the first moto and was around 15th exiting the first turn. The Chaparral L&Mc Racing Honda rider worked his way to an eventual 10th by the end of the moto. In the second moto, Shorty got a much better start and ran in the top five. His 10-5 tally was good enough for sixth overall.
Davi Millsaps fell while practicing on Thursday before the Texas race and bruised his stomach and chest. He rode the first practice session but the JGRMX/Toyota/Yamaha rider was way to sore to ride the race, and ended up leaving the track early.
In the 250 class, Eli Tomac ride the rough Texas track like he was in rails, moving through traffic at will and then pulling to a safe gap once he got the lead. The GEICO Powersports Honda rider was pleased at his performance since the Texas race has not been kind to him in the past.
“My 2010 and 2011 outdoor seasons have been a rollercoaster, to say the least,” said Tomac. “And this place in 2010 basically put the dagger in my season. And to come here this year and win the thing is a big confidence booster for me, to get through the heat and humidity.”
Blake Baggett wasn’t able to duplicate the amazing performance he turned in at Hangtown, where he came from behind to go 1-1, but he still came away with a pair of runner-up finishes despite getting off to poor starts in each moto. Baggett wowed the crowed with his amazing jumps at the wall jump, which leads into the set of whoops known at the Texas Six-Pack. No other rider attempted this leap and it allowed Baggett to make up tons of time on the competition.
Ken Roczen didn’t like the heat but still finished third.
“I didn’t really know what to expect with the heat and all,” said Roczen. “They tell me today wasn’t as hot as it was last year, but this is definitely the hottest race I’ve ever been in.
“Those guys set a good pace, and Eli and Blake were going a couple of seconds faster than me, so it was good to finish third in that first moto. I just went back to the rig and tried to recover the best I could. But in the second moto, I didn’t get a good start. I was trying to move up and I went down in a left-hander. I was kind of bummed because it took a while to get going again because I was kind of out of rhythm. But overall, I think I was stronger in that second moto. Me and the team we have some work to do, but it’s a good challenge.”