The fate of 19 other 450-class riders was sealed in the final when Ryan Villopoto grabbed the holeshot.
The New Orleans round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross might have been a sleeper had it not been the final round of the East Regional Lites series, which added a bit of drama with Justin Barcia needing a fourth place finish to wrap up his second-straight title. After his meltdown in Houston two weeks before, all eyes were on the GEICO Powersports Honda to see if he could handle the pressure in The Big Easy.
In the Supercross class, all the major players except for Ryan Villopoto were on the sidelines with injuries, and for sure, the fact that Kevin Windham was not riding hurt the attendance as only 33,392 attended the race. That was the official count, although it looked as though that might have been a stretch. Villopoto broke into the lead at the start of the 450 main, and after that, no one had a chance at catching the newly crowned Monster Energy Kawasaki rider. What made the race interesting, however, was Josh Grant, who worked his way into second place after getting off to a great jump off the gate. The Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki rider held his ground for all 20 laps and came away with his best finish since 2009. MotoConcepts Suzuki’s Mike Alessi, on the other hand, was in position to grab a third place finish, but he threw it away when Justin Brayton started putting on the pressure, leaving the Muscle Milk Honda rider a clear path to the podium.
In the Lites class, Barcia came in gunning for a win but was willing to settle for a fourth, and that’s exactly what he got – a fourth place finish, which was just enough to claim the Lites title. Meanwhile his the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki teammate Darryn Durham grabbed his first career victory with an inspired ride.
Of course, the New Orleans round is a great race for an out-of-towner to attend, since the French Quarters are within walking distance of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, and this year the race fell on the same weekend as the annual French Quarter Festival. Can you say, “Abita Jockamo and crawfish pie?”
There’s little doubt that Ryan Villopoto is in a league of his own right now, and especially now that half the class in on crutches, Villopoto can almost put it on cruise at most of the races. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider readily admits that the focus is now on the upcoming outdoor series and his main concern in New Orleans was coming away from the race injury-free and healthy. “It’s hard, because I’m here to get wins for my sponsors, but I don’t want to take any big chances and go down,” said Villopoto. “The plan was, if I get a good start then I would go for it.” Villopoto grabbed the holeshot at the start of the final and after that all he had to do was dodge lappers and avoid the sharp-edged holes that developed in the track late in the race.
Josh Grant has been a forgotten man as of late; however, a runner-up finish in New Orleans definitely put the Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki rider back on the radar. Grant’s problem has been bad results in his heat races, which puts him on the outside of the gate in the main. In New Orleans, Grant finished fifth in his heat, which secured him a spot near the center of the gate. Quick reflexes off the line left Grant in a good position on the opening lap of the main, allowing him to move quickly into second, a position he would hold until the end. After the race, no one was more pumped than Grant. “You have no idea what this means for me,” said Grant. “It’s what I need to get my season back on track. I just want to take this momentum into outdoors. I know a lot of guys are sitting on the sidelines, but at the same time it builds my confidence to where it needs to be.”
This year the key to getting on the podium has been all about getting a good start, and Justin Brayton struggled with his starts in New Orleans. After getting a bad start in his heat race, Brayton came from way back to finish third, nearly catching Mike Alessi on the final lap. In the final, the Muscle Milk Honda rider again got a bad jump off the line and was forced to come from behind once more. “I kind of just struggled a little with the track, but the bike was great. I was just a little late on the gate, so we will go back and work hard and get ready for Seattle,” said Brayton, who came from seventh on the opening lap to third at the finish, taking advantage of a Mike Alessi crash at the midway point of the race to do so. Brayton’s finish moved him ahead of Ryan Dungey for third in the series standings.
Brett Metcalfe matched his best finish of the year with a fourth, and the Yoshimura Suzuki rider was stoked with the finish. “I stayed mistake free and nailed down a fourth, and that was a good little start to this last four-round swing and I’m happy about that,” said Metty. “I got a good start and was up around the top four. The first turn I was like a ping-pong ball; I didn’t have the right position on the track and I was forced to the outside. Guys were coming on the inside and I got slammed a couple of times. But I ended up getting a good rhythm and the race started getting good for me around the halfway point.”
Davi Millsaps went down twice in New Orleans, once in his heat and once at the start of the main. After transferring to the main with a win in the LCQ, the JGRMX/Toyota/Yamaha rider got taken out in the first turn in the final, and after finishing the first lap in 15th; he worked his way into sixth by the finish. “My holeshot device came undone on the gate, and then a bunch of guys started to go down in the first turn,” said Millsaps. “I tried to miss it, but the guy next to me slammed him his brakes too and when I tried to turn in he was right there, so I went down. It’s a bummer night, but I did what I had to do to salvage points.”
The East Lites title chase came down to the series finale, with Justin Barcia coming into New Orleans needing only to finish fourth to claim his second-consecutive title. Barcia looked unbeatable en route to a heat race win, however, Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen, who posted the fastest qualifying time in practice, looked equally fast while winning the other heat. The Barcia-Roczen showdown never materialized; however, as Roczen got off the line several spots behind Barcia and then suffered from arm-pump later in the race.
After working his way into second place after the start, Barcia trailed Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Darryn Durham until lap seven, when he slowed with arm-pump. Meanwhile, out front, Durham was having the ride of his life and ended the night with his first Lites class victory.
Malcolm Stewart was a factor early in the race, and he ran as high as second, however, a violent crash put the J-Star JDR KTM rider on the ground hard, and he eventually finished the race in 17th.
Darryn Durham was only ninth fastest during qualifying, but he got his big break in the main when he exited the first turn in second behind Honda-mounted Alex Martin. Durham took the lead on lap two and pinned it to the finish. “This is awesome, it hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I just won,” said Durham. “I got a good start and I passed Alex Martin somewhere on the second lap and just got out front and rode pretty comfortable all race. I knew they were close there at the end, but I just kept my head down and brought it on home. The track was tough tonight; I actually didn’t have a good day in practice and in the heat, but I was able to get the start and turn it all around. I tightened up a little at the end, and I landed on the tuf blocks at one point and almost crashed, but I just tried to hit all my lines and it worked out.”
Justin Barcia admitted to being nervous before the final, and he got cautious late in the race, allowing Blake Baggett and Justin Bogle to finish ahead of him. The bottom line is, Barcia did exactly what he needed to do to get the title. “It feels awesome get this thing done,” said Barcia. “It was a really tough night; I was really nervous and didn’t have a good flow, but luckily I was able to get the championship and that’s all that really matters. I had such bad arm-pump and I didn’t want to go down, so I was just trying to salvage positions there at the end. Those guys were going wide-open, but it worked out and I’m happy to have the championship.”
After posting the fastest time in practice and winning his heat race, Ken Roczen was in good shape heading into the final. However, the Red Bull KTM rider didn’t get the best start and found himself in sixth at the end of the opening lap. On lap seven, however, Roczen was able to capitalize on a mistake by Justin Barcia to move into third position, but a mistake a short time later result in arm-pump for Roczen and he eventually dropped to fifth by the end of the race. “I’m bummed that I suffered from arm-pump because I was riding really well today and felt very comfortable on the track,” said Roczen. “We have one race left and my goal is to win it. I really like the final round in Las Vegas and I am looking forward to a great performance to end the season.”
Official Monster Energy Supercross Results
Supercross Class Results
1. Ryan Villopoto (Kaw)
2. Josh Grant (Kaw)
3. Justin Brayton (Hon)
4. Brett Metcalfe (Suz)
5. Andrew Short (Hon)
6. Davi Millsaps (Yam)
7. Weston Peick (Yam)
8. Kyle Chisholm (Kaw)
9. Wil Hahn (Hon)
10. Broc Tickle (Kaw)
1. Darryn Durham (Kaw)
2. Blake Baggett (Kaw)
3. Justin Bogle (Hon)
4. Justin Barcia (Hon)
5. Ken Roczen (KTM)
6. Kyle Cunningham (Yam)
7. Jake Canada (Hon)
8. Tyler Bowers (Kaw)
9. Austin Politelli (Hon)
10. Philip Nicoletti (Hon)
New Orleans Notes:
Chad Reed was in New Orleans, and told us that he was still awaiting word from Ben Townley about his recent injury.
Ricky Renner rode the Lites class on a 125 two-stroke Yamaha, but failed to qualify for the main.
According to Coy Gibbs of JGRMX, James Stewart is still in good standing with the team and missed the race due to an injured hand, despite the many rumors or Stewart looking to other teams.