Heading into the halfway point of the season, the 2010 Monster Energy/AMA Supercross Series has become a war of the Ryans. Points leader and winner of three main events so far this season is the rookie, Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Ryan Dungey. In the driver's seat, Dungey's a proven champion in the sport and currently enjoys a 20 point lead over the other Ryan, Villopoto, who's also a multi-time champion on his Monster Energy Kawasakis and is coming on strong as the marches towards it's inevitable conclusion.
The success of the Ryans is somewhat bittersweet, as this season's Supercross series premier class is depleted by the early season injuries of the sport's top two stars -- James Stewart and Chad Reed. Both multi-time champs, their absence has opened up the series to a host of other riders, igniting fires under a few, and allowing future superstars like Villopoto and Dungey to shine in their own light instead of riding in the shadow of Stewart and Reed. As the season has progressed, the Ryans have consistently been a notch above the remainder of the 20-rider field, rarely finishing outside of the top 5 in the first 8 rounds of the 17 race championship chase.
Last weekend's race, held within the infield of Daytona International Speedway, was representative of several other rounds where the winner was determined by which of the two Ryans got out front first, stayed out front to the finish. At Daytona it was Villopoto's turn. The week prior in Atlanta, it was Dungey's. The pace they set out front is just enough faster than the remaining 18 riders that, if they get out front, they are able to maintain a several second advantage to the finish line.
As far as the series goes, with a 20 point lead, Ryan Dungey is certainly in the driver's seat. The points payout difference for each round between first and second place is 3 points and, with 8 rounds to go, it will be a tall order for Ryan Villopoto to make up the deficit without everything going his way. That, and more than a little bad luck for Dungey. Adding to the uncertainty is just when exactly the two missing superstars of Reed and Stewart will rejoin the fray, as they'll certainly be in the mix up at the front of the pack from the moment they set a tire on the track. Teamwork may become a factor as well, since Villopoto will have Reed in his corner on the Monster Energy Kawasaki factory-backed effort, although Reed and Dungey were teammates last year on the Rockstar Makita Suzuki squad. How Stewart plays into this is anyone's guess, although many pundits predict he'll be out front of the battle for 2nd, and there are only two points between positions behind the top two.
This weekend, the Supercross class war resumes in the tour's only international stop - the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada. Both Villopoto and Dungey are at the top of their games; they're injury free, racing at full capacity and, with it unlikely that any of the other riders have the speed to get between them, there will be a point gap heading into the next round of either 23 or 17 points. After that, it's anyone's guess as the return of the overlords will certainly have an effect.
The Monster Energy/AMA Supercross Series isn't only about the premier class, though, as the Supercross Lites division is also loaded with solid racing every weekend. While there isn't a battle for the points like there is in the Supercross class this season, the racing on the smaller displacement machines is often more intense and much less predictable than it has been in the sport's premier group. Divided up into regional championships - East and West - the East is heading into it's 4th of 8 rounds in Toronto, and the leader of this class is clear. France's Christophe Pourcel, aboard his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250F is the cream of the crop. As the defending champion of last season's East regional championship, Pourcel is as superior to his competitors as the Ryans are in the premier class. In fact, Pourcel has been able to run faster lap times on his 250cc machine on occasion than his counterparts on their 450cc rides. Making the fights for the remaining podium spots interesting is a slew of rookies fresh out of the amateur ranks. Pourcel's teammate, Canadian rider Dean Wilson, finished on the final step of the podium in 3rd at Daytona last weekend. He finished just ahead of rival Blake Baggett, riding a Suzuki RMZ250 sponsored by Canidae pet foods and Rockstar Energy Drinks. One spot ahead of Wilson and 2nd place at Daytona (in fact, 2nd place at each round so far) is Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Austin Stroupe, who was also Pourcel's teammate last season on the Pro Circuit squad. Even though the top finisher for the remainder of the East region seems to be a foregone conclusion (Pourcel), the battles involving the entire top 5 have always made for some close and exciting racing.
This weekend's race in Toronto will be broadcast LIVE on SPEED TV this Saturday, March 13, at 7:30PM EST. Check back here at Grindtv.com/moto for the latest photos and race reports.
A little background on what this editorial is all about - it's my attempt to shed some light on making a living taking snapshots of the best Supercross racers in the world. We know there's a ton of striving photohounds out there (some more accomplished than others), so we've decided to scratch your itch a bit by offering some insight on how to capture the action that is moto. Hence, if you don't have a good understanding of basic photography (at least), then you may want to stop reading right now!
Shooting photos on the floor of a Monster Energy AMA Supercross is by most accounts the pinnacle of the craft (that 'craft' being moto-photohounding). The only thing that is superior is doing day-jobs for catalog, ads, brochures and the like. I'll give a bit of insight into the rounds I cover for Motocross.com and how each location is a little different than the others, and what can be done to overcome the issues and still produce nice photos.
First though, let's talk about gear: Ya gotta have the best to compete with the best. There is always debate as to what is best, and typically that's a Nikon vs. Canon argument. I chose Canon several years ago for various reasons, none of which matter now. It's a 'six of one, half dozen of the other' argument at this point, although many photogs will probably disagree with me on that. The body I use is an EOS 1Ds Mark II. Yes, there's a 1Ds Mark III out now and I gave one a solid workout at Anaheim 1. It didn't strike me as significantly better, especially considering that a nice used body goes for around $5,000. I won't go back to a 1D Mark II or III since I will not offer clients any less resolution than I've been providing for the last couple of seasons (16.7 megapixels), so I'll stick with what I've got. Everyone is quite happy with the files I've been delivering, and never once have I heard "boy Jeff, if I could just have a few more megapixels I'd really be happy!". Not once. High ISO performance is minimally better, colors are the same, although functionality is quite a bit improved. However, I will hold out for the next iteration of the 1Ds series before taking the dive. I'm already saving my pennies... but it may end up going to something called RED instead (http://www.red.com).
Shooting at Anaheim 2 was exceptionally good. The track offered a lot of unique angle potentials with a couple of sections that we could actually shoot the whoops head-on, which is pretty much unheard of in recent memory. The lighting is often a limiting factor in Supercross, especially when using a long lens like the 300mm f/2.8. You can only throw flash so far, and when you do, it lights up all of the dust and other particulates in the air between you and the rider, so it's usually preferable to shoot a longer lens with available light, i.e. that provided by the stadium's lighting. Thankfully, Anaheim is quite well lit. I was getting away in most sections with ISO1000, shutter 1/640 or 1/500 at F/4 or a bit less. In some corners I'd go to 1250, 500, 3.2, but generally it was brighter than that. To stop the action, 1/500th is pretty much the minimum shutter, and typically when trying to 'document an event', you want to stop the action. When making art, you slow it down and pan with the rider, etc. I save the art manufacturing for practice sessions only, usually. When we go back to the stadiums out east we'll be forced to shoot at more around ISO1600 or 3200 at 1/400th and F/2.8. That's much less desirable and severely limits the variety of types of shots you can deliver. Nikon guys will pump up their D3 bodies to higher ISO to get away with faster shutter and more depth of field, but they'll pay for it with dirtier images, so it's a trade-off for sure. Lots of flash and much of it off-camera will set apart the good shots from the average ones.
Another great thing about A2 was the amount of access to the track we had. The last few years, floor photographers were limited to the outer-most reaches of the track area and little or no access to the infield. This season, however, we've gotten GREAT access to the inside, and that results in a lot more potential to create good images. Trust me when I say - we're loving it.
I'll update again from Houston, which if I remember correctly, is pretty dimly lit. If you have any basic questions please PM me here on the site or throw up a comment down below, I'll try to answer them for you.
Words and Photos: Jeff Kardas
Another weekend has gone by, and the 2009 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series continues on its interesting and unpredictable path. With Round 3 in the books, the riders continue to provide excellent racing in both classes, with a few fresh faces up front and some great charges through the pack that kept the fans on their feet all night long.
Behind the scenes at Anaheim 2 was relatively calm, in terms of this season's craziness thus far, and the rumor mill has all but ground to a halt as the racing takes the stage front and center.
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A couple of things have been made quite clear though. Number one is... Number One: Chad Reed is a new man, riding with an intensity reserved for the likes of Carmichael, and a style and precision previously known only by McGrath. He pushes it to the edge, but he does so with caution, knowing full well that he's four spots ahead of his primary rival in the points standings. Number two is... Number Seven: We said it last week and we'll say it again, Stewart is not the Stewart that we've come to be amazed by over the past several years, but he's not exactly a slouch either. Case in point: It took Stewart 6 laps to move from 6th into the lead at Anaheim 2 after a poor start. OK let's be realistic about that though - he wasn't exactly passing a bunch of slouches on his way to the front. He was forced to work his way around the top 2 rookies to come along in a long time - Grant and Villopoto - plus the wiley veteran Windham to gain the lead. He managed to do this on a track that was deemed by many to be 'really hard' to pass on, and by everyone to be 'way technical'. We think we're seeing the old James now, and that his bike setup is in the ballpark, but he's just facing tougher and more anxious/eager competition than he has in the past. Let's not forget that this is the most supercross that James has raced in the past two years after sitting out 14 of the 16 rounds last season due to his knee injury.
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But why is the racing public trying to justify why James isn't destroying the competition like he's used to? Why can't it be an evaluation of how much more depth the field has this season? Well, it should be, and we're going to go there right now. In case you weren't aware, the Supercross class is stacked this year. There are fast and proven top-10 guys not even making the mains, and others barely making it. Nobody is on the injured reserve (save for Hepler, but that's pretty much been a given, plus he's unproven in the big boy class anyhow). Heck even guys like Tim Ferry are having trouble breaking into the top 10 and are quick to admit that everyone in front of and behind are flying and he really has to force his way around.
One of a couple of the guys we're talking about is Team Yamaha's Josh Hill. Having been on the bike a very few number of times to prepare for the season, Hill is still working the kinks out after a substantial shoulder injury in the late fall, followed by a crash that knocked him silly just a week out from the Anaheim opener. Hill's getting up to speed and says he feels better on the bike every single time he gets on it. Check out the lap charts and notice that Josh is often one of the few riders who consistently moves upward through the pack following a bad start. With all the talent, determination and backing that Hill has, he'll still be facing very stiff competition to get on the podium (or even the top 5). Honda Red Bull Racing's duo of Andrew Short and Ivan Tedesco seem to be gelling with their new CRF450's (finally), with Short even giving Reed fits for several laps of their heat race at A2. Tedesco has run at or toward the front several times, including a solid fourth at Phoenix two weeks ago (not his best finish ever, as pointed out in last week's WRH comments). Add to these guys the likes of Ryan Villopoto, who finally beat his fellow freshman Josh Grant at A2 by simply starting in front of and finishing in front of him in the main event.
One rider who hasn't played a role yet but also is coming into his own following an injury and insufficient pre-season prep is Mike Alessi. While every interview with the factory Suzuki star sounds like an infomercial on his lack of testing and training and the fact that he's a 'racer at heart', it's all true. What's also true is he's getting better every time he's on the track and even though he's not known for moving UP in a Supercross main event, he is known as taking up a lot of space on the track for other riders, and being just fast enough to keep in the mix toward the front, so he'll be a factor as long as he stays healthy.
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Then there's Davi Millsaps. Clearly, Davi isn't all that happy with either A) his bike, B) his team, C) his sport, D) himself or E) all of the above. We'll go out on a limb and pick E - the kid just isn't happy. Pundits of the sport often refer to this as being in a 'funk', and Davi Millsaps is the King of Funk right now. Uninspired rides equal mediocre performances even by ultra-talented and supported riders like Davi when the class is stacked. Remove a few of the top guys (like we saw last season), and suddenly it appears riders like Millsaps and maybe even Hill are the fast guys. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but the point is that it's all relative, and it's all part of racing a series. Riders develop, gaining fitness, speed, precision, tenacity and, unfortunately, injuries as the season rolls on. He who finishes at the front later in the season are the ones that the record books remember, so let's not be too quick to judge so early in the season: There is still 14 rounds to go.
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Speaking of tenacity and speed, how about that Kevin Windham at A2? Give a guy a start and the measure of the man will be if he can run with it, and for how long. Windham ran with it, dropping RV and JG in the process, succumbing only to Sir James and the unholy terror from downunder Chad Reed in the final couple of laps. Consider the fire lit under Kdub now that he's put the youngsters in their place, but the question is could he have gotten around those two had he been behind?
Random quote from the pits: "He still needs some work." Mitch Payton to Mike Fisher regarding Ryan Villopoto following the 2nd practice.
RV2 is fast, there's no doubt. He regularly posts lap times in between the Big Two (Stewart and Reed), and often betters them during practice. He's clearly getting frustrated by the lack of podium action thus far, but he is playing it cool and not crashing his brains out trying to push the pace. Everyone agrees he'll get there soon enough - with the probable exception of Ryan himself. He wants on that box bad.
All of the Supercross class buzz almost leads us to forget about the ridiculously stacked Lites West class, which is currently being dominated by the predicted dominator, Ryan Dungey. Nothing new is happening here really, with both Monster/PC/Kaw teammates (Morais and Weimer) still running at the front then being run down by Dungey to fill out the podium together. Justin Brayton didn't make it up there this time, though, and we'll chalk it up to a bad start and a tough track to pass on. Defending Lites East champ Trey Canard skipped A2 to recover from his bell ringing incident in Phoenix, and Defending Lites West Jason Lawrence redeemed himself (somewhat) by getting a decent start from a crummy gate pic in the main and moving forward to 5th after lengthy battles. It seems JLaw would run the pace of everyone except possibly Dungey if he could get starts as good as the Monster/PC guys do, but to beat those bikes down the start straight is a tall order. Chris Blose continues to impress and, according to team manager Pingree, is riding for no salary and for bonuses only, so he's motivated to do well. The West Lites guys get a weekend off as the East opener takes place in Houston next week (more on that below).
Random quote from the pits: "Oh HELL no." Grant Langston when asked if he was going to jump everything during the hot laps before the night show.
Last year Anaheim 2 was better known as "Retro Night", where the teams and riders came out with wacky 80's style graphics kits, gear and pit attire. This year, it seems some of them went ahead and did it again despite there was no real proclamation by Feld Entertainment that it was any such thing. Windham, Stewart and plenty of others busted out some old school gear, but we saw very few instances of unusual pit attire (unless you count photo/video guy Rich Van Every, although it's not too unusual for him to dress like a pirate anyhow, so we won't count him).
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Another throw-back to previous years was the Legends hot lap during the opening ceremonies. Past 250/Supercross class champs Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath were joined by former 125/Lites champ Grant Langston to do a few laps for the near sell-out crowd. RC and MC ripped it up pretty good while Langston remained fairly mellow. It was great to see those guys out there and the crowd seemed to love it.
This weekend, the series heads into Round 4 for the Supercross class and Round #1 for the Eastern Regional SX Lites Series. This is a big change from previous years, where the West would all but finish their season before the East guys ever took to the track. Last year, the East opener wasn't until Round 8 in Atlanta at the end of February. What's this mean for these riders? Well, the West guys would be pretty much done by the time the East started with a huge gap before their final round to think about what they needed to do. Last year, that worked in favor of Lawrence and against Dungey. Another thing it effects is how much time the guys who opted to ride East have to prepare - they have a full MONTH less to get ready, whether they're rookies or recovering from late year injuries that prevented them from riding West in the first place. Let's examine a few of the top contenders for the East, shall we?
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Our pick for Houston? Monster Kaw guys 1-2, we won't say which one wins though.
Speaking of Houston, here's a Dirt Wurx track map:http://dirtwurx.com/images/2009_tracks/ROUND_4.jpg
No real whoops section to speak of, a long sweeper back through the start straight, a couple of 90 degree turns with a bunch of 180's mixed in, and a seemingly rhythm-based layout all point to some good racing and the cream rising to the top, just like with every other round.
We spoke with the Dirt Wurx guys at A2 and they said they aren't able to get into the stadium until Tuesday due to the on-going work on the dome's roof, which was damaged last year during a hurricane. The thought is that it'll all be ready to go in time, and that Houston will again be a good one for racers and fans alike.
That's about it for WRH - Anaheim 2. Next week we're coming to you from Tejas with photos from practice, the racing and of course the mid-week report - What Really Happened in Houston.