TWMX Nationals Race Report: Glen Helen

Perfect weather greeted the 21,470 fans who showed at Glen Helen to watch a rejuvenated field of the nation’s best 125 and 250 riders attack the fabled course. Despite increased competition and a brutally rough track, former teammates Ricky Carmichael and Mike Brown both showed they still have the right stuff when it comes to taming the hills of Glen Helen.

Round one of the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Motocross Championship saw the return of many riders who were injured during the just-ended supercross season, including Mike LaRocco, Nathan Ramsey, David Vuillemin, Grant Langston, Ezra Lusk, Sebastien Tortelli, Stephane Roncada and Travis Pastrana. Of those, it was Pastrana that held the most interest. The FMX daredevil and media darling has a reputation of returning to the action as though he’d never left, mixing it up with the leaders for a race or two, then re-injuring what can only be described as a fragile body. Sadly, Pastrana’s string of bad luck continued when he injured one of his un-braced knees and dropped out while racing with the leaders in moto one.

Returning from retirement was multi-world and former 250 National Champion Greg Albertyn, as was former MXDN Champion and crowd favorite, Ryan Hughes, who will be racing the entire 125 series on KTM machines. While Albertyn plans to slip back into retirement following the opener, a determined and fit Ryno put his previously announced retirement on hold, stating that he didn’t want to look back and have any “what ifs” in his racing career.

The return of the aforementioned riders was certainly great news for fans that had long since grown tired of the Chad Reed/Ricky Carmichael/Ernesto Fonseca podium parade of the last six Supercross races, but that wasn’t all they had to cheer about. Kevin Windham, the man touted by his peers as the most talented rider alive, made his long awaited and much anticipated return to racing. To say that Windham was impressive would be an understatement, as he came out blazing on his factory-backed 450 Honda, turning the quickest lap of the weekend and contending for the win.

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125 Class

With James Stewart out for the first two rounds with a broken clavicle, it was anybody’s race. Pre-qualifiers were run to narrow the field to 40 riders and determine order of gate choice. Ryan Hughes won the first heat over KTM teammate Steve Boniface, followed by Yamaha rider Kelly Smith. Casey Johnson, (hired as a last-minute replacement for injured Suzuki rider Branden Jesseman), validated Roger DeCoster’s decision to hire him, recording an impressive heat two win on his factory Suzuki. Johnson won by seven seconds over a tight group of riders, including Anderson, Tedesco, Metcalfe and Roncada. DeCoster’s cautious optimism was to be short-lived, however.

The start of the first of 24 motos to determine the 2003 AMA 125 National Champion saw Casey Johnson with the early lead, only to crash himself out of the race and into the hospital on lap five, shortly after being passed by Brock Sellards. Mike Brown dogged Sellards, pushing him while leaving Metcalfe, Antunez, Roncada, Anderson, Langston and Hughes behind. On lap nine Brock fell, handing the lead and eventual moto win to Brown.

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Hughes had moved up from a 14th place start, charging past Langston and everyone else, settling into third position on lap eight. Eric Sorby had worked from even further back and began pushing Langston on lap seven. Together they fought past Metcalfe, catching up to a surprised Ryno with the white flag waving. Grant put the move on Hughes for third and was able to hold it to the checkered flag.

At the finish it was Brown, Sellards, Langston, Hughes, Sorby, and Metcalfe. Michael Brandes marked his return to racing by nudging Roncada for seventh place, with Steve Boniface and Michael Byrnrounding out the top ten.

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Moto two was a flashback to the 2001 title chase, with the outcome reversed. It was Langston leading Hughes and Brown, until Brown took over second on lap 2, followed by Brandes, Roncada, Anderson, Metcalfe and Sorby. Things stayed like that with the exception of Sorby moving up to fourth, where he’d eventually finish.

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From lap eight on all eyes were on the duel between Brown and Langston as they pulled 21 seconds on Hughes, with a smaller gap back to Sorby, Brandes and the rest. With one lap to go both riders were giving it their all, Brown trying anything he could to get the double moto win, but it was not to be. At the finish it was Langston winning moto two and taking second overall with 3-1 scores, followed to the podium by Hughes, whose 4-3 finishes were good for third overall. Sorby, Brandes and Metcalfe finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the moto and overall. Seventh overall was a disappointed Sellards, who could only work up to 14th from a dead last start in moto two. Roncada (8-8), Gosselaar (12-7) and Boniface (9-10) completed the coveted top ten overall positions, exempting them from having to race the pre-qualifiers next week at Hangtown.

250 Class

In the first 250 pre-qualifier it was Hondas first, second and third, with Ernesto Fonseca, Jason McCormick and Spud Walters representing the red bikes in a heat that saw Chad Reed finish a disappointing ninth, 30 seconds behind the leader. Reed was obviously struggling with bike as well as track and hardly resembled the rider who took his sixth consecutive win over Ricky Carmichael last weekend in Las Vegas.

Kevin Windham decimated his four-lap pre-qualifier, beating a battling Larry Ward and Joaquim Rodriguez by 20 seconds. Those two finished nearly side-by-side, with snowmobile champion Blair Morgan another 30 seconds back in fourth.

You could have cut the tension in the air with a knife as the gate dropped and David Vuillemin grabbed the holeshot ahead of Windham, Ferry, Carmichael, Reed, Hamblin and Albertyn. Before lap one was in the record books the big number 14 of Kevin Windham had taken over the lead and was stretching it out over Vuillemin and the rest. RC didn’t want to let his friend get too far away and moved past Ferry when Tim missed a shift on the big four-stroke. They both moved by the Frenchman, as did Reed.

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K-Dub was poetry in motion as he continued to pull away from the fastest riders in the world at an alarming rate. One could see the look of concern in Carmichael’s eyes, and for good reason. “I knew from testing together how fast Kevin’s been riding, and face it, when he’s on his game not even I can beat him,” Carmichael said after the race.

Sean Hamblin was point man in a Suzuki wedge that was moving up and included Tortelli, Pastrana and Albertyn. Travis looked good dressed in white, as did Tortelli as they battled for position.

After four laps the order was Windham, RC, Ferry, Reed, Hamblin, Vuillemin, Pastrana, Tortelli, Albertyn and Lusk. The contrast in styles was evident as Windham looked like he was out for a Sunday ride compared to Ricky’s “toggle switch” method of throttle control.

On lap five Windham landed with his front wheel just catching the side of the down slope landing area of the long tabletop after exiting Bud’s Creek, causing him to cross-rut when his rear wheel touched and he went down. The crowd held its collective breath, watching as Kevin began kicking the big four-banger. First Carmichael went by, then Ferry, followed by Reed, Hamblin, Tortelli, Pastrana and a dozen other riders. You could sense the frustration that Windham was feeling as he grew more and more tired with each kick. By the time he was moving again he’d slipped back to 20th place.

From there to the finish it was Carmichael maintaining his lead, with Reed moving into second on lap six, then Ferry, Hamblin, Tortelli, Pastrana and Vuillemin. Things stayed pretty much the same until Pastrana tweaked his knee and pulled out of the race on lap 11, packing it in for the day. Things really went bad for Roger DeCoster’s team when Sean Hamblin crashed hard on the next lap, putting 2/3 of Team Suzuki out of the race and the points chase.

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At the finish it was all RC with about 14 seconds over a goggle-less Chad Reed. Next to cross was Tim Ferry, followed by Tortelli, Lusk, Vuillemin, LaRocco, Ward, Fonseca and 38 year-old John Dowd.

Moto two began without Suzuki’s Travis Pastrana, who was reportedly en route to have his knee checked. The final moto started and it was Windham who pulled the holeshot, followed closely by Lusk, Carmichael, Wey, Hamblin, Vuillemin, Reed and Ferry. The only riders to seemingly be on the move were RC, Reed and Ferry. RC took the lead from Windham on lap four and kept it, looking like the Carmichael of last year and winning handily over Windham, Reed, Lusk, Ferry, Albertyn, Ward, LaRocco, Dowd and Wey. Hamblin’s 11th place combined with his first moto DNF means he’ll be riding the pre-qualifiers in Hangtown next weekend.

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Overall it was Carmichael keeping the unbeaten streak alive, followed by Reed (2-3), Ferry (3-5), Lusk (5-4), Windham (14-2), Ward (8-7), LaRocco (7-8), Albertyn (11-6), Dowd (10-9) and Vuillemin (6-16).

> From there to the finish it was Carmichael maintaining his lead, with Reed moving into second on lap six, then Ferry, Hamblin, Tortelli, Pastrana and Vuillemin. Things stayed pretty much the same until Pastrana tweaked his knee and pulled out of the race on lap 11, packing it in for the day. Things really went bad for Roger DeCoster’s team when Sean Hamblin crashed hard on the next lap, putting 2/3 of Team Suzuki out of the race and the points chase.

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At the finish it was all RC with about 14 seconds over a goggle-less Chad Reed. Next to cross was Tim Ferry, followed by Tortelli, Lusk, Vuillemin, LaRocco, Ward, Fonseca and 38 year-old John Dowd.

Moto two began without Suzuki’s Travis Pastrana, who was reportedly en route to have his knee checked. The final moto started and it was Windham who pulled the holeshot, followed closely by Lusk, Carmichael, Wey, Hamblin, Vuillemin, Reed and Ferry. The only riders to seemingly be on the move were RC, Reed and Ferry. RC took the lead from Windham on lap four and kept it, looking like the Carmichael of last year and winning handily over Windham, Reed, Lusk, Ferry, Albertyn, Ward, LaRocco, Dowd and Wey. Hamblin’s 11th place combined with his first moto DNF means he’ll be riding the pre-qualifiers in Hangtown next weekend.

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Overall it was Carmichael keeping the unbeaten streak alive, followed by Reed (2-3), Ferry (3-5), Lusk (5-4), Windham (14-2), Ward (8-7), LaRocco (7-8), Albertyn (11-6), Dowd (10-9) and Vuillemin (6-16).