Over the last few years, the size and quality of the fields showing up at the WMA National series has improved greatly, but maybe best of all, the racing has also gotten really fun to watch. Both motos featured multiple lead changes, and multi-time champ Jessica Patterson was doing a jump section (launching over a tabletop to the middle of the following step-up on her Honda 250F) that even some of the 450 pros weren’t doing.
Scanning the start list for the ’06 season-opener at Glen Helen, the anticipation was greater than ever, since the list was packed with familiar faces and newcomers, along with both U.S. and International competitors. There were also some interesting stories like Brazilian rider Mariana Balbi, the sister of Open Pro rider Antonio Balbi, and 17-year-old New Zealand competitor Katherine Prumm, who had just come off a win in the German round of the FIM Women’s World Cup.
Before the gate dropped for the first moto, we quizzed Sarah Whitmore about the talent on hand. “All the top girls from the states are coming out…girls that usually just run at Loretta’s are out here, too, so it’s good. The WMA is getting a lot more press, and I think sponsors are finally making more demands that they race these events and not just the amateur Nationals. Besides Loretta’s, no one really cares about the amateur Nationals. Four laps is nothing. You need to come out and do two full 20-minute motos on rough tracks that really show you who the fastest girl is. Four laps is just pathetic.”
Sarah had also finally changed over from the 125 two-stroke that she’d ridden for the last two years to a Yamaha 250F, and was looking forward to racing with the additional power. But when we lamented that we it’d be hard to tell when she was coming without the benefit of the two-stroke exhaust note, she just laughed and said, “I’ll probably still ride it like a 125, and over revving the crap out of it.”
For their first race of the season the women were also facing on their biggest challenges of the season, with a Glen Helen course that featured a mix of the National track (including the St. Helens and Yamaha hills), as well as a big chunk of the REM track . That meant lap times for the 250F guys in the range of 2:30 per lap…a long course indeed.
Rounding the high-speed Talladega first turn, it was Jessye Davis in the lead, follwed by Alisa Nix and Sheri Cruse, who were bouncing off of each other. Jessica Patterson gated well, but about four turns into the moto she went down, leaving her to remount and trying to reel in the leaders.
As the frontrunners came around for the second lap, it was Tarah Geiger who had assumed the lead, which she held for several laps before disappearing due to a crash. “It started out good, Then in the back I hit a rock while climbing a hill and went into a wall. I slid out and had nothing to do but come back down. Maybe five girls passed me. The track seemed pretty one-lined in a lot of sections, and it was hard to do anything once I was back there.”
Meanwhile, Aubriana Dunn took over the lead, while a freight train of riders started to stack up behind her. With a couple laps to go, Dunn led while being closely pursued by Mariana Balbi, Katherine Prumm, Jessye Davis, and Sarah Whitmore. Things scrambled quite a bit by the time they made it to the checkers, amazingly the Kawasaki-mounted Prumm had taken over the lead, which was quite a feat considering the horrible start she’d had to the moto. Behind her was Balbi, Whitmore, Dunn, Davis and Patterson.
By a couple corners into the second moto, Sherri Cruz had jumped into the lead and was wheelying away, while hotly pursued by Alisa Nix. However at the end of the first lap, Tania Satchwell had escaped the pack and moved into the lead, but she bobbled and Nix went by her. Behind the lead duo were Mariana Balbi, Katherine Prumm, and Jessica Patterson.
Balbi and Prumm dueeled for a while before Prumm escaped and took off after Nix. Prumm then dispatched the early leader and hung on for the win. But behind her Jessica Patterson was making a late moto charge, and passing two riders on the last lap (including Nix with a corner to go), and was quickly closing on Prumm as the two crossed the finish line.
Afterward, Prumm was all smiles as she said, “The last moto was pretty trippy. I was following the whole race and stayed on her the whole race. I saw an opportunity on the last lap, gave it everything and it worked. I felt really good today, and the track was really awesome.”
Sarah Whitmore’s 3-5 was good for second overall, while Mariana Balbi’s 2-6 gave her third on the day.
About her last-lap charge, Jessica Patterson said, “I had to go for two passes. On the Yamaha downhill and was about to eat it. I don’t know how I saved it, but I went off the track. I came back and lost a lot of ground then. I think if I’d have just picked up from other mistakes I made, I’d have been up front. In the last corner I’d passed Alisa Nix…I just went for it. At the checkered flag Prumm and I were almost side-by-side.”
“It went okay. It could be a little better, but I had a good time and at least I came out not too far behind in points, so I can come back like I did last year. I had the same moto finishes this year as I did last year, so it’s not over. I had a 2-6 last year, and a 6-2 this year.” With a smile Jessica said, “I guess me and Ricky (Carmichael) don’t like this place. We never really do that great here. It seems like at Hangtown we pick it up a little bit.”
About the increased competition, Jessica commented, “This class is getting so big. It seems like each year it steps up a little more, and it gets harder. I knew I had to step up my training for this year to be back on top again, and I knew this was going to come. So many amateur girls are coming up, and they’re getting so fast. Me, as the veteran, I’ve got to step it up. I’d never really seen the top two girls before. I was expecting them to be ready, of course, and I was ready. I had to just try and give it my best. It’s good that we got ’em, and it just helps women’s motocross step up. Hopefully I’ll have some more for them next weekend. “
2006 Hitachi WMA PRO National Motocross Championship
Glen Helen Raceway; San Bernardino, CA
- Katherine Prumm (Kawasaki) 1-1
- Sarah Whitmore (Yamaha) 3-5
- Maian Balbi (Honda) 2-6
- Jessica Patterson (Honda) 7-2
- Leah Cantrell (Suzuki) 8-4
- Jessye Davis (Honda) 5-8
- Aubriana Dunn (Honda) 4-9
- Alisa Nix (Honda) 11-3
- Tarah Gieger (Yamaha) 6-10
- Ashley Boham (Honda) 10-11
- Linsey Schelema (Kawasaki) 9-12
- Kaide Garrett (Yamaha) 12-14
- Alison Jones (Honda) 14-13
- Penni Cyrus (Kawasaki) 13-15
- April Zastrow (Honda) 15-17
- Jolee Van Vugt (Suzuki) 19-16
- Michele Collins (Kawasaki) 17-20
- Bonnie Warch (Yamaha) 18-21
- Christian Yellow Kidney (Yamaha) 22-18
- Josephine Adlam (Yamaha) 21-22