After weeks of preparation, the opening round of the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championship series at Hangtown is in the record books. And after some intense racing in both classes, we have a lot to report.
Every year the crowd turnout at Hangtown is huge and this year didn't disappoint, as thousands of fans came out to witness the opening round of the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Champion.
The track at this year's Hangtown National got brutally rough. Many of the riders compared it to a combination of Glen Helen and Competitive Edge in California—two of the tracks that many of them train on during the week. The dirt developed deep ruts and some very rough square-edge chop.
The yellow Aceribis track marker stakes have been a staple at the Nationals for quite a few years now, but new for 2012 are the huge yellow Acerbis turn markers that can be found on the inside of the corners. Last time we checked, everyone knew where the turns were on most motocross tracks. Nonetheless, though, they did add to the professional look of the facility and track layout.
As you can see in this photo of Star Racing/VMS/Yamaha's Ryan Sipes, ruts developed on a lot of the jump faces. This photo was taken during morning practice.
Not only was the fan turnout good, but the media attention at the race was at an all time high. Seating space in the press tent was at a premium and shooting got a little crowded at times.
Heading into Hangtown, no one except James Stewart really knew how he was going to do. He had just switched teams from JGR/Toyota/Yamaha to Yoshimura Suzuki and hadn't competed in a full outdoors season since 2008. Before the race, Stewart humbly said that he would be happy with a top-five finish, but when it was all said and done, the Suzuki rider dominated both motos, taking the lead early and never looking back. In this photo, James celebrates his perfect 1-1 score as his closest competitor Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey exits the track in defeat.
It's a well-known fact that James had ridden the Suzuki late last year when he was deciding what bike to ride for 2013, so him and Yoshimura Suzuki team manager Mike Webb had already briefly worked together. Following Stewart decisive first moto victory, Webb was one of the first people to congratulate James. We've probably never seen Stewart smile this big following a race win. We overhead Stewart say something to the effect of, "I just kept getting more comfortable as the moto went on."
Next weekend, James will be running the red backgrounds signifying the points lead. We must admit the trophies are always pretty cool at Hangtown.
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Blake Baggett turned in one of the most impressive rides of the weekend, going 1-1 in the 250 class. In the first moto, Baggett came from behind, passing many of the top riders late in the moto. On the last lap, the Kawasaki rider moved into second and with only a few turns to go, passed Red Bull KTM's Ken Roczen to take the win. In the second moto, Baggett got into the lead early and never looked back. If he can stay healthy and consistent, Baggett will be a force in this year's 250 class championship chase. He will wear the red background heading into the Freestone, Texas, for the second year in a row.
Here's how close the top-three 250 riders were on the last lap of the first moto. In this photo, Baggett had just passed Barcia and was looking for a way around Roczen.
On the podium, Roczen and Baggett were all smiles in spite of Roczen losing the first moto after Baggett passed him with only a few turns remaining. For Roczen, Hangtown marked his first-ever outdoor national, and following the race, he mentioned that he learned a lot about not only the pace and intensity of the race, but the structure and the schedule throughout the day.
Geico Honda's Justin Barcia was quiet and focused all day at Hangtown. After his dominating Supercross season, many people pegged him as the 250 rider to beat heading outdoors. As it turned out, Barcia led numerous laps and battled for the overall, but came up just shy of the win, scoring second overall behind Baggett. This is Barcia's final season as a 250 rider, so there is no doubt he is looking to end it on a high note. Next year, look for him aboard a factory Muscle Milk Honda.
Defending 250 Champion Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Dean Wilson began Hangtown with an injured shoulder, hoping to make it through the first few rounds to successfully make a run at defending his title. In the first moto, though, Deano's shoulder popped out again, forcing him to withdraw from not only the second moto, but the upcoming rounds as well. There is no official word on if or when he will return to action this year.
Veteran racer and former 250 Class National Champion Ivan Tedesco surprised and impressed a lot of people with his speed aboard his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki, as he went 6-5 for fourth overall. It's been since 2005—when he won the 250 National Championship—that Ivan has competed in the 250 class, and before Hangtown many people questioned how he would do. Ivan was admittedly not at his peak for physical conditioning, but in spite of that, he mixed it up with the young kids and proved to everyone that he still has it aboard a 250cc four-stroke.
After winning the West Coast Lites Supercross Championship and being a frontrunner during last year's Lucas Oil AMA Motocross series, Geico Honda's Eli Tomac was looking forward to the outdoors. In the first moto, Eli was running up front early on and eventually finished fourth. In the second moto, though, he was the victim of a first-turn pileup, forcing him to play catch up the entire moto. He eventually finished 10th for fifth overall.
Star Racing/VMS/Yamaha's Kyle Cunningham turned in a very solid ride, going 9-8 for seventh overall. In the process, though, he badly tweaked his left ankle. After getting it checked out by the Asterisk Medic crew, they determined it to not be broken. In spite of the pain, though, Kyle says he will be racing next week in Texas, no matter what.
We mention this every year, but the Nationals always bring out some cool new accessories on many of the factory machines. This carbon fiber gas tank can be found on the Geico Honda machines and is a larger capacity than stock.
Here's the carbon fiber tank that the Monster Energy Kawasaki team is running on the team's bikes.
The Geico Honda team has been running this oil cooler for a few seasons now. It helps to keep the engine running cooler during the long, hot motos of the summer.
We also spotted many teams running beefed up header pipes. This Yoshimura header is on one of the Geico Hondas. As you can see, an extra layer of Titanium is welded on the front to protect the delicate exhaust from the brutal roost found on many of the outdoor tracks.
At the start of the Supercross season, Davi Millsaps' former teammate James Stewart was the only rider on the team with the custom-made radiator shrouds and gas tank, which are thinner than stock. After Stewart left the team and Davi finished second in the overall points standings in Supercross, the trick bodywork was mounted up on Millsaps' machine. We ran into him the week before Hangtown and he joked, "I like to give the team a hard time and say that I had to earn the set up."
Here's a look at the very trick custom aluminum gastank on Davi's bike.
The Star Racing/VMS/Yamaha team is running this cool GET data acquisition set up on Ryan Sipes' YZ450F. The system helps the team to know how to better set the bike up for the high speeds and varying track conditions of the outdoors.
Being that Stewart has only been testing on his new Yoshimura Suzuki for roughly one week, he is still electing to run his more familiar Renthal Twinwall handlebars rather than the team's sponsor Pro Taper. Once he gets more time on the bike and is ready to switch up his bar set up, expect to find the Pro Taper bars on his bike.
Team Lucas Oil/Troy Lee Designs/Honda had a couple new numbers underneath the team's awning, as Jessy Nelson (he was racing his first-ever professional race) and Billy Laninovich (he was filling in for Christian Craig) were the newest additions to the team.
As mentioned, Jessy Nelson was competing in his first-ever professional race. The former amateur standout looked fast all day and turned in impressive 13-17 moto scores for 16th overall.
Red Bull is the newest sponsor of the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Champion series and they had their skydiving team participate in opening ceremonies. It was pretty impressive watching them swoop down just over the starting line before landing on the start straight.
This horseback riding team also participated in opening ceremonies.
As a fill-in rider on the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, Tyla Rattray was looking to put in some solid rides this season. Unfortunately for the South African, though, he broke his hand in the first moto, forcing him to withdraw from the race. There is no word yet on when he will return to action this season.
Another fill-in rider for a factory team is Tommy Hahn aboard a Muscle Milk Honda. As a former National winner, there is no doubt that Hahn has what it takes to run up front and he proved that in the first moto where he finished eighth. The second moto, though, didn't go too well for him, as he went down in the opening laps and was forced to work his way up. Unfortunately, the best he could do was 27th.
Chaparral Honda's Andrew Short is back up front outdoors. After racing a Red Bull KTM 350SX-F last year, Shorty moved back to his more familiar Honda CRF450R for 2013. In the first moto, he pulled the holeshot and ran up front, keeping the pace of Stewart for roughly the first half of the race. He eventually finished fifth. In the second moto, he again got out to a good start, ran the pace of the front-runners, and eventually finished fourth for fourth overall.
Hangtown usually marks the time of year when many gear companies unveil the new 2013 gear. This year, we saw numerous versions of new racewear from various manufacturers. Here, Monster Energy Kawasaki's Jake Weimer gets ready for practice in his new 2013 Thor gear. As a sidenote, Weimer went 10-6 for eighth overall.
Here's an example of some new MSR co-branded Rockstar gear that Nick Wey was running throughout the day.
The entire Geico Honda squad and Josh Grant were wearing new Alias gear. The jerseys were fully vented and complete with sublimated graphics to help keep the riders cool in the high temperatures of the outdoor races.
Perhaps some of the coolest new gear that we saw throughout the day was the Answer kit that James Stewart wore during his dominating 1-1 performance. No word yet on when it will be available to the public.
With the addition of Stewart to the team, Yoshimura Suzuki arguable has one of the strongest teams in the paddock. For a good part of the first moto, the team race 1-2 with Stewart leading and Brett Metcalfe running a solid second. Known for his outdoor speed aboard the 450, look for Metty to turn some heads this summer. After all, he did win a race last year and finished on the podium.
Billy Laninovich's dad is awesome. Double whammy: A pick up kit and a mullet.
All last year, Wey would cruise down to the starting line wearing a cooling vest like the one pictured here. Before both motos, NYK could be seen sporting this sweet Michigan Mafia cooling vest.
MotoConcepts' Mike Alessi had a great showing at Hangtown. After knocking himself out in practice last year, finishing third overall was a great accomplishment and an excellent start to the season. During the press conference, Alessi mentioned that the crash was on his mind throughout the day and it's good to get out of Hangtown in a strong points position.
For the entire Supercross season, the MotoConcepts team sported JT gear and JT helmets. For the faster speeds of the outdoor series, though, the team has made the switch to Shoei helmets.
Star Racing/VMS/Yamaha's Ryan Sipes has moved up to the 450 class for the outdoors. According to him, he really likes riding the bigger bike. At Hangtown, he turned in a disappointing 25-15 for 18th overall; a result that isn't indicative of his talent and speed.
39-year-old Ryan Hughes and his long-time friend and mechanic "Hoodie" made an appearance at Hangtown, but it didn't go too well for him. Crashes in the first moto forced him to pull out and watch from the sidelines. In the second crash of the moto, he jammed his wrist, causing him to not line up for the second moto. X-rays in the Asterisk Medic truck didn't show any broken bones, but Hughes will get his wrist examined by his doctor this week. Check back later this week for a TransWorld Shadow with Hughes.
Here's a shot of Hughes in the mechanics area during the first moto. As evidenced by the dirt and mud on his Fox gear, he hit the dirt pretty good.
The JDR/J-Star/KTM team had only one rider at Hangtown, as both PJ Larsen and Matt Moss were on the sidelines with injuries. The lone rider Malcolm Stewart had a day he would probably rather forget, going 25 in the first moto and pulling out of the second moto after only a few laps.
The warm weather brought out some good scenery this weekend.
We spotted this cool old CR250 two-stroke in the pits complete with old Honda of Troy graphics and Sinisalo jersey.
One of the biggest surprises of the WMX racing action was Australian racer Meghan Rutledge's second moto victory. After both Ashley Fiolek and Jessica Patterson went down early, Rutledge managed to hold on to the lead for the remainder of the race. Patterson did her best to catch her, but she ran out of time. Rutledge finished fourth in the overall standings.
Rockstar Suzuki's Jessica Patterson turned in two consistent moto scores (2-2) to take the first overall win of the season. After losing the number one plate to Fiolek last year, Patterson is working hard to get it back on her Suzuki.
Defending WMX Champion Ashley Fiolek won the first moto, but crashed in the second moto, finishing fifth. Still her combined moto score netted her second overall. In the press conference she was asked if this would be her last season of competition, to which she simply said, "No comment."