They call New Orleans the Big Easy, and it would seem Ryan Villopoto took that moniker to heart. He easily scored the win inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, showing no signs of relaxing with his new number one plate. Taking a page from RV1’s game, Pro Circuit’s Darryn Durham serenaded Nola for his first-ever SX win in the Lites class. For others, however, the New Orleans track didn’t quite put out the way they’d probably hoped. Some gnarly crashes kept a few from the front of the pack, while injuries kept some of the sport’s favorites from even attempting to spit some game to the Big Easy.
To be frank, the 450 class paled in comparison to the Lites. With the championship wrapped up, the hometown favorite and People’s Champ (Windham) sidelined next to Chad Reed, James Stewart, and a small host of others, the premier class was all but over before it started. Conversely, the Lites class hosted a relatively exciting main event, saw a first-time winner, and crowned an East Coast champ.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome is giant (hence the name, we suppose), so although the fan turnout was solid, it was not even close to full. As for the track itself, it featured a pretty long sand section, so hefty whoops, and a perplexing dirt surface that made tire selection and throttle control imperative to holding traction.
With the Mercedes-Benz Superdome looming over, the race semis had plenty of space and pleasant weather to pit trouble-free outside. And although there was no official Monster Energy Pit Party with vendors and such, some fans still wandered through the pits to see their favorite riders and teams in their element. We must say, however, we were pretty bummed that there were no Falken promo girls to snap some Falken photos with our Falken cameras (Why isn't there an A-Series tire from Falken yet?).
The sand section was actually pretty gnarly. Whooped out, rutted, and pretty long for a Supercross track, the sand served as a quagmire for many riders over the course of the day.
The soil actually had tons of shells and course sand mixed in. We looked for some collectibles for our mantle, but most of it was pretty crushed up. So much for adding to our mason jar of aquatic geology.
Although he is out with a host of injuries, Chad Reed made the trip to New Orleans take in the action anyway. We are almost positive he was in bed by 11, though. There's not much for nightlife in New Orleans...
Rockstar/Valli-Star Yamaha's Nico Izzi got everyone's attention in the first practice, taking the fastest lap early on. However, in second practice, RV1, Weimer, and Millsaps snuck in sub-53 second lap times, to take the top three spots overall. Izzi still scored fourth fastest overall, and had his best gate choice of the season.
After posting the fourth fastest lap of the day in practice, Nico Izzi struggled a bit during racing. A crash in the whoops and another in the sand kept him from riding his practice momentum to a strong finish in the main event.
Red Bull KTM's Ken Roczen was ultra-fast in practice, and he carried his speed into the heat race, winning handily. A so-so start in the main event, however, kept him from jumping out front early and opening up the orange bike. He settled for fifth at night's end.
Andrew Short made his return to racing at New Orleans, and thanks to the support of the Honda factory, Shorty had something to ride. While he sat sidelined from his injury, the Supercross.com team sponsorship dissolved, leaving him to seek out some additional support. His relationship with Honda, as well as other sponsors like Fly, Dubya, FMF, and a host of others allowed him to race. He went on to finish second in his heat and fifth in the 450 main event. Good to see you back Shorty!
For much of the season out east, monitors have been set up near staging (when possible) for riders to keep up on the action of the other practice sessions without having to stand trackside.
Like many of the east coast rounds, the Superdome did have space for privateers to set up shop inside the comfort of the stadium. It later served as staging for the racers before the heats and main events.
In other news (more so in the gossip & rumor category), we've heard from sources that JGR has released James Stewart from his contract. Word is, Stewart may contest the outdoor motocross championship aboard a Suzuki.
Hometown hero, Kevin Windham desperately tried to grunt out a lap in first practice with two separated shoulders but, as you can imagine, he was physically unable to fully ride the track. We did, however, get to see his one-off Saints gear.
Although Ryan Villopoto checked out within moments of the gate dropping, there was still some good racing for podium spots throughout the 450 main event. Shorty, Brett Metcalfe, Justin Brayton, and Mike Alessi jockeyed for position for the majority of the 20 laps.
The JWR N-Style shop mats are pretty sweet, we must say...
Privateer Lites rider Alex Martin continues to show flashes of brilliance. After winning the LCQ to secure a spot in the main, Martin jumped out for the holeshot, holding of the advances of Durham for a time. Unfortunately, he got picked off before he could lead long, then made some mistakes as the moto went on, eventually logging 19th on the score sheet. Although it didn't go his way this past weekend, Martin continues to give the factory guys some trouble week after week.
Josh Grant is back on the podium. Out of seemingly nowhere, Grant put in a great performance for second overall in the 450 class. With still a short time back on the bike, and much of it devoted to outdoor testing, Grant looked back to form. Nick work Josh!
Hats off to Malcolm Stewart for his performance on Saturday night. A second place in his heat race jump-started some momentum for the JDR KTM rider, and he took off to a great start in the main, running second for a short time. On the sixth lap, though, Mookie lost his footing in the whoops and was ejected like a fighter pilot in a tailspin. After violently slapping the ground, he actually regrouped and got back on his motorcycle. Fighting back to 17th, Malcolm proved he is one tough dude.
Ryan Villopoto took some time to dig out some debris from the start straight before the first Lites heat jumped out of the gates. Or maybe he was working on his B-boy shuffle...
Chad Reed joined the top ten 450 class riders in opening ceremonies for a quick interview for the fans in attendance. He is wearing a knee on his left leg, but is pretty mobile other than that.
Needing only to have a solid performance in the main event, Justin Barcia settled down, rode smart, and managed to stay out of and tangles with other riders in route to his second Lites Championship. Barcia joins an elite group of racers that have won back-to-back Lites titles, and will definitely carry his success into the 450 class next year.
Pro Circuit staggered the podium this week, taking first and second. Darryn Durham led the entire race, and although Blake Baggett tracked him down a few times, Double D held him off to get his first career win.
Darryn Durham has the best podium presence in the game. He is genuinely excited to be up there, and has a ton of fun with it. We hope to see a lot more of him on the box, because he exemplifies what it should feel like to win a Supercross race.
JGR's Davi Millsaps had a rough day, but he still managed to make the best of it. After a crash took him out of the heat race and sent him to the LCQ, Davi regrouped and won to secure a spot in the main. A first turn crash, though, yet again mired Millsaps' momentum. Undaunted, Millsaps still managed to fight back and take sixth place overall. Lemons into lemonade.
We thought we may just see MotoConcepts Mike Alessi finally step onto the podium this weekend, but after holding onto third place in front of Justin Brayton nearly the entire race, Alessi got caught up in some lapper traffic and dumped his bike. After trying to restart his machine in gear, he had to find neutral and continue kicking. By the time he got restarted, a podium spot was far gone.
Congrats to Darryn Durham on his first win!
Congratulations to Justin Barcia and the entire Geico Honda team on their 2012 East Coast Lites Championship!
See you next week in Seattle, where the West Coast Lites riders will return to the race track.