Words and photos by Brendan Lutes
The temperatures were hot and the racing was exciting, but that wasn’t all that went down this past weekend during the second-to-last round of the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross Championships at Steel City Raceway in Delmont, Pennsylvania. So check out everything below to find out all the behind-the-scenes info.
Heading into Steel City, the weather was questionable. Rain and thunderstorms hit the area in the days leading up to the event, leading everyone to wonder if they were in for another wet weekend. As it turned out, though, the rain never materialized and was instead replaced with extremely high humidity and temperatures.
Due to the high temperatures Doctor Alexander spoke during the riders' meeting to warn everyone of the risks associated with the weather. Drinking plenty of water and keeping hydrated was not only important for the riders, but the media and everyone at the event as well. Thankfully everyone made it through the day.
Like we mentioned, the heat was intense at Steel City. But in spite of that, not many riders elected to use the cooling vests that we have seen at previous rounds. VMS/Yamaha's Nick Wey, however, was one of the few still sporting it right before the start.
Keeping the fuel cool is always a priority during hot races. Here, Red Bull KTM's Mike Alessi tries to keep his cool by covering the tank with a wet towel before the race.
After turning in an excellent finish at Southwick, the Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda team hired Canadian racer Colton Facciotti to ride Christian Craig's CRF450R at the last two races. Craig broke the Scaphoid bone in his wrist in a crash at Southwick and underwent surgery this past week to fix the break. As for Colton, he finished out the weekend 12th overall with moto scores of 10-13.
The last remaining original TLD rider—Travis Baker broke his collarbone at Southwick—Cole Seely has been struggling as of late. At Steel City, he finished out the day with a disappointing 22nd overall. Don't forget, though, that he finished on the podium at the final round of the series at Pala Raceway last year; don't count him out yet.
The Rockstar Suzuki team had a full tent at Steel City, as Ryan Morais is now back in action. This was his third round back racing and so far luck hasn't been on his side. Look for him to turn things around, though, at Pala next weekend, as he's been turning some serious laps at the facility.
Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Ryan Dungey earned the RC Hard Charger award for his heroic ride during last week's second moto at Southwick. If you didn't know, Dungey's bike didn't show up until the entire field had almost completed the first lap of the race. Dungey entered the track and climbed his way back up to seventh to finish third overall on the podium.
South African Tyla Rattray has done all he can to win this year's 250 class championship, but in spite of his best efforts he will finish out the year second in points behind his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki teammate Dean Wilson. At Steel City, Rattray had to finish better than fourth in the final moto in order to bring the title down to Pala. Unfortunately, Rattray finished fourth in both motos, allowing Wilson to take the title one round early.
Wilson was all smiles following the second 250 moto. He clinched the title one round early by sweeping both motos. While he might not have won the most races this year, he was the most consistent rider of the championship contenders, and at the end of the day, that's what matters most in a title fight.
Immediately after being awarded the number one plate, Wilson called his parents who couldn't make it because they were driving the motorhome back to California from Florida where Dean had been staying to train at Reed's house. After the race Wilson said that at first he was excited then he just couldn't hold back the emotions of fulfilling his dream.
Chad Reed's son Tate was on hand to take in all the action at Steel City.
We spotted Tate's bike right next to his dad's in the TwoTwo Motorsports/Honda pits. Turns out Chad and his wife Ellie can't keep the little guy off the thing. Looks like we might have another Reed racing in the future…
During the first practice, the track was very soft and developed some major ruts. In this particular corner one of the ruts developed a huge hole in the middle of it. Here, JGR/Toyota/Muscle Milk's Justin Brayton hits the hole. Right after this shot was taken, he fell over after losing his momentum when he hit the hole.
Here's a close up shot of the mud that built up on many of the bikes following the first practice sessions. As the day went on, though, the track broke in and actually had some dusty spots develop, requiring some water to be put down.
Between practice sessions, the track crew made a few minor changes in order to ensure that the ruts were fixed and there weren't any dangerous sections by the time racing began.
These gnarly ruts developed during the first set of motos, however, they were taken out during the break between the first and second motos.
We've talked about the pressurized radiators on the Geico Honda bikes, but here's a closer look at what is going on behind the shrouds. The pressurized radiators help to maximize the cooling abilities of the bikes.
On the right side of the bike, the radiator has this pressure relief valve to help release pressure when the coolant boils over.
The VMS/Yamaha crew had a full tent at their semi with Nick Wey, Nico Izzi, Jimmy Albertson, and Ricky Deitrich all riding for the team.
We noticed that rear shock on fill-in rider Albertson's machine still had Austin Stroupe's name on it. No word yet on if Stroupe will be returning to action at the final round, but one can surmise that since the team has brought on Izzi, Stroupe's return to action is unlikely.
Nico Izzi made the bike jump up to the 450 class for the final two rounds and will be filling in on the VMS/Yamaha squad. Izzi had some trouble in both motos, but showed flashes of speed after qualifying fourth behind some of the best in the series.
It was definitely hot out, and some decided to dress accordingly...
Team Monster Energy Kawasaki has been running these very trick carbon fiber tanks on the 2012 machines of both Ryan Villopoto and Jake Weimer. The tanks are larger than stock and ensure that the riders will not run out of fuel for the entire moto.
We also spotted this added carbon fiber protection on the bottom of the forks on the Kawasaki bike. The fork lugs are very expensive and any added protection available is a good thing.
All of the Fox riders were sporting the new Fox V4 helmet again this weekend. Here's a close up shot of Factory Honda's Justin Barcia's lid.
Not only does Fox have a new helmet coming out soon, but there is also a new boot on the way as well. The entire Geico Honda team has been running the boots for a while now, however, there is no word yet on when the actual release date will be. The boots do feature a hinged design that helps to protect the ankle better than the old boot design.
Ever since the Monster Energy Kawasaki team made the switch to the 2012 KX450F, Jake Weimer has shown what he is truly capable of in the 450 class. At Steel City, the Idaho native finished out the day fifth overall, finishing 6-6 in the motos.
The first 450 class moto was one of the most exciting in recent memory, as championship rivals Ryan Dungey and Ryan Villopoto were this close for the entire race. RV would close the gap at times, but Dungey would then open the lead back up.
This photo was taken as the two-lap board was about to come out. On the last lap, Dungey cased a jump and allowed Villopoto to close right in on Dungey, and with one turn remaining, Villopoto made an aggressive pass to win the moto.
This was how close Dungey and Villopoto were at the end of the first moto. It no doubt had to be tough for Dungey to see his rival take the win right in front of him.
After crossing the finish line, Dungey looked very disappointed, but we also noticed that his Leatt Brace had come unbuckled on the left side. Following the race, we got a closer look at the brace and it appeared that the bolt holding the buckle on backed out, causing the buckle to come undone. It leaves one to wonder if the Leatt flopping around had something to do with him getting passed in the last turn; it had to be a major distraction.
Rookie Kyle Peters competed in his first-ever National at Steel City aboard a DNA Shred Stix/Star Racing/Yamaha. The young racer was the 250 A class championship winner at this year's Loretta Lynn's Amateur National and proved to have a ton of speed. He posted some excellent lap times in qualifying and finished out the day 20th overall with a 16-24 moto scores.
Another rookie, and Loretta Lynn's Champion, Chris Plouffe also raced his first-ever National at Steel City aboard a JDG KTM 250SX-F. Plouffe finished out the day just ahead of Peters in 19th overall with moto scores of 30-16.
Gratuitous Rockstar girl photo...
ARMA Energy/Suzuki's Austin Howell had a disappointing first moto, as his bike quite on him during his practice start. Howell was forced to watch as his mechanic pushed the bike back to the pits while the pack took off from the line. He returned to finish the second moto 15th, though, salvaging an otherwise horrible day.
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki's Broc Tickle had his bike quit on him in the first 250 moto, adding yet another disappointment to his outdoor season. In the second moto, Tickle came back to finish fifth. Check back later this week for a TransWorld Shadow of the Kawasaki rider.
Red Bull KTM's Marvin Musquin had his best race since coming back from the thumb injury he suffered at Freestone, going 3-3 for third overall on the day. In both motos, Musquin was able to hold off a hard-charging Rattray, whom you can see right behind the French rider in this photo.
Even though she didn't get the overall win this weekend—that went to Jessica Patterson—Factory Honda's Ashley Fiolek still holds down the points lead over defending champion Patterson heading into the final WMX round at Pala next weekend. Fiolek finished the day second overall with a 3-2 score. Tarah Gieger—starting directly next to Fiolek—had a very good weekend going 2-3 in the motos for third overall.
The fans at Steel City were entertaining to say the least. The dude with the hat on punched his buddy in the side for this photo.
It's always interesting to see how the racing lines develop throughout the day, but the way this uphill developed was pretty crazy. As you can see in this photo, the racing line was pushed very wide, and you can really see just how far it went by where Mike Alessi is about to go.
Rockstar/Makita/Suzuki's Brett Metcalfe has been on fire lately. After winning last weekend's overall at a very muddy and difficult Southwick race, Metty backed it up with a solid third overall at Steel City. During the press conference, he talked about the intense heat and the challenge it brought. But even though it was difficult, the Australian managed to withstand the elements.
Ever since his gnarly crash at Millville, TwoTwo Motorsports/Honda's Chad Reed just hasn't been riding like he was when the season began. Whatever the reason may be, Reed still managed to put together a solid second moto at Steel City, finishing third behind the two Ryans. On the podium, Reed thanked his throngs of fans for their support throughout the year.
The Steel City win for Villopoto this weekend was a pivotal one, and barring a major mistake or problem likely sealed the championship for him. Heading into the final round at Pala, the Kawasaki rider holds a 14-point lead over Dungey.
See you at Pala next week!