The second round of the 2014 season saw Ryan Villopoto’s return to prominence, but also a breakout ride by Justin Brayton. The first two weeks of competition have produced a lot of great action already as riders look to settle into a groove.
Each week, The Holeshot will provide 22 takeaways – a full starting gate – from the most recent round of action.
1. While such things at this point in his career shouldn’t surprise us, Ryan Villopoto had to climb from ninth in order to win in Phoenix. It had to be one of his most impressive rides ever, but because of his dominance in recent years I think it was somewhat downplayed.
2. Adding to the difficulty of Villopoto’s triumphant effort was a slick track that was tough to pass on and some of the most talented riders in the world standing in his way en route to victory. Villopoto had to pass the likes of Stewart, Roczen, Barcia, and Dungey in order to get into the lead.
3. It’s hard to believe that it took Villopoto six years to win in Phoenix. He’s won over 50 percent of the races he’s entered since 2011, so you’d think he would have already checked Chase Field of his list by now.
4. Saturday’s incredible ride could just be the start of big things for Justin Brayton. He impressed the entire world by going toe-to-toe with Villopoto, and it was the kind of shot in the arm he and the JGR team needed. Brayton is such a nice guy both on and off the track that you can’t help but like seeing him succeed. Confidence is running high in that camp.
5. I was initially surprised to see Ryan Dungey have such a hard time getting around Brayton, which I think to extent was attributed to the track conditions. However, when Brayton pulled away and put a charge on Villopoto, it made me realize just how well he was riding that night.
6. It’s too early to really put stock into this, but based on the past, you have to think Villopoto’s acquisition of the red plate already doesn’t bode well for his challengers. Dungey and Roczen’s performance this weekend will be critical to the direction of this title fight.
7. Speaking of Dungey, he’s the only rider to finish on the podium each of the first two races. Mr. Consistency is already off to a strong start, but he’ll need to break into the win column pretty soon.
8. Roczen was positioning himself to be right there at the end, but a hard-charging Barcia pushed it a little too hard and cost both riders a chance at the podium. These two young guns are both hungry and eager to show they can run with their veteran counterparts. That could have the makings of a budding rivalry, as I would assume Roczen hasn’t forgotten what Barcia did on Saturday.
9. In regard to the young guns, one will likely be missing from action for the third straight week. Eli Tomac hasn’t even had a chance to get his rookie season underway following a crash in his heat race at Anaheim 1 that has left him with an injured shoulder. Tomac attempted to give it a go on Saturday, but did a couple jumps and pulled off immediately in first practice. He mentioned later that he’s likely looking to return at Oakland so he can rest.
10. The return of semis this season means a lot of big names are going to be racing a little extra throughout the year. Roczen has yet to qualify out of the heat this season, but so far the additional track time doesn’t appear to be a disadvantage. Being forced to go to the LCQ, however, would definitely have an impact considering it brings a total of 15 laps of racing before the 20-lap main event. That’s a lot of riding!
11. After a podium finish a week ago, Chad Reed just never looked comfortable out on the track in Phoenix. He qualified 10th and got a bad start in the main, but still fought hard to finish ninth.
12. You can see Reed is enjoying himself out there, so it was strange to see him so far down the scoresheet after Anaheim went so well. There’s likely still an adjustment period with the Kawasaki as even Villopoto mentioned his team has worked long and hard to get it better, so I’m willing to guess TwoTwo Motorsports was simply battling bike setup all day.
13. James Stewart’s crash in practice could have been a big one, but he walked away and quietly went on to finish fourth in the main event. He wasn’t quite at the level we saw at A1, but he’s also showing patience, and I don’t think it will be long before he’s battling for the win.
14. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the West Region title fight in the 250SX Class. Last-lap passes for the win in back-to-back weeks have made Jason Anderson the hottest rider in the sport while Cole Seely’s frustration continues to grow and will likely boil over at some point.
15. Hopefully, Seely isn’t beating himself up too much because he’s still riding really well. He’s led more laps than anyone and you could argue he’s been the fastest rider in the division. Lappers and a couple mistakes have hurt him late, but he’s still got a pair of runner-ups to start the season with. That’s nothing to be disappointed about.
16. Incredible how Phoenix mirrored Anaheim almost exactly in terms of the battle from first to fourth. While Anderson and Seely gave chase up front, Zach Osborne and Dean Wilson battled for the final spot on the podium. Wilson held off Osborne for a couple more laps this time, but couldn’t prevent the pass in the end.
17. Wilson revealed he was a little banged up in Anaheim, but was reportedly back to 100 percent in Phoenix. He was dominant in his heat race, but just never really got going in the main event. It’s only a matter of time before Wilson gets it together, but unfortunately for him, he’s lost a lot of ground to the riders ahead of him already.
18. Cooper Webb is likely building a strong fan base after how well he’s rode his first two starts as a pro. Webb is full of talent and just gives it his all. He’s not intimidated by the big stage and definitely isn’t scared to bang bars with his competitors. The promise he showed as an amateur is already beginning to become a reality, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch his progression.
19. It’s been great to see so much success already from satellite teams like Rockstar Energy Racing and Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil Honda. Both squads have been formidable contenders prior to this season, but are now leading the way. It just goes to show how talented this division is and how competitive the racing is going to be in 2014.
20. The technically difficult track in Phoenix ended up claiming a few riders throughout the day. While Tomac never even gave it a go, riders like Zach Bell and Josh Grant were taken out of action. Bell is out for the season with a broken collarbone while Grant injured his shoulder. Even riders like Villopoto, Dungey, and Barcia were on the ground at some point.
21. It’s only been two weeks, but it doesn’t appear as though there is a clear-cut rider to beat in the 450SX Class. Villopoto’s win does have a somewhat ominous undertone for his rivals, but all the big names have shown impressive speed and the ability to run up front. The intangibles (starts, staying out of trouble) have ultimately been make or break for most of the riders’ fortunes thus far and it’s kept things relatively wide open to this point.
22. Matt Moss showed that being a part of the Yoshimura Suzuki squad alongside Stewart is a confidence booster. Moss was up front all night long and grabbed the holeshot in the main event. His equipment is some of the best and his success in Australia means he’s a proven talent. It will be interesting to see how he progresses each week with such good people around him.