Features 24 May 2012

The Matthes Report: 20

Pulpmx's Steve Matthes checks in from the U.S. every single Thursday, presented by Fox.

The opening round of the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships have come and gone with Hangtown and we definitely got some hard and cold answers. Like getting slapped in the face with a dead salmon type of answers.

We didn’t know what were going to see, we had had a TON of questions and the cliché is to say that we got more questions than we got answers from the race but nope, we got some serious answers from Hangtown. A lot of things were made crystal clear after the race.

Do we have all the answers? Of course not, but we got a lot of things cleared up. And now, so I don’t confuse you guys any more, here are the ups and downs of Hangtown. At least the way I saw it anyways.

The outdoors could be a two-horse race between Stewart and Dungey in 2012. Image: Simon Cudby.

Up – James Stewart
How could you not say this was an up? The guy shows up on a new bike, with lots of questions (there’s that word again) and just goes 1-1 in a couple of great rides. Caught and passed Dungey, withstood the pressure from Dungey. Starts were good, fitness was good and the bike, well the bike looked superb.

With his old teammate Davi Millsaps riding excellently behind him in the first moto, one would say that the Yamaha was not the problem with Stewart but one would be wrong. As I’ve said in this space time and time again, he believes it was the problem and that is good enough.

The Stewart Suzuki marriage started off with a honeymoon night that was the equivalent of getting Kate Upton to join you and your wife in bed. In short, it couldn’t have gone any better. And you know what? He’s going to get better.

Up – Blake Baggett
I know it’s predictable to say the winners were obviously up on the day but hard to say who was more impressive, Stewart or Baggett. Blake took his Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250F to a very exciting 1-1 as well. He simply charged through the pack in the first moto and grabbed the lead with a half-lap remaining.

And to think, the leaders were three seconds shy from getting the two-lap board so in effect, Baggett was that close to not being close enough to make something happen. The second moto he checked out and made it very drama free.

Baggett erased any doubts about what a poor supercross season was going to do to his psyche with this ride. The only thing is that he did this exact same thing last year so it’s not like we didn’t know he could do this. The only question is can he hold to together for the other 22 motos?

Baggett swept Hangtown in a convincing performance. Image: Simon Cudby.

Up – Davi Millsaps
Yeah, he crashed in the second moto and could only muster a 14th but in the first moto, he was very fast. Second place in the moto and I’m telling you right now that we’ll look back at that second and think highly of it because there’s not too many guys who are going to get second besides the #7 or the #5.

What was most impressive to me was Millsaps dropping his lap time three seconds late in the race to hold off Dungey’s charge. For a guy that’s never been known for his fitness, it was a great indicator of where he’s at for the outdoors. The second moto crash (he suffered an elbow injury in it) doesn’t worry me at all. It’s a long season and stuff happens but that first moto, wow!

Up – Ken Roczen
Roczen’s a good dude and he’s certainly very fast, but I’m not the only guy who thinks that last year he showed more speed and more, I don’t know, more chutzpah than he’s shown this year. Hard to say if in supercross it was Kenny not being Kenny or maybe we should just give credit to Justin Barcia for being so on point.

Anyways, Roczen’s first ever AMA national was almost JMB-like. Well except for the fact that we all saw Kenny coming. Roczen was Baggett’s victim with half-lap remaining and ended the day third overall after a small tip-over in the second moto. Roczen was good, he was very, very good and maybe he can win this title without having never seen the tracks.

I also liked how Roczen, after losing the race in the last half-lap was interviewed on the podium and said it was too bad he lost but he had fun, Blake was riding well, etc, which is an awesome attitude to have. He really is a good kid and does handle things the right way.

German star Roczen was JMB-like in his national debut. Image: Simon Cudby.

Medium – Ryan Dungey
Lost in the James Stewart talk was the fact that Dungey was also racing his first outdoor national for KTM and was in some ways, in the same spot as James but with probably a bit more testing time. Dungey’s third in the first moto was the result of a terrible start and in the second moto he pressured James until some lappers prevented him from making a charge.

Ryan was exactly the way we thought he would be. Fast, physically fit and ready to get this title back. All I have to say is from a fan, thank god for Stewart committing to the nationals otherwise it would Ryan would have had a shot at a perfect season.

Down – Justin Bogle
The kid from Oklahoma was racing his first Hangtown and last year when he joined the tour about halfway through the nationals, he was a top five guy most of the time. In Hangtown, he had a practice crash that prevented him from doing much damage so we’ll give him a mulligan for right now.

In my eyes though he got a little taste of what it was like last year and this year I thought we’d see more of him out front. No worries, let’s chalk HT up to the effects of the crash and see what he can do in his (semi) hometown track in Texas this weekend.

Medium – Eli Tomac
The Colorado kid and newly minted 250 west supercross champ had an okay day at Hangtown. He’s one of the lead group of guys but at no point was he in position or as fast as Roczen, Barcia or Baggett. He was just right there behind them unable to make a move and then, strangely, he got dropped a bit by the top three. Uh-oh.

Second moto saw a fine comeback from a first turn crash but Tomac’s got to be top five every moto and he’s got to hang on and beat the front end guys. This weekend in Texas, we’ll see how Eli will be in the heat which has really affected him his first two years on the circuit.

Tomac has work to do if he's going to challenge for a second title in 2012. Image: Simon Cudby.

Down – Justin Brayton
We know that Honda’s Justin Brayton is not a outdoor motocross warrior but there’s no way that a guy like him should go 24-16 without something like his front wheel falling off and him being forced to wheelie the whole track. I watched Brayton out there and he looked to be trying really hard but he wasn’t going anywhere!

Bizarre race for Justin and one that he’s definitely not happy about. I asked him after the race if he was hurt and he said “nope, just a bad race”, which is admirable. He’ll get better but for now, Hangtown was a nightmare and definitely not a ‘cele-brayton’ in any way, shape or form.

Down – Tyla Rattray
Wow, all that hype and excitement for the South African who was jumping up to the 450’s on Ryan Villopoto’s bike and it went poof like a fart in the wind when he suffered a broken knuckle on the first lap of the first moto. He’ll be out until round six or so and we’ll have to wait until then to see what the former MX2 World Champion can do in the big bike class.

Up – Nico Izzi
The former factory Suzuki rider has had a rough couple of years with injury, but he’s on the 450 at Star/Valli Yamaha and had a good Hangtown ending up 10th overall.

Izzi’s speed is not an issue since he qualified first at a couple of supercrosses but his fitness and overall ‘not quitting when things go bad’ gene were the questions. Izzi answered his critics with a surprising result at Hangtown and we’ll see how he goes from here.

Down – Austin Stroupe
Speaking of former mini stars who have speed on a dirt bike, Stroupe’s been let go from the Star/Valli team after being injured most of the year. Stroupe’s had issues off the track a few times and a few times he’s made a concentrated effort to straighten up, he’s ridden well. He’s got talent but he’s out there now drifting with no team. When will we see him next? Who knows but lets hope he gets it figured out one day.

Tedesco finished a fine fourth upon return with PC in the 250 Class. Image: Simon Cudby.

Up – Ivan Tedesco
Pro Circuit needed riders (and they definitely need another rider with defending champion Dean Wilson going out with a shoulder injury. I would put Wilson in this column but we all sort of knew that his shoulder was going to bite him at one point or another) and they reached back into the time machine for vet Ivan Tedesco who last rode for PC seven years ago.

Tedesco’s looking to attract some attention for next season and with injuries and SX-only contracts holding him back from moto, Ivan thought that coming back to the outdoors was his best bet. And with a fourth overall on the day, I’d say the right choice was made.

Tedesco’s fitness and speed were very good and my thoughts that he wouldn’t sniff a podium this year were incorrect as it turns out. Podium? Hell, the 2005 250 Motocross Champion might even win a race!