What Really Happened: Southwick MX
Crazy times in the sand pit...
What Really Happened: Southwick MX
Story and photos by Shan Moore
This year’s Southwick round of the Lucas Oil AMA National Motocross Championships was not your ordinary race. Of course, Southwick is not your ordinary track, and over the years there have been plenty of extraordinary occurrences at this venue.
Take, for instance, last year’s race, where Ryan Dungey’s bike failed to fire up at the starting gate and he was forced to make a super-human charge from nearly a lap down after his team had to sort out an engine problem as the race was leaving the start.
And this year’s race at Southwick might have produced just another routine win for Dungey had it not been for a mishap in the second moto, when the Red Bull KTM rider went down in some ruts and knocked his fuel cap loose, allowing a considerable amount of precious petrol to spill out on the ground. What happened over the course of the final few laps was something that’s not often seen in motocross.
Of course, the 250 race was quite eventful, as well. And as usual, anyone of three or four guys were in the hunt with the outcome very much in doubt until the very end. In fact, the rider who led the most number of laps at the end of the day ended up third overall, while the rider with the second-most laps led was second overall!
This year’s 450 series has become, for the most part, a Ryan Dungey parade lap, with Mike Alessi taking a few appearances at the front just to spice things up. In all, Alessi led eight laps at Southwick, with Dungey leading the rest – except for four crucial laps at the end of the second moto when Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Tyla Rattray found himself leading after Dungey was forced to pit for gas.
Things seemed to be going as planned in the second moto, at least as far as Dungey was concerned, until lap seven, when the Red Bull KTM rider went down in some ruts and accidentally knocked his gas cap loose, which allowed a considerable amount of fuel to spill out.
From there, Roger DeCoster and his team made careful calculations on whether to bring Dungey in for gas or chance it and leave him out. Finally, the call was made, and Dungey came in for fuel with four laps to go. When he rejoined the race Dungey found himself in second behind Rattray. For sure, the final three laps of the race were the best racing of the day as Dungey desperately tried to catch Rattray to get the moto win. In the end, Rattray held on to take the win by two seconds over Dungey.
“I tried that last lap, I was right behind Tyla that last lap and he’s a good sand rider, and he pushed it hard that last lap and so did I,” said Dungey. “We were both feeling it that last lap, and I couldn’t catch him. I was disappointed that I crashed; I don’t like making mistakes like that, but sometimes it happens. But for the circumstances, it couldn’t have gone any better. Guys were saying, ‘don’t pull him in’, and others were saying bring me in. But we measured the gas after the race and I wouldn’t have made another lap. I knew I had enough gap when I pulled in that I was either going to come out second or third, so I was okay with that. After the race, Roger told me, ‘you can’t be bummed with that.’ It didn’t feel good going down, but everything lined up perfectly and it couldn’t have gone better. I would have DNFed, and that would have been 25 points I would have lost.”
Rattray’s first moto was a disaster, and after two crashes he was forced to settle for 20th. However, in the second moto, the South African proved he has the speed to hang with anyone in the 450 class.
“In the first moto, I got caught up in that pileup in the first turn, and then down the back I crashed. Then I crashed again and the bike stalled and it took forever to start it. The first moto wasn’t great but I think I bounced back pretty good in the second moto,” said Rattray. “In the second moto, I didn’t get the best of starts but I think with my poor result in the first moto gave me a bit of a safer pick in the middle of the gate for the second race, and I was able to miss all the carnage in the first turn. I came out around ninth or so and just picked off the guys one by one to get up to second. I saw Ryan went down because we were crossing at the same place. All of a sudden he was right in front of me and then I didn’t see him at all and I didn’t know where he went. Obviously, he pulled into the pits to get gas but I didn’t know what was going on. The mechanics showed me P-1 and we still had about five laps to go. So I just dug deep and held on to the end.
Rattray ended the day in fifth overall via 20-1 moto finishes.
Mike Alessi appears to be getting tired of the bridesmaid role, but seems to be unable to do anything about it other than keep on working and keep on trying, which is what Alessi is good at. Perhaps on factory equipment it might be a different story, but for now, he has to be happy with leading a few laps here and there.
In the post-race press conference, Alessi didn’t want to talk about getting snubbed for this year’s Motocross of Nations team. “I have no comment about the team,” he said. “I don’t want to go there.
Broc Tickle has been a consistent performer all year, and at Southwick it was a rather inconsistent 6-4 which landed the Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider his second podium of the year.
Davi Millsaps was a surprise fourth-place finisher at Southwick, having just returned from an injury he suffered seven weeks before. The JGR Yamaha rider went 7-6 in the two motos despite only being on the bike for three days before the race.
At 40 years of age, Mike Brown was the second oldest rider in the race behind 47-year-old John Dowd. Surprisingly (or not), Brownie finished sixth overall and Dowd finished 14th, although Brown might have been fourth had it not been for a crash in moto two. “I got good start, which is the main thing here, it’s hard to pass here,” said Brown. “I just got out of the gate and rode hard the whole time. I got with some fast guys there and just let them pull me along. I like this track; I had good results here in the past, and when I raced in Europe I raced on similar conditions and I’m used to the sand. I race in the sand a lot in off-road too, so it’s something I’m don’t mind riding. I was running fourth in the second moto for a while, and then I settled into a solid fifth, but I crashed with two laps to go and Millsaps and Byrne got by me and I ended up seventh. I think if I could have held on for fifth in that moto I would have finished fourth overall.”
Also deserving some props here are Team Honda Muscle Milk’s Tommy Hahn and local favorite Robbie Marshall on the Munn Racing KTM, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the first moto. Unfortunately, both riders crashed in moto two.
The 250 race started off with Zach Bell, fresh off a great performance at Loretta Lynn’s and racing his first event as a pro, grabbing the holeshot and leading the first five laps before giving way to GEICO Powersports Honda teammate Eli Tomac. Is it me, or do all the first time pros get a holeshot at Southwick?
Tomac went on to win the opening moto, but two crashes in moto two left the Colorado rider scrambling to make up time. After dropping back to around 10th early in the race, Tomac worked his way back into second ahead of Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Blake Baggett, and behind leader Ken Roczen, but then Tomac hit a tree and dropped back to third behind Baggett again.
Once in second, Baggett reeled in Roczen and the two battled for the rest of the race, with Baggett making a pass with two laps to go to take the moto win and the overall with a 3-1 score.
Tomac finished out the day with second overall with a 1-3 moto tally, while Roczen settled for third overall on his Red Bull KTM despite leading 14 laps during the second moto.
Before the race, the AMA announced the US squad that will compete in this year’s Motocross of Nations in Belgium, which features team caption Ryan Dungey in the MX1 class, Blake Bagget in MX2, and Justin Barcia in MX3.
Afterwards, Dungey reflected on the selection. “It’s always an honor to be selected to represent Team USA,” said Dungey. “In Belgium, at Lommell, we’ve got a lot of sand, so we will go over there early to get a lot of testing in. Justin Barcia, I saw him ride a 450 last year and he’s a great rider on the 450 and a great sand rider, so I have no doubt he will do well, as will Blake Baggett. So it’s a great team, a lot of knowledge on our side and I think if we all work together we can be up to the task. It won’t be easy, it never is, especially at a sand track like this and we all need to be at the top of our game. But it’s a pleasure to be selected again and I’m looking forward to it.”
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