There were four men in contention for the 2011 supercross championship heading into this weekend, just two main events left in the long seventeen-race season.
All four gated well, occupying the top four places within a couple of laps – the battle for the title was on… James Stewart led from the off, ahead of Ryan Villopoto and Ryan Dungey, after the two Ryans relegated Justin Brayton to fifth.
After the recent resurgence in form, it seemed like Stewart would simply check out for another win but, whilst he managed to create a gap, he couldn’t extend it, Reed aiming the magnets at the back of Stewart’s Yamaha and refusing to be dislodged.
And as Stewart and Reed played mind games up front, Villopoto was charging hard, closing in on Reed and showing every intention of moving past him.
Once in range, the Pacific North-Easterner ran his Kawasaki hard up the inside of Reed to make a forceful but perfectly fair pass. The series leader was back in business after a terrible run in the last few races, and it seemed we were set for a thrilling finale with more than half the race left.
Before we hit the halfway mark, however, the cards had changed again – within a lap of Villopoto taking second, Stewart went down twice in quick succession, being forced to pit for repairs and rejoining almost a lap down.
That left Villopoto leading from Reed, with Dungey holding a watching brief in third, unable bridge the gap and get involved. Whilst Dungey struggled to keep the pace up front, and Stewart circulated on the fringes of the top ten, Reed spat on his hands and went to work, slowly cranking Villopoto back in.
But Villopoto is made of stern stuff and was just as happy get stuck in, fighting off Reed’s counterattack – the Australian kept edging closer and closer, but Villopoto did not put a wheel wrong and hung tough to take the chequers by just less than a second from a disappointed Reed, Dungey back in third with Stewart a distant tenth.
So it comes down to this – after 320 laps of main event supercross racing, Villopoto’s sixth win of the series gives him a strong hand going into the final round.
The Kawasaki star has a nine point advantage over Reed, which means a top five results will see him claim the title no matter what else happens – he’s in the hot seat, no doubt, but the fat lady’s not singing just yet.
For Reed, winning isn’t enough, he needs to take victory in Vegas and for Villopoto to have a mishap – or, if you’re of a cynical point of view, make Villopoto have a mishap…
Dungey is a mere two points further back, which means he also has to have the Villopoto mishap scenario happen, plus he has to beat Reed – Villopoto has had his bad days this year, so a finish outside the top five is not impossible, especially with both Reed and Dungey staring hungrily in his direction, but for all his efforts, Dungey has shown little sign that he can straight-up beat Reed this year.
As for Stewart… Well, even he is talking in terms of 2012 now – mathematically he’s still in the title hunt, but it would need to see a pretty extreme set of circumstances to see the Yamaha star lift his third supercross crown.
However it pans out, one more week and it’s all over… If there’s a slight suggestion that underhand tactics might be an idea in the 450f class, arguably they’re already being tried in the west coast 250f class.
With Broc Tickle leading the title hunt from Josh Hansen and El Tomac, it was Tomac who gated first ahead of Hansen – Hansen put the thumbscrews on early, taking the fight to Tomac before trying what might be considered a needlessly physical pass, but youngster Tomac came out on top, setting himself for the hit and weathering the blow whilst Hansen rebounded off and found himself on the floor.
Tomac then found himself under assault from series leader Tickle, but a wild card in the shape of Ken Roczen intervened, the young German battling past Tickle but unable to pass Tomac.
The GP star’s intervention means that Tomac made up five points on Tickle and is now only two in arrears.