By Clint Quesinberry
RedBud marked the official midway point of the 2012 motocross season, which means there's no better time to stop and reminisce about the first six rounds. Today we look back at the major storylines in the exciting 250 class so far. If you missed yesterday's rundown on the 450 class, check it out here.
Setting the Stage
Last year’s series could be summed up in one word about one team: domination. The Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team won every single moto last year, with the lone exception of a Gareth Swanepoel Moto 1 win at Southwick, and produced an entire podium filled with green many times.
Dean Wilson only got to run the #1 plate for half a moto before a previous shoulder injury forced him to withdraw from the series, leaving Blake Baggett as Mitch Payton's best hope for another title
Tyla Rattray, Blake Baggett and Dean Wilson were on a level that no one could match. They destroyed the rest of the field and made quite the statement in doing so. That success didn't carry over into the supercross season for Team Green though, as the GEICO Honda boys Justin Barcia and Eli Tomac ended up grabbing themselves the East Coast and West Coast lites championships, respectively.
Coming into this year’s Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, the GEICO Honda riders had all the momentum. The supercross champions were ready to show that they could do the same thing outdoors, but when the gate dropped, it didn’t go quite as planned for them right away.
The "Fast Five" Emerge
In the supercross season, Blake Baggett had his struggles, causing people to speculate that maybe he had lost his touch. Towards the end, Blake told the media that he was just ready for the outdoors, and he proved it once the first race was underway. He won both motos at the season opener, sending a message to everyone that he still had his speed and that he was going to go after the championship. Using the same technique as last season, Baggett's been cruising around for the first half of motos, and then at the halfway point - as he would say - he “drops the hammer.”
In contrast to the two-man runaway going on in the premier class, the first three rounds gave us three different overall winners in the 250 class: Blake Baggett at Hangtown, Eli Tomac at Freestone, and Justin Barcia at Thunder Valley. The GEICO Honda boys were not going to let Kawasaki run away with all the wins this year.
Going into High Point, each of them had a win, and the "Fast 5" had been established. Blake Baggett, Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, Ken Roczen, and Marvin Musquin seemed to all be in a riding level that was far above the rest of the field, and when the dust settled at High Point, Eli Tomac would walk away with his second overall win, but Blake Baggett would hold onto the red plate.
Barcia and Baggett, separated by 19 points, are the leading title contenders right now (Photo: Carl Stone)
At Budds Creek, there was one rider that despite working his tail off all year, had not yet scored a moto victory. Ken Roczen had lead many laps so far in the season, but couldn't put it all together to score a win. Eveytime he found himself in the lead, something would go wrong, or he just wouldn't have enough to hold off the others. History would repeat itself at Budds Creek, with the young rookie from Germany failing to hold onto leads despite a strong effort all day. Meanwhile Blake Baggett put together two impressive motos and took the win again, increasing his points lead once more.
Baggett then swept RedBud and is officially on a roll. Since grabbing the points lead at the first race, he has yet to give up the red plate as we hit the midway mark.
Graduation Time is Near
One threat in the lites class is the young riders that have been entering from the amateur ranks. Jessy Nelson got called up to turn pro right before Hangtown, and he's made quite the statement so far. Nelson's been pulling holeshots and even holding the lead briefly in a few motos. He has the speed, and with more experience, he could one day be a threat for the podium and for moto wins.
Jessy Nelson is flashing major speed in his rookie year (Photo: Andrew Fredrickson)
After Loretta Lynn’s, others like Nelson will be joining the outdoor series. Jeremy Martin will be coming to make a name for himself, as will Zach Bell. This graduating class will be anxious to show the industry that they can run with the top guys and be a force to contend with.
One of last year's graduates, Justin Bogle, makes an interesting one to watch in the second half. He recently had surgery on the injured knee he'd been dealing with for awhile and missed several rounds as a result. He turned in some nice finishes after joining the pro ranks in 2011, and it will be intriguing to see how a healthy Bogle stacks up this year.
Six Rounds Left to Decide a Champion
With the confidence he's been building, if Blake Baggett stays healthy and injury-free at the remaining rounds, he very well could run away with the championship in Dungey-esque fashion. He's been training at Ryan Villopto’s house in Florida, and it sure is paying off.
Even though Baggett's been on a winning streak, the other riders aren’t going to lay down and let him take the title so easily. Justin Barica, who will move up to the 450 class next year, hasn't been happy getting all those 2nd and 3rd-place results and will be gunning for Blake the rest of the season. He wants to win an outdoor title and will work as hard as he needs to in order to do so. His teammate Eli Tomac will be doing the same, and you should expect some more moto wins out of him too.
If Ken Roczen pulls off a moto victory, it could spark the confidence he needs to rack up even more by the end of the year. As many other riders have pointed out, after you get your first win, the rest come a lot easier, all because of the confidence you gain.
Ken Roczen is riding upfront, but has no wins to show for it yet (Photo: Carl Stone)
Roczen's teammate, Marvin Musquin, has set some fast laps in pratice, but is finding himself right behind these top 4 riders pretty consistently during the races. He doesn’t seem too frustrated with where he's at, but it's a competitive sport, and he obviously wants to be on that podium. If he can just push a little harder you'll see him on top of the podium at some point during the second half of the season.
The points race is still pretty tight, meaning Blake can’t slack off in any motos. He's got a bit of a cushion, but one DNF could change the entire course of this points race. Justin Barcia will be putting everything on the line in order to beat him and bring the number one plate to the GEICO Honda semi. There’s a few riders in this class that could end up with the title, so it will be interesting to see how things will pan out and who steps up most when it counts. The lites riders are putting on a great show for the fans so far, and there's no reason that should stop anytime soon.