Ryan Dungey looked ready to go during the track walk.
The sun is shining, the track is dry and the weather conditions couldn't be better for the 15th round of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship at Seattle's open-roof Century Link Stadium. Despite the near-perfect conditions, the day's program is running on the rain schedule, since the weather wasn't so hot for many days leading up to today's race, leaving the dirt quite wet and muddy. The delayed revamped schedule allows for the track to dry out, which it certainly has.
The Seattle race marks the return of the West Lites riders and the resurrection of the tight battle for the championship between rivals Eli Tomac, of the GEICO Honda squad, and Dean Wilson, of the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. With just three rounds left, Wilson leads Tomac by just two points.
The race also welcomes the return of Red Bull KTM's Ryan Dungey who has been sidelined with a broken collarbone. Dungey got the okay from his doctor to start riding again just one week ago. Since that time, Dungey has been riding outdoor tracks, once in Florida, then at California's Competitive Edge and Pala Raceways. Just a few days ago, Dungey practiced for the first time on the team's Supercross track.
West Lites points leader Dean Wilson looked loose and relaxed during the first practice session for the Lites.
According to Dungey's team manager Roger DeCoster, the decision to race the Seattle Supercross were many, but mostly to give Dungey some actual race time before the opening round of the outdoor Nationals next month. "There's no better training that actual racing," said DeCoster.
There were other reasons as well. KTM would like to finish out the Supercross season in the top three, if not in second place, after their first all-out effort in the premier Supercross class. "Plus, we wanted to do it for the fan," DeCoster added.
Eli Tomac, who is just two points behind Wilson, is also about a second behind Wilson after the first practice.
DeCoster said that Dungey is still "a little rusty" practicing during the week but he still wanted to race tonight.
There is still no sign of Toyota/JGR Yamaha's James Stewart. His actual bike, however, is being ridden by fill-in rider Gavin Faith. According to sources close to the team, Stewart's broken hand isn't quite ready for the pounding yet.
As far as the many rumors about Stewart leaving JGR/Yamaha, the word from the team is that he's still on board, but the Stewart/JGR marriage is certainly on the rocks. A lot hinges on whether or not Stewarts decides to compete in the outdoor Nationals, a decision he must give the team by May 1. Stewart's contract gives him the option of riding the outdoors or not, but, according to the contract, he must give the team the team notice, which he has not done yet.
One of the riders to watch tonight is Red Bull KTM's Ken Roczen, who has been competing in the East Lites Series. The 2011 MX2 World Champion is competing in the 450 class on a KTM 350 SX-F. He was 12th quickest in the first of what will be two practice sessions. (The second and final session has yet run.)
As of now, number-one plate holder, Monster Energy Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto is quickest, followed by JGR/Yamaha's Davi Millsaps, MotoConcepts Mike Alessi, L&Mc Honda's Andrew Short, Muscle Milk Honda's Justin Brayton and Dungey. Last week's runner-up Josh Grant is slotted 12th at the moment.
No James Stewart, but his bike is here being ridden by Gavin Faith.
In the Lites division, so far, Red Bull KTM's Marvin Musquin is at the top of the chart, followed by Wilson, Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oils Honda's Cole Seely, GEICO Honda's Wil Hahn and Rockstar Suzuki's Jason Anderson.
Tomac is currently sixth fastest, almost a full second behind Wilson.
Chad Reed is in the house and moving along pretty well on his bum knee. Reed says that with the injury to Ben Townley, there will be no TwoTwo Motorsports/Honda team in the 2012 Nationals, saying the team will instead prepare for 2013.