Ryan Villopoto took his fifth win in a row in Houston Saturday night and extended his series lead. (Shan Moore photo)
The Ryan Villopoto train has built up a serious head of steam and in Houston Saturday night the defending champion turned in perhaps his most dominating performance of the season in front of 49,438 fans in Reliant Stadium.
After passing holeshot winner Mike Alessi halfway through the first lap, Villopoto opened the throttle on his Monster Energy Kawasaki to the stops and laid down an early race pace that left the rest of the field in the dust. RV pulled away to a 5.472-second margin of victory, this after he nearly did a parade lap on the final go around. The gap had been as high as 7.7 seconds.
The Houston victory was a milestone for Villopoto, marking the first time in his career that he earned five AMA Supercross wins in a row.
“It’s huge,” Villopoto said of earning his personal best. Then he was quick to refocus. “You can’t really look at it though, you have to look at the big picture and that’s the championship. Just a win is huge on its own, so we’ll just keep trying to do that to the end of the season.”
In addition to his commanding win, leading every lap and his fifth in a row, Villopoto also padded his points lead now to an impressive 21 points over Davi Millsaps, who finished fifth on his Rockstar Energy Suzuki.
While losing ground to Villopoto, archrival Ryan Dungey took a solid second and closed in to within just four points of second place in the series standings. Dungey was in fourth early on his Red Bull KTM. He got by Alessi on the third lap, but it took him until lap nine to get past returning Trey Canard on the Team Honda Muscle Milk entry. By then Villopoto had checked out.
“It’s to the point that you need that start to be up there from the very beginning,” said Dungey, who is seeing his chances of catching Villopoto in the championship fading away. “The guys got away. The first five laps Villopoto rode very strong. Once I got into second I was just trying to close down that gap. I put it all out there tonight, but it wasn’t enough. We’re working on stuff. The bike feels great and we’re building. The championship would be great, but right now I’m just focusing on one race at a time.”
Perhaps the surprise of the night was the ride turned in by Canard, who was making his first ride back since suffering a hard crash and concussion at Indianapolis. The factory Honda rider ran second in the first half of the race before being passed by both Dungey and James Stewart. Then Stewart crashed out and that gave Canard the opportunity to finish on the podium in third, about nine seconds back from Dungey.
“It was great to be back racing in Houston tonight and have the kind of race we did,” said Canard, who’d earlier in the night won his heat race. “It’s a good thing. We had a lot of stuff that needed to be sorted. I’m just so thankful to be here.”
Stewart was right behind Dungey and moving his way to the front when he lost the front end on his Yoshimura Suzuki going into an uphill right hander and crashed at the halfway point in the race. He got up and continued on slowly for a lap or two, but appeared to have an issue with his front brake so he pulled off and was credited with 19th.
Justin Barcia finished fourth and complained of arm pump. Millsaps recovered from a poor start to round out the top five.
Holeshot winner Alessi also crashed hard in the whoops on lap eight and finished last.
Rockstar Energy Racing’s Blake Wharton won his first Eastern Regional 250SX Class Main Event of the year. Zack Freeberg opened the Eastern Regional 250SX Class Main Event with the Nuclear Cowboyz Holeshot Award, but was quickly passed by Blake Wharton and Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin, the winner of the last three races. Musquin made a move around Wharton on the opening lap.
Wharton answered back, passing Musquin for the lead. Musquin ran into bad luck when he crashed on Lap 5 and lost several places. GIECO Honda’s Wil Hahn, who came into tonight’s race as the points leader, took over the number-two position and gave chase to Wharton but several mistakes kept him making the pass. Hahn finished second and extended his points lead to eight with two races remaining.
“It’s important to be aggressive out there,” said Wharton. “I had a great start and it was pretty intense during get first few laps, but I was able to give myself a nice cushion until Wil [Hahn] pressured me at the end. We had a weekend off, but I went home and trained and did my thing. Against these guys there’s no rest. It’s my first win of the season, so it’s a little later than I would have liked it, but it’s here in Houston, which is great because I’m from four hours away from here. My Suzuki is running good. I’m thankful to be here. It’s some hard stuff, but we’re all lucky to be here.”
Hahn seemed to be over-riding a bit in an effort to catch Wharton. He came close several times, only to make errors and slip back. In spite of not scoring the win, he still gained in the points over rival Musquin.
“This track could get up and bite you at any time,” Hahn said. “But that’s the way it is at any Supercross track. They keep you one your toes every time. I made some mistakes, but leaving here with more points I’ve got the smile on and be happy about it. What a bunch of great racing. I’m just happy I didn’t land on Blake. That was a little too close for comfort right there. I’m happy to keep my momentum rolling and getting out of here with more points.”
After re-entering the race, Musquin worked his way through the field, eventually securing third place, where he finished.
“The track was really tricky and I was trying my best to be really careful and be smart,” Musquin said. “Then I went off the track over the tuff blocks it was really close to a crash. Balek Wharton was really aggressive on the first laps. It was maybe too crazy – he cut all the turns. I was scared because we could have been on the ground. I let him go. I knew I was faster, but then I went off the track. That’s that way it goes sometimes in Supercross. I came up behind Hahn, I was faster, but there was only 15 laps you know.”
Three-time AMSOIL Arenacross Champion Tyler Bowers finished a career-best fourth place in his debut ride for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team.
Monster Energy Supercross resumes next Saturday, April 13 at Minneapolis’ Metrodome.
450SX Class Results: Houston
1. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki
2. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM
3. Trey Canard, Shawnee, Oklahoma, Honda
4. Justin Barcia, Ochlocknee, Ga., Honda
5. Davi Millsaps, Murrieta, Calif., Suzuki
6. Justin Brayton, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Yamaha
7. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM
8. Josh Hill, Yoncalla, Ore, Suzuki
9. Jake Weimer, Rupert, Idaho, Kawasaki
10. Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Suzuki
450SX Class Season Standings
1. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki, 277
2. Davi Millsaps, Murrieta, Calif., Suzuki, 256
3. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM, 252
4. Justin Barcia, Ochlocknee, Ga., Honda, 202
5. Chad Reed, Australia, Honda, 196
6. Trey Canard, Shawnee, Okla., Honda, 185
7. James Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Suzuki, 171
8. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM, 162
9. Justin Brayton, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Yamaha, 137
10. Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Suzuki, 133
Eastern Regional 250SX Class Results: Houston
1. Blake Wharton, Pilot Point, Texas, Suzuki
2. Wil Hahn, Decatur, Texas, Honda
3. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM
4. Tyler Bowers, Danville, Ken., Kawasaki
5. Gavin Faith, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Honda
6. Cole Thompson, Canada, Honda
7. Peter Larsen, Menifee, Calif., Honda
8. Lance Vincent, Youngsville, La., Honda
9. Daniel Herrlein, Bethesda, Ohio, Honda
10. Steven Clarke, Cairo, Ga., KTM
Eastern Regional 250SX Class Season Standings
1. Wil Hahn, Decatur, Texas, Honda, 156
2. Marvin Musquin, France, KTM, 148
3. Blake Wharton, Pilot Point, Texas, Suzuki, 133
4. Vince Friese, Cape Girardeau, Mo., Honda, 89
5. Dean Wilson, Scotland, Kawasaki, 87
6. Gavin Faith, Fort Dodge, Iowa, Honda, 82
7. Kyle Peters, Greensboro, N.C., Honda, 78
8. Cole Thompson, Canada, Honda, 72
9. Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Yamaha, 71
10. Justin Hill, Yoncalla, Ore., Kawasaki, 68