Photography by Andrea Wilson
Even though he won in impressive fashion tonight in San Diego, James Stewart didn’t necessarily look like the Stewart of old, the man they called the “Fastest Rider on the Planet”. Instead a more mature, more strategic Stewart simply looked solid as a rock and rode only has hard as he needed to hold off series rival Ryan Villopoto to score his first victory of the season. To be fair, he obviously had to ride hard and fast to stay in front of Villopoto, who pushed and probed trying to take the lead at times, but there was none of the major moments, near crashes, or pushing beyond the limits for Stewart tonight. Instead he rode his Yoshimura Suzuki with the stability of a gritty veteran, led all 20 laps, and came home 1.311 seconds ahead of Villopoto.
Rookie sensation Ken Roczen wasn’t happy with how he rode, after experiencing a no-fault-of-his-own run-in with Chad Reed on the final lap to score his fourth podium in six rounds and stay within nine points of Villopoto in the battle for series lead.
It was a bad ending for last week’s winner Reed. He surged on the last lap and was on the verge of passing Roczen for the final podium position, when he clipped the rear wheel of the German’s bike in a whoop section and went down hard. He wasn’t able to get up to finish the race, but was credited with 12th. He could be seen sitting up and being attended to by the Asterisk Medical Crew as the race ended.
Ryan Dungey missed the podium again for the fourth straight time, finishing fourth, about three second behind his Red Bull KTM teammate Roczen.
Weston Peick continued to look strong on his Motosport.com/Fly Racing Suzuki, finishing fifth for the second straight time.
The race began with Stewart passing early leader Villopoto. The two had several good dices in the early going as the race progressed, and Stewart remained determined under pressure. On lap seven Villopoto had a major moment in the big sweeping left-hand, flat track-style turn and over throttled with the rear nearly coming around on his Monster Energy Kawasaki. That allowed Stewart a bit of breathing room.
Villopoto rallied and closed the gap to about 0.6 seconds with around five laps to go, but Stewart was flawless in traffic in the closing laps, got his lead up to 2.7 seconds with two laps to go, before backing off on the final lap to win by the 1.3 margin.
The drama came about eight seconds back. It was Reed making up a big gap on Roczen and going for the podium late in the lap. As the pair sped through a whoop section, Roczen was forced to check up just a millisecond when he came upon a lapped Nick Wey. Rolling off just that smidge, along with Reed fully on the gas, caused Reed to slam into the rear of Roczen’s bike - tire to tire. That shot the front end of Reed’s bike skyward and he came down hard. Roczen immediately ran to Reed’s side after the race to check on his condition.
For Stewart the victory was sweet, especially on a night when the series was hosting and honoring the military and their families.
“I’ve been riding really good,” Stewart said. “I got a start; I got out front and didn’t make any mistakes that were too costly. I knew I was physically in shape. It was a tough race. Ryan was right there and I had to be patient. I tried to pick it up. Lappers kind of screwed me up a little bit, but I’ve got to give it up to everybody on my team. The cool thing is with the troops here and everything that’s going on, it just makes it that much more special. That’s what we needed.”
It marked Stewart’s 46th-career Supercross victory, putting him only two wins behind Ricky Carmichael.
Even with second Villopoto increased his lead the championship and seemed OK finishing runner up on this night.
“It was a great race,” Villopoto said. “James rode a great race. The track was tough. It just seemed I couldn’t make up a whole lot of time. We were running really close lap times. All I can say is it was a good race and I’m happy to leave here where we are. I also want to say thanks to all the troops. We’re here racing tonight because of them.”
Roczen wasn’t thrilled with his evening.
“I’m really happy I’m on the podium again, but actually really bummed about my riding tonight,” he said. “It was definitely not good. I got really sketchy a few times. I’m just glad I kept it on two wheels. I’m really bummed about Chad. I hope he didn’t clip my rear wheel and that’s why he crashed. Wey was kind of in my way and I got a little squirrely. I really hope he’s OK.“
Reed was transported to a hospital after the race for X-rays. The unofficial report was the concern of a broken collarbone.
The series moves to Dallas next Saturday.
450SX Class Results: San Diego
1. James Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Suzuki
2. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki
3. Ken Roczen, Murrieta, Calif., KTM
4. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM
5. Weston Peick, Wildomar, Calif., Suzuki
6. Justin Barcia, Pinetta, Fla., Honda
7. Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Honda
8. Brock Tickle, Holly, Mich., Suzuki
9. Justin Brayton, Cornelius, N.C., Yamaha
10. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM
450SX Class Season Standings
1. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki, 126
2. Ken Roczen, Murrieta, Calif., KTM, 117
3. Chad Reed, Dade City, Fla., Kawasaki, 111
4. James Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Suzuki, 105
5. Justin Brayton, Cornelius, N.C., Yamaha, 98
6. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM, 94
7. Justin Barcia, Pinetta, Fla., Honda, 89
8. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM, 72
9. Weston Peick, Wildomar, Calif., Suzuki, 53
10. Wil Hahn, Menifee, Calif., Honda, 52