2021 Taft NGPC Results

Mark Kariya | February 21, 2021

Dante Oliveira delivers back-to-back wins

2021 Taft NGPC race start
Dante Oliveira (1) took the holeshot and spent the majority of the 90-minute $8000 feature race in front to take his second victory in a row.

Words and Photos by Mark Kariya

Chaparral Motorsports/Precision Concepts Kawasaki’s Zach Bell and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Austin Walton demonstrated they’re continuing to heal from injuries suffered late last season with excellent rides at the Dirt Diggers Motorcycle Club’s Taft Grand Prix, round two of the FMF AMA National Grand Prix Championship (NGPC) Series.

However, both were unable to beat the on-form and physically 100-percent defending series champ Dante Oliveira, the FMF KTM Factory Racing Off-Road Team rider managing to keep them at bay despite heavy pressure for the feature race’s entire 90 minutes. Bell, the 2017 champ, hounded the 2020 titleholder and even led briefly but settled for a hard-fought runner-up at the checkers, just four seconds shy of the winner, while Walton was another one minute, nine seconds back for third.

“It was toe to toe the entire time,” Bell said.

“It felt awesome for me; I was having fun being able to run that pace again,” FMF/Motorex/Fly Racing FX 450-mounted Walton said. “I felt really good out there, the bike was working awesome, everyone came together and helped me get the bike dialed in for the weekend.”

Tallon LaFountaine at 2021 Taft NGPC
Seconds apart for the first half of the race, Tallon LaFountaine finally saw a way to sneak past Mateo Oliveira shortly after setting him up here and went on to win Pro II decisively for the class points lead. Oliveira crashed on the last lap, dropping to 14th in class.

After battling with Jet World Husqvarna’s Justin Hoeft—round one’s third-place finisher—Walton decided to find a sustainable pace. “I found my groove and once I did that…I was able to make some passes and ride into, I think, third place and rode there for quite a bit.”

Bell and his Maxima/Hoosier Tires/Moose Racing KX450X came closest to stealing the win from Oliveira despite being at an estimated 80 percent. “Surgery after the last [NGPC] at the end of the series [in December] really took the wind out of my sails,” he admitted. “I’m dealing with the collarbone still.”

Brandy Richards at 2021 Taft NGPC
Though still recovering from a broken arm, Brandy Richards won Pro Women again, and decisively.

A dislocated hip and knee injury prior to round one last month also hampered his recovery: “My mind’s 100 percent. My body’s not,” Bell added. “I went out there and did my best. I just couldn’t pass him; it was so dusty you couldn’t see anything, and it was one-lined. I got pretty screwed in the pits, also. A kid ended up stalling his bike in front of me at the stop sign at pit exit and I got stuck there. Overall, I rode solid and it’s a step in the right direction.”

However, Oliveira was the one on top of the box along with his Red Bull/Dunlop/Thor 450 XC-F. “It feels great to win—I finally got one at Taft!” Olivera said. “They’ve been smoking me here for a while. My bike worked awesome, I was able to relax the whole time and just flow around the track.

“The first three laps [Bell and I] were three seconds, four seconds apart—he was right on my rear wheel! It was great racing,” he added.

Ryder Ellis at 2021 Taft NGPC
Ryder Ellis went back and forth with Ryder Demichele but managed to hold the lead the final two laps and win the NGPC 65cc Senior race by nine seconds.

Two-time series champ Trevor Stewart rebounded from a first-turn spill to claim fourth at the finish aboard his Team Green/Fast House Kawasaki KX450X, 10 seconds behind Walton, with Slam Life Racing (SLR) Honda’s Tallon LaFountaine fifth overall and the Pro II winner after a spirited duel with FMF/Maxxis/RPM Racing KTM’s Mateo Oliveira, who crashed on the final lap and ended up 24th overall, 14th in the stacked Pro II field.

SLR Honda’s Cole Martinez took sixth followed by Purvines Racing Yamaha rider Tyler Lynn, 3 Bros./Kilmartin Racing KTM-mounted Colton Aeck (Pro II runner-up), Purvines Racing Yamaha’s Mason Ottersberg (third Pro II) and Team Green’s Chance Hymas (fourth Pro II).

There were a few notables who finished farther down the order than usual, including Chaparral/Precision Concepts/Kawasaki’s Clay Hengeveld and JP Alvarez.

Hengeveld was ninth in the Pro II class. “Honestly, not the greatest day,” Hengeveld said. “My start wasn’t what I was hoping for; I got a bad jump and wheelied a bit. So, I shut off and was pretty far back. Then, my water pack broke off. So, I ended up throwing that the first lap. But, no crashes, so that’s good. Ninth is less than what I’m capable of.”

Zach Bell at 2021 Taft NGPC
Former champion Zach Bell held the lead at one point, but ultimately had to settle for second.

Alvarez was 22nd in Pro II. “I had a pretty decent start,” Alvarez said. “Then, halfway through the first lap, I just started having front-brake issues. I had to come in on the first lap to pit and get it fixed. From there the bike was perfect. The suspension worked good, the tires were good. It was just flawless. But I was a lap down. So, I was just riding my own race and having fun out there.”

“I’m definitely bummed for JP,” said Team Manager Robby Bell. “It’s been a rough start to the year with crashes and random issues. This one hurts a little more for me. He’d mentioned feeling something crop up on Saturday, but I was confident we had it solved. Unfortunately, we obviously didn’t. Plus, we were less than prepared to fix it in the pit, which is why it took so long and put him a lap down.”

2021 Taft NGPC Pro Podium
(L-R) Bell, Oliveira and Austin Walton made up the Taft NGPC Pro podium.

2021 Taft NGPC Results

  1. Dante Oliveira (KTM)
  2. Zach Bell (Kaw)
  3. Austin Walton (Hus)
  4. Trevor Stewart (Kaw)
  5. Tallon LaFountaine (Hon)
  6. Cole Martinez (Hon)
  7. Tyler Lynn (Yam)
  8. Colton Aeck (KTM)
  9. Mason Ottersberg (Yam)
  10. Chance Hymas (Kaw)

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Mark Kariya | Contributor Kariya spends way too much time in the desert, but we’re glad he does as he’s the man who gets us our coverage of all things sandy.