Dante Oliveira delivers back-to-back wins
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
- Dante Oliveira (KTM)
- Zach Bell (Kaw)
- Austin Walton (Hus)
- Trevor Stewart (Kaw)
- Tallon LaFountaine (Hon)
- Cole Martinez (Hon)
- Tyler Lynn (Yam)
- Colton Aeck (KTM)
- Mason Ottersberg (Yam)
- Chance Hymas (Kaw)