Though Dante Oliveira has amassed an unprecedented run of four straight titles in the Parts Unlimited AMA National Grand Prix Championship (NGPC) Series, Presented by FMF, success at the opening round has often eluded him.
Not this year, as the FMF KTM Factory Off-Road Racing Team star began his quest for a fifth-straight crown in the best possible way, by winning the SoCal Motorcycle Club’s 14th Annual American Grand Prix over LiquiMoly Beta’s Dare DeMartile and Purvines Racing/Simi Valley Cycles Yamaha rider Justin Hoeft.
Fresh off his win at the WORCS opener a week ago, DeMartile was highly motivated and quickly worked his way to the front on his Beta 480 RR. In fact, he led for almost the first half of the 90-minute, $8000 feature race, with Oliveira soon working his way to second and closing the gap on DeMartile.
“[Leading] wasn’t nerve-wracking,” the Beta racer said. “Honestly, I felt fine just trying to stay on two wheels with all those guys behind me, just not making too many big mistakes. It’s a lot harder for somebody to pass you than it is for you to make a big mistake and fall over, so I just put my head down and tried to keep it on two wheels and stay healthy…You can only go so fast on a hard-packed track like this, just with the conditions we were in.”
When DeMartile pitted, Oliveira stayed out and got the lead, though he gave it right back to DeMartile the following lap when he swung into the pits.
But a lap later, Oliveira went in front to stay and start the season with a win on his Red Bull KTM 450 XC-F, though DeMartile stayed within a couple of seconds for the remainder of the race.
“Everybody was riding good!” Oliveira said. “It was a wild track; it was blue-grooved and had that little bit of silt on top, so you’d just slide from one side of the track to the other side of the track until you hooked the edge on the outside, then back to the other side, searching for every bit of traction you could. It was a wild race but pretty fun! This is better than I’ve started off the last three [years]. I’m stoked to start round one on the top.”
Hoeft and his Enzo Racing/FMF/Fasthouse-backed YZ450FX put in steady laps to work from fifth on the opening lap.
“I didn’t get off to the best of starts—the first laps were a little dusty—but I put my head down and made a few passes on the opening lap, and I put myself in a good position,” Hoeft said. “We had a fast pit, and I started getting some really good lines after the pit, and I started to feel comfortable. I started closing on the leaders, but we just ran out of time.”
He ended up 10 seconds behind Oliveira and six behind DeMartile. Slam Life Racing (SLR) Honda’s Cole Martinez ran up front for a while, but being sick took its toll, and he slipped to fourth at the finish aboard his Monster Energy/Lava Propane/Fly Racing CRF450RX, just three seconds behind Hoeft. Mateo Oliveira, on the other FMF KTM, was quickest to the first turn and finished fifth, equal to his result last year, but feeling much better about the quality of his ride.
Last year’s points runner-up Ryan Surratt had to scramble just to be able to race, borrowing an engine from SLR Honda for his Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) Honda CRF450RX from last year. Now running his own program, he finished sixth, followed by new SLR Honda recruit Tyler Lynn, Purvines Racing/Simi Valley Cycles Yamaha rider Trevor Stewart, 3 Bros./Hatch Racing GasGas pilot Giacomo Redondi, and Jack Simpson on the third Purvines machine.
A new face topped the Pro II ranks and finished 12th overall, Australian Mason Semmens leading from start to finish for the FMF/KTM RPM Racing Team. Though he’s spent the past two years racing GNCCs for the now-disbanded Trail Jesters KTM squad, his racing in Australia includes a lot of desert as well as motocross, so he obviously felt comfortable at the American MX course.
After ripping the holeshot, Semmens reported, “We just focused on what was ahead and tried not to over-ride the track too much because it could bite you—it was dry and hardpacked and slippery. It was tricky, actually, so we just focused on that and pulled a nice little gap, rode my own race and brought home a win, so I’m stoked!”
Kai Aiello earned class runner-up honors on his 3 Bros./Hatch Racing Husqvarna, finishing 14th overall, with JP Alvarez four seconds and one position behind to round out the Pro II podium aboard his FMF/KTM RPM Racing Team machine.
In Pro Women, defending champ Mikayla Nielsen made her SLR Honda debut a winning one, finishing 41 seconds ahead of 3 Bros./Hatch Racing GasGas-mounted Ava Silvestri with FMF/KTM RPM Racing Team’s Kaitlyn Jacobs third.
Nielsen said, “It’s a good first step to take, especially with the new team [and] getting a win for them. I got off to a great start, luckily, so I just tried to put down a couple hard laps and sprint. I knew my fitness was there so I didn’t have to worry about pacing myself because I’ve been riding four times a week.”
- Dante Oliveira (KTM)
- Dare DeMartile (Bet)
- Justin Hoeft (Yam)
- Cole Martinez (Hon)
- Mateo Oliveira (KTM)
- Ryan Surratt (Hon)
- Tyler Lynn (Hon)
- Trevor Stewart (Yam)
- Giacomo Redondi (GG)
- Jack Simpson (Yam)