This isn’t something that we are used to, is it? It has been common for one rider to step above the field in recent years. However, after enduring the dominant years of both Jeremy McGrath and Ricky Carmichael, we (the fans) are now spoilt with multiple riders that could potentially snatch a victory. “Parity” is certainly a word that has been used a lot when referring to this year’s 450SX class. It certainly adds to the intrigue and excitement that surrounds the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series.
Parity does often lead to a few surprises; the impressive level of competition at the head of the pack does make for some diverse results. Therefore, a lot of the non-committal fans do jump from one bandwagon to the other, on a weekly basis. It does make it much harder to analyse the results, also. One week, [Ryan] Villopoto may be down in sixteenth. However, by the next he is back at the front of the field fighting for the win. Most do begin to underestimate a rider, because they are not dominant as some riders (McGrath and Carmichael) have been in the past. However, soon enough the rider in question will have everything going their way again. Therefore, justifying the belief that everyone had in them.
Perhaps we should not judge the series, and the field following just four rounds. When the series vacates Angel Stadium (for the third and final time) on Saturday night, we could be looking at the points standings, and the riders in a completely different way. This is how the parity in the field influences how we look at the series. There is not a set pattern that you can draw a comparison from, as stated previously we are not used to having so many potential winners!
Arguably, the parity in the field makes the riders push even harder (than they already are) to try and establish a gap between the competition, and themselves. So evenly matched are the riders, that it makes it easier for someone to make up a large amount of points; the results are so varied every week. It is not as if one rider is dominant, and is almost guaranteed to win this coming weekend. James Stewart could end up first, or seventh at Anaheim 3; neither result would be surprising. The top seven are that close!
Could this be a factor in the large amount of injuries that we saw last year? Just like this year, all of the leading riders were very close in speed in 2012; eventually the frontrunners dropped out one, by one until there were no real “title favourites” in the field. In order for a rider to try and be “the guy” they do have to find the fine line between crashing out, and going very fast. Of course, if you overstep that mark the track will bite you, which is often the cause of injury. In fact, we saw it at the opening round. When James Stewart was desperately trying to post a lap time faster than his competition in practice, he ended up tearing the ACL ligament in his knee (without even crashing)!
If there is any indication of just how close in speed, and ability the top riders are every Saturday night, it is that an underdog (such as Davi Millsaps) can steal a victory and maintain the points lead through the opening four rounds. With all of the top riders so close in speed, it does make it difficult for a rider to fight through the pack following a bad start. Already, we have seen this thus far, think back to Anaheim 1, for example. [Ryan] Villopoto fell a handful of times at the opening round, and could only work his way back to sixteenth!
If there is one rider that could potentially split up the ‘parity party’ at the front, and turn the series into a one-man show, it’s Ryan Villopoto. The reigning champion currently sits in third in the title race. However, if you dissect what has gone on thus far, you will see that Ryan has been superior. With two consecutive victories to his name, RV has swiftly moved up through the pack from his ranking of sixteenth, following the opening round. I do believe that he has everyone covered, in regard to raw speed. In three of the first four rounds, Ryan has posted the fastest lap time of the main event, which further supports this.
I do think that everyone was too quick to criticise both his bike set up, and riding style in the opening two rounds. Sure, he was making a lot of mistakes. But now everyone has forgotten about his mishaps; Ryan Villopoto is being referred to as the fastest man on the planet, once again. I believe that Villopoto is now the rider that develops the quickest line through a rhythm section first. Ryan is often the first to grow an understanding of the track, also. At this point, I would not be surprised to see RV win the next few rounds, consecutively. But, if he does it could be bad news for his competition.
In the end though, the parity will undoubtedly play a factor in the points standings, as long as the top riders are fighting fit on-track. Whilst others may drop off you can bet that Chad Reed, Ryan Villopoto, Ryan Dungey and James Stewart (okay, maybe not Stewart this year) will be at the front of the pack, and very close in speed. It is this level of competition that we do not see very often; hence why, the 2013 Monster Energy AMA Supercross series has the potential to be one of the best.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Picture courtesy of KTM Images/Simon Cudby