Anaheim 1, the opening round of the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross series, was the centre of attention on Saturday, as the hotly anticipated season opener took place beneath the lights at Angel Stadium. Fortunately, we were privy to some great racing in both classes throughout the night. However, round one was not kind to some riders, as some left happy and others frustrated. Who were these riders? We look at that in this new feature.
Ken Roczen: I (like most people) am a big fan of Ken Roczen. However, even I did not predict that he would be in contention for the win in the main event; it definitely came as a shock to ninety percent of the industry. Ken showed glimpses of speed in the timed practice sessions, which was certainly a sign of things to come. In the heat, Roczen looked mortal, as he had to go to the semi. But, he clearly was not lying when he said that he rode tight in the heat race; we all saw what he did in the main when he had loosened up!
Although some are arguing that Roczen was handed the victory, he clearly had to fight for it. Sure, two of the fastest riders crashed. But, he kept Ryan Villopoto honest before the champ fell; his lap times were competitive on every lap, as well. When Stewart caught him, Ken had to withstand quite a lot of pressure, which proves just how mentally strong he is. If you have not already realised, Roczen is the full package; his performance at A1 showed that.
Jason Anderson: Jason Anderson may have improved the most during the off-season, I think. Obviously, I presumed that he would have made some slight gains in the winter months. But, he looked like a completely different guy at Anaheim 1! Jason seemed a lot more fluid on the bike, as if he was oozing with confidence. If he did not believe in himself and his machine, he would not have been able to fight back and get around Seely in the manner that he did. If A1 was anything to go by, the Rockstar Energy KTM rider could be very dangerous – especially if his competition allows him to build some momentum.
Chad Reed: You should never count Chad Reed out; we all should have learnt that lesson by now. Whenever it looks like he may have tasted success for the final time, he returns better than before, which is exactly what happened at Anaheim 1. Honestly, I was slightly sceptical following practice, as he failed to finish inside of the top five in either session. But, Reed has always been a better racer, so we never should have doubted him. It was obvious that Chad was much closer to getting back to his former self this weekend; will this translate into even better results in the near future? Well time will tell, but I think Chad still has more to give.
JGR Yamaha: Unfortunately, JGR Yamaha does not have a title contender beneath their tent this year. However both of their riders were very good, and had some flashes of brilliance at Anaheim 1. In the heat race, Justin Brayton managed to pass both Ken Roczen and Wil Hahn straight up, which is not something that you see him do too often. Brayton went on to finish sixth in the main, which was very unexpected. Josh Grant was fast all day long – he was near the front in both practice sessions, and then finished seventh in the main. It was a solid start to the year for both guys; it will be interesting to see if they can build on this, and latch onto the elite group.
James Stewart: James Stewart was so close. In the blink of an eye, his day at Angel Stadium went from great to awful. Prior to his big crash, he seemed like the James Stewart of old, as he looked very aggressive whilst he sliced his way through the field. Although the lap charts will tell you that he fought his way back from eighth on lap one in the 450SX main event, he was a lot further back than that. In fact, it looks like he was closer to fifteenth! So, it is quite impressive that Stewart managed to put himself in a position to steal a win, especially when you consider how stacked the field is.
Obviously, a lot of people have started shouting that we should have expected Stewart to crash out, as that is what he does. But, those whoops were very hard and slick, a lot of riders made mistakes in that particular section. Stewart crashed because his back wheel slipped into a rut and then kicked back around on him, which caused him to lose control.
Ivan Tedesco: When it was announced that Ivan Tedesco would be the replacement rider for the injured Davi Millsaps, I was sceptical to say the least. Ivan last took part in a round of this AMA Supercross series at the beginning of 2012, so the transition would be far from easy. A1 was more difficult for him than I expected though. In the past, raw speed has been his strong point. But, in the two-timed practice sessions, he was outside of the top twenty. Tedesco did not have the best time in the main event, but admittedly that was not his fault. After starting up front, he collided with Short and suffered a mechanical failure, as a result. It is going to be interesting to see if he can get a bit closer to where he used to be in Phoenix this weekend.
Zach Bell: Zach Bell was quite spectacular last year. If Bell was not crashing big, he was going very fast. But, he did neither at Anaheim 1, which was certainly peculiar. Strangely, Zach was healthy, so there was no real reason for his lack of speed – he had a complete off-season, as well. I predicted that he was going to come out swinging at the season opener. However, he seemed to struggle all day, as he failed to get into the top ten in either of the timed practice sessions. It seems like vision issues hindered him in the main event, as well as a fall, which is why he finished up down in fifteenth. Bell needs to rebound in a big way next weekend, as a lot more is expected of a Geico Honda rider.
Eli Tomac: Anaheim 1 could not have gone any worse for Eli Tomac, honestly. Judging by our ‘Vice Voice-Box’ column, a lot of you had very high expectations of him. However, he did not even make it out of his heat race, as he fell with [Jake] Weimer off of the start and trapped a nerve in his arm. Obviously, this stopped him from taking part in the remainder of the event. Tomac hopes to return this weekend. However, there is no need to rush back, as he is out of the title fight. I am sure that the whole thing was even tougher on Tomac emotionally, as he watched his fellow rookie Roczen race off to a win.
Words: Lewis Phillips
Image: James Lissimore