No supercross surprises Stateside as RC and Bubba lead the way.
The 2003 AMA SX series starts for real at Anaheim, California, in January. The first round is always super-busy as the whole industry attends the race along with shedloads of visiting European riders plus a lot of movers and shakers in the Hollywood scene.
The 125 Main sees James ‘Bubba’ Stewart caught in a first turn pile-up, leaving Motoworld Suzuki’s David Pingree to take the holeshot. Then ’02 champ Travis Preston moves into the lead as Stewart battles through the pack after taking a couple of laps to get into his groove. Preston goes on to win the race after leading every lap bar the first two with Stewart second and Ping’s team-mate Andrew Short rounding out the podium.
The 250 racing’s more eventful with Travis Pastrana crashing in the first heat trying to pass Ricky Carmichael. The second heat race is a Yamaha-only deal with ’02 East Coast 125 champ Chad Reed racing bar-to-bar with Frenchman David Vuillemin.
The 250 Main’s a little boring as Reed gets the start and takes a wire-to-wire win – and posts the fastest lap times of the evening. RC provides a bit more excitement as he crashes twice in the first three laps before charging to second. The only other excitement is LaRocco going down in the whoops on the fourth lap when Pastrana crashes into him. Travis pulls out with a pulled groin and Langston also retires with an injured shoulder as Tim Ferry takes the final podium position on the YZF450 thumper.
The second round is held at the impressive Bank One Ballpark at Phoenix, a five-hour drive across the desert from LA. Aussie import Craig Anderson holeshots the 125cc Main on a Yamaha of Troy YZF250 but Bubba’s into the lead on lap six and is never headed again. Preston takes second with Suzuki’s Danny Smith third. Bubba celebrates with a funky Michael Jackson stylee dance – the crowd seem to like it but it looks pretty dumb to me!
The 250 racing’s a lot better. The first heat race is another battle between RC and TP with the Suzuki the first to go down with the Honda staying up for another couple of yards, handing the win to KTM’s Langston who’s nursing a fractured collarbone. The second heat race sees a back-to-form Ezra Lusk – who frankly looked horrible just one week earlier – going at it for the whole race with Reed before taking the lead on the last lap for the win. Lusk’s change of fortune is apparently down to his KX being de-tuned as the bike’s just too powerful for the blue-groove West Coast tracks.
The 250 Main sees Ezra take a crowd-pleasing win in front of Reed with Ferry third for the second week in a row. The jubilant Chevy Trucks Kawasaki team then enjoy some unusual post-race celebrations with both team mechanics – Bone and Randy Lawrence – jumping into the stadium swimming pool fully dressed in their crew gear!
The second of the three visits to the open air Anaheim stadium is also a sell out, just going to show how popular this sport is. To fill a 45,000 seater stadium twice in two weeks certainly says something!
The 125 class heat races are fairly uneventful, although the Main is full of entertainment – but for all the wrong reasons. Stewart wins and kisses the dirt after finally topping an Anaheim podium at his fifth attempt. Short takes second from Laninovich.
But the real action’s further down the field where a feud develops between AMS Oil Honda’s Preston and Pro Circuit’s French import Eric Sorby. Sorby stops Preston from passing with some quite frankly dangerous moves and eventually drops Travis to the dirt. However, he gets a taste of his own medicine when Suzuki’s Danny Smith dumps the Frenchman on the last turn – payback from a dirty riding move a week earlier. “Yeah, I stuffed him,” admits Smith in a post-race interview.
The problems then spill onto the field as mechanics from both teams scuffle while some anonymous fan slashes the tyres on Sorby’s truck. That kid ain’t making too many fans here, let me tell you that!
The 250 racing is interesting without the need for off-track antics. Lusk wins his heat over a hard-charging Reed – these two are proving to be good sparring partners – but RC takes the main in convincing style. And he seems pretty happy with himself after switching to his ’02 bike with ’03 graphics after the newer bike proved too powerful.
Reed has a hateful time after a first lap incident leaves him playing catch-up for the whole race to an eventual sixth. LaRocco comes through the pack from his traditional poor start to finish second, pushing Suzuki’s Sebastien Tortelli back to third. Lusk knocks himself out of a podium spot with a header over the whoops, although he does re-mount to finish fourth.
Round four parks up at the Pacific Bell Park on the edge of the bay in San Francisco for the first time and the racing is pretty exciting – controversial even. The 125s see an escalation of the Pro Circuit Kawasaki/Factory Connection Honda hostility when, in the Main Event, PC’s Matt Walker runs last year’s champ Preston off the track and into the scaffolding which holds up the finish line banner. In his post-race speech (hardly heard above the booing) he says it was payback but all it does is earn him a $1000 dollar fine from the AMA.
Just for the record, Bubba gets around early race leader Sorby to win with Factory Connection rider Chris Gosselaar rounding out the top three.
The 250 Main’s real exciting. A crash on the start wipes English photographer Ray Archer clean off his feet when Lusk tangles with Tortelli, sending the Kawasaki off the track into the Geordie’s floor space. Ray survives but Ezra can’t do better than sixth. The holeshot goes to privateer Paul Carpenter who’s riding the injured Nathan Ramsey’s factory Honda CRF450, then Suzuki’s Stephane Roncada leads for a while. Tortelli has a torrid evening with crashes forcing him down the list while RC wins the race in convincing style with Yamaha duo Reed and Vuillemin rounding out the top three.
We’re back to Anaheim again for round five and it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day with another weekend at the SoCal stadium. Track builders Dirt Werx have spiced the start up with each side of the gate going different directions before meeting three turns later. The circuit splits at the end of each lap as well with the riders having a choice which direction to take – towards the end of the evening’s racing the right-hand lane has the advantage and most of the mechanics send their riders this way.
The biggest news of the weekend is world 250cc champ Mickael Pichon racing in the premier class and Yamaha’s Tim Ferry riding a two-stroke after battling with the big 450 for the first four races.
The 125 racing is getting a little predictable with Kawasaki protégé Stewart being by far the fastest rider – and that includes the 250 class. Preston comes from a bad start back to second, passing old sparring partner Sorby without incident. A nice point is Bubba dedicating the win to the lost crew of the space shuttle that disintegrated that morning. He also says at the press conference that the next time he races at Anaheim he’ll be on a 250. Watch out RC…
The 250 Main Event’s pretty exciting compared to the 125 race with the holeshot award going to both Factory Connection team-mates Michael Byrne and LaRocco (two first turns!). LaRocco and Tortelli came together forcing Iron Mike to retire and Pichon also has a torrid evening, crashing twice before pulling out. Byrne leads until the ninth lap when RC passes for the win, although it isn’t all easy as Yamaha’s Reed and Vuillemin chase him pretty hard.