For the past two seasons Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey and RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/Suzuki Factory Racing’s Ken Roczen have positioned themselves at the forefront of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing. They’ve traded 450 Class championships, with Roczen winning in 2014 and Dungey in 2015, and are once again engaged in a hotly contested title fight to start the 2016 season. After Roczen opened the season with a dominant victory Dungey responded with a win of his own this past weekend, and now just two points separate the longtime rivals heading into Round 3 this weekend in Colorado and the mile-high altitude of the True Value Thunder Valley National on Saturday, June 4. Lakewood’s picturesque Thunder Valley MX Park will provide one of the season’s most unique challenges thanks to its high elevation, setting the stage for another highly competitive afternoon of racing.
2015 THUNDER VALLEY HIGHLIGHTS
The championship’s foray to the Rocky Mountains marks the first round outside of California in 2016 and while Roczen and Dungey have both made their presence felt in the 450 Class.
At last Saturday’s FMF Glen Helen National, Southern California’s marquee motocross track provided a stiff challenge to the world’s best riders, resulting in a grueling battle for victory across both classes. In the 450 Class, Roczen picked up where he left off at Hangtown and put his Suzuki at the front of the field. He appeared to be on his way to an easy Moto 1 victory until an unusual issue with his motorcycle’s front suspension slowed him dramatically and allowed Dungey, who ran second for nearly the entirety of the moto, to make a late pass and steal the win. The misfortune dropped Roczen off the podium into fourth and ultimately prevented him from securing back-to-back overall wins to start the season.
The opportunity in the first moto not only gave Dungey his first moto win of the season, but allowed him to control his own destiny on Moto 2. Dungey started strong yet again, but Roczen reasserted himself out front and pulled away. Knowing the runner-up finish would be enough to give him the overall win on the afternoon Dungey settled into second while Roczen went on to take his third moto win in four attempts. While the moto win provided retribution to his first moto woes, Roczen no doubt left with a bit of a sour taste knowing what could have been. On the flipside, Dungey enjoyed the spoils of victory and shaved off four points of the six-point deficit he faced entering Glen Helen.
Fittingly enough, last year’s battle for the win at Thunder Valley also came down to these two riders under similar circumstances. Roczen was poised to secure his first overall win as the defending 450 Class Champion, but a flat tire late in the second moto allowed Dungey to take advantage of the misfortune and carry on to his first win of the season. The win allowed Dungey to take over the points lead, from which he never looked backed.
The battle for victory at Thunder Valley one year ago came as a result of heartbreak for Colorado native Eli Tomac. The Monster Energy Kawasaki rider opened up the 2015 season by winning the first five motos in dominant fashion until a big crash while leading the final moto at his hometown race not only took him out of contention for the win, but ended his season with major injuries to both shoulders. It’s been a challenging road back for Tomac, but his resiliency and determination has put him in a position to make a storybook return to the stop step of the podium at Thunder Valley. While he’s yet to challenge either Roczen or Dungey for victory thus far in 2016, Tomac has back-to-back overall podium results to start the season. At Glen Helen he showed signs of what made him so successful last season and with the emotion surrounding this weekend’s return to his home race it wouldn’t be a surprise to the racing community if Tomac became the third different overall winner in as many rounds this season. One way or another, all eyes will be on Tomac at Thunder Valley with the undying support of his home crowd.
Speaking of hometown support, another rider that will be closely watched this weekend is BTO Sports/WPS/KTM’s Andrew Short. The Colorado Springs native will make his final visit to Thunder Valley on Saturday in his final season of professional competition. Although he has never won at his home race, Short has enjoyed great memories at Thunder Valley, including two runner-up finishes, four podium results, and a win as a member of Team USA at the 2010 Motocross of Nations, which were hosted at the facility. He has not raced at his home track since the 2014 season, but Short is eager to return to his home state and give the hometown crowd a proper farewell.
450 Class Championship Standings
Ken Roczen, Germany, Suzuki – 93
Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM – 91
Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki – 76
Jason Anderson, Edgewood, N.M., Husqvarna – 73
Trey Canard, Shawnee, Okla., Honda – 62
Josh Grant, Riverside, Calif., Kawasaki – 56
Cole Seely, Newbury Park, Calif., Honda – 54
Marvin Musquin, France, KTM – 48
Phil Nicoletti, Cohocton, N.Y., Yamaha – 45
Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha – 39