2008 XDL Sportbike Freestyle Championship Round 5: Phoenix
And Then There Were Three
The penultimate round of the 2008 XDL Sportbike Freestyle Championship took place Oct. 18 at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. in conjunction with HIN Nightshift.
The competition was the fiercest of the season, with Alex Flores squeaking out a 2.5-point win over the field that put him in solid contention for the national title. Bill Dixon, Ernie Vigil and Nick Brocha all tied for second place with a score of 82.5, showing how close the riding has become. After the tiebreaker was applied, Dixon finished his usual second, points leader Brocha was a disappointing fourth and Vigil was finally back in the top three.
Those that follow the series will remember that Vigil had a frightening crash in the season opener in New York that broke his collarbone. He’s been struggling through the schedule just to rack up some points, but in Phoenix he was finally back.
“It is nice to be back in the top three. It has been a while,” says Vigil.
Going into the XDL Finals in Long Beach on Nov. 8-9, the title fight will come down to Brocha, Dixon and Flores who are sitting in the standings in that order. Only nine points separate these three and with a maximum of 46 points up for grabs, the smallest mistake could knock any one of them out of contention at Long Beach.
All XDL HIN events in 2008 were slated as daytime events even though the show runs until 11pm, to take optimum advantage of daylight conditions. This worked fine over the summer when sunset is as late as 9pm in some places, but in Phoenix, sunset was forecast for 6pm and with the gates not opening until 4pm that left little prime lighting. As a result the schedule was flipped to put Individual Freestyle, the national championship competition, at the beginning of the event.
Many of the top riders found the track surface and configuration at Firebird International Raceway to be very favorable. Traction was solid and the layout was roughly 300 feet by 100 feet, giving those that needed it extra room to perform bigger and wider stunts. This was especially noticeable in the runs of Vigil, Brocha and Dixon who all prefer open space. As with any competition series, each XDL track is different, ranging from public streets to world-class drag strips and parking lots. The ability of the athletes to adapt to the changing environment and, in some cases, the weather is what separates the men from the boys.
“The best riders are going to be able to compensate for the surfaces,” says Brocha.
The points leader wasn’t happy with his performance, however, stating he was “mad at himself.”
“I’m a much better rider than what was displayed today,” says Brocha of his fourth place finish. “It went rather poorly because I always seem to mess up on switchback burnouts … This is my environment. I should have been the guy that is in Alex’s position. To not be is my own fault.”
Despite his disappointment, Brocha still carries the lead heading into Long Beach but with two guys close on his heels he feels he needs to win there
“He who wins Long Beach wins it all. No BS,” says Brocha. “My technical game should be up to par and hopefully I’ll be able to best Alex.”
But to do so Brocha says he needs to add an element to his run. “I hope I’ll have the big tricks like Bill Dixon,” says Brocha. “I need to find one, I don’t know what it is yet.”
Phoenix winner Alex Flores is ready for the challenge.
“I’m going to bring the same excitement I did right now, same level, add some tricks, do better and just go out there and rip it up,” says Flores. Phoenix was a make or break competition for Alex in terms of defending the national title. His crash at Indy cost him valuable points and a good finish was critical.
“It is a pretty tight race in the points and I had to go out and win today and that is what I did,” says Flores. “Everything came together. It flowed pretty good. I did all my signature tricks, hit all the no-handers, it was awesome. I got my burnouts on lock and threw it down. I’m really happy.”
Second place finisher Dixon was also happy with his finish and his standing in the points. He has impressed all season with his consistency, battling his way up to second place in the national rankings after missing the season opener.
“The crowd was good, the judging was absolutely on point and everything went good for me. I qualified first, which got me the extra point, which I am stoked about and the results are really good,” says Dixon. “The only thing that didn’t work out was on the last run of the day when my lazy boy wheelie I do with my feet didn’t come up like I wanted it to.”
Looking ahead to Long Beach, Dixon is focused on winning it all.
“I want to win that bike. Both of them.” Bill is referring to the ’06 Yamaha R6 Warped Toys XDL Project bike that is going to the winner of the national championship, as well as the Aprilia SXV 4.5 that will go to the winner of the Aprilia All Star Challenge.
Speaking of Aprilia, the Aprilia All Star Challenge is shaping up to be the second major competition in the XDL line up. It is completely different from Individual Freestyle in that all riders are on stock, factory bikes and the results are based on completing very visible and obvious skill points and then posting the fastest time. It is the best combination of racing and sportbike freestyle. Dan Jackson, who is one of the few riders to have a serious racing background, took the Phoenix round in an amazing 22.96 seconds. That is almost 6 seconds faster than the shorter course in Indy.
Circle Challenge, where the objective is to be the first rider to complete 10 rotations in a circle wheelie, saw Japan’s top rider, Shin Kinoshita, once again spin his way to the top. It seems like his rotations are getting faster and faster every time. Kinoshita has been attending all XDL competitions and says that he loves competing here because unlike Japan, the crowds are bigger and they actually cheer.
Luke Emmons repeated his Nashville Sickest Trick win with his trademark k-rail burnout. In what has now become a Sickest Trick tradition, Emmons decided to retire the trick after it earned him two wins. Nick Brocha did the same with his “Circle Strip” after New York. Though Emmons didn’t finish as well as he had hoped he did have a large cheering section in Phoenix, which he says has a positive impact on his riding:
“A competition is probably 95% mental once you learn all the tricks that you need to learn,” says Emmons. “So when you have someone supporting you like that it definitely helps your run.”
After a hotly contested battle in Phoenix, XDL heads into Long Beach on Nov.8 & 9 for the finals of the 2008 season where we’ll see more spectacular riding and fierce battles between the best in the country.
2008 XDL Championship Series
|Individual Freestyle Top 5|
|XDL National Point Standing Top 5 After 5 Rounds (including “bye”)|
Complete results can be seen at XDLshow.com