Titled "SuperMoto A Go-Go", the sixth and final stop of the AMA's newest race series backed it in to the parking lot of the Rio Hotel and Casino on a Friday to enthrone a new champion. Supermoto could've owned Vegas if Don Rickles were not it town. RedBull did a bang up job for this race and all that it encompassed to blend in seamlessly with all that is Vegas. Go-go dancers on Thursday night at the riders and press meeting, umbrella flogging honeys, more free RedBull than any one person should be allowed to drink, The Blue Man Group riding in on Honda 50s to perform the national anthem, live race time coverage by
The Outdoor Life Network, a race course designed by the expert and experienced Don Canet and of course scads of top shelf racers. Except for an annoying dry wind that never lets you forget you're still in the middle of a desert, a race enthusiast would be hard pressed to have found a better time especially for a fledgling series.
Let's start then, shall we. A 21-turn course, which was viewer friendly and racer demanding, consisted of 80% asphalt and 20% dirt. That's if you wanna call dirt packed tighter than a bunch of drunk cretins standing below a second story balcony at Mardi Gras dirt! This stuff was so cement like in nature a "blue groove" developed over the course of the day and actually gave riders a surface with which they could continue tire grip. It was especially noticeable in the two approximately 6' plus high testicle shrinking banked turns that were numbers 13 and 15. Three man made jumps were thrown in for giggles (unless you were trying to jump a motorbike at race pace over 'em), a couple of turns requiring some dirttrack talent to negotiate although not so much as the taste of dirt were at that point and a back straightaway which let the supermotards wind up to 120mph!
Just to cover a couple of the aspects. And the best part, virtually all of it was literally within arms reach of the viewing public! In fact a couple of the sharper speed scrubbing sections in between turns 13 and 15 afforded the seer such a close up of race face intensity that you would've scolded yourself for not noticing earlier what dreamy eyes McGrath has.
All manner of racing deities were in town to race and see the race. With the AMA Awards Banquet following on Saturday night more than one cagey, two-wheeled vet was on site. Both Doug Chandler and Kevin Schwantz were hobbling around unable to race due to previously getting knackered while racing. But the fact that they were around should indicate how fashionable supermoto has already become. When I was finally able to push my eyeballs back into place (stupid umbrella girls always with their teeny tiny skirts) I spied Chris Carr quietly en route from one end of pit row to the other. After coming up with some outlandish cover story about being with Motorcycle.com or some such thing (a website called Motorcycle, puh!! people will buy anything) he was kind enough to comment that the environment (meaning the width and depth of racer diversity and talent) is conducive to the growth of the sport when asked what he thought was the biggest asset for its continued health. That same sentiment was common among the other riders.
Team KTM were present in full force to dominant the podium in a blaze of glorer, uh blaze orange. The Austrian fabricator of race ready supermoto bikes fancied themselves such a force in the sport that they created a KTM alley in pit row. Not one but two full service team trailers (of the really big type) were opposite one another so as to flank the purveyor with enough orange and black activity that one would think they were on a factory tour of Halloween.
Honda, obviously, is the other tour de force (in case the series title doesn't give it away). They probably have the biggest factory support spread through out the series in their CRF450R four stroke dirt bike based unit. But the highest concentration or density of talent is on the Red Bull HMC KTM collaboration. The main players are as follows: Smokin' Joe Kopp, German racing stud Jurgen Kunzel, Baby Face Ben Carlson, Frenchie Boris Chambon, Salty Dog Larry Pegram, Young Whipper Snapper Chris Fillmore, 125er Grant Langston and team captain Kangaroo Kurt Nicoll. By the way, none of the riders except Joe Kopp had a published nickname until the previous sentence.
On the Rising Sun side is Troy Lee Designs Honda, with probably the most respected racer in both the spectators and racers minds alike, Jeff Ward. The other "retiree" on his team is Jeremy McGrath. "MC" as he's called, was one of most consistent gladiators next to Ward himself. Mike Metzger's Zoo York Honda-backed, one-man show is a magnet for autograph hounds and for good reason. The Godfather makes himself available to the public like few other racers in any motor sport discipline. When he wasn't on the track it seemed he's was happily signing posters, hats and whatever else you asked of him. All with a smile and a good word. He was happy to answer a few quick questions about the race series, himself and the like. His opinion of the strength of the new sport was the same as Chris Carr's.
I asked him what he felt was his biggest challenge in this new endeavor. Unlike Joe Kopp who listed tangible items such as "Learning to trust the tires, front braking and improving my street/pavement handling skills" in response to the same question, Metz said the things he perceived challenging were getting away from his freestyle commitments. Much to my surprise and possibly others he stated: "I'm bored with it." when illustrating what he was wrestling with. He's also tired of suffering injury at the hand of freestyle riding, such as the injury that ended his stint at a Disney extreme sport exhibition that he co-headlined. Mike performed for a total of 42 days there as he told me. I liked his response to the question of trying to name a particular racer who gave him a run for his money: "None, really." How matter of fact Mr. Metzger. The follow up to that actually reflected his maturity and not bold arrogance: " I don't try to focus on who's racing next to me. I try to focus on taking the right lines, and racing my race." Although he does regard the veterans around him, such as Jeff Ward. "He was somebody I watched and admired growing up in the sport and now here I am racing next to him. But I can't concern myself with who's next to me." Mike is definitely a man of focus as evidenced by his little activity of cutting out a large photo of Euro superstar Jurgen Kunzel and pinning it on his wall because he knew that Jurgen was a man to be reckoned with.
Then of course there's Ben Bostrom of, well, Honda! They let B Bos know that he belonged to them by giving him a premium factory built unit. Oh that all young, ultra talented boy racers were as beloved by the Mother Ship as he. Let's face it. The senior of the two Bozes is a talent that has yet to find it's way to dominating a championship as it should. Thru no real fault of his own though. His depth of talent speaks for itself. And he's just a darn nice guy! Probably the most fun loving of any racer stateside as evidenced by his choices in leather designs, i.e. one skinned almost completely in gold lame! That would prove to be the best indicator of the course the night's racing would take. Or how about his choice of helmet décor worn during qualifying. Two cans of Red Bull flanked either side of the helmet with a hose sprouting out of each as if to lead into his mouth for much needed race time refreshment. Not one to stop at good enough, on top of the helmet was a nappy blonde wig and a trucker style ball cap with a patch sown on the front proclaiming "Employee of the Month." Maybe that was his compensation from Honda for competing in the series.
You could fill a thimble with the amount of Yamahas as compared to Hondas and KTMs. Smilin' Doug Henry did the best job of carrying the torch for Yamaha. He was once again vying for the Superpole as he did in the Irwindale round but this time Kunzel put a stop to that by cranking out an even 1:37:00 which was over a full second faster than Henry. Too bad Jurgen decided to check the moisture level in the flowerbed around turn two after bumping the rider in front of him, making his Superpole all for not. That little slip up probably helped shape the outcome of the Supermoto Final in a big way. It gave Bostrom a clearer view to the front.
Kunzel had an even worse start to the night by, umnot starting at all in the Unlimited Final. His bike breaky breaky! No go! Nevertheless the Orange Crush still dominated the podium in that race by way of Langston, Carlson and boss man Nicoll. Most of the race was right up front with the two young bucks continually trading for first and second. That is until Langston called upon his 125-championship genius and basically passed Carlson mid-air just before landing the tabletop jump in lap six. At that point he began to wind up a two second lead. Joe Kopp was trying to teach the kids a thing or two but eventually began to slip to fourth after a little mid-corner stuff fest by Nicoll. Joe was still pleased with his finish. Kurt and Ben (Carlson) were where the race would be as they continued corner entry position swaps. With himself safely in the lead, Langston did a little showboating when clearing the tabletop on the final lap and a lovely wheelie to victory.
Despite what you might think about the French they did have good representation for the Supermoto Final in Alex Thiebault. He applied his savior faire to win his heat race and carry that momentum to snap the lead quickly out from underneath Ward while in apex for a second gear turn. Thiebault continued slamming the door in Ward's face for the first nine laps while Doug Henry patiently paced them from third. Bostrom was never more than a couple of bike lengths behind in fourth or a close fifth at times while trading places with Nicoll. But then came lap eight. Perhaps the reflection off Bostrom's suit started to distract Henry as Ben slipped up underneath Doug mid-turn. Shortly there after Ward forced Theibault's hand as he began to grow weary of second place. Bostrom rapidly imposes his presence to push third place closer to the front than it had been all night. This was the point at which Ben began his tactical assault for the lead. He was simply watching and waiting. Lap ten saw the Frenchie's chances of winning dissipate quicker than his home country's public relations with U.S. as he drifted wide on the last turn before the start/finish line. Ward put himself where he'd been all season long, in the lead. But the Golden Boy let that last about a fraction of a second as he completed yet another pass underneath at the end of the back straight.
Wait! What is that? Ward back to first? No, its Bostrom now snatching it from Ward again for the final time on the eleventh lap. Nearly at this same time Henry poked by the faltering Ward to show Bos his wheel. A wheel is all of first place Henry would see as Ben shut him out mid-turn never looking back as he started opening a gap that wouldn't be closed. All that was left was for Bostrom to wheelie across the finish line, as he became the first AMA Supermoto champion. Having completed only two supermoto races, this being his second, he was now champ. Sounds strange but the AMA broke with tradition and used all other rounds as qualifiers for entrance into the "winner take all" series ending. That's how it all worked out. Team championship went to Red Bull HMC KTM.
In this writer's opinion this was some of the best racing to be witnessed across all bike disciplines. And it should only continue to get better. Many of the top racing dudes expressed that they would like to continue in this and help it grow. Supermoto series are popping up all over the place at the local level. Certainly it's been said before but in this case it can't be over emphasized: "Be there! Do that!"
Now, about that E.S.P. thing, you see the trophies for the finals were custom graphics helmets provided by Troy Lee. Third place being a bronze color second was traditionally silver and you guessed, first place was gold or should we say golden!