As we approach this weekend’s Phoenix SX, it will be interesting to see if those riders that made an impression at round one are able to keep it going. Can those who struggled in Anaheim rebound and not make it two bad weekends in a row? I was actually lucky enough to attend the Phoenix SX once in 2005 and in my opinion it has to be one of the nicest stadiums of the series. The Phoenix/ Scottsdale area is also one of the nicest urban areas in the USA and a popular retirement place to many Canadians due to its mild and dry winter climate. That night in 2005 was especially interesting as it was Ricky Carmichael’s first official AMA SX win on a Suzuki as he held off a hard charging Kevin Windham to win the main event. It was also Jeremy McGrath’s first SX main event in three years as he made a short comeback on a factory Honda CR250 two-stroke. Actually, just listening to McGrath’s crisp sounding bike that night was worth the trip alone.
So who is going to have a good race this weekend? In the 450 class I think it’s safe to say that Ken Roczen will do okay. Even though all it takes is one miscue in practice or the heat races to end a season (as we saw with Wil Hahn in Anaheim), Roczen appears to be in complete control every time he takes to the track. If you think about it, unless Roczen gets stuck in the gate, the worst start he’ll probably get is fifth or sixth. With his speed, confidence and fitness, he will easily get inside the top three every night. If you’re Chad Reed, Davi Millsaps or another 2015 title favourite, you’re under a lot of pressure each main event to get off the gate strong. On a side note, I thought this one was of the things Colton Facciotti did very well last summer with Mike Alessi on the gate. Colton knew each time they lined up that he couldn’t afford a bad start because Alessi would be up front every time. Colton didn’t bend under that pressure and in the end he won the championship.
While it is early in the series and riders are still figuring things out, a few more so so finishes for some while Roczen is winning main events could put a few of them way behind in points. Another challenge for every rider this weekend will be that the race track will be much more technical. After a fluff opening round track last weekend in Anaheim, the Phoenix track is more like what we’re used to seeing in the stadiums of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. The final part of the track that will keep the riders on their toes is the very slippery dirt that the track builders are forced to use in Phoenix. So with the first tough track of the young season, made up of hard pack and slick dirt, I think it’s safe to say that the riders who win on Saturday night will have to ride with a lot of patience and supreme throttle control. Looking at the list of riders who finished in the top five last weekend, the Phoenix track may suit both Ken Roczen and his former teammate, Ryan Dungey.
In the Lites class, it could be any number of riders who could step up this weekend. Even though Zach Osborne rode through the pain of a broken thumb last weekend to finish second overall, that same type of result will be very difficult in Phoenix as the same amount of adrenaline may be absent. I think the Lites class is up for grabs this weekend, and it will be for the first month of the season. However, if a star rider like Justin Hill can get himself a win soon and get on a roll, he may tough to beat every weekend.
So there you have it, so many talented riders in both classes are all ready to go this weekend. Will Roczen and Nelson make it two in a row? Or will we see a new rider step up and make their mark on the 2015 series? While some riders just need to have another consistent race on Saturday night, others need to redeem themselves and prove that all of that off-season work was worth it. If I was put on the spot and asked to pick winners in both classes, I’m going to call a KTM sweep with Dungey taking the victory in the 450 class and Hill grabbing the win in the Lites class. Please don’t write down my picks in ink though as I’m rarely correct when it comes to these things. Anyway, bring on round two!
Here are some Phoenix SX Stats:
-The first 450SX Class race held in Phoenix was on March 16, 1991, and Jean-Michael
-Bayle won on a Honda; that was the last race held in Phoenix until 1999.
-This will be the 18th time the gate will drop for a 450SX Class race in Phoenix.
-Ezra Lusk won his last 450SX Class race in Phoenix on a Kawasaki in 2003.
-James Stewart and Ryan Dungey are the only riders to win Phoenix in both the 450SX
and 250SX Classes. Jason Anderson or Eli Tomac could join this group with a victory.
-Dungey earned his first career 450SX Class victory in Phoenix in 2010. He also gave
-KTM their first-ever 450SX Class victory in Phoenix in 2012.
-Justin Brayton had his lone second-place finish in Phoenix last year.