By now we’ve all seen either the entire 450SX main event from San Diego, or at least some highlights of this epic 24 laps. What was so great about it you may ask? Well, anytime you get two of the best in any sport going head to head in a heated battle, mark me down for a front row seat. Actually, on a side note, I think Feld Motorsports deserves some credit for changing the duration of the races to time instead of laps. At round one in Anaheim, it really made no difference as the track was just over a minute long, but on the short San Diego track, the riders in the 450SX class rode to an endurance taxing 24 laps. For the fans of this sport, this is incredible as we simply get to see more of the top riders. Anyway, on Saturday night in downtown San Diego, we all got to witness 24 laps of excellence by the current two best riders on the planet.
With much of the talk from Saturday night being about the whoop section and Roczen’s blazing speed through them, we can’t forget that this epic battle would not have happened if both riders didn’t get off to great starts in the main event. Also, I believe Roczen got a little lucky when Marvin Musquin exited the track stage right on the opening lap. This allowed Kenny to take second uncontested and place himself on the back wheel of Dungey. If Musquin had stayed on the track, he might have presented a serious challenge (let’s face it, Roadblock) to Roczen while Dungey rode off to the win. However, if ‘If’s’ and ‘But’s’ were candies and nuts, then we’d all have a Merry Christmas. As it turned out, Musquin’s bad luck was Roczen’s good luck, and he and Dungey were allowed to get out front together. Just the way everyone wanted it to play out.
It really was no surprise that Roczen made the early move on his nemesis. In a post-race interview he said that Dungey’s roost was killing him and he had to make a pass. Also, we cannot forget that he’s still young, and sometimes with youth comes a lack of patience. Painful roost or not, with their history as teammates and training partners, Roczen was making a pass as soon as he could and that was just that. Knowing Dungey’s supreme cerebral capabilities on a dirt bike like we all do, I’m sure that he didn’t mind letting Roczen by early, as it gave him a bird’s eye view of just where his old Padawan was making up time. I’m also sure that the first time Dungey was able to follow Roczen through the whoops after that early pass, his inadequacies became crystal clear.
It wasn’t hard (even on television) to see how fast Roczen’s entry speed was into the whoop section; there was no hesitation, no thought of consequences, just a pure trust in man and machine through the most difficult part of the track. Again, Roczen is young and he wants to win, not tomorrow, not next week, he wants to win right now, and a challenging whoop section is just a means to an end for the talented German rider. A little older and a little more calculating, Dungey chose his line and his speed carefully through the whoops, perhaps picking a pace that he knew he could do for….24 laps. For the first half of the main event, Dungey appeared content with letting Roczen set his feverish pace, knowing that in the second half they would have to deal with lappers, as well as deteriorating track conditions.
As unbelievable as Roczen’s speed out front was, I also think Dungey deserves a big pat on the back for the small adjustments he made while trying to put a crack in Roczen’s armour. He changed his line through the whoops, and although his new line was the same one Roczen had been taking, he didn’t allow him to gain the bike length he had been losing in the early part of the race. Dungey also found a new line in the second corner of the track by entering it a little higher than normal and then cutting down hard in a small rut. This line was ingenius, in my opinion, but again, it kept Dungey close, but it still wasn’t enough to bring him alongside the red Honda of Roczen, Other than a major mistake by Roczen, Dungey’s best chance for a pass would be a last lap banzai attempt that would more than likely require contact. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of things from Dungey, but these types of passes have been few and far between by the champ. In Dungey’s defence, he’s simply never needed to make many of these passes, as he almost always races from the front of the pack and mostly controls his destiny. To win San Diego last weekend, Dungey would’ve had to reach into his inner Damon Bradshaw to make it happen, but I’m not convinced he knows how to do that. As we saw, Roczen rode a perfect final few laps and Dungey never got close.
In the big picture, though, I’m sure Dungey and his team learned a ton from Saturday night, and now they will use this knowledge throughout the rest of the series. With the pace so high right now, it might be better to be the rider chasing, rather than the rider setting the pace. With his history of championships, a rider like Dungey knows that the red plate is the last thing he needs after two rounds of supercross, it’s all about the red plate at the conclusion of 17 rounds. On the flip side, Roczen is unlike any challenger Dungey has had to face in his career. He’s smarter than James Stewart, younger than Chad Reed, and more talented than Ryan Villopoto. Roczen has also spent a plethora of hours alongside Dungey, studying every trait, taking in what he needed, while discarding things he didn’t like. In a way, Dungey has helped make Roczen the rider he is today, and that could most certainly play into their supercross battle of 2017. If the main events in the coming weeks mirror that of San Diego, Feld may have to build an octagon around the tracks this season. So fans, pull up a seat and grab a drink, because this fight is going to be entertaining. The next bout goes this weekend in Anaheim.