The United States Motocross Championship series is just a quarter of the way through and already we have seen so much happen, the first three stops of the 12-round season producing sensational results, high drama and breakthrough achievements.
Stealing the headlines thus far has been the career-best start of former MX2 world champion Ken Roczen, the German rider winning five races from six starts, and then the sad sidelining through injury of his nearest rival, defending AMA 450 champion Ryan Dungey, while the 250 class has began with an intriguing four-rider battle at the top of the standings.
Through the opening three rounds, the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship has lived up to the anticipation surrounding the 2016 season and the injury to Dungey opens the opportunity for a new 450 class champion, not that Roczen wasn’t already well on track towards making it happen anyway.
Roczen has been almost perfect aboard his RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/Suzuki Factory Racing bike through three rounds. He’s won five of six motos, with two overall wins at the Hangtown Motocross Classic and Thunder Valley National, and has surged out to a double-digit lead in the championship standings.
Roczen was just minutes from being undefeated until an issue with his front suspension while leading the opening moto at the FMF Glen Helen National resulted in a fourth-place finish. His 143 points through three rounds is the most of his U.S. career, two more than his championship-winning 2014 season.
The only rider able to keep pace with Roczen through the opening rounds is reigning 450 class champion Dungey.
The Red Bull KTM rider opened with five consecutive moto podium finishes, highlighted by a win at Glen Helen.
He entered last weekend’s Thunder Valley National just two points behind Roczen and was in a position to make up ground to start the second moto in Colorado. However, as he looked to apply pressure on early leader and Team Honda HRC rider Trey Canard, Dungey crashed and fell back to 19th. He showed impressive resilience to fight back to fourth and earn a runner-up finish behind Roczen, albeit at the expense of 10 points.
Unfortunately, the continued rivalry between Roczen and Dungey, who have battled one another for the title during each of the past two seasons, will be put on hold following a season-altering announcement from KTM earlier this week.
During his crash in the second moto at Thunder Valley Dungey suffered a cracked C6 vertebrae, and while the effects of the injury didn’t prevent him from an impressive comeback, lingering effects and further tests revealed the issue that will sideline the champion for 6-8 weeks.
Dungey’s absence means Roczen’s next closest competitor will need to overcome a 29-point deficit. That rider currently sitting third in the 450 class standings is Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac.
Like Roczen currently, the third-year 450 class rider enjoyed a similarly dominant start to the 2015 season until a crash at Thunder Valley left him with season-ending injuries.
His return to Pro Motocross this season has resulted in an overall podium result at each of the first three rounds, with a season-best moto finish of second coming in the last moto at Thunder Valley. Tomac has proven he has the ability to win, and he’s gotten faster with each passing moto this season. If he can improve his consistency with starts in each moto, many believe Tomac can keep pace with Roczen and become his primarily threat for the title.
In the 250 class the competition at the front of the field has been incredible. The depth of the division has been showcased at each round, producing three different moto winners, two different overall winners, and seven different moto podium finishers.
Four riders have asserted themselves in the thick of the early title fight – Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy and the Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha trio of Alex Martin, Jeremy Martin, and Cooper Webb.
Savatgy currently leads the 250 Class standings thanks to his second overall win of the season last weekend at Thunder Valley.
He’s won a class-leading three motos, highlighted by a 1-1 sweep at the opening round from Hangtown, and holds a slim three-point lead over Jeremy Martin.
Martin, the reigning back-to-back champion, got off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season as he battled through an illness but has picked up momentum recently. He’s won two of the last three motos and although he’s still chasing his first overall win of the season, he’s within reach of reclaiming control of the red number plate as points leader.
The first three rounds have also served as the stage for Alex Martin’s emergence as a championship contender. The eight-year veteran is taking advantage of his first season as a full factory rider and has become the breakout rider of the 2016 season thanks to his first-career win at Glen Helen, which resulted in his first opportunity to carry the red number plate.
He’s the only rider in the 250 class to finish on the overall podium at each round but fell nine points out of the lead last weekend, largely due to a crash in the first moto at Thunder Valley that forced him to come-from-behind to salvage eighth. Despite the adversity, Martin appears ready for the challenge ahead.
Quietly sitting fourth in the championship is Webb, who’s been enduring through a slow-healing wrist injury since the start of the season. Webb has been a fixture at the front of the field and has two overall podium results and a moto win to his credit. He posted his season-worst moto finish in the last moto at Thunder Valley, but his tenacity and determination are enough to give him an opportunity to start chipping away at his 13-point deficit to Savatgy.
Racing resumes on Saturday, June 18, at the legendary High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania.
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US Motocross Championship standings (After 3 rounds)
450 Class Championship Standings
Ken Roczen, Germany, Suzuki – 143
Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM – 131
Eli Tomac, Cortez, Colo., Kawasaki – 114
Trey Canard, Shawnee, Okla., Honda – 97
Cole Seely, Newbury Park, Calif., Honda – 89
Josh Grant, Riverside, Calif., Kawasaki – 88
Jason Anderson, Edgewood, N.M., Husqvarna – 73
Marvin Musquin, France, KTM – 64
Justin Barcia, Monroe, N.Y., Yamaha – 62
Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Suzuki – 50
250 Class Championship Standings
Joey Savatgy, Thomasville, Ga., Kawasaki – 123
Jeremy Martin, Millville, Minn., Yamaha – 120
Alex Martin, Millville, Minn., Yamaha – 114
Cooper Webb, Newport, N.C., Yamaha – 110
Aaron Plessinger, Hamilton, Ohio, Yamaha – 81
Austin Forkner, Richards, Mo., Kawasaki – 80
Zach Osborne, Abingdon, Va., Husqvarna – 78
Jessy Nelson, Paso Robles, Calif., KTM – 65
RJ Hampshire, Hudson Fla., Honda – 59
Jordon Smith, Belmont, N.C., Honda – 52