Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Out of the ordinary…

Author: site admin
Category: AMA Supermoto

It is tough being Jeff Ward.

In 2003, when the AMA made the surprising leap into the world of supermoto racing they decided to do something different with the series. Rather than having a conventional season where points are awarded at each round until one rider gains enough to win a championship the AMA decided to have each round just a qualifier for a single end-of-the-season, winner-take-all race. During that initial season, it was ex-motocross legend Jeff Ward that consistently won races. Coming into the ‘03 season finale in Las Vegas, Ward had won three of the five races. However, those wins didn’t mean anything in terms of the Supermoto #1 plate. When the green flag flew in the final race of the season it was Ben Bostrom that got the job done and was crowned the inaugural AMA Supermoto champ. Ward crossed the line a disappointed third behind second place Doug Henry.

Last year, the AMA decided to run a traditional season without any of the final race shenanigans. With this more conventional setup Ward was able to use his consistent riding to trounce the field. In ‘04 Ward won three times, was second twice and third in the other two races. He was never off the podium and that dominant riding earned the seven time Supercross and Motocross champ his first AMA Supermoto title. KTM’s Jurgen Kunzel was second with Doug Henry third.

This year, the AMA was up to their old tricks again. Not content to just build another exciting series they again changed up the rules for the Supermoto series. First, each round of the 2005 season would feature two races for the premier Supermoto class as well as the usual one race each for the Supermoto Unlimited class, the Supermoto Lite class and the Junior Supermoto class. This meant the Supermoto guys would have twelve different races at which to earn points toward the championship. However, the rules mavens weren’t content with just this twist to the rules. They also deemed that the final race of the season, race two at the finale in Reno, would pay double points. This meant that there were effectively 13 races based on the amount of points that would be available throughout the season. Finally, another rule was added that anyone could race the final event but only those that earned points in the earlier rounds would actually be eligible for points at the end. Confused already? Good…

The season has once again been primarily about Jeff Ward. Despite a slow start to the season by the time everyone headed to the final round it was Ward that held a commanding 31 point lead. Back in June, when the season first got started at Road America, Wardy was still trying to race cars. The distraction of going cage racing meant he wasn’t training and that showed with a pair of fourth place finishes. He followed those up with an equally uncharacteristic 6/4 showing at Shawano. It was at Copper Mountain here in Colorado that the Team Troy Lee Designs rider really hit his stride winning all four of the races held during the Suzuki Cycle Fest weekend. That quad set of victories propelled him into the points lead in the championship and he backed that up with a second and another victory at the Nashville round. When the riders showed up in Reno for the Red Bull Superrmoto A-Go-Go all the money was on Ward to sew up his second Supermoto championship. I even predicted as much in my race preview last Friday.

Jurgen Kunzel

But it wasn’t to be. The funky AMA rules once again got the better of him and stole another championship right out from under him. Ward came in second in the first race of the weekend doubleheader behind Mark Burkhart but ahead of championship rival Jurgen Kunzel. Since this was Burkhart’s first weekend racing the premier class in ‘05 he wasn’t eligible for any points meaning Ward effectively won the first race. This allowed him to carry a 35 point lead into the final double-points paying race of the year. Despite the large points lead, Ward made a rare mistake by crashing while battling with race leader Burkhart. Ward was able to get back up and finish but he was outside the top 20. Burkhart won the race while Kunzel took the runner up position. Again, because Mark had no previous points in Supermoto this season he got zero points while Jurgen got the full 25 which was then doubled to 50. Because of the double points situation, Kunzel’s 2/2 finishes netted him a total of 72 points for the weekend versus just 25 for Ward’s win in race one. This allowed the German to jump ahead of Ward in the points battle and thus to snatch away the 2005 Supermoto Championship. Once again, Ward has been torpedoed by a screwy rule from the AMA.

The Supermoto Unlimited class came into Reno with a much closer points battle that that in the premier Supermoto category. Three riders were separated by only six points and two of them were yet to win a race this year. All five of the races leading up to Reno has been won by either Troy Herfoss or David Baffeleuf. However, it was Herfoss, along with Micky Dymond and Darryl Atkins, who were in the title fight as Baffeleuf missed scoring points at the Colorado races due to an injury from a crash in the first race at Copper Mountain. Those DNFs left the Frenchman a distant fourth in the points. While both Atkins and Dymond had visited the podium neither had yet won a race and yet they were separated by only one point in a near 1-2 tie for the championship. This lead to the possibility that the Unlimited champ might never have stepped to the top of the podium if one of them earned the title without winning in Reno. Coming into the final race the title fight was on.

In the race that proved particularly true. Since this was effectively a winner-take-all race for the three title contenders the racing was going to be pretty tight. As it turns out, the racing may have been too tight. Once the race was underway it was Atkins, Herfoss, Dymond and Baffeleuf that went to the front. Almost immediately there after, Herfoss and then Baffeleuf ended their race with crashes both while leading the race. Now the title was between Atkins and Dymond and they were both up front battling for the lead. After an initial exchange of positions it was Atkins who held the front position in every corner except the final one. He held a tight line going into the last corner but then ran a little wide when he got on the gas for the charge to the line. The seasoned vet Dymond saw the gap and went for it but ended up making contact which sent Atkins slamming into the trackside barriers. Dymond crossed the line for the win while Atkins remounted to take third behind Rodney Taplin. The win netted the veteran KTM rider the points necessary to claim the title over his New Zealand teammate.

In Supermoto Lites it was Brandon Currie that took advantage of Mark Burkhart’s absence from the final race of the sesason to grab his first win. Just to make sure that Supermoto Lites didn’t get overlooked in the drama comparison between the classes Currie went about winning the race in an unusual way…he threw the bike away in the first few laps and then had to fight his way back from the crash to get to the front. He was aided in this by earlier race leader Joel Albrecht who’s bike started having brake problems at the mid-point of the race. Currie’s eventual win allowed him to gain enough points to solidify second in the ‘Lites class for the year.

So my picks for the weekend…Well, clearly all the champions deserve a quick shout-out:

Supermoto - Jurgen Kunzel
Supermoto Unlimited - Micky Dymond
Supermoto Lites - Mark Burkhart

However, I also think Jeff Ward deserves props for again being the most impressive rider in the Supermoto series, all this despite being 44 years of age. Had it not been for strange rules, Ward would now be a three time Supermoto champ. Sure, Ward shouldn’t have been racing with Burkhart since the Yamaha rider wasn’t elligible for points but its in the heart of a racer to race. Besides, had the AMA not put the bizarre rules in place it probably wouldn’t have been an issue.

Second, I think Mark Burkhart deserves a lot of recognition for his undefeated season in 2005. As if sweeping all the Supermoto Lites races he entered wasn’t enough he then stepped up to the main class for the last race of the season and won both of those as well. His dominance in the Lites class wasn’t all that surprising…after all he was racing a factory supported Yamaha in a class mainly populated by privateers. It is the fact that he won both races in Supermoto against the other factory supported bikes that impressed me. Rumor has it he’ll be racing Supermoto full time in ‘06 along side Doug Henry so the other riders better watch out. I expect to see a bunch of blue on the podium next year.

I think Atkins deserves a little more credit as well. Losing a championship is bad enough but losing it because your teammate took you out is harsh indeed. As with many racing incidents it is hard place blame but I still think that Atkins had done everything he needed to do to win the race and did it without crashing into other riders. Dymond won the glory for the day but he did it in a questionable manner. Lets hope rough riding doesn’t become the norm in Supermoto.

Finally, lets hear it for the fans in Reno. The official count for the weekend shows that 45,000 people attended the Supermoto races over the weekend. That is more than attended most of the AMA Superbike races this season and in line with the max for most of the AMA Motocross races. This is a case where being able to hold a race in the middle of a substantial sized city, along with offering free admission, is going to draw a lot of new eyes to the sport. If any of those eyes are impressed enough to come back again then the AMA has done a great job using Supermoto as marketing for all the various forms of motorcycle competition. Bravo!

Finally, it will be a long winter waiting for the Supermoto series to get cranked up again next year. In the meantime, I’ll be feeling bad for Wardy and will be wondering what unusual rules the AMA will think up for next season.

[image from my photo collection.]

1 Comments so far


Fast Cars
October 16th, 2005 at 11:22 am

Jeff Ward
Jeff Ward’s fast car ventures did hurt his motorcycle performance….

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.