Photos by Adam Booth & Chris Green
The 2012 GEICO AMA EnduroCross Championship series is officially in the books, and what a season it was! The race for the title came down to the final round in Las Vegas, where a double main event format provided racers with an opportunity to gain—or lose—huge amounts of points. In the Pro division, KTM’s Taddy Blazusiak went in to the final round with a target on his back, and the Polish racer did not let up on his way toward a clean sweep of both mains and a dominant championship victory.
The course inside of the Orleans arena was initially very difficult; a tight river rock turn transitioned straight into an elevated boulder section that created massive bottlenecks for the amateurs as well as the pros. After his heat race win in the evening program, Beta’s Cody Webb actually said the rocks were too easy after track workers had placed smaller rocks to fill the big gaps between the day time practice and the night races. Webb might have been the only guy to make it up and over the rocks without putting a foot down the entire night and from what we saw, he only did so once. Taddy, on the other hand, was not afraid to voice his distaste for the track: “It was probably fun for the fans to watch, but it wasn’t fun to race on,” he later said. The dirt was a clay-based mixture with small pebbles scattered through out. When the clay got wet it was very slimy and hard to ride aggressively. It also seemed like the water carried through the entire track, unlike some other venues where things are only slimy for about three corners from the water pit.
Friday saw amateurs qualifying in the TrialCross, Amatuer, Women’s and Vet 35+ support classes, with Experts battling for a spot among the pre-qualified Pro racers. Saturday proved to be a battle early on when Blazusiak beat out Webb to set the fastest time during the MVP Racing Hot Laps. Blazusiak set a time of 59:031 versus Webb’s 1:00:103. KTM’s Brown was third with a 1:03.400. All of the racers inside of the top ten posted extremely competitive lap times that were impressively short considering the difficulty of the course. A lot of that credit goes to the bike-eating rock section that swallowed up more than one sure winner on the last lap.
The night program began with a series of three, six lap Expert heat races that provided main event starting positions to only the top two finishers. Trials ace Colton Haaker won the first expert heat race with a last lap pass on Brown and both went to the main event. Webb dominated the second heat race while Husqvarna’s Kyle Redmond came back from several mistakes to take second and a spot in the main. Blazusiak won the third heat over Monster Kawasaki’s Justin Soule. With the double main event format, the traditional format of semis was forsaken and the remaining riders move into two separate LCQ races. Taylor Robert won the first LCQ over Cory Graffunder and Jamie Lanza, all of whom earned spots in the main. GEICO Honda/ Christini rider Geoff Aaron won the second LCQ over his GEICO Honda teammate Kevin Rookstool while Beta’s Max Gerston put in a great ride to take the last spot in the main event.
In the first Pro main event of the night, Blazusiak took the holeshot, which usually means it there’s no stopping him. But Webb has proven that he has the speed to challenge Taddy this year, and the lanky trials racer passed both Brown and Blazusiak on lap two and led two laps. Taddy was displaying a ton of speed, but he was also on his mental game as evidenced by his interaction with the other riders out on the track; Taddy wasn’t afraid to intentionally move over on Webb right before an upcoming obstacle in order to ruin his flow or disrupt his line choice. Webb was clearly getting a little frustrated on the track dealing with Taddy’s antics and the Beta rider’s stance quickly went from calm and collected to energetic and aggressive.
The noisy Vegas crowd was on their feet as the two riders swapped the lead a few time on lap five and Webb kept it close until Webb made a big mistake and went down on lap six, allowing Blazusiak to secure a safe win. Brown held second for the first few laps but then fell to third, where he ultimately finished. Geoff Aaron had a strong ride to move from ninth on lap one all the way to fourth. Justin Soule was fifth, Haaker sixth, Cory Graffunder seventh, Redmond eighth, Max Gerston ninth, Jamie Lanza tenth followed by Kevin Rookstool in eleventh. Taylor Robert crashed on the first lap and was credited with finishing in the #12 position.
The second main event was again a great battle between Blazusiak and Webb. Although Webb did not lead a lap, he did challenge Blazusiak and edged ahead of him in the extremely difficult rock section a few times and made a banzai run through the rocks on the last lap to try to blitz past him. Webb lost control and went down hard but remounted to finish second. Husqvarna’s Redmond diced with Geoff Aaron for the final podium spot, and Redmond looked more aggressive than ever in Vegas, putting it in some hard passes and fighting his way around slower riders. Kyle tends to have the same “Mr. Nice Guy” problem that plagues Ryan Dungey, but in Vegas he was physical and made a statement with his riding. Redmond ultimately took the third position and Aaron held on for his second forth of the night. Brown got fifth, Soule was sixth, Graffunder was seventh, Robert eighth, Gerston ninth, Rookstook tenth, Haaker eleventh and Lanza twelfth.
With the win, Blazusiak secured his fourth GEICO AMA EnduroCross Championship for KTM. Webb took over second in the championship with his strong night. Robert finished third and showed that he could be a threat for the title in upcoming years. Meanwhile, the MAVtv Junior championship was taken by Beta’s Max Gerston. It came down to a thrilling battle between Gerston, Ryan Sandoval and Bryan Roper fighting for the last spot into the main event in the LCQ. Roper had come into the race with a slim lead but a mechanical failure took him out of the race. Gerston ultimately made the main and his ninth place finishes in each race was enough to take the lead for the battle for riders 21 and under.
The first ever Women’s class championship came down to the final race with KTM’s Maria Forsberg holding a 10-point lead over US Women’s Trials champion, Louise Forsley. Forsley lead the race on the last lap but got hopelessly stuck in the rocks and Forsberg took the lead and win, which also secured the championship. Forsley recovered for second in the race and championship. Rachel Gutish finished took the final podium position in Vegas. Chantelle Bykerk finished fourth in the race, which was enough to take third in the championship.
Gary Sutherlin was among the riders that missed qualifying for the expert main event but got to go to the Baja Designs night race and the $500 bonus that came with it. For the support classes, the Las Vegas final serves at the AMA EnduroCross Grand Championship with a #1 plate awarded to the winner of each class. In the Vet 35+ Class Kurt Nicoll defended his title with the win over Jason Gitchel and Rob Farrington. Keith Curtis won the Open Amateur class with a last lap pass in the rocks. Ben Rego was second and Ty Tremaine was third. The TrialsCross class was won by Phil Smage over Eric Storz and Ty Tremaine.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Las Vegas round was the first ever EnduroCross race to be broadcast live to fans via a real-time webcast. EnduroCross fans from all over the world tuned in to over three hours of play-by-play action, giving those at home a firsthand look at the action from Vegas. There’s no telling if this feature will be available next season, but given the success of the initial broadcast there’s a good chance that this isn’t the last time it will occur.
All together, the 2012 EnduroCross season was nothing short of amazing, and the buzz for next year has already begun. Tune in to www.endurocross.com for an updated 2013 schedule as soon as it becomes available.