Taylor Robert came back from a heavy practice crash to win the season opening Rocky Mountain ATV MC WORCS Series Pro motorcycle race at Buffalo Bill’s Resort and Casino. Kawasaki’s Zach Bell finished second, ahead of Blayne Thompson.
Round one of the WORCS season at Buffalo Bill’s marked the first of this year’s split series, with the motorcycle classes competing apart from the ATV and SXS classes, riders applauded the track tailored to motorcycle racing as well as the $10,000 purse for the Pro classes.
Weather was near perfect with temperatures at race start in the upper 50s. Rain the week prior kept dust to a minimum. The track featured its typical blend of motocross and off-road sections, and WORCS officials added several rock sections with new high-speed desert sections. They completely rebuilt the infield motocross section and it turned out perfectly.
Friday crash doesn’t stop Robert
Taylor Robert, who started out the 2018 season injured, very nearly repeated that feat in 2019. A hard crash in practice didn’t stop Robert coming on his KTM, taking the lead early-on after a strong start by Zach Bell.
“Zach was riding really well and it took everything I had just to hold him off,” said Robert after the race. “I just had a little better fitness at the end. I don’t feel great today after the crash. I just tried to block it out and do the best I could. The KTM was awesome everywhere. It was pulling strong in the straightaways and I got off to a great start.”
Zach Bell joined the Precision Concepts Kawasaki team for 2019 and the brand-new bike suited him perfectly. He was quick off the start, snagging the holeshot before losing the lead to Robert. From there he dogged Robert before his hands gave out and he settled for second. “We had a good battle for about an hour, but then my hands just blew apart and I just couldn’t hang on,” said Bell. “The first round is done with and I got a second, so that’s a good starting point. I know what I need to do to beat him and I can do it. I just need to put everything together.”
Bell’s Precision Concepts team-mate, Blayne Thompson, also had a good start but went off track on the first lap. While several riders in front of him ran out of fuel, Thompson had his lines dialled in and was quickly making up time. He finished third, handing Kawasaki two out of three spots on the podium. “It took me a little time to get warmed up and get my lines in,” said Thompson. “Once I got it figured out, I was passing everybody. Third is a good way to start the year. We’re third in points and usually I throw it away in the first round, so we’re in good shape. I broke my foot at the end of 2017 and we had to push through it. We’re coming into this year 100% and it’s great.”
Dante Oliveira was strong before running out of fuel on the back side of the course. He had to walk his bike back to the pits to refuel and then restart where he left the track. Luckily several other riders in the top 10 also ran out of fuel, and his hard charge from there put him fourth at the finish. “I was feeling awesome, but on lap five my bike started to run out of gas on one of the back straights,” said Oliveira. “I got to the road, went to the van, and got gas. Once I got back to the same spot, I had lost a lot of time, but several other riders also ran out of gas. So I pushed to get past Redondi and then tried to catch Blayne. It was definitely an exciting race for me. I love the competition in the Pro class. It’s awesome to be pushed by everyone else.”
Reigning champion, Giacomo Redondi, proudly displaying his #1 plate, is only running the first two WORCS races as part of his training program before heading back to Europe to compete in Italy and selected Enduro GPs. Redondi was a frontrunner for the first few laps but his lack of training began to show and he faded to fifth at the finish. “I didn’t train too much this winter and it showed today,” said Redondi. “I was running great at the beginning, but I got really bad arm pump, so I just tried to finish. Fifth is fine, so we’ll be more prepared for the next race. I am going to Europe after Glen Helen, so my preparation started in January.”
Gary Sutherlin was next up in sixth but was another rider who ran out of fuel five laps into the event and that set him back. He recovered on the final lap, making up two positions to finish sixth.
Inside the top 10 was a remarkable Andrew Short, fresh off an airplane from Peru where he finished fifth in the Dakar Rally. Making his WORCS debut for Husqvarna, Short put together a solid race despite naturally having depleted energy levels after Dakar. “It’s been a chaotic month and I knew I was going to have problems with energy,” said Short. “Being so tired and weak, I am happy to make it out of here safe and sound. I survived and overall it was pretty fun. Hopefully I can get out of this hole energy wise and come back at the next round.”
Pro 2 Class win for Hengeveld
In Pro 2, Clayton Hengeveld made it a good event for Precision Concepts Kawasaki taking victory in a class that is stacking up to be one of the series’ most competitive in 2019. Tallon Lafountaine was second on a SLR Honda, ahead of the RPM/KTM of Austin Serpa.
Utilizing his Kawasaki’s electric start, Hengeveld scored the holeshot in the race and rode a great race. Interestingly, Hengeveld was more gratified by his start than his finish. “I am so proud of winning the holeshot,” said Hengeveld. “This year, Kawasaki came out with an electric start and that got me off to a great jump. I have always struggled with starts, so I’m proud of how I did this weekend.”
Lafountaine struggled in the rock sections and crashed on the first lap. From there, he quickly regrouped and finished second. “It was brutal and a long race,” said Lafountaine. “I took a pretty good digger in the rocks on the first lap. After I got up, tried to relax and ride smooth the rest of the race. I’m happy to get a second, at least. I love the bike.”
Serpa turned a poor start into a podium finish. He was up to fifth at the beginning of the Pro section on lap one, and then came out of that section second. He battled with Lafountaine before pitting. From there Lafountaine began to gap him and he finished third. “There are some talented riders in the class, and it’s definitely going to be a stacked year,” said Serpa. “I can’t win them all, so consistency will benefit me in the long run rather than riding over my head and ending up on the ground.”
Pro 2 Lites class podium for Brandy Richards
In Pro 2 Lights, Mateo Oliveira rode his Gas Gas 2-stroke to victory, ahead of the KTMs of Brandy Richards and Tyler Nicholson. Tyler Toline took the holeshot in the class, but Oliveira battled past him when he blew a corner. From there he gapped the field to score the victory.
“I tried to get up front as fast as I could after having a mediocre start,” said Mateo Oliveira. “I sprinted the last 50 minutes, got a good gap, and kept it in front.”
Brandy Richards was celebrating her first ever WORCS Pro 2 Lights podium and showed she had the speed and determination to run competitively in the male-dominated class: “I feel great and I had a great time out there,” said Richards. “With the women I try to get up front early, but these guys are a lot faster so I had to battle with them and make some passes. They’re really fast and hard to pass.”
The next WORCS round for the motorcycle classes is scheduled for February 1-3 at Glen Helen Raceway in Devore, CA.
More information: worcsracing.comReport and images: Harlen Foley