When the big rigs rolled into the Anaheim pits for the opening Supercross of 2019 and stakes out their huge swathe of turf, one rider didn’t have quite the same need for acreage. That was British-born Dean Wilson, the former factory star who had been dropped the factory Rockstar Husqvarna team at the end of the season.
Now back to pitting out of a Sprinter van that is shamed by many of the trucks at local races, Deano and his very Glasgwegian Dad Andy were back to basics and doing it for themselves. Mounted on a Husky FC450 that anyone can buy, a last-minute deal saw Rockstar give some support and he his bike had some factory-style bit son it, like WP suspension. But it’s very definitely a privateer effort. With no big money sponsors, Deano had taken to social media selling T-shirts and hoodies to help fund his privateer effort.
When legal drug brand Ignite Cannabis Co. stepped up to back him, along with him saying he uses their drops to help with inflammation and stress after riding, the internet went into meltdown. Some said it was the latest fad, and could replace or go along with energy drink suppliers as the next big sponsorship opportunity. Other, more puritanical fans called for a total ban on anything to do with the drug at all even though it is legal in the USA. And when Wilson rolled into Anaheim, he was told he had to cover up the Ignite Cannabis Co. stickers on his machine as it's not legal to advertise cannabis in all US States yet. Hardly the relaxing, focused start to the season that the mollycoddled factory riders got, relaxing in their air-conditioned big rigs.
But after years of coming back from career-threatening injuries, being dropped by factory teams, starting his own privateer efforts then back to the factory again before being dumped once more, Deano is used to adversity. He was there to race and get the job done.
And what a job he did. He was second in qualifying behind Blake Baggett, second in his heat race and was riding like the Wilson we all have seen in the past. With a track that was muddy and rutted, and rain falling hard in the race, Wilson’s super-smooth style and lightning-fast start was just what he needed to have one of his best races ever.
He snatched the holeshot, and with fellow privateer Malcolm Stewart in his wake riding in his fest ever Anaheim 450 main event, the pair held on at the front of the field. Deano began to pull away, then Stewy made a counter attack and got the better run into a turn. But the Honda man went too hard into the next corner and slipped off.
That gave Deano some breathing room, as the factory riders behind him seemed not to be able to make a dent into his lead. Lap after lap, Wilson was perfect and holding his own. And for 15 glorious minutes, it seemed that he was going to pull off the most incredible surprise win.
But then he started to catch up with backmarkers, and as the first rider to start lapping, along with a rutted track that made overtaking a difficult task, all of a sudden Wilson looked like a different rider. And when he took his goggles off, the writing was on the wall. First past was Justin Barcia, on the way to his first Anaheim 1 450 win. Then Ken Roczen slipped by and on the last lap, Eli Tomac got through and knocked Deano off the podium. The dream was over, but it reminded the world just how incredible the tough Brit really is.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m slightly disappointed. Just because I felt like I had the best opportunity to win that race, leading for 15 minutes,” said Wilson. “But then I ran into lappers, and lost my rhythm and goggles. I just needed 5 minutes in me!
“Anyway. I can’t be too greedy. I have came a long way recovering from double ACL reconstruction on each knee and worked hard with good people and will continue to! Fourth in the main is a great start. Once again I was blown away with all the support!”
Deano’s slip down to fourth meant it was an all-Japanese podium. Something that doesn’t happen very often in the current age of KTM and Husqvarna dominance. And few would have singled out Barcia as the man to leave Anaheim with the red plate. But he’s an incredible mud rider, so revelled in the conditions while many of his fellow factory aces struggled hugely.
Barcia, now married to an English girl, showed a new level of maturity as he was consistently quick to take his first 450 main event win since Seattle in 2013.
After winning his heat race, he stayed out of trouble in the main and settled in behind Wilson and Stewart. He bided his time, reeled in Wilson after Mookie fell, then made his pass stick.
"I'm really proud of myself for being so calm and collected," Barcia said. "In the beginning of the race, I really wanted to get in the lead fast, but I've kind of grown up a little bit. I was a smarter rider that race and that's what got me that win. All in all, I rode just a smart, smooth race.
"It was an awesome day. I had a lot of fun in practice, then going into the heat race it started to sprinkling a little. The main event it was really pouring down,” he said. “I definitely got a little excited and nervous and all those feelings you get at the first race. I got off to a pretty decent start and worked my way up to third. I played it smart and tried to make no mistakes.
“One of the guys went down in front of me and then I was able to charge harder and catch the leader, make the pass and ride a smooth race to the win. For me this is incredible, I haven’t won a 450 race in over six years so it's a pretty awesome feeling. I couldn’t be much happier. I just want to stay, smart, smooth, fast, consistent and focus on the championship plate."
Of course, there is always the curse of Anaheim! It’s very rare for a rider to win the Anaheim opener then go on to clinch the championship. Ryan Villopoto did it in recent times, but the results of the first round – especially when it’s in non-typical conditions – is no indicator of who will be leading at the end of the series. A muddy race often shows the real class, and both Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen proved that. The TV cameras hardly focused on them at all, as they were never a threat to take the win. They got out of the first corner safely, made steady progress and at the chequered flag, both ended up on the podium. Honda man Roczen, who only a couple of years ago would have seen anything less than a massive win as a fail, was thrilled to stay safe and end up second.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better night. A heat race win and a second in the main event at the first round. Conditions were tough! Anyway, I’m stoked!” he said.
And outdoor champ Tomac, one of the most successful Supercross riders of all time despite never clinching the title, was also pleased after coming though the field to steal third on the last lap. He’s already looking forward to the next round in the Arizona desert where it won’t be wet.
“Tricky track conditions, but it somehow managed to stay in good enough condition to keep jumping most of the lanes!” he said. “Looking forward to Glendale, let’s get this season rolling!”
If Anaheim is anything to go by, the man he may square up to in the championship chase is the No.2 KTM of Cooper Webb. Webb crashed in the first turn, clashing with his team-mate Marvin Musquin who is still rusty after a winter recovering from injury.
Webb got back on and carved his way through the field on a track that was blatantly tough to pass on. By half distance he broke into the top ten, and set the fastest lap of the race – a second quicker than anyone else could manage. When the flag fell, he’d worked up to fifth and sent out a clear message he means business.
“In the heat race, I didn’t get off to the greatest of starts and I didn’t ride to my potential, so I had a bad gate pick in the main event,” he said. “I had a pretty outside gate but I nailed the start and I was first in the first turn but unfortunately, I fell over.
“It was slicker than I thought but I was able to get up and really put my head down and charge really hard to come back to fifth. I guess I had the fastest lap of the race, so that was really cool and I’m feeling confident and good with that result.”
Webb’s last scalp was Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger, who was making his 450 Supercross debut. Using his tall frame to manhandle the YZ450F in the muddy conditions, he held onto sixth.
“I got better and better every time I went out on the track,” said Plessinger. “The heat race went awesome. I started out about fifth or sixth, got past some guys and finished third. I was pretty amped on that and I went into the main event pretty happy with myself.
“I got a great start and just maintained it. There were sometimes where I felt a little winded, but I couldn’t back down and pushed on to the finish and got sixth. I’d my first 450 race was pretty good in my eyes.”
Title hopeful Musquin, winner of the A1 opener in 2018, was seventh for the first half of the race before dropping one position to Webb. The Frenchman tried to catch seventh place Stewart but couldn’t do it. He rode consistently to take eighth, just one place in front of Suzuki’s Chad Reed – who only qualified via the LCQ - with HRC’s Cole Seely rounding out the top ten.
Musquin said: “The riding was not too bad but physically it was not an easy day as I didn’t have much time on the bike this off-season. But we knew it coming in, so the goal was to score some points and I ended up eighth.
“I had a great start and Cooper did too, but we almost got into each other and he went down. I avoided him but I lost a lot of ground. It would have been a little bit easier on me to get out front – I was right there in second place behind Cooper, it was pretty cool – but almost both of us crashing. My goal, once again, was to be consistent and score points and that’s what I did.”
But the biggest surprise of the night was the performance of the No.1 plate holder, Jason Anderson. Sixth in qualifying then fifth in his heat, the factory Husky rider chased Wilson around turn one and looked like he was going to challenge for the lead. But the man who has so often excelled at Anaheim just struggled and went backwards. He was often looking over his shoulder to see who was next to line him up for a pass and he slumped to a disastrous 14th place with a fastest lap 3.4 seconds slower than Webb. He offered no real reason for his lack of speed.
"Anaheim was an interesting day," said Anderson. "Practice wasn't bad, and the heat race was OK. It rained so hard in the main and I struggled. I'm ready to focus on next week's race in Glendale and I'm looking forward to getting back on the box."
Yamaha rules the Lites
Not only did the Monster Energy Yamaha team waltz off with the 450 win, they also took first and second in the 250 class as Colt Nichols took his first ever win with team-mate Dylan Ferrandis second.
Nichols got a flying start and went on to lead every lap of the race. The 24-year-old was unchallenged as Ferrandis slipped by KTM’s Shane McElrath to take second slot. It was a good end to the evening for Ferrandis who crashed in qualifying and had bike issues in his heat race.
“It’s really an indescribable feeling to win,” said Nichols. “The conditions were far from perfect but I was able to stay focused, ride my laps to take the win. That was the longest race of my life, it felt like.
“My mechanic gave me five to go, four to go, three to go… You’re kind of talking to yourself a little bit to get through it. I just tried to stay consistent. I really didn’t know how big of a lead I had and who was in second at the time, so just tried to keep the focus forward. I knew if I tried to relax a little too much I’d probably make a big mistake and crashed. So I just kind of tried to keep it moving and it ended up working out for me.
“You can’t describe the feeling I had jumping that finish line in first. That’s why we all do this. For me to cross that off my list was a really, really big deal. That made all the suffering, all the pain of the past two years completely worth it. The last two years I've had big off-season injuries and it's kind of been killing me.”
McElrath, who was trying to take a third Anaheim 1 win in a row, ended up third.
He said. "All the pressure is here. I was really nervous and everybody, they're like, 'Man, you've got to make it three in a row.' And it's like, you bet I want to do that, but to finish up here on the podium... We'll take a 3rd."
In terms of real pressure, it was Pro Circuit’s Adam Cianciarulo who felt the weight of Kawasaki’s expectations on his shoulders. Fastest in qualifying then winner of his heat, he went to the start full of confidence and looked like he’d taken the holeshot. But the slippery conditions in the first turn saw him wipe out. He remounted and made a charge through the pack, and made an aggressive move to pass fourth-placed RJ Hampshire. The Honda man was having none of it, and countered in the very next corner, wiping the KX250 man out. Again Cianciarulo had to remount and put on another charge, working is way to fifth.
Sitting out the main event was British teenager Dylan Woodcock, trying to qualify for his first 250 Supercross. He was 14th in his heat and tenth in the LCQ, but gained valuable experience on a tough track.
“I was a little tight when I was riding in the night show. It was crazy riding all the practice tracks leading up to A1 then did the track walk and I was like wow – that’s completely different,” he said. “Everything was peaked right up and the whoops were huge. Now just got to start edging closer to that main event.”