Cooper Bounces Back to Hangtown Podium
Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Justin Cooper rebounded from a tough opening round to finish second overall with a 2-3 moto result at Round 2 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series at Hangtown MX. Cooper’s ride at the iconic track outside of Sacramento, California, propelled him up the championship standings, where he now sits fourth. Levi Kitchen continued to race inside the top-10, scoring sixth-place overall with a 6-6 moto score, while rookie Nick Romano earned 10th overall in only his second professional race with a 10-9. Both Nate Thrasher and Matt LeBlanc had positive moments during their day, finishing 13th (14-14) and 14th (18-12), respectively.
Cooper and the team went to work between rounds this past week, and the hard work paid off with a well-earned podium finish. The day started perfectly for the New Yorker who was the fastest qualifier, leading to a great gate pick. It then translated to a holeshot in moto one with the No. 32 leading the field around the tough Hangtown circuit. He maintained the lead for the first five laps before moving into second, where he held on to the end of the race. When the gate dropped for the second moto, it was Cooper’s Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing YZ250F out front once again - making the team four for four in holeshots this season. Although a small mistake on the opening lap shuffled him to second, he charged the entire moto and eventually finished third, giving him second overall.
Coming off an up and down ride at Pala, Kitchen was determined to improve at Hangtown, qualifying sixth during the morning sessions. He didn’t get the start he was looking for in the opening moto and found himself in 15th. Once Kitchen got into a flow with the track, he put on a hard charge to the front, making it up to a well-ridden sixth. A better start of ninth in the second moto helped him find his groove earlier in the race, charging forward to sixth, giving him sixth overall.
It was a day of good riding for the young rookie Romano, who qualified 12th. His impressive starts continued at Hangtown, with the 17-year-old getting out to fifth in the first moto. He moved around the leaderboard throughout the race and came across the finish in 10th. After another good start in Moto 2, Romano was in the mix with the front runners. He did his best to hold off pressure from behind, riding solid in the top four for the first five laps and ultimately finishing ninth for 10th overall.
Thrasher overcame some adversity at Hangtown and showcased a fighting spirit throughout the day. In the first moto, the Tennessee rider started outside the top-15, making it up to 14th by the end of the race. It was an uphill battle in the second moto after a crash had Thrasher back in 29th at the start. He never gave up and made it back up to 14th, landing him 13th overall.
Leblanc showed improvement throughout the day as he lined up for only the second professional race of his career. He also started outside the top 15 and did his best to move forward but ultimately ended the race in 18th. Learning every time he hits the track, LeBlanc got a better start in the second moto in 10th. He rode strong throughout the race and finished 12th, which scored him 14th overall.
The Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team starts the trek east with Round 3, stopping in Lakewood, Colorado, at Thunder Valley MX Park on Saturday, June 11.
Jensen Hendler – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing 250 Team Manager
“The day went really well. Cooper had a great rebound from the first round and was back fighting up front. Pala didn't go so well for the team, so we put our heads down and worked hard as we do and came up with some stuff during the week that was incredibly beneficial for this round. I think it can only get better, and the things we learned from him can be implemented with the other guys.
“Levi had a good result and his second moto start was better than the first, but it’s something we need to continue to work on. If he can get those starts dialed in, I think he can have very good results. Nate struggled with his starts as well and then fell in the second moto. We'll get back to work with him and strive for better results.
“Our rookies had a good day, with Romano going 10-9, which for his second pro race ever was phenomenal. We’re proud of him and all the hard work that he's put in and feel that moving forward, he's just going to continue to get better. He's a savage, and he's going to get stuff done; we're excited to help him do that. I think LeBlanc shows promise as well, and we will continue to work hard with him and do what we have to do to help him get better results. We're happy with his progression and look forward to better results with him. With the improvements we saw at Hangtown, we’re excited about the future. We'll keep working hard and go get it in Denver.”
Justin Cooper – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“This was a great rebound from last weekend, so we will take second overall. It was nice to fight for the win today. I worked hard with the team this week, and we are in a better spot now. The track was super tough today, and you couldn’t rush it. We’ll get back to work and will see what we can do next weekend at Thunder Valley.”
Levi Kitchen – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“We went 6-6 for another top-10 finish today. It’s the same old story – I need to get off the gate better. We’ll be working hard this week to keep improving. I’m looking forward to getting to try again next weekend.”
Nick Romano – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“It was another good day, and getting 10th overall in my second pro race is awesome. I’m happy with how the team and I progressed throughout the entire day and I am already fired up for next weekend.”
Nate Thrasher – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“It was a tough day, to say the least. I didn’t have the best starts, and I couldn’t get into a flow. We’ll keep our head up and be ready to fight again in Lakewood.”
Matt LeBlanc – Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“I ended up 18-12 today, but I’m glad I was finally able to show some speed and run in the top 10 for a little. We’ll keep working, and I’m excited to see where we end up next weekend.”
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