Red Bull Straight Rhythm preview: James Stewart the favorite, but tough matchups await

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With motocross silly season in full swing, a field of active riders and retired legends will descend upon Southern California for the inaugural Red Bull Straight Rhythm event today.

Straight Rhythm is a first-of-its-kind event. The typical mix of rhythm sections, huge jumps, whoops and sand sections that you would see on a typical supercross track are all present, but the turns are not. Instead, the Straight Rhythm track is a half-mile long and built on a straightaway.

The competition format is unique too. Rather than sending 20 riders out on the track at once, the invite-only event pits two riders at a time head-to-head within a bracket. Each rider is required to stay in their lane as they race side-by-side down the track.

On Friday, all 16 riders in the Open Class hit the track to put down their fastest lap times and earn their seeds. All the riders were then placed into a bracket for today’s competition, with each matchup being a best-of-three.

Open Class Seeds and Qualifying Times (view the bracket)
1. James Stewart, 50.766
2
2. Dean Wilson, 50.926
3
3. Justin Brayton, 51.313
4
4. Malcolm Stewart, 51.424
5
5. Josh Hill, 51.533
6
6. Kyle Partridge, 51.638
7
7. Shane McElrath, 51.938
8
8. Travis Pastrana, 52.264
9
9. Josh Hansen, 52.271
10
10. Jake Canada, 52.840
11
11. Kyle Chisholm, 52.987
12
12. Vince Friese, 53.263
13
13. Brett Metcalfe, 53.496
14
14. Ryan Morais, 54.169
15
15. Grant Langston, 54.365
16
16. Scott Champion, 54.617

There’s plenty of intrigue around Travis Pastrana’s return to motocross racing, but he’ll be challenged right out of the gate. As the eight-seed, a first-round matchup with Josh Hansen is no lock, and a win would likely have him facing off with James Stewart – the fastest qualifier and the overwhelming favorite – in the quarterfinals.

While Stewart is expected to contend for victory, he knows how important it is to be flawless through the track on every run. “It’s hard to make up time when [you] make a mistake,” Stewart said. “If you make one mistake, you might as well turn around and go back to the start.”

James isn’t the only fast Stewart in the competition. Assuming he makes it past Scott Champion and the winner of the Pastrana/Hansen battle, James could be matched up with his brother Malcolm in the semifinals. The two raced together during qualifying yesterday, and while both were blazing through the course, James was getting the better of the sibling rivalry, repeatedly beating Malcolm to the finish line.

Should chalk hold up, a matchup between the top two seeds – James Stewart and Dean Wilson – would make for an electrifying final. Wilson made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, leaving Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki to jump up to the 450 Class with Red Bull KTM. This is only his fourth day on the KTM 450, but he seems to have adapted quickly. Wilson’s first event with the new ride could be a memorable one.

Another rider debuting a new bike this weekend is Justin Brayton, who switched from JGR Yamaha to BTO Sports KTM. He qualified third and also looked strong in Friday’s practice. Partnered with Pastrana throughout the day, Brayton was consistently finishing ahead of him.

The 250 Class will also have its own 16-rider main event today, with a pair of Red Bull KTM teammates – Marvin Musquin and newcomer Justin Hill – earning the top-two seeds in the division. You can view the full 250 Class bracket here.

To see how the brackets play out, watch Red Bull Straight Rhythm live online starting at 5:30 p.m. ET today on RedBull.tv.

NBC will also air television coverage of the event on December 20.