Craig Murto: Stewart’s penalty too harsh

Ken Roczen won the 450cc AMA Supercross season opener in Anaheim, Calif., but the biggest stories were who did not race.

Defending champion Ryan Villopoto — recovering from surgery — chose to skip the Supercross season and compete in Europe once he’s healed. And then there’s the suspension of James Stewart.

Following the 2014 Supercross round in Seattle last April, Stewart was among a number of riders to be tested for banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) per FIM rules. The FIM is the world sanctioning organization for motorcycle racing, much like the FIA is for automobiles. Supercross is recognized as an FIM series.

Stewart’s sample tested positive for banned substances at that time and he was suspended. It’s been only recently that Stewart was informed that his suspension would be retroactive to the April sample date and end in August, 2015, a total of 16 months.

Apparently Stewart failed to get sanctioned permission to acquire a prescribed medicine. Ball-and-stick athletes sometimes get suspended for the same infraction — considered minor by anti-doping standards — but are never forced to miss an entire season of competition.

Stewart’s Yoshimura Suzuki Racing team reports that Stewart tested positive for amphetamines from his prescribed Adderall. The FIM ruling severely affects the entire 2015 season for Stewart and the team.

“I’m extremely disappointed to say the least,” said Stewart in a news release. “We plan to appeal as I personally feel that the punishment far outweighs the situation; especially since I received both WADA and USADA approvals that prove I’m not cheating. I’m bummed for everyone involved: my family, my team, my sponsors, the promoters and most of all the fans. … Thank you all for your continued support.”

The FIM news release reads, in part, “On 12 April 2014, Mr. James Stewart, Jr., underwent an anti-doping test conducted by the FIM … The urine sample obtained from Mr. Stewart revealed the presence of a prohibited substance (amphetamine) … On 17 June, in accordance with Article 7.6.1 CAD, the FIM provisionally suspended Mr. Stewart … this was the first anti-doping rule violation recognized against Mr. Stewart … Mr. Stewart is disqualified from all competitions in which he participated (including the four rounds of the 2014 national Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Series) subsequent to the collection of the sample (12 April 2014) and all results he obtained in those competitions are cancelled with all the resulting consequences including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes. The FIM will therefore modify the rankings of the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, accordingly.”

Stewart can, and will, appeal. But it’s too late for the Supercross championship. If this were a ball-and-stick sport, his minor infraction would have received a minor suspension, in relative terms perhaps five or six races. Instead his career has been derailed. This is just another reason why I do not support FIM (or FIA) involvement in American motorsports.

As much as Stewart is being railroaded for a legal, doctor-prescribed drug that was not meant as a performance enhancer, motorsports are still riddled with those who have real problems and shouldn’t compete. The latest of those is sports car racing and open-wheel ace Franck Montagny, who has been suspended by the FIA after testing positive for a derivative of cocaine following November’s Formula E race in Malaysia.

The 36-year-old French racer, a former Peugeot factory driver, drove in the first two Formula E races with Andretti Autosport, but missed the third round due to “health reasons.”

According to the French publication L’Equipe, Montagny admitted that his racing career is probably finished, and that he will not appeal the FIA ruling.

“I am at fault. I will not argue,” Montagny reportedly told the French publication.

He hadn’t been active for a couple years until he raced in the Indianapolis Grand Prix IndyCar race last year for Andretti. Prior to that he enjoyed a successful run in the prototype ranks, including 12 starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with three podium finishes with Peugeot. A three-time race winner of the Petit Le Mans with Peugeot, he scored his first American Le Mans Series victory with Andretti Green Racing at Detroit in 2008. He hasn’t been active in sports car racing since 2012.

Chances are, even if he gets some help, he won’t be active again. There are too many drug-free veteran and up-and-coming drivers from which to choose.

If you’re choosing to go to the indoor TQ Midget races at Atlantic City, N.J., Jan. 30-31, you’ll be pleased to know that at last count there were more than 175 entries.

Tickets for the “Gamblers Classic” are available at all Ticketmaster outlets and on-line at www.ticketmaster.com.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.