Supercross once again kicks the tires on a new season in Anaheim, CA for the first of three rounds held at Angel Stadium. The 2009 Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, will feature some impressive racing after 2008 saw James Stewart concede the title chase due to a knee injury. Now he’s back on a Yamaha and his replacement in the Monster Kawasaki rig is none other than the most dominant 250F rider of all time moving up, Ryan Villopoto.
There are primarily three big stories coming into A1. The first two are Stewart’s move to San Manuel Yamaha and Villopoto joining the 450 ranks after decimating the 250F field for so long. Finally, the other nagging question is whether or not Chad Reed will adapt to his Rockstar Makita Suzuki ride in his first title defense since 2005. Reed promoted, raced and won his Super X: Australasian Supercross Championship and probably racked up more air miles than anyone on the AMA tour during the break. But he seems to have his RM-Z 450 sorted out and ready to go. His support crew consists of holeshot artist Mike Alessi and Michael Byrne.
“Defending your championship is harder than winning because you have guys that are really hungry to take it from you,” said Stewart in a Supercrossonline interview. ”You have to work double-time just to stay ahead of the game.”
James Stewart doesn’t seem to be having problems adapting to his new Yamaha ride. Like in years past, JS could prove to be his own biggest obstacle.
Stewart should know since he was unable to back up his 2007 championship due to injury. After soldering through the first three rounds, JS was forced to pull the plug, get surgery and heal completely for a run at the AMA outdoors. And what a run it was. JS earned his team a perfect 24-for-24 moto sweep, and then capped his career with Kawasaki by claiming a victory at the Motocross of Nations. With most of the remaining field on EFI-equipped bikes, Stewart will have to carburet himself to the front. It doesn’t seem like much of a disadvantage, if any, based on his $100K victory at the US Open.
If anyone can avoid the dreaded rookie crash-fest it’s likely going to be Villopoto. The Washington native is known for his erratic, on-the-edge riding style on the 250F, but early reports have the Kawasaki rider adapting well to his fuel-injected 450. RV2 has been modest about his expectations and approach to the 2009 season.
“I don’t think it’s out of reach to win the championship, but it’s definitely going to be tough,” Villopoto told Supercrossonline. “I might be asking a lot, though. You have to look at being consistent and that’s what I want to do. If I can be consistent, I can maybe get second or third.”
If any of the big three do falter with the new challenges, there are plenty of riders who will be just a few seconds back and ready to take advantage.
We haven’t heard a lot from the Kevin Windham camp during the offseason. I count this as a good sign where ‘ol K-Dub is quietly going about his training program. This guy knows what it’s like to win, and he isn’t ready to give up the dream just yet. The GEICO Powersports Honda rider was runner-up last year, so there’s only one more spot to attain.
Another wiley vet comes in the form of Monster Kawasaki’s Tim Ferry. Red Dog got to keep his spot under the Kawasaki tent and deservedly so considering his amazingly consistent and strong 2008 performance.
Josh Hill isn’t a grizzled 450 warrior, but he also isn’t a rookie anymore, and he’s got the first-win monkey off his back already with a victory last year in Minneapolis. The Yamaha rider still has much to prove after a relatively disappointing outdoor season. These factory rides are getting harder to come by with the challenging economy. Young Josh will have to earn his spot with some impressive SX results if he wants to have a shot at extending his contracts.
Davi Millsaps was another rider to take advantage of Stewart’s absence in ’08 and won two rounds at Atlanta and Detroit. He is again mounted on the potent Red Bull Honda CRF450R, and will have the advantage of EFI for the entire season.
The Supercross Lites division is again a crapshoot. The biggest factor is going to be all the riders who left. Ryan Dungey looks like a fairly sure thing in the Western division. Both coasts will get eight races to decide the championships, plus the shootout. The addition of Toronto this year finally allows the East guys to have a full schedule. Once the East Lites kick off at the fourth round in Houston, TX, watch for Nico Izzi on his Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z250 and newcomer, Tommy Searle, who is over from Europe to ride on the MDK KTM squad. These two will make waves.
Tickets are available at www.SupercrossOnline.com, by phone at 714-740-2000 or 213-480-3232, the Angel Stadium box office, Ticketmaster, Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com, and participating Yamaha dealerships. Club Level and Diamond Club seats are $75; Trackside Seats are $45; Extreme seats are $35; Upper Deck seats are $30 for adults and $15 for kids. All seats are $2 more on the day of the race. Practice and qualifying begin at 12:30 and racing begins at 7:00 p.m. Just recycle any empty Monster Energy can at the Pit Entrance for your free admission to the Pit Party with a valid Saturday ticket from 12:30PM – 6:00PM. Pit Passes will also be available for purchase for $10 on the event day at the Angel Stadium box office.