2011 Supercross: Who’s the Favorite?

December 30, 2010
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

The 2011 Supercross season is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in recent memory. A big reason for the anticipation: There’s no clearly defined favorite heading into the Anaheim 1 season opener. Ryan Dungey, as defending champion, may be the de facto front-runner entering 2011, but compelling title cases can be made for at least four riders in the premier class.

Ryan Dungey won the 20-lap Supercross main in Dallas.
Ryan Dungey is the defending champion, but does that make him the favorite for 2011 with a healthy James Stewart, Chad Reed and Ryan Villopoto?

Ryan Dungey – Rockstar Makita Suzuki

Ryan Dungey enters his sophomore season in the premier class with high expectations. Yet it will be difficult for the Minnesota native to live up to the breakout rookie campaign which saw him grab the Supercross title, followed by the Motocross crown and a triumphant role as Team USA captain at Motocross of Nations. Dungey’s performance in the Outdoors was remarkable, downright Carmichael-like in its dominance. So why the question mark on his favorite status entering 2011?

While Dungey dominated Motocross, Supercross was another matter. The Suzuki ace benefited from injuries to all three of his lead SX rivals: James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Chad Reed. Stewart and Reed’s 2010 title hopes evaporated early in the season, and Villopoto leveled a serious run on Dungey before missing the final races with a broken leg. Dungey did register overpowering SX performances in ‘10, but consistency and durability are what brought the rookie his title.

This is not a knock on Dungey, who’s managed to stay healthy throughout his young career. Part of this is luck, but the Suzuki pilot rides with a maturity beyond his rookie status. Consistency and staying healthy will be critical for his 2011 success too, but Dungey must deliver more head-to-head victories against his foes this time around.

James Stewart ready to roll in 2010 - Anaheim 1
Still regarded as the fastest talent in Supercross, James Stewart needs to stay healthy to regain his SX title mojo.

James Stewart – San Manuel Yamaha

For all his considerable talent and 37 career Supercross wins, James Stewart has only two premier titles to his credit. Always possessing blistering speed, J. Stew also struggles with injuries. His 2010 SX campaign quickly devolved from promising to kaput. After winning the Anaheim 1 opener, Stewart finished 15th the the following round in Phoenix after an on-track incident with his most hated rival, Chad Reed. Stewart pushed on for another round, but then underwent season-ending surgery to repair his injured right wrist.

Stewart skipped most of the 2010 Motocross season, attempting to race the final Outdoor Nationals. At Unadilla he finished third in Moto 1 before pulling out of Moto 2 due to fatigue. Stewart would officially withdraw from the remaining outdoor rounds to further heal his ailing wrist. The Yamaha pilot also made waves during the summer, when he publicly criticized his being passed over as an entry for Team USA in the Motocross of Nations.

Now 26, Stewart figures to have a couple more title-winning runs in the tank. And while motivation shouldn’t be an issue, there are lingering questions as to whether Stewart’s heart is in it. Last season the Florida native seemed more interested in making a forgettable reality television show, where he admitted a lack of drive to compete on the Supercross track. And there’s also the question of his durability. Effectively taking an entire season off due to injury, will Stewart return stronger and faster than ever – or a step slower?

Ryan Villopoto had to work to put his Kawasaki on top of the podium at Indy.
His 2010 title run was bogged down by a broken leg, so you can bet Ryan Villopoto will be looking for more wins in 2011.

Ryan Villopoto – Monster Energy Kawasaki

Although he is a three-time Supercross Lites champion, Villopoto has yet to reach his potential in the premier class. The Kawaski rider has been troubled by injuries on the 450s leaving us to wonder what he could do if he stayed healthy. Villopoto ended his 2009 rookie SX season on a high note, beating the top-two point getters, Stewart and Reed, in the Vegas finale. Rolling into 2010, the Washington native recovered from Dungey’s early dominance to take seven wins on the year. Breathing down Dungey’s neck in the closing rounds, St. Louis proved disastrous for Villopoto, who crashed out of the lead and broke his leg in the process.

That left him out for the entire 2010 Motocross season which couldn’t sit well with Monster Kawasaki since he lost most of the 2009 season due to a knee injury as well. Still, RV enters 2011 as the winningest Supercross rider of ’10, giving him a confidence boost against the likes of his three big rivals. Injury remains the biggest question mark, but Villopoto also tossed in a couple ugly rounds during ‘10 that gave Dungey a comfortable points cushion for the much of the year. Anchoring the Kawasaki effort solo for now (with Jake Weimer’s injury), Villopoto represents a dark horse candidate for the 2011 crown, provided he can stay healthy and deliver consistent podium results.

Chad Reed in action aboard his TwoTwo Motorsports Honda CRF450R.
Now 28, Chad Reed finds himself campaigning without factory support on a privateer Honda.

Chad Reed – Team TwoTwo Honda

Although he is a two-time Supercross champ, Speedy Reedy has burned through OEM seats in recent years. The Australian enters the 2011 SX season on the heels of his worst year in the premier class. Having earned a reputation for toughness in prior campaigns, often racing with lingering injuries, Reed’s 2010 season was marred by both injury and poor results. Last year’s Supercross effort was spent mostly on the sidelines nursing a wounded hand, courtesy of the aforementioned Phoenix collision with Stewart. Defending his Number-1 plate in Motocross was just as futile, with Reed pulling out of the series mid-season after being diagnosed with Epstein Barr Virus.

Reed’s 2008 Supercross title-winning glory days aboard the San Manuel Yamaha are now three years and three manufacturers removed. He did give Stewart a scrappy resistance in 2009 aboard the Rockstar Makita Suzuki even though last year’s run aboard the Monster Energy Kawasaki went nowhere. This season Reed has been relegated to riding a privateer Honda under his own Team TwoTwo banner. The question is, will it be competitive?

Now 28 and a new father, preseason PR hype has Reed proclaiming he’s operating at 100%. He also notes that both his Supercross titles (2004 & 2008) came after sitting out for injury or in the case of ’08, taking off the Motocross season entirely. Reed’s career has been all about results. While Carmichael and Stewart have overshadowed the Aussie, Reed has earned two titles and 38 Supercross wins – third best on the all-time list. As past seasons have proven, love him or hate him, fans can’t rule Reed out for a title run.

Stay tuned for more Supercross coverage and Motorcycle USA counts down to the season opener at Anaheim on January 8th. And make sure to sign up for Motorcycle USA’s Fantasy SX racing game. It’s free, fun and features exciting prizes, with each round featuring a chance to win a pair of tickets to the Las Vegas Finale. Sign up for Fantasy SX today!