Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto is all smiles now, but the current Supercross champ faces a long schedule ahead as the 2012 season gets underway this weekend at Anaheim.
The fireworks are being prepped as the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series braces for another 17-week battle between some of the fastest riders on the planet. This weekend at Angel Stadium, fans will be treated to the first round of the season as Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto returns to defend his dominance in 2011. All eyes will be on the 23-year-old to see if he can repeat a year of perfection that ended with him taking home a million dollars after conquering the inaugural Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas. There’s no doubt the attention paid to RV2 over the past year has created a field of eager rivals who are salivating at the chance to dethrone the superstar. The gates are filled, the board is sideways and throttles are pinned – let’s go racing!
After winning his first premier SX title, Villopoto has a lot to lose at this point in his career. While grabbing the 2011 title was a major achievement, it was only a stepping stone for a rider looking to add their name to the history of the sport. One of the first hurdles for Villopoto is Anaheim 1 as he is trying to become only the sixth rider in history to win the season opener in back-to-back years.
But RV2 is looking at a daunting racing calendar ahead with many accomplished rivals vying for his title. Perhaps the biggest threat in the fight for the crown this year will be James Stewart.
Transitioning to the Joe Gibbs team for 2012 after signing a five-year agreement, the two-time Supercross champ is considered possibly the fastest rider ever. Known for his spectacular crashes and stunning victories, Stewart proved his own worst enemy in 2011 after fumbling numerous leads to RV. However, the 25-year-old has been vocal in his
goals for the year, which include fighting for wins each weekend as he aims to surpass Jeremy McGrath’s all-time win record of 72 (he’s currently 31 victories shy). Stewart has either won, or crashed, 92% of the races he’s entered. Win it or bin it…
The JGRMX Yamaha team is also keeping the talent of Davi Millsaps in its ranks. Last year Millsaps failed to make it to the podium, but his eighth-place finish in the series was a testament to his presence inside the top-10 on a weekly basis. In 2010 Millsaps claimed third overall, so don’t count him out for some solid finishes this season – especially if conditions get rough.
Jake Weimer will return as Villopoto’s teammate in 2012 at Kawasaki, the Rupert, Idaho resident missing most of the season last year due to a broken arm. Only his second season in the premier class, Weimer still needs more seat time on the big bikes to determine his true potential, but he’s already proven a worthy outdoor adversary.
This season features nine different SX class winners – a stat that has never existed in 38 years of the sport. Also, since 1990 the lineup has never had four past champions contesting for wins. Veteran rider Chad Reed is included in both these categories, and walked away from the previous season with one of the most consistent records that included a win and an additional nine podium finishes. In fact, the TwoTwo Motorsports owner currently holds the record for podium finishes at 114 – making him a top threat each season.
Australian Chad Reed had an amazing first season with TwoTwo Motorsports. Can he do better this year?
Reed will also be receiving factory support from American Honda this year as he mounts a second campaign with his own team. But he won’t be the only one getting help from Honda’s garage. Trey Canard will return wearing Honda colors this year, but will miss the opening rounds after breaking his collarbone. While the 21-year-old’s race-winning record speaks for itself, it remains to be seen how his long list of injuries over the past year will affect his riding in the coming season.
Veteran Justin Brayton is listed as factory Honda’s second rider for 2012. The 27-year-old rode for JGR Yamaha last year where he earned numerous top-five finishes throughout the season. With more than seven years’ experience and Honda’s full racing support, Brayton has all the makings for his best season ever in the premier class.
In addition to veteran riders lining the gates, the 2012 season will also see Broc Tickle and Josh Hansen compete in the premier class full time. Since reaching the point maximum in the Lites class, Tickle is being forced onto Pro Circuit’s KX450F after winning the West Coast Lites series in 2011. Meanwhile, Josh Hansen – who finished third overall in WSX – is joining Hart & Huntington Kawasaki where he will also compete against some of the top athletes in the sport.
Other notable riders returning after strong performances last year include Australian Brett Metcalfe with factory Suzuki, Mike Alessi with MotoConcepts Suzuki, Kevin Windham with Geico Honda and Andrew Short with Brooks/McGrath Honda.
Ryan Dungey will put his skills to work at a new team in 2012 as he tries to win KTM its first-ever premier SX title.
One of the biggest news stories in regard to the upcoming season has been Ryan Dungey’s switch to Red Bull KTM. Partnering once again with Roger DeCoster, Dungey will seek to reclaim his former title from RV while trying to give the Austrian brand its first-ever premier SX title. Dungey has more than enough talent to accomplish this. Though it will only be his third season in the 450 class, RD5 claimed every AMA-sanctioned title by the age of 20. In 2011 he was responsible for posting 13 podium finishes in 17 races – the most of any rider in Monster Energy Supercross.
“I think for the 2012 supercross season we have our work cut out for us, for sure,” said Dungey. “There’s a lot of great riders out there and a lot of talented people, but I think in the long run for us, we (need to) work hard and do what we have to do. I think we’re driven and will do all that we can on any given night.”
In addition to a fully stacked 450 class, the Supercross Lites class is also overflowing with talent. Justin Barcia is returning to defend his East Coast Lites title with Geico Honda, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Geico garage. In order to mount a serious threat against the Monster Energy Pro Circuit squad, Honda has re-enlisted the talents of Eli Tomac and James DeCotis, but is also giving rookie Justin Bogle his debut in Supercross. After finishing on the podium in every round last season, Honda’s strongest remains Barcia, but Bogle may have some surprising performances in store for us.
After breaking his femur twice and now his collarbone, will Trey Canard be able to mentally recover from his injuries for 2012?
Honda’s best efforts, however, will be met with equal talent by Team Green. Scotsman Dean Wilson is still on the hunt for his first Lites title after winning the 250 MX title, and 2012 could very well be his year. Wilson finished second overall behind Barcia last season with three wins and two more podiums. Kawasaki will also have the speed of El Chupacabra on their side as Blake Baggett returns in pursuit of his first pro title. During his second season in the Lites class Baggett scored two wins and finished on the podium in nearly every round. Also, look for South African Tyla Rattray to come out swinging in 2012 after finishing seventh overall during his rookie season last year.
Aside from the two powerhouses of Honda and Kawasaki, several additional threats exist throughout the rest of the paddock. Red Bull KTM’s Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin are both on board for 2012 – though Roczen will have to wait for the East Coast series after breaking his arm while practicing for the opening round in Anaheim. Rockstar Valli/Star Racing Yamaha’s Kyle Cunningham and Ryan Sipes are also regular top-10 finishers, as are Rockstar Energy Suzuki’s Martin Davalos and Blake Wharton.
The gates drop on the opening round of the season on Saturday, January 7th. Practice and qualifying begin at 12:30 p.m. with the main program starting at 7 p.m.
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2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Teams:
Monster Energy Kawasaki
Red Bull KTM
Hart & Huntington Kawasaki
Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha
Team Honda Muscle Milk
Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Rockstar Valli/Star Yamaha
Wardy Racing Kawasaki
RF Motorsports USA
Red Bull KTM
Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki
Rockstar Valli/Star Yamaha
JDR J-Star KTM
Rockstar Energy Suzuki
Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil/Honda
Dragon Racing Fuels/AG Motorsports/Cernics KTM
Team 51fifty Honda Racing
Tedder-Monster Energy Racing
SVM Racing/Homes for Wounded Warriors
Motocross Ministries/MotoStar Racing
Godfather Privateer Racing