News 21 May 2009

AMA MX: MX Nationals set for new season under MX Sports

MX Sports Pro Racing PR:

The 2009 season has been one of change across the motocross landscape as new faces have moved to new places and the sport of motocross enters into a period of growth fueled by new ownership. After one of the greatest AMA Supercross Championship battles in the history of the sport, dirt-bike racing in America is carrying considerable momentum heading into the prestigious Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.

Undergoing its own fair bit of change, motocross in the U.S. is now managed by MX Sports Pro Racing and their partners in The Alliance of Action Sports. With new leadership at the helm, revolutionary initiatives are already transforming the sport, while providing more access and coverage than ever before.

The most significant change from the traditional format of the AMA Pro Motocross Championship is the move to Saturday racing. While Sundays have served as race day for many years, the new opportunities available for the sport make the move to Saturdays immediately beneficial for the future. Add an unprecedented television package with six races on live television, split between NBC and SPEED, the addition of a world class title sponsor in Lucas Oil, fresh talent coming in to challenge America’s best motocross riders, and some of the most legendary motocross tracks the world has to offer, and the ever-growing list of exciting changes make a recipe for success for motocross.

And to only add to the anticipation, both of the newly-named 450 and 250 classes will boast new faces holding the trophies at the end of the season.

In the premier 450 class, just as in the 250 class, the lack of a returning champion has left a huge opportunity available for a bevy of the world’s fastest riders. Waiting to take their shot at the coveted title is Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Mike Alessi, Honda Red Bull Racing’s Andrew Short, Davi Millsaps and Ivan Tedesco, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Timmy Ferry, and powerful rookie contenders Josh Grant (JGRMX/Toyota/Yamaha) and Ryan Villopoto (Monster Energy Kawasaki).

Also making his dramatic return to American motocross is two-time AMA Supercross Champion Chad Reed. The Rockstar/Makita Suzuki rider and Australian native adds to the international flair of the series, as he will make his first attempt at claiming an AMA Motocross title since the 2006 season. With a runner-up finish in the aforementioned Monster Energy AMA Supercross title fight earlier this season, the never-surrender Reed is ready to make his presence felt and go after this title.

Reed won’t have to look far for challengers. His teammate Mike Alessi has been dubbed the “Holeshot King,” regularly besting his opponents as the bikes blast out of the staring gates. After having his last AMA Motocross campaign cut short in a terrifying crash in front of the pack at Red Bud, Mike Alessi is primed and ready for a full run at the 2009 title.

Andrew Short is arguably the most underrated rider in the world. While he is still in search of his first victory in the premier class, the Honda rider has claimed more combined supercross and motocross points than any other competitor for the past two seasons, building the distinction of an ironman. A perennial podium finisher, 2009 will be his best chance for that breakout season. Same goes for his Honda teammates Davi Millsaps and Ivan Tedesco, both of whom ended their stadium-racing seasons in fine form and hope to be in the mix for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.

Tim Ferry is a true veteran of motocross and, much like fine wine, only gets better with age. At 33 years old, he is the elder statesmen of the pro paddock, but he is one of the most tenacious and durable riders the sport has ever seen. His tendency to finish strong at the tail end of 30-minutes-plus motos works in his favor and could produce some hard-fought wins in 2009.

While each is a virtual unknown on a 450cc motocross bike, Villopoto and Grant are no strangers to success. Each competitor has earned their spot atop the podium on more than one occasion, and are considered two of the most talented athletes of their generation. Villopoto has cruised to the last three 250 Class Championships and has never failed to win an outdoor title during his career, but he is now making the transition to the much more powerful and heavier 450 machines.

Grant has raced in the shadow of his long-time rival throughout the duo’s days in the 250 class but has shown no fear in banging bars and mixing it up out on the track. Moreover, both have already captured main event wins in AMA Supercross as 450 Class rookies, drawing even further comparison. It will be fun for all to watch these two rising superstars battle it out bar-to-bar.

Looming behind these talented men is a list of several riders capable of winning on any given Saturday. Spending the 2008 season as a privateer, Cody Cooper turned heads on several occasions with outstanding performances. His breakthrough performance came at the Unadilla national where the New Zealand native stalked eventual champion James Stewart in treacherous, muddy conditions, nearly bringing an end to his perfect season. Thanks to such a tremendous season, Cooper was graced with a ride at JGRMX/Toyota/Yamaha alongside Grant. A first-class operation could be all Cooper needs to take the next step.

While he has battled injuries throughout his career, Factory Yamaha’s Broc Hepler is one of the fastest riders in the world when he is healthy. Despite missing nearly every round of the season in 2008, Hepler ended the season on a high note with a strong podium finish in the season finale at Steel City, his hometown race. Hepler will be joined on factory-blue Yamahas by Josh Hill, as well as independent Yamaha rider Jason Lawrence, who is backed by Boost Mobile/ampm/Monster/Troy Racing. All three of these riders can win on any given Saturday.

It’s been since before the reign of the great Ricky Carmichael, 10-time series champion, that the AMA Pro Motocross Championship has been so wide open. No single rider stands out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. Not only will there be a new champion, but there will also be a chance at a multitude of first-time winners. Parity is what makes racing exciting and the 450 Class has just that in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.

With three-time defending champion Ryan Villopoto making his move up to the 450 Class, the 250 class championship is wide open in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship. And as the 12-round season kicks off this Saturday, the field is absolutely stacked with promising talent, and picking a favorite is virtually impossible. As the series makes the move to Saturday nationals beginning this weekend, a comprehensive television package, world class talent, and some of the best on-track action on the planet has built a high level of anticipation for what could be the most competitive season in the history of the sport.

Thanks to a trio of wins at the end of the season in 2008 and a newly-earned Monster Energy AMA Supercross Lites Western Regional championship, Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey has been dubbed the favorite by many. The Minnesota native has more experience on his bike and with his team than any of his competitors and possesses all the necessary tools to become the next 250 class champion.

However, if history has proven anything, the outdoor nationals are never a sure thing. Thanks to what some are a calling an international invasion, Dungey will have his fare share of challengers for the title.

Leading the way for the trio of overseas newcomers is Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Christophe Pourcel. The French rider is the 2006 World Motocross Champion in this MX2 Class, the European counterpart to the 250 Class. After suffering a near career-ending injury two years ago, Pourcel returned stateside this season, capturing the AMA Supercross Lites Eastern Regional title. With the support of the perennial front-running team, he will absolutely be a force to be reckoned with.

Joining Pourcel under the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit tent is South African Tyla Rattray, the reigning MX2 World Champion. Despite being a relative unknown in the United States, Rattray holds the credentials to be considered an immediate threat. But because he sat out the AMA Supercross tour to prepare for the outdoors, few of his competitors know his speed.

One young athlete who does is Muscle Milk/MDK/KTM’s Tommy Searle. The British rider was Rattray’s main source of competition throughout the 2008 season in the MX2 Class, engaging in an exciting season-long battle that came down to the final race of the season. Much like Rattray, Searle is largely unfamiliar with the competition in America, having also waited for the Glen Helen outdoor opener to begin his season, but he certainly has the talent to run up front.

While the concept of a four-rider battle for the championship is a mouth-watering thought for anyone, the list doesn’t stop there. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki is pulling out all the stops in 2009. With the addition of Pourcel and Searle, Mitch Payton’s squad will campaign five riders, each of which has a shot at the title. Jake Weimer made the move from Honda and has experienced nothing but success since swinging a leg over the green bike. Alongside him is Austin Stroupe. One of the most talented young athletes in the sport, Stroupe shocked the motocross world in 2008 by winning the season-opener at Glen Helen from Villopoto. Rounding out the loaded stable is quietly quick Ryan Morais. Unfortunately, Morais is temporarily sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Over at GEICO Powersports Honda, a trio of riders is prepared to throw their names into the championship equation. Trey Canard has an AMA Supercross Lites title to his credit and has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his short professional career. Australian native Brett Metcalfe is the new face and veteran rider in the GEICO lineup. While he is still in search of his first career AMA victory, a switch in teams has rejuvenated his motivation. The third and youngest member of the team is Blake Wharton, who hails from Texas. Wharton made his pro debut late last season, racing the final three rounds of the ’08 championship. Raw and inexperienced, he turned heads by quickly acclimating himself within the highly talented competition, even leading multiple laps in his first ever national at Spring Creek.

There are many other fine young racers in what many consider to be the deepest field in the history of American motocross, and that directly translates into one of the most highly anticipated seasons ever. Proven winners from around the globe will converge for 12 weekends during the summer of 2009 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship and determining who will prevail on Labor Day weekend in September is truly unpredictable.