Features 17 Dec 2015

Countdown: Anticipating Anaheim 1

Monster Energy AMA Supercross opener right around the corner.

It seems ludicrous to think that in just three weeks the opening round of the 2016 Monster Energy AMA Supercross will roar to life and fireworks will fly both during the ceremonies and out on the track. The first round of any championship is always unpredictable and doesn’t always set the tone for the rest of the series, but it’s fascinating to see everyone put the elbows out and jockey for dominance. With all that said, though, here are the most fascinating aspects that we’re most looking forward to.

Image: Simon Cudby.

Image: Simon Cudby.

7. The new track design:
Every year Feld, the promoters of the AMA Supercross Championship, try and add a handful of new, unique features to the indoor tracks, but traditionally we don’t see them until we’re in the thick of the series. This year we’ll see a unique feature right off the bat as the starting gate will be split down the middle by a big tabletop for when the racers rejoin the straight at the end of the first lap. It’s always great to see track layouts maximise the real estate on hand and this concept does just that. It will, however, make it all the more vital for racers to get a killer qualifying time, otherwise they’ll be pushed out wider than usual to the outside gates.

6. Where will Reed turn up?:
After having to close the doors on his TwoTwo Motorsports team midway through 2015, Chad Reed was a free agent and officially on the market. Now here we are, just three weeks out from the opening round and we’re still none the wiser as to if he’s been signed to a team or if he’ll be operating out of a three-by-three pop-up tent in the privateer pits. Even his appearance at the AUS-X Open in Sydney didn’t provide any clues apart from the ever-present Monster Energy and Shift backing. Being the experienced professional Reed is, we expect to hear something about his direction over the coming weeks, but for now it seems everyone is in the dark about his plans.

5. Caught in Cooper’s Webb:
Star Racing Yamaha’s Cooper Webb is going to enter Anaheim 1 as the heavy favourite to again clinch the Western Regional 250SX championship, but the biggest question will be if anyone can give him a run for his money. Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Tyler Bowers proved early last year that he wasn’t afraid to get physical with the North Carolina rider and the two fired several verbal shots at each other throughout the season. However, after holding out Chad Reed to claim the AUS-X Open race win – his first on a 450cc – a few weeks ago, Webb’s confidence will be riding high and he’ll be eager to stamp his authority on the series early.

4. The 450SX graduates:
This year saw Jason Anderson, Cole Seely, Dean Wilson and Blake Baggett step up from the 250SX class. In 2016 the 450SX class gets even more crowded with Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin, GEICO Honda’s Justin Bogle and Rockstar Husqvarna’s Christophe Pourcel all jumping up. Musquin dominated the 250cc comps last year but is carrying a wrist injury into A1 and might be off the pace as a result. As for Bogle and Pourcel, they’re both complete wildcards and it’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to the 450SX class. They mightn’t be on the pace at A1 but they’ll certainly improve as the season progresses.

Image: Simon Cudby.

Image: Simon Cudby.

3. The return of James Stewart:
After more than a year without racing in the series due to his drug scandal and subsequent punishment, all eyes will be on Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart when he gets behind the gate at A1. It’s been a horror build-up for JS7 who got smoked at the Monster Energy Cup (he crashed out a few laps into the first main), then injured his ankle at Lille, France, when he came together with his brother Malcolm. On top of that, the guy will be 30 come Anaheim, so he’s certainly not getting any younger. Sure he’s a ridiculously talented rider but most signs point to him being a little under-done come January. You can never count him out though, even if he is as unpredictable as a Brisbane bus.

2. Tomac on green:
The biggest silly-season move was Eli Tomac’s switch from his long-standing relationship with GEICO Honda to Monster Energy Kawasaki. Anaheim 1 will be our first look at Tomac as a green ambassador. On top of that, it’ll be his first time back in the spotlight after a nightmarish double shoulder reconstruction (the result of his massive crash at the Colorado round of the Pro Motocross Championship) and we’ll be keeping a close eye on how well he’s recovered from such a lengthy rehab. His fitness shouldn’t be a problem but being on an all-new bike, it might take him a couple of rounds to really hit his straps.

1. Dungey versus Roczen take two:
After such a consistent display last year that saw him wrap up the title early Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey is certainly the man of the moment and is probably the favourite to go back-to-back as the overall 450SX champion. However, RCH/Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/ Suzuki Factory Racing rider Ken Roczen always starts the season strongly – he’s won the last two Anaheim openers and we’d expect him to start just as strong on 9 January. My money’s on Roczen to make it an A1 three-peat and start the season on the front foot as he always seems to do. If they both get good starts we could see a brilliant battle go down, setting the tone for the entire championship.