In 2012 the 250 class grabbed most of the headlines during the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals, and deservedly so. For the duration of the summer last year, we were privy to an epic twelve round duel for the championship; hence why most are quite excited by the prospect of more of the same this year. Fortunately all of the title contenders from last year are set to battle it out once again, with the exception of Justin Barcia of course.
I think that there is no clear favourite for the title this year; instead there are a total of three riders that are quite equal. Although the reigning champion would be the favourite to retain the number one plate usually, I would argue that Blake Baggett is going into the season a bit under the radar. Baggett has not really raced at all this year, which will hinder him slightly at Hangtown I believe. But, I have underestimated him going into round one in the past; he is a lot more comfortable outdoors, and who knows how long he has been back on the bike for? However I do believe that the wrist injury that he sustained back in January was much more serious than anyone thought; whether that is one hundred percent now remains a mystery. Baggett has been quite tight-lipped when it comes to disclosing any real details, as per usual.
In my opinion the win this weekend will go to either Eli Tomac or Ken Roczen. Whilst Baggett has been recuperating, these two guys have been getting a lot of race time under their belts. Although Blake has some question marks surrounding his program, these two will be ready. I think that Eli will be in a position to win the title, if he can overcome his consistency issues. It is clear that Tomac has struggled outdoors since he turned professional; however I think that he broke through last year, and proved that he can remain in title contention through twelve rounds. Eli also proved that he could match the raw speed of Blake Baggett, which could be pivotal this season.
Ken Roczen seemingly struggled last year. However the German has already made a massive improvement in supercross; I predict we will see much of the same in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals this year. Ken was very close to capturing a victory on so many occasions last year; I do believe that he would have learnt from that, and will be able to apply that knowledge to the series this year. Roczen will know exactly what to expect from the title fight; he will not need to get used to new tracks or the travel, and the heat will not be as much of an issue either. If you add in the momentum and the confidence gained during the supercross season, it all suggests that Ken Roczen is going to be much stronger this year, and a force to be reckoned with.
At the moment, I do not foresee any other riders jumping into the title fight. But I think that Marvin Musquin will be in the mix at most of the rounds – just not necessarily at the front of the pack. I found his performance in 2012 intriguing, and confusing. Musquin seemingly had Roczen covered when the two were competing in the MXGP series. But in the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals last year, Musquin lacked a bit of everything in comparison to the leaders. So I hesitate slightly when calling Marvin a title contender this year. In my mind, I think that he is going to be better this year (2012 was a learning year for him too). However I am not certain that he will make so much of a jump up, that he will be fighting for race wins each week.
If the rumours are to be believed, Zach Osborne is going very fast out in California currently. I very much doubt that we will see Zach fighting for moto wins; however, I think that he will the best of the rest behind the four riders stated above. Although Osborne has the speed to end the season inside of the top five, I cannot remember the last time he completed all of a series without getting hurt. I do think Zach will have a few flashes of brilliance this summer; but he may also have a handful of inconsistent, low points to contend with also. Honestly, I am not certain where he will finish overall in the series; he could finish at either end of the top ten, and I would not be too shocked.
Now seems like a good time to tackle the two riders that will be entering their first race as a professional this weekend, does it not? Adam Cianciarulo and Cooper Webb will venture into the professional ranks this weekend, and they are bringing a lot of hype and excitement with them! Although AC made a bit of last-minute decision to line up this weekend, I am sure that it is not a negative decision; the support group that he has in his corner will ensure that he is well prepared. Will he win a moto? Although I do think that he is capable, it may not happen this year; you have to allow these rookies some time to adjust, right?
Cooper Webb has been in the shadow of Cianciarulo for much of his amateur career, and he is again this year going into the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals. But this will be his chance to breakthrough and prove to everyone that he is every bit as fast as his rival. In fact, I would not be too surprised if he were to beat AC this weekend. Cooper has been on the bigger bike for over a year now, therefore the transition should not be as hard for him. I am sure that he will be stealing some headlines in the coming weeks, as the Star Racing Yamaha rider should be a contender for positions around the top five.
The Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki squad are going into the season with two guys that could fight for a podium (Blake Baggett and Adam Cianciarulo). I do think that the rest of the team will find themselves in the lower half of the top ten at best. Although there are reports suggesting that Martin Davalos is flying during testing, his past indicates that he will struggle to break into the top five. It is unknown when (if at all) Darryn Durham is going to line up for a round of the series. When Durham returns, he will have to fight off the cobwebs, as he has not raced in over a year now. Justin Hill is an unknown as well; although he is quite fast I am of the opinion that he will have a tough introduction to AMA Motocross.
Beneath the Geico Honda tent, there will be two completely different sets of rider: Osborne and Tomac (two riders that will be in contention for podiums), and Bogle and Bell (two guys that have failed to prove themselves so far). Bogle desperately needs a great summer, as he has really struggled since he came onto the pro scene. In my opinion Hangtown will dictate how his season is going to go. But, do not forget that he is returning from injury. All Zach Bell has to do is not crash, the amount of times that Zach has crashed since turning pro is staggering. He needs to prove that he can stay up off of the ground first, and then start to chase some solid results. Of course Wil Hahn will be on the team also, however he is out with a hand injury currently; but when he does return, he will be fighting for podiums.
I think that the Rockstar Energy Racing team of Jason Anderson, Nico Izzi and Blake Wharton will be strong all-season long, I am sure that these three riders will be inside of the top ten at the conclusion of the series. Jason Anderson made some progress last year, so I am intrigued to see if he can continue that momentum. I expect to see Anderson upfront battling with the likes of Zach Osborne just a bit off of the top riders for most of the series. Blake Wharton will be Blake Wharton; he will be fast, consistent and right there with that second tier, I believe. I am interested to see what Nico Izzi can do this year, back on one of the top bikes in the class he should be a threat to the top five at some point, in my opinion. This will be his chance to resurrect his career.
The Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Honda team will have Cole Seely and Jessy Nelson contesting the 250 AMA Motocross series for them. Cole missed the entire campaign last year, so this is his chance to show us what he can really do. Already Seely has proven to be a race winner in supercross; now he has to show everyone what he can do outdoors, as he has just one moto podium to his name at the moment. If last year is anything to go by, Jessy Nelson could be a threat to the riders battling around the top five this year. I do think that he will make a step up in regard to his results.
If there is one thing that you can take from this 250 class preview, it is that there are a large number of guys that are capable of (and expect to be) finishing inside of the top ten. Clearly, with everyone healthy at Hangtown some riders will be leaving disheartened; but that same rider could be near the top five the next week. That is the type of parity that we can look forward to this summer.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of KTM Images/Hoppenworld