It is always refreshing when the riders transition from the stadiums of Monster Energy AMA Supercross into the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross series; the points are reset to zero and we have an all-new title fight on our hands! Admittedly, last year there was a shortage of action in the 450 class due to the influx of injuries. Perhaps that is why there is so much excitement surrounding the series this year? We are going to get to witness the twelve round fight that we were robbed of last year!
So just how good does the title fight promise to be this year? Well, last year there were only two title contenders at round one; whereas there will be six riders that will be looking to be in title contention on the starting line at Hangtown this weekend. If that number is anything to go by, the excitement up front should be tripled this season! I am sure of one thing; Ryan Dungey will not go on a ten-race win streak like he did last year.
Where do we start with this class? Obviously Ryan Dungey is going into the season as one of the heavy favourites for the title; the fact that Dungey currently holds the number one plate immediately catapults him to the forefront on the list of title contenders. But in my mind he is not the clear favourite; there really is not too much to separate the defending champ, and Ryan Villopoto. Ryan Dungey is definitely sitting in the best position of all of the title contenders. I do believe that he will be tough to beat this weekend, because of this. Of course Dungey can call on his experience from 2012 (setup and fitness etc), whereas RV missed the entire series last year.
Ryan Villopoto was in a similar position at this point in 2011, as he had missed the series the year before. Of course, we all know how that title fight ended up working out for him. But at the beginning of the season he was really struggling. Evidently, this was a direct result of him missing the series the year before; will he avoid these types of issues this year? Right now he is probably in the best shape that he has ever been, and he is obviously more experienced. It is unlikely that he will struggle at the beginning of the year like he did back in 2011, however it may take him a round or two to get comfortable and up to speed.
If I had to bet on either one, I would take Ryan Villopoto. In my opinion he has just a little bit more raw speed than Dungey, which will help him a lot this year (especially with the number of title contenders). Although Dungey is renowned for his consistency, RV is not exactly a rider that crashes out of every other moto. Villopoto knows how to win a championship, and so does Dungey; hence why we are going to witness a titanic battle for the 450 title.
What about James Stewart? I could use up a lot of words discussing his title chances; but I’ll keep it reasonably short. I do believe his title chances are slim, very slim. I’m not saying that he is not fast enough; James Stewart can (and will) win races. But, he will crash out as well; I think that both of these factors are almost inevitable. Although this combination will end up with a lot of speculation and publicity, it just is not going to get him a title against riders like Villopoto and Dungey that are extremely consistent.
Chad Reed is a question mark; it is not too often that you hear that, is it? Chad is coming off of his worst supercross season in quite sometime, and he is battling a knee injury. But, back in 2011 most doubted his skill-set; however he came out and dominated early on. Honestly, I’m not of the belief that the Australian will do that again; however, I would not be shocked to see him come out and improve on those results that he garnered in supercross. I am not too sure that he will win too many races, however he will be on podium a lot.
The Muscle Milk Honda duo of Justin Barcia and Trey Canard will be a force to be reckoned with. However, I do not foresee either rider being in title contention at the end of the year. Astonishingly Trey Canard has only contested two 450MX Nationals in his career; therefore he does not have too much experience to call on. Effectively, both riders are rookies in this class. I believe that it will take them a few rounds to get used to the series, because of this. In my opinion, Trey Canard will not win a race this year. However he will be on the podium at a handful of rounds; remember when Canard returned from a femur injury in 2011, and jumped up onto the podium immediately in his first 450MX National?
Although this is the first time that Justin Barcia has contested the full series, he did fill-in on a factory Honda back in 2011. So, Justin does know what to expect a little bit. I do not think that he will mix it up with Villopoto and Dungey too much. However, he is a great starter; if he starts at the front, I think that he can stay there. Hence why, I believe that he will grab a few moto wins towards the end of the year and maybe an overall win if everything goes his way.
It seems that everyone is forgetting about Dean Wilson, as he is preparing to venture up into the 450 class for the first time. It is no secret that the Scotsman has wanted to move up for a while now; he will finally make the full-time move at Hangtown on Saturday. But, there are a few factors that are going against him. Obviously he is coming off of another injury, so it may take him a handful of weeks to get comfortable in a race environment. Wilson didn’t contest the series last year because of injury also, which may also be a reason why he struggles early on. However, it does seem that most forget just how good he was in his title-winning year of 2011; if he can recapture that form he may snatch a moto win.
If there is one rider that is desperately waiting for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals season to start, it is Mike Alessi. Mike is truly an outdoor specialist; he is only really considered a threat when the gates drop at Hangtown. In my mind there is no doubt that Mike will go into round one prepared. In fact, he missed the final couple of rounds of AMA Supercross to prepare for Hangtown and to “test some new technology”. Will he win the title? No. Will Mike Alessi win an overall? In my opinion, he will not. But, he will be mixing it up at the front at all rounds.
All of the riders mentioned above should be in a position to battle for podiums and victories during the season; however there will be a whole group of riders that are on the cusp of the top six, if everyone stays healthy. Jake Weimer will occasionally break into that lead group; I would be surprised to see him up on the podium though. Tyla Rattray may be a spoiler, also. However he struggled last season; therefore I do not really know what to expect from him. I expect to see Andrew Short, Justin Brayton, Josh Grant, Broc Tickle, Ryan Sipes and Malcolm Stewart up front also; as well as Matt Goerke when he returns from injury. Riders like Jimmy Albertson, Chris Blose and Phil Nicoletti will be attempting to breakthrough as well.
Evidently the 450 class in the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals is stacked with talent. Rarely are we in a situation where we just don’t know who will win. In fact it is almost impossible to predict who will be standing on the podium at Hangtown this weekend. However all of these questions will be answered this weekend, as the series fires into life.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of KTM Images/Hoppenworld