In the lead-up to the 2014 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season opener, the 450SX class has received a lot of the attention, and deservedly so, it is the premier division, after all. But, as a result, the 250SX West class is a little under the radar going into Anaheim 1. Perhaps this is because most of the teams do not reveal what riders they will have on the west coast until the last minute? This does make it relatively hard to build the hype. Although some lineups may still change, here is a look at the riders that will be battling for the 250SX West Region title.
The Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki squad are notorious for not revealing who they are going to have on either coast until the last minute; they actually started the trend, and prompted other teams to follow suit. Anyway, we have finally received some information for Mitch Payton; Dean Wilson, Justin Hill and Darryn Durham will represent him on the west. Personally, I think that Dean is heading into Anaheim 1 as the heavy favourite for the title. After all, he is going to be the most successful supercross rider (based on what he has achieved thus far) on the west coast. But, of course, Wilson has had a string of injuries, which has left me skeptical about how he will perform. Overall, he has not gotten too much race time under his belt in the last two years, which is worrying.
However, Dean has recently started working with Ryan Hughes, which has seemed to help him both physically and mentally. It seems like he is enjoying his riding (as he always does), and he is going into the season with a positive frame of mind, which could make him very dangerous. Wilson does need to stay healthy first, before he can think about the title, as that has proven to be his kryptonite.
Honestly, Darryn Durham is entering Angel Stadium as a bit of unknown. Of course, we all know that he is fast and capable, but he has not raced a supercross since the penultimate round back in 2012! However, he did actually win that race, against a stacked class too! I expect that it will take Darryn a couple of rounds to get back up to speed, because it has been so long since he last raced inside a stadium. But, would I be surprised if he wins a main event or two? No, I wouldn’t.
I believe that a lot of people are underestimating Justin Hill, and understandably so. After all, his rookie season was not the best (but it was by no means bad). However, according to various reports and from what I have seen, it looks like the younger Hill brother has really stepped it up this off-season. Obviously, we do not know how that is going to translate to a race situation, but it all seems quite promising. Most people will be looking for Justin to get onto the podium at some point. But, I would not be surprised if he ends up winning a main event. Of course, all of the pieces would have to fall into place for this to happen, but I am not ruling it out.
Zach Osborne should be in contention for the title. After all, he is the number one rider on the Geico Honda 250f team now, so that is expected of him. Honestly, his supercross season last year was really quite poor (by his standards), so it will be interesting to see how much he has improved in the last year. Everything is in place for Osborne to succeed, so if he is not challenging for wins each week, it would be pretty disastrous. Zach Bell will join Osborne beneath the Geico Honda awning over on the west coast; Bell certainly has the speed to do some damage. However, no one expects anything from him, because he is known to crash big more often than not. So, he first needs to get through without banging himself up, before we start discussing what kind of results he can achieve.
Some riders are entering the season very under the radar, but Jason Anderson is on the other end of the spectrum – there is a lot of hype surrounding him. Everyone expects him to win multiple races, and maybe even the title. Obviously, he won Salt Lake City last year, which definitely ignited this hype. Undoubtedly, that win will have boosted his confidence coming into this year – he will enter Anaheim 1 with a completely different frame of mind. But, in my honest opinion, I doubt that he will win the title. In the past, he has been very inconsistent (he has failed to qualify for some mains), so he will first have to sort that issue out.
The full Troy Lee Designs Lucas Oil Honda team are committed to the 250SX West class, as usual, which means that we will see Cole Seely, Malcolm Stewart, Shane McElrath and Jessy Nelson on the line at A1. Obviously, their title hopes are resting on Cole. I believe that they have a good shot at the crown with him. Although he has failed to stay in title contention for the whole series in the past, I think he will turn it around this year, and be a threat for the championship. If you look at his competition, you have to presume that Seely is coming in believing that he can do it, which could give him an extra boost.
In regard to his teammates, I think they will each have some flashes of brilliance at different points. Malcolm Stewart will surely be his usual inconsistent self, I do not see that changing. But, he will also be a podium guy on some weekends – you never know with Mookie. I am definitely a believer that in the future, Jessy Nelson can be in a similar position to what Cole is now. However, seeing as it is only his second year, he will still have some learning to do. In my opinion, he could grab a podium position at some rounds, but looking at the big picture, he will probably be right on the cusp of the top five more often than not. Shane McElrath is obviously an unknown in his first supercross season, but honestly, I do not foresee him doing much, as he failed to impress in a brief stint with the team at the end of last year.
In my opinion, the sky is the ceiling for Cooper Webb. I honestly believe that he is going to be one of the rookie success stories, as he seems to have transitioned into supercross quite well. Cooper has been racing in some unique supercross events throughout the off-season, which was a great decision, I believe, as he now has more of an idea what to expect at Anaheim 1. I do not know if Webb will end up being a contender for the title this year, but I honestly would not be shocked if he won A1.
After taking part in a lot of pre-season bench racing in recent months, it seems that some people have very high expectations for Dean Ferris this year. However, I am of the opinion that he is going to find the going tough in his first full supercross season. Obviously, the situation is not ideal, as he has not had the full off-season to prepare, which is unfortunate. Whereas some people are predicting that Ferris will finish on the podium, I believe that he will finish at the bottom of the top ten more often than not, which certainly would not be bad in his first year.
Overall, the riders above should be the main protagonists in the 250SX West class this year, however there are always some guys that pop up and surprise a few people. I think that Michael Leib, Jake Canada and Valentin Teillet will be ones to watch at different points this year, as they could certainly get in there and mix it up. Canada specifically was a top-five guy not too long ago, whether he can get back to that remains to be seen. Leib should be a consistent threat to the riders in the top five too, as he proved that he has the speed before he got injured last year. I do not foresee Valentin posting too many great results, but his pace will force some to sit up and take notice. However, as usual, crashes and injuries may hinder him.
So, there you have it, a look at the 250SX West class ahead of the Anaheim 1 season opener this Saturday. Like the premier division, this class is pretty wide open – anything could happen! I am sure that a lot of the riders above will surprise and shock a few people, which always makes for interesting racing.
Words: Lewis Phillips
Image: Suzuki Racing