Sizing up the 450 Supercross Class of '17 9
At the risk of dropping a few rumors and secrets, or potentially bruising a few egos, let's take a tour through a big batch of the 450 class riders ahead of the start of the new Supercross season.
No one wants to see a rider go down with an injury, and we always sit in the annual press conference at A1 and wonder which riders will make it through to the end of the series unscathed. But you almost have to wonder if Ryan Dungey's injury last summer during the Nationals provided some time off that might make him even better than he was before. That's a scary prospect, considering he's won the last two titles with a healthy mix of speed and consistency. The number one plate is his until someone takes it away, and as of now, he has a batch of riders hungry to do that.
Cooper Webb is a bit of a question mark. He had some great 450 rides in '15, but he missed last Fall's Monster Energy Cup, and we haven't seen enough of him in action to get a gauge of where he might fit in. One thing we do know, is that he's definitely a racer. When the gate drops, he's going to bring what he's got.
We should see a different Eli Tomac in '17 versus the one that lined up in '16. According to the team, he's already put in triple the number of laps that he did in the run-up to last year's season-opener. But most of all, they seem to have settled on a package that he likes, he trusts the team more, and they've figured out how to work with him.
Blake Baggett has been camped out at his El Chupacabra Ranch, and put in some good work getting ready for his sophomore season in the 450s. Judging by this shot, we'd say that he's settled in nicely on his KTM. (Even friends of his expressed amazement at how he was throwing the bike around.) The team has dialed in a new sponsor with Rocky Mountain ATV/MC, and they're also putting the finishing touches on a replacement for the trailer that suffered lots of heat and smoke damage at Unadilla last summer.
What's James Stewart doing in here? While it's true that there's not a whole lot of info coming from the Stewart camp, one rumor we heard recently has him returning to action aboard privately fielded Suzukis as early as the Oakland round. Looking at the shot above, it's hard to not miss that kind of style on the track.
Justin Brayton will be the only rider under the Smartop MotoConcepts Racing rig aboard the new '17 Honda, and he was already pretty happy with his setup on the first day that he rode it. He's now a full-time Supercross guy, and will alternate between the U.S. series, and going back to Australia to defend his title down there.
Until a short while ago, Jake Weimer was on the outside looking in. But with Justin Barcia unable to race due to a wrist injury, he made for an easy fill-in candidate. He was used to the Suzukis, and didn't have anything that prevented him from filling in for a short handful of rounds. Bring the heat, Jake.
Cole Seely looked good at the Monster Energy Cup, and has had a pretty quiet off-season. While he's often quiet and laid-back enough that he's sometimes easy to overlook off the track, he should be really good on it this season.
We may have seen Dean Wilson do more laps at public tracks than just about anyone. He was a frequent visitor to both Milestone and Elsinore, which are not nearly as buffed-out as some of the factory tracks. Can that pay off? We'll see him do a handful of rounds before the circus heads east. Hopefully he can stay healthy and turn in some head-turning results.
We shot the photo of Davi Millsaps above as part of the the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC team shoot. Davi asked GuyB what he wanted him to do. GuyB replied by asking what kind of poster he wanted to be signing all season long. Davi's reply? "It doesn't matter. No matter what you shoot it won't be the worst poster I've had. Heck, some of my posters weren't even me in the photo." We can't wait to see what kind of speed he has this season, particularly as we go to timed mains that will make for longer races in many of the football stadiums.
Justin Bogle will make up half of the RCH/Yoshimura/Suzuki team. Yeah, the health of the team was the object of rampant speculation in the months leading up to the season, but with the demise of the Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing team, Justin (above), and Broc (below) were always in the mix as the riders.
This shot was taken before Broc Tickle changed up his gear sponsor to Vexea. He was impressive last year before going out with injury, and there's no reason to think that he can't continue on this year. Early in the season (when everyone is healthy), there are a bunch of guys who will mix it up from probably fifth to 15th...and he could land anywhere in that range...or be on the opposite end of it the following week. That's not a knock on Broc, the talent is just that deep.
Jason Anderson took the win at Anaheim last year, and has plenty of speed. Don't count him out on any given weekend.
Chad Reed is on our list of guys who could win a race...or two. We know he's hungry for another win at Anaheim.
At the beginning of last year, Marvin Musquin was new to the 450 class, and looked a bit timid. No more. He's fully settled onto the big bikes, and we wouldn't be at all surprised to see him win races this season.
Josh Grant has a couple rebuilt ankles, and is feeling like he can actually compete for the first time in a while. What caused some of his ankle problems? Back when he was riding for GEICO Honda, part of the team deal was to wear No Fear boots, which he said were less than stellar.
Weston Peick is happy to be back aboard Suzukis, where he found a lot of privateer success. He had some really good whoop speed on this day.
What's Fredrik Noren doing in here? Yes, he's doing the 250 East, but he's also riding his 250 out west...in the 450 class.
Trey Canard missed the Monster Energy Cup, but looked good at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. We haven't seen him making too many turns yet on the KTM, but we're hoping that he can get back some of his mojo on the move to orange.
Malcolm Stewart got a call about filling in for Justin Barcia at JGR, but opted to stick with his own Suzuki deal, rather than make a switch for just four races.
A snapped chain left Justin Barcia with a wrist injury. The lunate bone that Justin injured wasn't damaged in a way that could be surgically repaired, so for the second year in a row, he's out early. He's continuing his training, and we'll see him back in a few weeks, once it's healed up.
Vince Friese is back as part of the bigger-than-ever Smartop MotoConcepts Racing crew, and he's familiar with the team, and the bikes (they're riding much the same equipment as last year).
Jimmy Albertson is mostly free from the burden of running a team (it's a lot more manageable when he's the only rider, unlike last year with the Motorcycle Superstore squad), and he's got Robbie Reynard on his side for coaching and training advice. The time we saw him ride recently, we'd say the jump back to the 450 class suits him, and he looked much better than we've seen him ride in a while.
Nick Schmidt is one of those privateers that could put his Suzuki in the main event, even early in the season.
With his brother, Wil, now retired, Tommy will be the lone Hahn on the track.
Ken Roczen has his swagger, and plenty of confidence coming into 2017. The only question is, does he have the consistency that's been lacking the last few seasons? He sure seems to mesh with the Honda, and barring a surprise get-off (like at the Monster Energy Cup), he could be the guy who dethrones Ryan Dungey from the top spot.
Will this be the last time around for Mike Alessi? We'll see.
That's it from our perspective. Do you agree? Disagree? You've got the comment section below to let us know. Now it's up to the riders to prove us right...or wrong.