Wednesday, January 5, 2011

AMA Supercross & Motocross Changes For 2011

The world of Motocross has been working overtime. Lots of off-season trades and acquisitions have made for the most interesting “silly season” we've ever seen! And with the opening round of the 2011 AMA Supercross tour only about a week away, there are still more changes to come.

1. The New KTM: Most silly season stories hinge on the riders, but KTM made the biggest splash for 2011 by hiring Team Manager Roger DeCoster away from Rockstar/Makita Suzuki. DeCoster helped build Suzuki’s motocross brand in the 1970s with five world championships as a rider, transitioned into a management role with Honda and created the powerhouse team of the 1980s, then returned to Suzuki in 1995 and landed championships with riders like Travis Pastrana, Greg Albertyn, Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment as manager was his latest: grooming little-known amateur Ryan Dungey into the 2010 AMA Motocross and Supercross Champion. In other words, wherever “The Man” goes, championships follow. KTM has spent decades trying to get to the next level in U.S. racing. Is this the edge they need?

2. The New Team Honda: Full house cleaning at Team Honda, Andrew Short and Davi Millsaps are out and Trey Canard and Josh Grant are in. The Canard signing was easy, as he landed on the podium consistently in 450 guest rides with the team last year, and won the AMA 250 Motocross Championship. Canard has also been on Honda’s 250 bikes since 2007. Grant’s signing was a bit of a surprise, but keep in mind he was raised on Hondas since his minicycle days, and he, like Canard, raced for the GEICO Powersports 250 Lites team. After two years on Yamahas, Grant is back on red. Honda rightfully sees a lot of potential for wins and titles in these two, but then again, they thought the same of Short and Millsaps five years ago.
Marvin Musquin will be racing in the United States for Supercross in 2011. He raced here last year, but only 1 race. Look for Marvin come January.

3. Short and Millsaps Move: Short is now at Red Bull KTM with DeCoster, which means he’ll probably race the new KTM 350SX against 450s in supercross — but expect him to switch to a 450 outdoors, since the 350 experiment did not go well for Mike Alessi this summer. Millsaps is making a major lifestyle change by joining the Muscle Milk/Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing team. He switched to Yamahas, and he moved to North Carolina to follow the JGR team concept. This could be just the change the talented-but-inconsistent Millsaps needs.

4. Age Change: The old rule is new again, and the young riders are eligible, again. The pro license age minimum is back at 16, reversing the plan to raise the age to 17 in 2010 and 18 in 2011. This may have an immediate impact, as the rejuvenated KTM squad has signed Germany’s 16-year-old das wunderkind Ken Roczen, and may dispatch him to a few U.S. races in a tryout for full-time work here in 2012. And the next generation of U.S. amateur kids can now focus on turning pro sooner.
Ben Townley will be taking his talents back to Europe for 2011 competing in the GP series.

5. BT (and others) to Europe: Ben Townley made a superb return to racing this summer, shrugging off two wasted years of injuries by grabbing podium finishes on a 450, and giving Ryan Dungey fits at times. Townley’s renaissance also included a moto win at the U.S.G.P. in California, where he beat FIM MX2 GP Champion Tony Cairolli straight-up in moto two. He also won a moto at the Motocross of Nations in September. That left European teams clamoring over him, while his U.S. marketability still lags since Ben doesn’t want to race supercross. In the end, the European offers were too much to pass up, so he returns to the continent where he claimed the 2004 MX2 Championship. Meanwhile, Englishmen Tommy Searle and Max Anstie are headed back to Europe, too, mainly because their spotty results over the last two years here left them without options. Who knows? You could see all three back in the U.S. in 2012.

6. Reverse Imports: Townley, Searle and Anstie may be leaving, but the U.S. scene gets a major star in Frenchman Marvin Musquin, the 2009 and 2010 MX2 GP Champ. As part of that DeCoster-managed Red Bull KTM squad, Musquin could deliver the 2011 AMA 250 Motocross title. And with Roczen in the wings for 2012, the orange team is looking for an orange crush on the comp.
Last season Chad Reed was on a Kawasaki, for 2011 he's shifting gears and starting a new venture into the race team realm. You can count on seeing Chad in Supercross racing Honda's.

7. Reed Goes it Alone: You know you’ve had a bad year when, 12 months after winning the AMA Pro Motocross Championship, you can’t find work. Such was the case or Chad Reed, who left his 2010 sponsors Kawasaki, Monster Energy and Thor, and spent the fall trying out different bikes and gear and talking to new teams. But deals could not be struck, leaving Reed to build his own squad under the TwoTwo Motorsports moniker. So we know Reed will be racing. But how well will this new venture work?

8. Metty to Suzuki: Meanwhile another Australian veteran has a ride. Brett Metcalfe’s strong 2010 AMA 450 MX performance (he finished second in the series to Ryan Dungey) garnered him a two-year contract with Rockstar/Makita Suzuki as Dungey’s teammate. Metty seemed like a natural fit on the 450, but Suzuki will have to fill the void left by DeCoster (they’ve tabbed long-time off-road team manager Mike Webb for the job). Nearly anyone who has ridden a RM-Z450 over the last few years has liked it, so Metty is pumped on his prospects.

9. Pourcel Goes Alone: Christophe Pourcel was a coveted free agent after winning back-to-back Supercross Lites titles and only narrowly missing the AMA 250MX Title the last two years. He expected top dollar from teams, and no one had the budget to match his wishes. Pourcel and his agent haven’t budged, and now there are rumors that he may sit the season out and try to command more in 2012. He may also be looking to build his own team with a French influence. Who better to try that strategy than the crafty Frenchman?

10. Dungey Gets Better: So many changes, but one thing stays the same: AMA Supercross and Motocross Champion Ryan Dungey will keep cranking out the practice laps, the training sessions and the motivation to win more, more and more. While many teams and riders have stepped up for the new year, they’ll all have to go through a champion who dedicates himself to getting better every single day. There's no doubt primary rivals like Jame Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Kevin Windham are all doing likewise, but Dungey is the one with the most on the line: defending his championships in both supercross and motocross!

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