Earlier in the week, Jason Weigandt chronicled the brewing Ryan Dungey and James Stewart battle in Racer X ReduX, and yesterday, Aaron Hansel covered the riders who are looking to challenge them in Going for the W. Today, we look at the 450 Wild Cards, riders with the ability to run at the front, but a few question marks heading into the new season.
Josh Grant’s talent has never been in question. He’s a proven winner and has confidence in himself, to boot. That’s a great package, but injuries have grounded the former factory Honda rider. Missing all but three rounds in 2011, his lone season with factory Honda, Grant looks to get back to his 2009-10 form where he finished sixth and seventh in points, respectfully, and was a threat to win motos. If Grant can stay healthy, which is a big “if”, he has the potential to be a podium contender.
What to Watch For: Grant has bounced back from injuries to find his old speed before, but he’s had some exceptionally long layoffs lately.
Grant's got the speed, but can he stay healthy?
Simon Cudby photo
After beginning the season pitting out of a van, Hahn will make the transition to Honda Muscle Milk for the Nationals. This season could mark a make or break season for Hahn. Under one of the best teams in motocross history, top-tens are no longer the ceiling. Honda may have tempered expectations for Hahn on the outside, but on the inside, teams such as factory Honda don’t invest in riders unless they think (expect) they can succeed at the highest level. After up and down years in ’10-11 Hahn is expecting to return to his ’09 form where he captured his first, and only, overall win at Steel City.
What to Watch For: Hahn rode for factory Honda in the Lites class a few years ago, but his best success came on satellite teams. He has great skills outdoors, but can he shrug off the pressure?
Ryan Sipes returns to the 450 class for the first time since an eighth overall in 2010. Considered by some to be a better fit on the 450, Sipes could be a real threat to make a run at the top five. But health could be a concern. A bizarre parade lap crash with Jason Anderson in Salt Lake City left Sipes with a broken hand that had to have plates and screws inserted.
Like Hahn, Kyle Regal enters the 2012 Lucas Oil Motocross Championship with the best motocross ride in his career to date. Regal showed promise during his rookie campaign in ’09 and then really had a breakout season the following year where he rode a privateer Honda to his first career podium. Signed to an SX only contract last season with San Manuel Yamaha, Regal’s 2011 season didn’t get started until Unadilla—after signing with BTOSports/Butler Brothers Suzuki. Although he started only four rounds Regal managed to climb to 21st in points. Having to make the quick adjustment to the Yamaha may hinder Regal early, but down the stretch Regal could make the leap into the contender category.
What to Watch For: Regal has shown top-five speed and strength outdoors as a privateer, but no one knows how much better he can do on a factory-level team. How high is his ceiling?
Michael Byrne is no longer the hot young prospect that has fans drooling like a dog in heat. He is now the wily veteran of a class stacked with young talent. Titles are no longer in the realm of possibility for Byrne, epically after coming off a neck injury that sidelined him for the entire 2012 Supercross season. But look for Byrne to use his veteran fortitude and grit to consistently battle for top tens.
What to Watch For: Missing all of supercross with a serious injury is a big deal, but Byrner has dealt with this before. But are all the years and all the injuries going to catch up to him?
In 2011, Top Jimmy returned to the States after a one-year stint in Europe. Consistency proved to be Albertson’s calling last year, as the Oklahoma native finished outside the top twelve only seven times in sixteen motos. A full season with the same team will prove beneficial for Albee after having to make a quick transition to Valli Yamaha last year. If Albertson can match his 2009 season, his last full season outdoors, in which he finished 10th in points 2012 will be deemed a success.
What to Watch For: Supercross didn’t go the way Jimmy hoped, but he’s better outdoors and has never had the luxury of staying with one team and program for this long.
After a breakout season in 2010, finishing sixth in points (a career high), Kyle Chisholm’s 2011 season was hampered due to a magnitude of injuries. Fitness could be a concern early, as Chisholm has been dealing with some nagging injuries. But expect more of a 2010 season from Chisholm rather than what was a disastrous 2011.
What to Watch For: Kyle has been racing through some bumps and bruises, did skipping Vegas give him enough time to be fit again?
After cutting his teeth on the 450 during Supercross, 2012 will mark Nico Izzi’s first full season in the 450 class. During his brief stint in the premiere class outdoors last year, Izzi showed he can be a top ten contender with a seventh in moto 1 at the season finale at Pala. Izzi seems to have regained his focus in 2012, after a few rough seasons on and off the track, which could point to a breakthrough year for the former factory Suzuki rider. Podiums may be a stretch, but top tens won’t be.
What to Watch For: Izzi’s speed is never in question, but he had a tough time completing 20 clean laps on a 450 in supercross. Can he find consistency in even longer races outdoors?
After weeks of speculation on whether he would be riding the 250 or 450 outdoors, after Tyla Rattray was tabbed to fill-in for Ryan Villopoto, it has been announced that Broc Tickle will make his 450 outdoor debut at Hangtown riding for the Pro Circuit team, just like he did in supercross. Tickle had more downs than ups last year in his first full season with Pro Circuit outdoors, but still finished seventh in points.
What to Watch For: After a slow start to his 450 rookie season, Tickle really began to turn his season around down the stretch. Can he carry that momentum with him outdoors?