They lined all together on a double stage, the thirteen fastest 450SX riders in the world—at least the ones they thought were fastest prior to the start of the 2016 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season. In the front row were a mix of brands and outsized personalities: HRC Honda’s Cole Seely, Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/RCH Racing Suzuki’s Ken Roczen, Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey, Monster Energy/360fly/Chaparral/Yamaha’s Chad Reed, and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac. In the back were Davi Millsaps, Marvin Musquin, Justin Bogle, Justin Barcia, Jason Anderson, Christophe Pourcel and Trey Canard. The hope was that maybe half of them would vie for the title, and all of them would challenge for race wins.
Now, six weeks later, as we end the “California season” of west coast races, what we got was much different than what most of us were probably expecting. First out was Stewart, his return to racing torpedoed by a first-night collision that left him concussed on the sidelines, not yet to be able to return with the comfort level he needs to ride a motorcycle the way he does.
AutoTrader.com/Monster Energy/JGR Yamaha’s Justin Barcia was next out, though his injury—a torn ligament in his thumb—came before the Anaheim opener (and not even on a motorcycle). Barcia rode two races before heading in for surgery, unable to hold on to his #51 YZ450F.
Pourcel has always been the biggest question, and his lack of any type of race speed is confusing, considering how fast he rides in timed training. He has yet to crack the top ten.
GEICO Honda’s Bogle banged himself up at the second round in San Diego and missed the next three weeks. His best finish to date has been a thirteenth.
HRC Honda’s Canard got injured when another ride came down on his hand, continuing an ugly streak that has robbed this true contender of more races and title shots than he probably cares to remember.
Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin has been improving after a mediocre start, and he has a podium finish, but he’s not riding as fast or as aggressive as he was while on the 250—as his first 450 campaign was limited early due to off-season wrist surgery.
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Jason Anderson came out very strong and has stayed strong, though he’s yet to earn a podium finish since that opener (not counting the two spots he was docked at San Diego for jumping on medical flags).
It took Roczen two races to reach the podium. He has a win now too—his first since last January—and is showing signs of getting his mojo going again.
Chad Reed had everyone talking early about getting some wins, but his level has tapered off in the past few weeks. The very public battle some of his team’s sponsors are having can’t have a settling effect on his racing. Hopefully, once that cools down, he will speed back up.
Seely had a couple of very good weeks before slipping back, and then last weekend had an excellent ride at the second San Diego to finish second.
Millsaps has been fast on his BTOSports.com KTM, though he’s actually being out-pointed by his teammate Justin Brayton, who wasn’t up on the stage for that first presser. Millsaps has been quick, Brayton consistent.
Monster Energy Kawasaki is counting on Eli Tomac to get them back to where they were before Ryan Villopoto decided to take his talents to Europe. He has yet to win, and he’s only been on the podium once.
That accounts for everyone on the stage at the Anaheim 1 press conference—everyone but the man out front. Ryan Dungey, the defending champion, has been on the box at all six races—winning four of them and opening a 26-point lead on the field. He could literally not qualify in Arlington this weekend and still be in the points lead. Who would have thought when this season started—and all of those guys were up on stage—that Dungey would be running away with this after six races? He’s better than he’s ever been, and he’s usually a fast finisher. In other words, the next six weeks might get ugly if someone doesn’t get something going.
It’s a pleasure to cover Dungey—he’s the consummate champion—but watching him dominate is something no one expected, least of all those other twelve guys on the main stage at the Anaheim preseason presser.