Only a few hours remain until the gate drops on the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, with the FMF Hangtown Motocross Classic in Sacramento. The world’s best riders and teams have spent countless hours over the past two weeks, testing and dialing in their bikes for the toughest championship on the planet.
Over the course of 12 weekends this summer, riders in the premier 450 Class and highly-competitive 250 Class will do battle for 24 motos. Additionally, the world’s fastest women riders will go head-to-head for eight rounds in the Women’s Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing.
With a season-ending injury to reigning 450 Class Champion Ryan Villopoto, who rides for Monster Energy Kawasaki, the premier division title is up for grabs this summer. Additionally, injured TwoTwo Motorsports/Bel-Ray Honda rider Chad Reed leaves one less title contender in the field.
In their absence, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey and new Team Yoshimura Suzuki rider, James Stewart, assume the lead roles in the division. These two former champions know what it takes to win a title in the world’s most prestigious motocross championship, but they will be challenged by a talented field of former race winners and competitors eager to leave their mark on the series.
Monster Energy Kawasaki
With Villopoto on the sidelines, former World Motocross MX2 Champion, Tyla Rattray, will make the move into the 450 Class after three seasons in the 250 Class. Rattray is no stranger to winning in Lucas Oil Motocross and will look to take advantage of his valuable experience to become an instant challenger in the premier class.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to ride for Monster Energy Kawasaki in the 450 Class,” said Rattray. “I wanted to ride the KX450F outdoors and feel really comfortable on it already.”
Jake Weimer’s first season in the 450 Class in 2011 is sure to pay big dividends in his sophomore campaign. Unlike last season when he entered the championship coming off an injury, Weimer is at full-strength this summer and is prepared to take his shot at the title.
“I’m looking forward to Hangtown,” said Weimer. “I finished the Supercross season strong and look forward to being on the podium (at the Nationals) as well. The goal is to be there every weekend and battle up front.”
Red Bull KTM
This season, the Austrian-based KTM team signed 2010 Champion Ryan Dungey. The relationship has proven to be a fruitful one so far, with Dungey grabbing four victories in the AMA Supercross Championship. KTM’s success at the Nationals has been limited, having never won an overall, but Dungey has the tools to bring the brand into the forefront of the premier class and add to the history he’s already made for the team this season.
“I’m looking forward to getting the (motocross) season started,” said Dungey. “I’m in a good place on the new KTM, and the team and I have laid down a lot of laps in recent weeks testing. It’s great to be back working with Roger (DeCoster) again. I have total confidence in the team he has assembled and the new KTM 450SX-F as we prepare for the season opener this weekend at Hangtown.”
Team Yoshimura Suzuki
James Stewart’s move to Suzuki has been the biggest news coming into the 2012 season, and will likely remain the most prominent storyline throughout the season. Stewart has not raced full time in Lucas Oil Motocross since his championship-winning season in 2008, when he joined Ricky Carmichael as the only other rider in history to amass a perfect season, winning all 24 motos. What the effect of Stewart’s time away from the series will have on his speed and stamina remains to be seen, but with such impressive accolades, he is widely considered to be a title threat.
“I’m really looking forward to joining the team,” said Stewart. “I’m very excited. I love the bike. Ever since I rode it from day one, I knew it was a great opportunity for me to come out and showcase my talent.”
Brett Metcalfe will compete alongside Stewart at the Suzuki rig. Following a breakthrough motocross season one year ago in which he was able to grab his first career victory on U.S. soil, Metcalfe is poised to be one of the biggest threats to Dungey and Stewart. While he experienced some ups and downs during the AMA Supercross season, Metcalfe is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to race the Nationals and potentially even learn from his successful new teammate.
Team Honda Muscle Milk
American Honda’s efforts in the 450 Class this season will be anchored by Justin Brayton, who has already established a breakthrough season thanks to a strong effort in the AMA Supercross Championship. With Trey Canard out for the year with an injury, Brayton has stepped up and now enters Lucas Oil Motocross with a lot of momentum. Brayton is a former moto winner in the 450 Class, and will look to grab that elusive first career win this summer.
Tommy Hahn will step in as a substitute for the 2012 season. Like Brayton, Hahn has tasted victory in the 450 Class, coincidentally taking the overall win at the very same race that Brayton won his lone moto, back at Steel City during the 2009 championship. Hahn has been recovering from a broken leg for most of 2012, but he’s ready to get back out on the track and take advantage of the opportunity before him.
Davi Millsaps is coming off the best AMA Supercross season of his career, finishing second in the championship, and now he enters Lucas Oil Motocross with considerable momentum and confidence. The Joe Gibbs Racing team hasn’t seen the success it had hoped for in 2012, but Millsaps has proven to be a bright spot. JGRMX is entering its fifth season at the Nationals and Millsaps will look to add to the team’s one overall victory over that span.
Joe Gibbs Racing announced just prior to the season that Kyle Regal will campaign the summer as its second rider. Regal has proven to be an impressive motocross rider over the past few seasons, with overall podium finishes to his credit. Now, with the best opportunity of his young career ahead of him, Regal will look to build on that success.
Mike Alessi has been one of Lucas Oil Motocross’ most consistent threats since his runner-up finish in the 2007 premier class championship. This year, Alessi enters the Nationals aboard the same bike on which he achieved some of his greatest success – a Suzuki. Alessi will campaign the summer for the well-respected MotoConcepts team and while he may not be riding a factory bike, he is sure to be a regular at the front of the field.
Team Chaparral Honda
After a year away from the brand he has identified with for most of his 450 Class career, veteran rider Andrew Short is back aboard a Honda for the 2012 season. Short is the lone rider for the new L&Mc Racing team run by a couple of the sport’s most prominent figures – Larry Brooks and Jeremy McGrath. Short has already given the team a taste of victory in 2012, grabbing his first career AMA Supercross victory just about a month ago. As arguably the most consistent rider in the premier class over the past five seasons, Short will be looking to give his team even more success this summer.
Jeff Ward Racing Kawasaki
Former champion Jeff Ward has also ventured down the path of team ownership this season. Experienced riders Josh Grant and Kyle Chisholm will lead the way for the up-and-coming team, and both riders look to be challengers in the 450 Class this season. Grant is a former overall winner in the premier class and has also had some strong rides aboard his JWR machine during the AMA Supercross season. As for Chisholm, he has been a fixture in the top 10 in the 450 Class for the past few seasons and will be looking to take a step forward this summer.
Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki
Dean Wilson enters the 2012 season as the first rider in four years to defend his 250 Class title. While he is entering the Nationals on the mend with a lingering shoulder injury, Wilson is not going to let it slow him down or prevent him to wearing the coveted No. 1 plate all season long. As the champion, all eyes will be on Wilson throughout the season as a very talented field of riders look to unseat him from his position atop the 250 Class.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” said Wilson. “I’m confident in myself and my team and we’re ready to rock the number one.”
Last season, Blake Baggett was one of the 250 Class’ breakthrough stars, garnering more overall wins than any other rider in Lucas Oil Motocross, in either division. While consistency ultimately hindered Baggett’s chance at the title, he has a full year of experience under his belt and will likely be one of his teammate’s most formidable challengers this season.
“I’ve been counting down to Hangtown for a while now,” said Baggett. “(Motocross) is where I strive, so my expectations are to be on the box and take it from there.”
In one of the most interesting moves of the season, former 250 Class champion Ivan Tedesco is making his return to the division. The 2005 title winner has not competed full time at the Nationals since the 2009 season, when he broke through for his first career win in the 450 Class. He sees the chance to race for the very same team he won his championship with as an opportunity too good to pass up and will no doubt be a rider many will have their eyes on this summer.
Perhaps no team in the series has more momentum coming into the 2012 season than GEICO Honda. After sweeping the AMA Supercross Lites Regional titles this season, the team has two of the 250 Class’ hottest riders in Justin Barcia and Eli Tomac, and it is ready for the Nationals.
Barcia is entering his final season in the division and while his success in Lucas Oil Motocross has been mixed, he has shown tremendous growth this year. He gained valuable experience as a part-time competitor in the 450 Class last season and will no doubt look to use it to his advantage this summer.
“I’m looking forward to it definitely,” said Barcia. “I’m glad to be completely healthy going into (the) motocross season because that hasn’t happened in a while. Myself and the rest of the team had such a good year in Supercross and we want to be able to back it up during the (Nationals). We want to show everyone that we’re all-around riders.”
Tomac knows how to win in Lucas Oil Motocross, making history two seasons ago by becoming the first rider in history to win his professional debut. While he didn’t have the season he had hoped for last summer, Tomac has also shown considerable growth as a rider.
“I’m very much looking forward to Hangtown,” said Tomac. “I got a win there in 2010 in my first race as a pro. Last year wasn’t as good, but it was still a fourth-place finish. I think after the success the team had in Supercross, we’re all going to be dialed in right from the start. It’s going to be a really fun (motocross) season.”
Justin Bogle burst onto the Lucas Oil Motocross scene in the late stages of the 2011 season. While 2012 will officially be his rookie season, Bogle has already gone head-to-head against the best riders in the 250 Class and believes he can challenge for the podium consistently.
Wil Hahn rounds out a talented group of riders at GEICO Honda. While he has had to battle through some injuries this season, Hahn is back at full health and ready take on the Nationals with a team that is on the rise.
Red Bull KTM
The world-champion tandem of Marvin Musquin and Ken Roczen make KTM a major threat this season in the 250 Class. Between them, this duo has captured the last three World Motocross MX2 Championships and both riders are looking to achieve the same success on U.S. soil.
Musquin enters his second Lucas Oil Motocross season and prior to an injury last summer, he looked to be a contender. While he doesn’t have as much experience as he would have hoped coming into a second season, Musquin knows how to run at the front of the field.
“There are a lot of good riders here in the U.S., so I don’t expect the 250 Class Championship to be at all easy,” said Musquin. “However, I’ve had a lot of success racing motocross home in Europe and won two world titles prior to coming to America last year, so I will draw on that experience to perform my best each week.”
As the youngest rider in all of the series, Roczen will generate a lot of attention. He has shown incredible speed for such a young age, but he has never gone head-to-head with the world’s best 250 Class riders in Lucas Oil Motocross. His rookie season will be one to watch as he aims to claim a World Championship and National Championship, back-to-back.
“I’m super excited for the motocross season,” said Roczen. “I think this will be my series to shine in because I love (the) racing. The longer, sweeping tracks are more my style and I love going fast. Supercross has tight tracks with big jumps, whereas motocross tracks are longer and faster. After winning the World Championship in Europe last year, I made the move to America to race fulltime so this will be my first season racing motocross in the U.S. I’m really excited and think I will do well in the 250 Class.”
Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki
So far, the 2012 season has shown a surge in competitiveness for the Rockstar Suzuki team. With perennial front-runner Blake Wharton leading the way, this team is looking for big things this summer.
Wharton missed the 2011 season due to injury, but the year off has proven to be beneficial. Wharton took a win during the AMA Supercross season and is no doubt looking for similar success at the Nationals.
Veteran Martin Davalos picked up the pace towards the end of his AMA Supercross campaign and is looking to carry it into a strong summer. While he’s still searching for his first career win, Davalos knows better than anyone on the team how to run up front and will look to show that.
Following a rookie season where he learned the highs and lows of the sport, sophomore rider Jason Anderson possesses a much greater confidence this season, and it’s showed. Anderson is looking to turn some heads in 2012 and could be one of the riders to watch this season.
Hunter Hewitt has also experienced some strong results this season, taking advantage of the experience and success of his teammates to improve his confidence as well. He’s in the midst of one of his best years and hopes it will continue into the summer.
Veteran rider Kyle Cunningham will carry the flag for the Star/Valli Yamaha team in the 250 Class this summer. Cunningham grabbed solid results last season and while he hasn’t had the season he’d hoped for to this point in 2012, he’ll look to turn things around at the Nationals.
Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil Honda
The Troy Lee Designs team has been hit hard by injuries coming into the 2012 season and as a result, will enlist the services of veteran rider Billy Laninovich to get the ball rolling this summer. Laninovich has the experience to run up front and will look to carry the flag high for the team.
The Women’s Motocross Championship is shaping up to once again be a showdown between rivals Ashley Fiolek and Jessica Patterson. Fiolek captured her third title in four years last summer and will carry the No. 1 plate for Team Honda Muscle Milk. Fiolek, no doubt, has what it takes to win, but she will be forced to defend her crown against a determined Patterson, who joins the Rockstar Energy Racing Suzuki team this season.
Also looking to challenge this duo is fellow veteran Tarah Gieger, who will once again compete for Troy Lee Designs/Lucas Oil Honda, along with Team Honda Muscle Milk’s newest rider Sayaka Kaneshiro. Additionally, stalwarts like Mariana Balbi, Jacqueline Strong and Vicki Golden will also be in the mix.