Written by Nick Thiel
Here at the opening round of the Pro Motocross series at Hangtown, the pits are abuzz with the likes of James Stewart making his return to the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship aboard a brand new motorcycle. He will be lining up on Saturday aboard his Yoshimura Suzuki and has said that he’s "ready to race for the win." James also added that he couldn’t remember when he had ever been so comfortable aboard a motorcycle.
Of course this is all great, but James hasn’t contested the series in years, so the question is, "is he up for the challenge?" He took the ultimate gamble on himself. Leaving Joe Gibbs racing and his multi-million dollar deal, he had to practically ride for nothing this summer. I say that history has shown that a happy James is a fast James. The last time he contested in the Pro Motocross Championship for the entirety of the series, he went 24-0! After seeing him during the week testing and hearing reports from Suzuki staff, I will say it’s the best he’s looked in as long as I can remember. This all being said, we’ll see where he stands at the end of Saturday.
Will the switch to Suzuki help James Stewart re-gain his form?
There is a lot of mystery behind the likes of the defending Lites Champion Dean Wilson. The Pro Circuit team has been very tight-lipped on just how banged up his shoulder really is. He was able to ride through the pain at the Supercross Series Finale in Las Vegas, but will he be able to grit out 30+2 X2? He will be up against some of the fiercest competition in years with Tomac, Barcia, Baggett, Roczen, Musquin, and so many others coming into the series in great form. I imagine Dean will race himself into the ground before he lets himself lose the title, but it may just take that attitude to keep the number one plate for another year.
Dean isn’t the only rider lining up with an injury in the Lites Class. Musquin broke his hand and had surgery during the two week break. He has had limited time on the bike, but will be lining up to do battle on Saturday as well.
Is Dean Wilson healthy enough to defend his title against a stacked field?
The big bike class will have a few newcomers and some who are making their return for the summer. The Factory Kawasaki effort called up Tyla Rattray to fill in for the injured champion Ryan Villopoto for the summer. Tyla was set to contest the 450 class aboard a PC Kawasaki, but Mitch didn’t have a problem with him racing for the factory organization. Tyla has always proven to be one of the toughest and strongest athletes on two wheels. I would say Kawasaki is banking on him being in the hunt from the start of the series and through the entirety. He is a proven winner aboard a Lites bike, so it will be interesting to see how he does with the transition into the big bike class.
Ryan Sipes will be contesting the series aboard a 450 this year as well. He has taken over the factory backed Yamaha that Austin Stroupe was supposed to be racing for the year. Austin has been released from Star Valli Yamaha, and I have yet to hear of any other plans for him to go racing.
Will Tyla Rattray's move to the 450 class produce immediate results?
As with any year, the hype placed on some riders at the beginning of the series can make or break them depending on just how they operate as individuals. Then there is the hype that is based around a team, and I would say right now for the first time ever, the hype is around the Factory Connection Honda squad. They shut out Mitch in both Lites Supercross series and have some amazingly talented racers under the their tent. Kibby from the FC team said it best: "Supercross was great, but it’s a whole new year now." This couldn’t be more true.
The Pro Motocross series is a long, grueling 24 motos that aren’t for the faint of heart. This being said, this year may very well be the most talented field of racers the Lites Class has ever seen! One thing that we all know is that you win championships on your bad days, so getting through Hangtown in one piece is imperative to be a contender to reach for the number one plate.
Fresh off supercross titles, how much momentum will Eli Tomac and his teammate Justin Barcia carry over into the outdoor season?
The FMF Hangtown Motocross Classic can be seen on FUEL TV, AlliSports.com, and NBC Sports Network tomorrow. Click here to find out when and where to catch the action.