Following the U.S. departure of reigning four-time Monster Energy AMA Supercross titleholder Ryan Villopoto, the 2015 season became a wide open battle to fill the vacancy left atop the 450SX Class. What last year’s championship battle ultimately became was the rise of another Ryan, Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey, who amassed one of the most statistically dominant seasons in history to wrap up the championship three races early.
As a whole, 2015 was one to remember for Dungey. The Minnesota native captured his second 450SX Class title on the heels of 16 podium finishes in 17 races and a career-high eight victories. It had been five years since he won his first World Championship as a rookie back in 2010, setting a record gap between titles, but Dungey had already established himself as arguably the most consistent rider of the sport’s new era. In five seasons of 450SX Class competition prior to 2015, he finished no worse than third in the final standings. Another championship was seemingly inevitable for the sport’s most reliable athlete.
Dungey continued his impressive 2015 run into the summer Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, earning seven overall wins and 22 podium results in 24 motos to become a 450 Class National Champion for the third time. In doing so, he swept each of the sport’s respective major championships for the second time in his career.
In more than 40 years of the sport only 11 riders have ever won both the supercross and motocross titles, and Dungey is now one of just five riders to do so on multiple occasions. This small and coveted group is comprised of the most successful riders in history – Bob Hannah, Jeff Stanton, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto and now Dungey.
Now officially one of the sport’s most decorated athletes, Dungey is in pursuit of another coveted distinction for the 2016 season. With a potential third Monster Energy Supercross championship on the line, he will not only look to successfully defend a title for the first time in his career, but also become just the sixth rider to win three 450SX Class crowns.
As the most dependable competitor in all of off-road motorcycle racing, unseating Dungey will prove to be a difficult task. However, a very talented group of challengers, all of who are younger than Dungey, enter the 2016 season with aspirations of capturing their first Monster Energy Supercross championship and becoming the 21st different titleholder in the sport’s 42-year history.
Eli Tomac, last year’s championship runner-up, along with Ken Roczen, Trey Canard and Justin Barcia, all of whom are multi-time Main Event winners, are in the prime of their budding careers. They are each familiar with success, having all won a 250SX Class Regional Championship, and have the ability to put together a championship-caliber campaign over the course of the 17-race season.
Tomac is the new face at Monster Energy Kawasaki, filling the void left by Villopoto’s retirement. His breakout 2015 season saw him win three Main Events and emerge as Dungey’s primary rival in the late stages of the championship. He’s been seen as one of the sport’s most promising young riders, thanks to the Villopoto-esque aggression he displays on the track, and appears to be in a situation where he can thrive with his new team, perhaps taking the next step in his career. The Factory Kawasaki effort was held winless last season for the first time since 2004, and Tomac is determined to put the team back in the forefront of the title fight.
Roczen, who hails from Germany, is Monster Energy Supercross’ rising international star. Entering his second season with the Ricky Carmichael and Carey Hart owned RCH Soaring Eagle/Jimmy Johns/Suzuki Factory Racing team, Roczen is poised to learn from an up and down 2015 season and give his squad its first championship of any kind. Roczen is arguably the most well-rounded and naturally gifted rider in the field and is known for getting off to a fast start in the early stages of the season, which could be critical in his efforts to become supercross’ first ever German-born champion.
Canard has gradually inched closer and closer to ending Team Honda HRC’s championship drought that now enters its 13th season. He can easily be considered the most accomplished rider in the field to never win a 450SX Class title, but heartbreak has unfortunately played a significant role to this point in his career. In five seasons of premier class competition, Canard has never completed a full 17-race slate, but he’s a fixture at the front of the field. If he can stay healthy, Canard is a virtual lock to be in the title hunt and could bring Honda back to the dominance it once enjoyed.
There were growing pains for Barcia in his first season with the Joe Gibbs Racing Autotrader.com/Toyota/Yamaha effort, but as time wore on the partnership began to show its potential. Still titleless in eight seasons, the JGRMX squad finally has its perfect rider, while Barcia is finally entrenched in the environment he needs to chase a championship. Arguably the dark horse of this year’s title hopefuls, Barcia and JGRMX appear ready to make a run.
While the youth movement of Monster Energy Supercross appears to be reaching its pinnacle, two of the sport’s most iconic figures aren’t ready to relinquish their positions at the top just yet, creating an incredibly intriguing dynamic of experienced veterans and youthful exuberance.
Today’s era of supercross cannot be discussed without mentioning James Stewart and Chad Reed, who accompany Dungey as former champions in the 2016 field. These surefire Hall of Famers are entering the late stages of their illustrious careers, but despite giving up some years on their fellow competitors, they are both still more than capable of winning and enter this season with something to prove.
Stewart was forced to sit out the entirety of 2015 following a 16-month suspension stemming from a failed PED test in 2014. Although he was unable to compete, Stewart refused to sit idle and has prepared relentlessly aboard his Team Yoshimura Suzuki for his highly anticipated and impending return. Undoubtedly more motivated than ever before, the 30-year-old looks poised to make a serious run at a third Monster Energy Supercross crown, which he last won in 2009.
As for Reed, the 2016 season presents yet another year in which he will play the role of underdog, perhaps more so than ever before. True to his legacy, Reed overcame all obstacles last season to win his 44th career Main Event and remain relevant in the championship battle, ultimately finishing fourth despite scoring no points at two races. However, the Australian rider’s hopes for the future suffered a major blow after he was forced to shutter his self-owned TwoTwo Motorsports operation after five seasons. Now Reed is back aboard a factory bike and feeling rejuvenated about his chances of battling for a third Monster Energy Supercross championship in his 14th season of 450SX Class competition at the age of 33.
Not to be outdone, a stout collection of sophomore riders and 450SX Class rookies will also fill the gate for 2016, hoping to turn some heads and ascend to the sport’s upper echelon.
Team Honda HRC’s Cole Seely enjoyed a convincing rookie campaign in 2015 that not only saw him dominate en route to his inaugural 450SX Class victory, but also amass five podium finishes while placing third in the championship. With a year under his belt, Seely is a wild card that could shake things up on any given weekend.
Team Yoshimura Suzuki’s Blake Baggett did well to fill Stewart’s absence last season, exceeding expectations to finish fifth in the final standings with one podium finish. A similar effort came from Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s Jason Anderson, who helped make the legendary Swedish brand’s return to the sport seamless thanks to a pair of podiums of his own.
Team Red Bull KTM’s Dean Wilson will enjoy another rookie season of sorts in 2016 after a torn ACL took him out of contention a year ago after just three races. While his raw speed is elite, Wilson will focus on developing race craft in his comeback, leaning on the experience of Dungey and tutelage of team manager Roger DeCoster.
A trio of former Eastern Regional 250SX Class Champions will lead the rookie effort in the 450SX Class as Marvin Musquin, Justin Bogle and Christophe Pourcel all prepare to take on the world’s best aboard factory rides.
Frenchman Musquin capped off his 250SX Class career last season with his first career title on U.S. soil, and his technical skillset should prove beneficial as he acclimates to the premier division. Bogle will take the place of Tomac at GEICO Honda, the team he has raced for his entire pro career, giving him a comfortable and familiar setting to develop from in his rookie season. Although Pourcel last competed in supercross during a championship-winning 2010 season, the Frenchman is full of talent and has many people curious as to what he can accomplish with the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing team.
With a trio of former champions and 10 past Main Event winners, Monster Energy Supercross will have its deepest field of 450SX Class competitors on the gate for the 2016 season. While Dungey looks to chase history, his primary challengers will all eagerly look to unseat him as champion over the course of 17 races in 18 weeks.
For the Aussie fans we have Chad Reed, Lawson Bopping and Jarrad Hockley on the starting gate in the 450 class while Hayden Mellross, Geran Stapleton and Jackson Richardson will compete in the 250 West class.
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