Coming off a season of increased year-to-year Nielsen ratings (11% w/households, 30% w/M18-49, 31% w/M35-54), SPEED opens the 2013 racing calendar with live coverage of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, race from Anaheim on Jan. 5 at 9:30 p.m. ET, with extended, live pre-race beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Now in its seventh year together, the SPEED broadcast team of host Ralph Sheheen, analyst and Hall-of-Fame rider Jeff Emig and pit reporter Erin Bates -- joined regularly by Supercross legend and SPEED analyst Ricky Carmichael -- takes on this year's storylines heading into the opener:
Ø What do you consider the biggest story heading into the 2013 Supercross season?
Sheheen: "The biggest story is whether or not Ryan Villopoto returns to top form from a serious injury yet again. He did it after his horrific crash in St. Louis in 2010 to win the title in 2011. He won everything there was to win all the way through 2011 and 2012 including a second Supercross crown, only to suffer another major injury."
Emig: "The level of competition. It is projected that we will have 10 riders on the gate for the Anaheim opener who have won at least one Monster Energy Supercross main event. In addition, we should have Justin Barcia, who just won the Monster Energy Cup on a 450. So, I look at it as a pretty stacked field with three groups of riders contending for the title. You have veterans like Chad Reed, James Stewart and Kevin Windham, established champions like Villopoto, Ryan Dungey, Trey Canard and Jake Weimer in the middle of their careers, and finally first- and second-year racers Justin Barcia and Broc Tickle, who have 250 titles to their credit. And that's just a few racers in the 450 class; the 250 is just as exciting!"
Bates: "That's the beautiful thing about Supercross ... we have a handful of BIG stories coming into the 2013 season. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing riders returning from injury showing up Jan. 5 ready for battle. Defending two-time SX champ Ryan Villopoto coming back from trials ... and former two-time SX champ Chad Reed returning after a bittersweet 2012 season. I think the new generation entering the SX field is filled with hunger and could play a factor in this year's championship as well."
Ø Who has the edge in this year's championship hunt? Pick your top three finishers in this year's points race
Sheheen: "Until somebody steps up and beats Villopoto, it's going to be hard to bet against him. My top three are 1. Ryan Villopoto 2. Ryan Dungey 3. Chad Reed."
Emig: "Villopoto is the champ until some takes the No. 1 plate from him."
Bates: "It's way too early to tell at this point. I'm going to have to see a few laps of practice first and then witness the gate drop at Angel Stadium before I cangive my prediction. For me, it's a good indicator of who's done their homework during the offseason and is coming in fully prepared. They're all extremely physically fit, so it could boil down to who's tougher mentally."
Ø Which rider will surprise fans this year? Why?
Sheheen: "I think there are two guys who will surprise people in 2013. First, I think two-time champ Chad Reed will be back stronger than ever and a title contender once again after a very serious injury in 2012. I also think Justin Barcia will have a great rookie season, and I think he will win a race or two."
Emig: "Oh, that's Justin Barcia. They don't call him 'Bam Bam' for nothing! He has a tendency to muscle his way past other riders. But he isn't in the 250 class anymore ... the 'Big Boys' will do some pushing back."
Bates: "I think that Justin Barcia, aka 'Bam Bam,' will surprise a lot of people this year. He's a two-time SX Lites East Champion moving up to the 450 class. He's known for his aggressiveness and incredible talent on track. He never concerns himself with making friends while racing and is clearly not intimidated by the competition. It will be interesting to see if he'll be able to manage the power of the 450 and duplicate his performance at the Monster Energy Cup."
Ø How important is it to get off to a good start in Anaheim?
Sheheen: "Anaheim sets the tone for the rest of the season. If you can step up and set a blistering pace and take the win, it is a huge mental edge on the rest of the field. Coming into Anaheim everybody has been working as hard as they can to get ready. If you smoke them, it is a crushing blow to them mentally."
Emig: "Well, unless you're Villopoto or Dungey, its everything. You need to get the positive vibes going early to contend the whole season. I believe Villopoto and Dungey are strong enough to bounce back if they have a bad race at the opening round. It has been done before by Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart, so it's possible -- just not part of the game plan."
Bates: "Getting off to a good start at Anaheim is everything! You can't win the championship there but you can most certainly lose it. Ultimately, it can set the tone for the whole season. So be spectacular!"
Ø Which track(s) do you look at as difference makers for riders during the season?
Sheheen: "One race that can really shake things up is Daytona. The weather can be very treacherous. We have raced there in driving rain storms more than once and it can definitely have an impact on the title chase."
Emig: "Having a good vibe going in Angel Stadium of Anaheim is important because we will have three races there. A rider always looks forward to going back to a building where he has had success. Daytona is a real test of physical fitness. Atlanta is huge event with an immeasurable energy so it's always a big boost. But if it comes down to it and you need a good ride to win the title, you better be good on the hard-packed desert dirt of Las Vegas. $$$ Payday."
Bates: "The track could be considered the '21st rider.' Every track is uniquely designed with obstacles and rhythm sections made from different types of dirt ... East Coast to West Coast. Line choices change lap to lap, making it tricky for riders to predict what to prepare for next. Every track suits each rider's style differently. So, in my opinion, every track will make the difference."
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