It's considered by many to be the official unofficial start of the 2013 Supercross season: The Monster Energy Cup is here. And to kick things off, Feld Motor Sports, the producers of the one-off race, hosted a well-attended pre-race press conference that included some of the stars of the sport, including last year's winner Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed, Ryan Dungey, Justin Barcia and Justin Brayton. Adam Cianciarulo, who will make his 250F-racing debut, was also on hand to represent tomorrow's invitational Amateur All-Stars portion of the program.
The conference got underway with the announcement that the KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge will return in 2013 for the first time in five years. KTM U.S. president Jon-Erik Burleson and former KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge participant Ryan Dungey took to the stage and talked about the popular half-time show making its comeback.
"With Ryan's success lately, that was the final push to get this done," Burleson said. "We felt this was a good time to bring it back."
Seven-year-old Dungey made his Supercross debut in 1997 while competing in the KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
"I remember bits and pieces of the race," he said. "I remember finishing third and the guy who beat me but that was about it as far as the race. But I'll never forget that it was one of the biggest days of my life - to meet and hang out all day with the pros. I'm glad they're bringing it back."
But the highlight of the night were the big guns talking about tomorrow's race, which will be held on a very unique track that is also quite different from last year's track.
The 2012 track design was inspired by Supercross legend Ricky Carmichael and consists of a mix of both supercross and motocross obstacles, including a 200'-banked sweeping turn that is built up into the stands, and a split start consisting of two 11-rider starting gates. The gates are separated more than 200 feet apart and converge at the apex of the start straight nearly a football field away inside the stadium. Adding to the strategy of the event, a "joker lane" will be used for the first time ever. The lane will consist of deep sand and will add approximately six seconds to the length of the lap.
Every rider is required to use the joker lane one time during each of the three main events. What is similar to last year is a portion of the track that will through the Monster Energy Fan Zone, which is located outside of the stadium, allowing for longer lap times and giving the racers more opportunities to pass.
All of the riders seemed impressed with the layout, including the banked turn dubbed "Tallavega," and the joker lane. After the conference, some of the riders took a few laps around the track for the media.
For Monster Energy Kawasaki's Villopoto and Two-Two Motorsport/Honda's Reed, the Monster Energy Cup will be their first race back since suffering injuries during the 2012 Supercross season. But both riders looked comfortable on the track.
"I'm feeling good," said Villopoto who took the million-dollar bonus for winning all three main events last year. "I started riding a little while ago, outdoors then transitioned to Supercross and everything is going really well. I'd like to win but it's important to just see where we are at [in their team's testing]."
Reed admitted that he isn't too concerned about coming away with the win but is more interested in just getting back to racing again.
"For the most part, I'm just glad to be here racing," said Reed who was proudly wearing a Monster Energy cap, after being re-united with his old sponsor. "I'd be lying if I was trying to go for the million dollars, I just want to get my feet wet - I just want to go racing. I want to go out there and see where I'm at, see where we are with the bike, the team. I'm looking forward to it."
For Dungey, the Monster Energy Cup marks his his one-year anniversary with KTM. It was here last year that Dungey made his KTM debut after just signing with the team. He says he's obviously more prepared for this race than he was last year.
"I just want to keep the momentum going," the recently crowned 450 Motocross Champion said. "I'm obviously in a better position to win this year and that's the goal tomorrow, but it's also important to find out where we are at [with testing]."
Justin Barcia will be making his 450 Supercross debut on the factory-backed Honda Muscle Milk CRF450R.
"We've been testing for the last two weeks and we have everything all dialed in," Barcia said. "I feel real comfortable on the bike and I'm ready to have some fun."
Adam Cianciarulo had the media laughing. When asked why he looks so calm and relaxed before his first big-bike race, he replied, "I might look calm and like it's no big deal, but I'm scared out of my mind right now."
He was also asked if he was more nervous sitting next to the Monster Girls or the riders sitting next to him on the stage? "The riders, I'm pretty good around the ladies."
Cianciarulo did reveal that he suffered a broken finger recently. "I tipped over and broke my finger," he said. "Luckily, it doesn't hurt, but I like to say that I broke it because it sounds gnarly."
But Cianciarulo did say the feels very comfortable on his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250F.
"The transition has gone well," he said. "There were some rough times but for the most part, it's been a smooth transition. I just need to get used to a different routine and program."
One very noticeable no-show was Suzuki's James Stewart who has been riding and testing quite a bit as of late but has not committed to the Monster Cup yet. And it doesn't appear that he'll race after sending this Tweet after the press conference: "Doesn't look like I'll be at MC, not going to rush it. Have a goal and a plan and we're sticking to it. A goal without a plan is just a wish!"
Justin Brayton looked right at home on his new JGR Yamaha, and he probably should. He's back with the team after a one-year stint with Honda.
Tomorrow's race will be shown live on SPEED at 7 p.m., PST.