Supercross is coming early this year, with riders and press gathering at the Big A only one day after New Years. Today at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, everyone got their first taste of Supercross.
What's new for Supercross in 2009? Well, aside from the obvious: Ryan Villopoto on a 450, James Stewart on a Yamaha and Chad Reed on a Suzuki, there are some other changes you'll see this year in Supercross.
Starting with the track design, officials promise tracks with more turns and shorter rhythms, which they say will add up to more passing opportunities and better racing. In further efforts to really make the tracks the best they can be, a few legends of the sport have been invited to custom design the tracks themselves. Jeremy McGrath designed the Anaheim I track, Ricky Johnson designed San Diego's layout, Ricky Carmichael designed the track for the Atlanta, Georgia round, Mike LaRocco lent his creativity to the Indianapolis course while Jeff Stanton helped out with Toronto, and last but not least frightening, Travis Pastrana designed the St. Louis layout.
More good news is that the Lites class, or the 250 class, will enjoy same-weekend television coverage this year. Rather than having to wait over a week to see the action from the 250F division, they will be aired back to back with the premier class on the Sundays following the races on the SPEED Channel. Check TV Listings on CycleNews.com for times throughout the season.
A lot of hype is on Ryan Villopoto this year, who will make his debut in the "big boy class" tomorrow night. Even though he hasn't changed manufacturers, Villo has changed teams entirely, going from Mitch Payton's Pro Circuit team to the Monster Energy Kawasaki team. He is not only facing new machinery, but will also be learning to compete with a whole new field of riders. Villopoto will also have to face the challenge of racing an entire Supercross season - not just half of it as in the Lites division…er... the 250 class...
"It's an all-new team; different people, and a whole new bike," Villopoto said. But as far as the biggest difference, RV talked about the pace of the premier class. "Going 17 rounds; that's probably going to be the biggest deal, week-in and week-out racing and trying to avoid the injuries."
Even though all eyes are on him, Villopoto doesn't appear to be feeling the pressure. He's a "rookie" again, and plans to take his time making the adjustment.
Factory Connection Honda's Kevin Windham is back for another bid at the top in Supercross. After taking four victories last year, K-Dub is hungrier than ever and looking forward to "keeping it tight" all season long. Windham also admits that Villopoto will add a fourth-dimension to the fight this year, and commented that "the podium isn't getting any bigger..."
James Stewart, proudly displaying his Red Bull can at the press conference, started by saying he was "sorry he had to lie to us last year" when he talked about how prepared he was heading into the season. This year, it's for real, though. Stewart has got his new YZ450F dialed in and seems much more relaxed and confident than he's been in a long time.
Stewart talked about preparing for this season and how what's going to be different for him this year.
Has preparation for this season been different, knowing that it's just Supercross and not having two seasons to focus on?
No, actually we're putting more work into Supercross right now but we don't know. There'll be some changes but hopefully we can ride outdoors. I still plan on racing a few so I still gotta prepare the same as though I'm going to run the whole year. But the off-season's been good so far.
What do you plan to do after the Supercross season is over?
After this I definitely want to race some MXGPs and maybe race the whole outdoor series; we don't know. I definitely want to come to Glen Helen. We'll see. We'll find out soon. I'm also looking forward to doing X Games and a couple side events. It should be good.
Is a new career in Europe a possibility for you?
[Laughs] No. I like racing in the States.
When asked what the biggest change is with his new team, James replied, "The biggest adjustment is probably not walking to the wrong place [in the pits]."
The day before the start of the season, Chad Reed is already showing us something we haven't seen in a while - a #1 plate in the premier class. Reed will be riding a Makita Suzuki RM-Z450 with a white number one with red backgrounds.
"I've been rocking the number 22 for a long time," Reed said. "Jeremy ran (the number one) for along time and it seemed to serve him well."
The decision wasn't entirely Reed's, however, as the returning champion is now required to run the number one plate.
"I'd like to see Moto GP make Rossi run a #1," he commented in regard to the rule.
Following the press conference, riders took to the nearly-completed Anaheim track. It's a pleasure for everyone to see a dry track at the season opener for a change. Though the skies look somewhat ominous, rains should hold off long enough to make for some great racing tomorrow night. Reed commented that he thought the dirt was "perfect," and technical rhythms, designed by the King, himself, should set the stage for some great racing tomorrow night.