The pre-race press conference for the opening round of the Lucas Oils AMA Pro Motocross Championship just ended and was attended by most of the major teams and some of the top championship hopefuls, including 2008 MX2 World Champion Tyla Rattray, West Coast SX Lites Champion Ryan Dungey, Brett Metcalf, Josh Hill, Ryan Villopoto, Andrew Short, Mike Alessi and Chad Reed.
In the 450 class, Villopoto, Reed, Short and Alessi are some of the favorites to win the big-bike title, many giving the edge to Villopoto, who comes into the series with three straight Lites (now 250)-class Championships under his belt and will be making his 450 debut outdoors tomorrow. The last rider to win three small-bore titles before making the move to the big-bike class was Ricky Carmichael.
"I'm really looking forward to the first race," Villopoto, of the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, said. "I want to be on the podium, even if it's not on the top [step]. You can't win the championship in the first race, but you can definitely lose it. The competition is going to be close this year."
Villopoto added that he is indeed riding a wave of momentum following his two recent wins in the Supercross series but admits that Supercross and motocross are two different animals.
"Supercross is a completely different deal," he said. "But I'm a little more comfortable outdoors than in Supercross, but I feel good coming in here."
Reed, who committed to the series less than a week ago, seemed excited to be at Glen Helen. The last time he competed full-time outdoors was in 2006.
"It [wanting to ride the Nationals] has been on my mind for a while," the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team rider said. "Having TV now is awesome, but I'm not here because of TV like many people think. I have unfinished business and I'm not getting any younger. I didn't want to go home this summer; I wanted to race and have fun. I came here because I wanted to."
Reed admitted that the Nationals have been difficult for him in the past. "The outdoors has been difficult for me, but I believe I can come out here and do well."
Reed also said that he hasn't had much time on the bike in preparation for tomorrow's race. "I've tested twice and did one 30-minute moto - I think I'm ready to go," he joked. "I've actually had my outdoors bike since Daytona [Supercross in March], but I haven't ridden it."
Alessi, Reed's teammate, is certainly a favorite to win tomorrow. He considers Glen Helen his home track and is an outdoor specialist. Despite doing little outdoor testing, Alessi says he's ready to go racing.
"We forgo testing after Las Vegas [Supercross]," Alessi said. "Nothing is different on the bike, so we're going with the same set-up as last year. I definitely want the series started off right. The plan is to get the holeshot and ride up front."
Yamaha's Josh Hill says he's all healed up and ready to make up for his "horrible" Supercross season. "It's been a bad year and I have a lot to prove," he said. "I feel fresh and ready to go."
In the 250 class, World champ Tyla Rattray says he's ready to get back to racing again, the last time he saw a starting gate was October of last year. "I'm ready to get my feet wet in the first race," the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team rider said. "I want to go out there and have fun and see where it goes."
Rattray added that he's happy to be racing in the States. "The exposure is good in America," he said. "This is where the sport is the biggest."
Dungey, who finished second to Villopoto in the 250 class last year, has to be a favorite to win the 2009 title. "I got a lot of valuable experience last year, and was strong towards the end of the year," he said. "I hope to keep that momentum going here."
Metcalfe, of the GEICO Powersports Honda team, will be making his debut since breaking his collarbone early in the Supercross season, though he still might not be one-hundred percent. "The last three weeks I've had limited time on the bike," he said. "I'm feeling good about racing again, but I'm still a little sore; I'm going to have to race into shape."All of the riders were asked if they liked the Saturday, one-day race format and all of them seemed to like the idea. "I think it is a lot better," Short said. "It's better for the sport, I think it's good that our sport keeps moving forward.""It's good," Villopoto said. "It makes it quicker, you get in and out and home quicker, which helps us out tremendously. I think it's good for everyone."After the conference the top riders of the series took to the track for a few laps for the press, and was not an official practice, thus it was not timed.The track looks similiar to last year's long and hilly circuit but run in the opposite direction. Weather for tomorrow's race is expected to be quite good, with temperatures predicted to be in the mid 80s.