AMA Supercross kicks off this Saturday, Jan. 6, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif and marks a new new era in the series.
Five-time and defending series champ Ricky Carmichael will be riding his familiar Number Four Suzuki at the Anaheim opener, but the extremely popular rider from Tallahassee, Fla., has announced that he will only race a limited schedule this year.
That opens the door for other riders in the series and means a new champion will likely be crowned in 2007.
Leading the charge will be James Stewart, last year’s winner; Kevin Windham, Aneheim winner from 2005; Chad Reed a two-time Aneheim winner; and David Vuillemin, who scored the opening round win in 2002.
Ironically, the one notable who has never won the season opener is Carmichael. He would like to win this race, in perhaps his last ever at Anaheim, but he won’t take undue risks to make it happen.
“I think the guys have a lot of trust in me,” said the most successful active rider in AMA Supercross. “I’ve never been the kind of guy that’s just going to go out and take someone down just for a win.
“Those guys are going for a title, and I don’t want to mess anything up. I don’t want to put myself in danger either. So, I’m just going to do my best, and hopefully it’ll work out for me.”
Stewart comes into Anaheim the defending winner. The Kawasaki ace is recovering from an ankle injury suffered in December and hopes to be 100 percent by the Anaheim opener.
Chad Reed comes to Anaheim still riding for Yamaha, but this time outside the factory tent and under the new L & M Racing colors. In testament to the growing popularity of motocross and supercross racing, the Australian Reed was recently announced at number six in Australia’s Business Review Weekly's Top 50 Sports Earners, listed at a reported $8 million per year.
“I’m motivated. I’ve had two years that I’d like to forget, but they’re also the two most important years because I learned so much,” said Reed, who seems to be rejuvenated coming into 2007. “I’m so happy that I have a race team around me that is so supportive and a lot of fun to be around.
“I’m just going to try and take that to every race.” Reed will team with Nate Ramsey this year.
One of the pre-season favorites, Ivan Tedesco riding for Suzuki, was also injured in December, breaking his hand in a freak accident.
“I’m so disappointed,” said Tedesco. “We’ve put so much time and work into getting ready for the Supercross season. But what’s done is done, and now I just hope I’ll be ready for Anaheim.
“The championship is what’s important and I don’t want to miss any races if I can help it. Even if I’m not 100 percent, I’d still like to try to race so I can get as many points as I can.”
While the ‘Big Three’ of Carmichael, Stewart and Reed are the trio expected to battle for the win at the opener, others to watch for in Angel Stadium include veterans like David Vuillemin, Kevin Windham and Tim Ferry along with riders with a lot to prove such as Michael Byrne, Nick Wey and Grant Langston.
Tim Ferry is coming back with newfound confidence as team-mate to Stewart with Kawasaki. Vuillemin now competes without the pressure of being a factory rider, but will remain on a Honda.
Many feel if any rider is to challenge the ‘Big Three’ at Anaheim it will be Windham aboard his Honda. Team Yamaha’s Grant Langston comes into the premier Supercross class this season with the confidence of having won the Supercross Lites West division in 2006.
Honda’s factory squad is sidelined with injury, but watch for team members Davi Millsaps and Andrew Short to make an impact when they return to action.
With Carmichael slated to shift his focus to a car racing effort, it also marks the start of a new format for AMA Supercross to better suit the schedule for live television coverage.
The new format for the AMA Supercross class will continue to provide riders two opportunities to qualify for the main event through the heats and the last chance qualifier.
The use of semi-final races, which traditionally ran with those riders who failed to qualify for the main event from their heats, has been dropped from the format.
Timed qualifying practice will also replace the old qualifying races which ran in the afternoon.
These changes will not only make for a more streamlined program, but will also help prevent the track from deteriorating so much ensuring a better racing surface for the main events.