Intro and Conclusion by Chris Green
Photos by Steve Cox
Ricky Johnson has been studying the different riders as they come up through the ranks, and there are a lot of talented guys out there. Many of them are really going for it with new styles of riding and training programs that are pretty amazing. With seven championships under his belt, he’s been around the sport long enough to see it all. At one point in time he was the best there was and the most popular dude out on the track. There are a lot of guys out there who all have a chance at winning and a lot of them aren’t too far off the pace of the leaders. Knowing what RJ knows about the sport, here is a little bit of insight on each rider and his general idea of how he thinks each of the top guys will stack up in 2012.
Ryan Dungey gained a lot of confidence in 2010 and was fortunate when other riders got hurt and he was able to jump to the front. There is no doubt he would have made it there, but this confidence helped carry him to his outdoor championship. Last year he came out a little more tentative, waiting for James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Chad Reed. The good thing is that he has worked with Roger DeCoster before, but there are still those question marks. He’s getting on a new bike, is he going to love it? Is he going to hate it? We’ll see.
Ryan has gotten stronger and faster mentally and physically, but his arrogance has also gone up quite a bit. When you talk to him he’s very aware of who he is. To be honest he has every right. Currently he’s the strongest, fastest rider in the world, and he put it to everybody throughout the series even with some big problems. He has the two number-one plates, he’s sitting on top of the heap, he’s comfortable on the bike, he’s continuing with the same team and he’s working with Aldon Baker, so he’s got the formula for success. Barring injury, he should be the man to beat.
James is a big unknown. He came and drove off-road trucks with us, and he seemed to like the diversion. Talking with him and Big James, I’ve heard he has been playing around a little bit on Malcolm’s Suzukis. So it’s going to be interesting. Is he going to be on a Suzuki? He has voiced his opinion about the Yamahas. But say what you want about him, when he’s on there’s not a faster man on the planet. If he can keep his head on straight and stay focused without straying too far from his program, then I think he will beat everybody. But new bike, his own team, lots of distractions, TV shows… there are just so many things that pull on James, and the key is keeping him focused.
Chad is one of the few guys in this sport who is a man about his business. He owns and runs his own race team. A lot of guys can’t handle it. We saw Jeremy McGrath do it and it was a little bit tough for him. Even James Stewart tried it and there was a lot of hassle. At the beginning of the year he was struggling finding his way, but as the season went on he went faster and faster. I think Chad is going to be one of those guys who will be on the podium every weekend, but is he going to be first every weekend? That’s going to be the question.
I’ve always been a huge Ben Townley fan. His biggest problem was coming over and moving in with Ricky Carmichael. Ricky was a special kind of rider and his training regiment was unique and probably not right for Ben. I think he came over and jumped into deep water a little bit too fast. If Ben can get himself healthy, get his mind right and get back on track, then there is no reason he can’t be a serious competitor.
You’ve got to love this guy. On supercross intros he takes the time to be there for the fans and give them a little extra something before the race. And just look at how many years this guy has been racing. He is strong, he is consistent and he is there every week. I see him to be on the podium, and when we have technical races I look for him to win.
I feel that Ivan hasn’t fully made the transition to the 450s because he rides them like a 250F. He’s hard on the gas, so he makes big mistakes and crashes because he goes from zero throttle to full throttle. I feel that with the 450s, as much torque and power that they have, you need to work on the rolling game and Ivan has been more like a Ricky Carmichael. He comes straight into the corner, squares the corner and drops the hammer. He has too big of a hammer and he needs a screwdriver.
Brett won at Southwick with the rain and all the different stuff that happened, but he got the win. I don’t care if the race is a fluke and everybody crashed in the first turn. Once you taste victory, you’re a different man. With that said, I think you’re going to see Metcalfe get that breath of fresh air. I look for him to be consistently in the top five, on the podiums, and if the cards are right, he may get that supercross win to change his outcome there.
Damn, the boy can get a start but he can’t get a finish. A couple of years ago when he was on Suzukis he was kicking ass in the outdoor nationals, and all of a sudden the crashes and injuries started. So my question is, how healthy is he going to be for the future?
Austin has unbelievable speed and is definitely one of the riders where his overconfidence has whooped his ass a couple of times. If, like James Stewart, someone in his management can contain him and give him a path of what he needs to do, then I think you will see Stroupe as one of the top three in the world. If you let this kid go, he’s going to hurt himself.
Shorty is almost too nice of a guy for our sport. He needs to be a little more arrogant. Now granted, if you show him a wheel, he can take you out. He is a professional. I think he needs to change it up a little bit there in his camp. I would work with him on just being more animal. For him to stay in the mix he needs to do something this year.
I worked with Justin a bit when I was a riding coach at KTM. As far as a coach is concerned, you can’t ask for a better guy. He is the ultimate soldier. Whatever you ask him to do, Justin will try it. Once he tastes success, I think he is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
He is so big on a bike. He had some signs of greatness this year and was fast in a lot of situations, but he has also been sidelined with a lot of stuff. Davi has had knee problems since he was a kid racing for Suzuki on 80s. The question mark there is not Davi’s speed but can he physically be in shape to do this?
Trey was the biggest surprise in 2011 for me. I thought it would take him longer to get as comfortable as he did. His riding still bit him, being as small as he is and as aggressive as he is on scrubs. After having two big injuries will he be able to regain that confidence and come back? I think he can.
Josh has been fast over and over but is inconsistent. I think he needs to find somebody who can focus his attention. I’m not saying that he doesn’t train hard, work hard and put the time in, but I think that he just needs to avoid other distractions.
Tommy is getting faster and faster and the rumor is that he wants off the Yamahas. If Tommy is hesitant, then he’s going to hold back. If he gets on something he is comfortable with, he can regain his confidence and he’ll be right there in the mix.
Mitch has a way of instilling confidence in his riders. Broc showed phenomenal strength and endurance when it came to the supercross championship. He was snake-bitten in the nationals and struggled. The question is how is he going to come back with the number-one plate? It’s a very heavy number. Some guys take it and run with it and some guys crumble.
Jake had a terrible 2011 because of his injury. I like the way he won his championship in 2010 and he had very confident rides in 2009. He did come back this year and had some decent rides outdoors. What I like about Jake is that he isn’t afraid to work, he has a balanced head, he’s not sporadic and he has confidence in his Kawasaki, which he will be on for another year.
Nick won’t give that extra push and he won’t go into the gray area. If you want to win in supercross, you need to live in that gray area and hang your toes in the dark quite a bit. I just see him busting into the top five but a top 10 guy every weekend.
Christian came from a BMX background, and you can tell by how dynamic he is on the bike by the way he scrubs and how he leans. Christian is putting the time in. but he just keeps getting injured because he is too fragile. He needs to get a little bit tougher so he can show up on Sunday and race.
He’s just wide-open everywhere, all the time and on the rev-limiter. If he worked on technique a little more than just sheer speed, I think the consistency would be there because he’s faster than anybody on any given obstacle, but then he’ll blow a jump or a turn and lose some ground. I was really shocked at how well he rode the 450, and I must say I thought he was going to bust his ass with all the extra horsepower. I think his time on the 450 will help make him a better 250 rider when he comes back.
He has been there week after week getting good results, but he’s in that invisible zone. He needs to do something to gain attention. He’s fast and consistently in the top five. He needs to get out there and lead some motos, get some holeshots and get the fans to realize who he is. If you’re doing that good and people aren’t noticing you, you need to get out there and dazzle them with something. And not a big crash.
To me, Wil and Trey Canard have a very similar style, very compact and fast with great corner speed. Unfortunately he was hurt a lot last year. Him staying on the bike another year will allow him to gain the confidence before he shoots off for next year. I’m a big fan of Wil and I just want to see him do well.
To me, Dean Wilson is the next guy in line. When I watch him, what I see is a Ron Lechien with dedication as far as a guy who can use how tall he is and the angles he has because of his height. Dean is that guy. I think when he gets on a 450 he’s going to be lethal. The kid loves to race, and that’s what I like most about him. He is very composed, he’s not overdoing it and he’s in shape. His championship outdoors is going to help him indoors, and the sky’s the limit right now as far as his confidence goes.
Blake is another rider who is gaining confidence. He is a stiff rider mainly because he is smaller, but once he learns to use his angles a little more, it’ll help him save energy and transfer his weight around the bike. Coming into the supercross series next year, it will be his second year with Pro Circuit and he’ll be hard to beat.
Tyla was very dominant in Europe, then he came out here and was off and on. He’s definitely one of the fast guys outdoors but hasn’t quite made the supercross change. If I was working with him, it would be more on technique. He needs to work on individual sections instead of just putting in laps so he can refine his skills. I think that is going to be the difference that will take him from good to great.
Is he going to become too much of a superstar? If he was in my camp, that would be something I’d be concerned about. His riding style is a little more outdoors. He sits back a bit too much and I feel he needs to bring his body forward to get himself more on the front of the bike. If they can get him to do that, I think he is going to be unstoppable.
He’s very, very fast and very smooth but needs to work on muscle. It’s walking into the pain day after day and tearing the muscles down to let them heal to gain size and strength. Sometimes that is what pulls the desire away from a rider, and then they don’t want to haul ass. For him to be great he needs to gain some of that strength.
You have to love this guy. He keeps getting faster and faster, kind of like John Dowd. The older he gets, the faster and more forward he goes with his riding. He’s going fast on a 250F and he’s been around for a long time now. It’s great to see him keep running.
I’ve only gotten the chance to see him race on TV at Southwick where he won and ended the Pro Circuit streak. I think when you get guys who have raced the GPs and have dealt with the weather, they don’t get as psyched out as American guys. But that mud race and supercross are two completely different stories. Hopefully he can turn that confidence into strong technique and strong training and be one of those guys who comes out and does well in the stadium.
I feel Eli is in kind of a plateau in his career right now. He’s been doing the same thing for a long time, and I think a little change might not hurt him. He is fast and isn’t afraid to mix it up or bang bars, but if he takes a step back and looks into technique a little bit, I think he’ll go faster. What I love about that family is how committed the mom and dad are. So as far as balance and long term goes, I think Eli is a strong contender.
As far as speed I think he has it, as well as a lot of confidence in the bike. He also did well in the amateurs. But, what is he going to do in supercross? I don’t know. You can do things outdoors where you have the time and space to move around and the tracks are a little more forgiving. And once you get to the hard supercrosses and you miss your mark by that much, the consequences are usually much higher. What I saw at Pala I liked a lot, so I think he should go places.
There are so many variables that can play into a racer’s career whether it’s an injury or just plain old bad luck. But that’s just racing. Everybody has their own way of dealing with their good and bad days, and you really do need a bit of luck on your side to succeed in our sport. It can be tough to stay healthy but sometimes the risk is worth the reward. Don’t hold him to it, but based off what RJ has seen from these guys, talking to them in the pits and from a spectator’s standpoint, he thinks this is a solid guide to what you might see in the 2012 Supercross season.