By the DR Staff
Happy New Year and welcome to Weekly Dirt, your place on the Internet for off-road news from around the world. This week we take a look at the 250 class heading into this weekend’s Supercross opener at Anaheim. Plus, we look at the upcoming Arenacross opener. Also, Mark Kariya takes a look at Yamaha’s one-off YZ450F Rally bike. There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s get going.
We’re just three days away from the start of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross 2014 season and teams are making final preparations for Saturday’s race in Anaheim.
Last week we talked a little about the 450 Supercross class, so this week we’ll focus on the 250 guys. The big question in the 250 class, as usual, is who is riding west coast and who is riding east coast?
First of all, there are a few injuries to talk about. GEICO Honda’s Justin Bogle went down during the off-season with a back injury, so the team signed Blake Wharton to fill in. Wharton rode east coast last year and he’s scheduled to do the same in 2014. Wharton won last year’s Houston round, so he definitely still has the speed to compete.
For the west coast, GEICO Honda has Zach Osborne and Zach Bell signed up. Bell missed a lot of last year’s racing due to an injury, so it’s almost like he’s getting a second chance at his rookie season. Osborne is, of course, a veteran, and this may be the North Carolina rider’s year to shine.
In the meantime, Monster Energy Pro Circuit’s Blake Baggett injured his foot a few weeks ago and he’s signed up for the west coast so he’s questionable for the A1 opener, but there’s an outside possibility he will still race.
Mitch Payton likes to keep his plans for which of his riders are riding east or west a secret until the very last minute, so he still has Dean Wilson, Darryn Durham, Justin Hill and Martin Davalos available for Anaheim.
If you remember, Wilson started strong last year with a strong win in the east regional opener at Dallas and then gave way to eventual region winner Wil Hahn before going down with an injury at Indy. The 2014 season will a chance for Wilson to prove himself again.
Davalos has had an up and down career, highlighted by a runner-up finish at A3 last year, although he only had two other podium finishes on the season, which left him sitting fifth in the final standings.
Red Bull KTM’s Marvin Musquin is another recent injury victim. The former two-time MX2 world champ injured his ACL in a practice crash and will likely miss the east regional opener in Dallas. However, newly signed to Red Bull KTM, Dean Ferris is looking good for this weekend’s race at Anaheim. Roger DeCoster is known for his cunning ability to make good recruiting selections and he’s seen something in Ferris that makes him think the Aussie rider will pay off for KTM in the US series.
Rockstar Energy Racing, which will be running KTMs this year, will have Jason Anderson back (along with Davi Millsaps in the 450 class) and the New Mexico rider turned in some great rides last year, including a win in Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Troy Lee Designs is relying on Cole Seely, Malcolm Stewart, and Jessy Nelson to carry the TLD banner.
Cooper Webb will head up Yamaha’s 250 SX efforts, riding for MyPlash/Metal Mulisha/Star Racing Yamaha. Webb got some great Supercross experience while racing last November’s Bercy Supercross in France and should make some waves in 2014.
AMSOIL AMA Arenacross Series Kicks Off In Massachusetts
AMSOIL Arenacross, featuring Ricky Carmichael’s Road to Supercross, will kick off its 12-round schedule this weekend in the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts, with two nights of racing on Friday, January 3, and Saturday, January 4.
Headlining the storylines for the 2014 season is the continued dominance of Team Babbitt’s Monster Energy/AMSOIL Kawasaki presented by Maxxis’ Tyler Bowers. The Kentucky native has amassed 44 wins the past three seasons en route to capturing the last three AMSOIL Arenacross titles. Sitting fourth on the all-time wins list, Bowers’ accomplishments in the sport already place him amongst the all-time greats despite being in the championship for just four seasons.
Following what Bowers considers to be his toughest championship triumph to date, the reigning three time title holder will continue his quest for history in 2014, looking to become just the third rider to win four straight championships. With his third consecutive victorious campaign in 2013, Bowers asserted himself into the elite company of Buddy Antunez and Dennis Hawthorne, the only back-to-back-to-back winners before him. While the third championship put Bowers into rare air, he still has the opportunity to duplicate the efforts of the greatest AMSOIL Arenacross riders of all time, each of whom ultimately won five consecutive titles.
“I’m honestly just enjoying the competition and challenge that AMSOIL Arenacross brings, the records and accolades are just bonuses,” said Bowers. “I do everything I can to be the best rider I can be, so winning races and championships is my priority. These have all been extremely difficult titles to achieve so there is a sense of reward to know all the hard work has put me into the same class as guys like Antunez and Hawthorne, who really shaped AMSOIL Arenacross into what it is today.”
With two 15-lap Main Events during each night of competition and the season-ending Race to the Championship, winning an AMSOIL Arenacross title is harder than its ever been 28 years of competition. Last season, Bowers captured eight overall victories and enjoyed a 60-plus point advantage in the standings before giving way to the Race to the Championship, which reset the points for the top 10 riders for the final four rounds of the season. After suffering a broken collarbone in a practice crash leading into the first round of the Race to the Championship, Bowers received emergency surgery and was forced to compete while injured, yet somehow managed to overcome the odds to win two more races and the title by just three points.
The compelling drama was true representation of the racing format that AMSOIL Arenacross provides and is the reason why the 2014 season is as unpredictable as ever despite Bowers’ recent string of dominance.
Leading the group of challengers in their quest to dethrone Bowers is his Team Babbitt’s teammate Zach Ames. Last year, Ames finished third in the championship but actually held the lead following the first round of the Race to the Championship. As Bowers’ longtime friend and training partner, there isn’t a rider in AMSOIL Arenacross who knows what it takes to beat the champion more than Ames. However, it will take a season worth of consistent execution in order to ultimately accomplish that feat.
In addition to Ames, veterans like Kelly Smith, Willy Browning, and Nathan Skaggs will be consistent front-runners capable of winning on any given night. The return of Gavin Gracyk to the series will also bring another formidable foe into the mix as he races alongside Smith at Team Faith/FLY Racing KTM. Last year’s breakout rider, Michael McDade, will flank Browning and Skaggs at Motorsport.com/MJM Express/Spinchillers Racing for the 2014 season in hopes on building off his fourth place finish in the championship one year ago.
This group of riders and the rest of the AMSOIL Arenacross field will line up on the gate for the first time this Friday night inside the DCU Center in hopes of emerging as the early title favorite for the 2014 season. Action from Worcester begins at 7 p.m. ET, following by a second night of competition on Saturday, also beginning at 7 p.m. ET. —Shan Moore
The One-off YZ450F Rally
Almost overlooked in the pre-race hype about the machines is the bike that five-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres will rely on: the one-off Yamaha YZ450F Rally.
Built by Yamaha Motor France with assistance from the factory in Japan, the team believes the MX-based weapon is well suited to the world’s longest and most prestigious endurance race with relatively few modifications. Its 2013 predecessor, after all, was the only one among the front-runners to not require an engine swap during the 2013 event–something that can pay handsomely since the first time you change a motor, you also pick up a 15-minute penalty and a second one costs 40 minutes.
According to an interview on sponsor Red Bull’s site, the Despres YZ-F sports rally-spec suspension, larger capacity fuel tanks both front and rear, a new water tank (all machines entered must have a fixed water tank that holds a minimum of three liters, and the rider must wear a drink system with a minimum capacity of two liters), rally-friendly riding position and, of course, a rally instrument cluster.
When Despres begins his 2014 Dakar journey this Sunday, he’ll be attempting to follow in the very successful tire tracks of fellow French standout Stephane Peterhansel, the winningest rider in the motorcycle category with six victories between 1991-1998 (the last year a non-European manufacturer triumphed).
Despres will have Mickael Metge as his chase rider on an identical machine. In addition, Despres brought with him some of the technicians he depended on during his previous stint aboard works KTMs–Chris Evans and Benji Melot–while Yamaha Motor France’s Alexandre Kowalski will once again serve as Team Manager.
It all points to what should be the most competitive Dakar in years with three full factory efforts and their collective millions of dollars invested.
Closer to home, we heard rumors of an unbelievable $1 entry fee for the THR Motorsports Parker 250 on January 11, the first of five rounds in Best in the Desert’s American Off-Road Racing Series. That’d save a bunch of money, of course.
After some investigating and a call to the BITD office, we discovered that there was a catch. Besides having to own a Ford vehicle, the only people eligible for the heavily subsidized entry fee were those award winners who were present at the BITD 2013 awards banquet. In other words, most people reading this are probably not eligible. Still, Parker is always a good race for those looking for a fast, chilly blast in the Arizona desert to kick off the new year. —Mark Kariya
That’s all for this week, be sure to check in next week for more news from the off-road world.