It is quite possible that there has never been a group of outdoor motocross riders with more collective talent than those contesting the 2000 AMA 250 Outdoor National Motocross championship beginning May 14 in San Bernardino, California.
Let’s see . . . we have two former World champions (Suzuki’s Greg Albertyn and Honda’s Sebastien Tortelli), three former National champions (Yamaha privateer Jeff Emig, Honda privateer Mike LaRocco, and Kawasaki’s Ricky Carmichael), and a host of other fast and talented riders.
Let’s get right to the predictions. We were prepared to pick Sebastien Tortelli as the likely winner of this series, but then Daytona happened, and Ricky Carmichael, quite frankly, started to confuse us.
Last year, as we stated in an earlier article, former World champion Sebastien Tortelli showed so much speed (particularly, at the opening round in San Bernardino) that we felt he was a shoe-in for the championship this year (he got injured last year, and lost the chance the win last year’s championship). We still think that Tortelli has blazing speed outdoors. We just can’t erase the image of Ricky Carmichael “holding it wide” on a 125, and, this image coupled with Carmichael’s incredible ride at the Daytona Supercross on a 250 this year (a hybrid race — maybe more of an outdoor race than a Supercross) makes us wonder if he just might take the championship.
We haven’t forgotten about Suzuki’s Greg Albertyn, who is the defending 250 Outdoor National motocross champion. Greg is certainly fast, and certainly capable of running with Tortelli and Carmichael. Greg is starting the season without much training, however, and, despite his own confidence (see MD’s article dated May 1, 2000), we doubt he will be up to speed until at least the third round of the series.
Honda’s Kevin Windham could be a factor, as well. We picked Kevin as the likely Supercross champion, but his strangely slow start to the series, and his inconsistency, make us wonder whether he will rack up enough points throughout the Outdoor National series to take the title. He certainly has the speed, but there a couple of factors weighing against him. First of all, Carmichael may get into Windham’s head, somewhat, because Carmichael consistently beat Windham when they last faced each other on 125s. Second, Windham didn’t really come alive outdoors last year until Tortelli was hurt, and a healthy, and fast, Tortelli may also make Windham ride tight (fast teammates have a way of doing that).
Other riders who could win motos include Kawasaki’s John Dowd, Yamaha privateer Jeff Emig and Honda privateer Mike LaRocco. Could any of these guys take the championship? Perhaps LaRocco could, but we just don’t think he has the speed of a Tortelli, Carmichael, Albertyn or Windham. His consistency could do it, however, if other top riders have injury problems or mechanical DNFs.
As for Emig, he’s coming back from two broken arms, and we just don’t know how he’s going to ride. He surely has the talent, and was the fastest outdoor rider in the world just three years ago. During that time frame, John Dowd was one of the few (if not the only) American rider who could hang with Emig on an outdoor motocross track (Dowd even beat Emig occasionally during the season when Emig won his last 250 Outdoor National championship).
The other factory riders are a bit of a question mark. Ezra Lusk has speed, but he has never been consistently fast outdoors (he is a better Supercross rider). Ezra is also coming back from injury. Kawasaki’s Larry Ward is fast and consistent, but not fast enough in this company. Yamaha’s David Vuillemin was third in the World 250 motocross championship series last year, but we don’t think he has the speed outdoors to upset one of the favorites in this year’s AMA series.
Suzuki’s Damon Huffman and Robbie Reynard are chameleons — fast one day and slow the next. I really doubt either of them will be a factor in the championship.
So it boils down to four riders — Tortelli, Carmichael, Windham and Albertyn. Which one will win? Well, we certainly could be wrong (in fact, we probably will be wrong), but here’s our prediction for the top four.
We’re going to pick Ricky Carmichael to win the AMA 250 Outdoor National Motocross championship this year. Watching Ricky struggle early in this year’s Supercross championship, then dig deep and dominate Daytona, tells us a lot about his heart. We also know that he flat out flies on an outdoor motocross track — and he knows these tracks better than Tortelli does. Ricky has so much confidence outdoors that he is hard to bet against. Remember, over the last three years, on these same outdoor motocross tracks, Carmichael has been virtually unstoppable. Although he was on a 125, he knows the 250 well enough now that he can attack the same tracks with the same confidence.
We’ll pick Tortelli for second place (but he could easily be champion if he stays healthy and rides as fast as he did at times last year). Tortelli versus Carmichael when both are having a good day? We’ll enjoy watching it, and it could make for some of the best racing ever. Tortelli has improved a lot at supercross, but he was inconsistent again this year. Carmichael just seems to push himself harder to win — but we’ll see.
We’ll pick Suzuki’s Greg Albertyn for third place. Greg has an awful lot of speed and heart as well, and he could place higher. Albertyn is also an outdoor specialist, who frequently struggles at supercross. He never gives up, however, and when he is flowing and “on” outdoors, he is very hard to beat. He beat Windham last year more than once when Windham was riding well, and that says a lot for Albertyn’s speed.
We predict Honda’s Kevin Windham will place fourth outdoors this year. Windham will clearly win motos, and he could surprise us. He has the talent and the speed to win it all, but he hasn’t shown us lately that he can stay focused for an entire championship season.
Mike LaRocco is our dark horse. LaRocco is a former National champion, and he is still one of the best conditioned riders on the circuit. If LaRocco shows up on the rumored Honda four-stroke, the series might get even more interesting. A big four-stroke could cure LaRocco of his problems with starts. Imagine LaRocco consistently out front early in motos — even with holeshots. This would be rare for him, and he is used to charging from the back of the pack.
If LaRocco is on his 250, we don’t think he will amass enough points to win the championship without injuries to other top riders.
Well, there you have it, our fearless predictions. This will be an interesting season, and we will be watching it very closely and reporting it to you.