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2001 AMA 250 Supercross Preview: The Year of the Cobra

This is our second annual preview and fearless predictions for the AMA 250 Supercross series beginning in January, 2001. Last year, we went out on a limb to some extent by picking Kevin Windham (then with Honda) to de-throne Yamaha’s Jeremy McGrath. It didn’t happen. In fact, Windham had a mediocre year, while McGrath captured his seventh supercross title with David Vuillemin as his closest competition.

Quite frankly, it appears that the Yamaha-mounted McGrath and Vuillemin should be the favorites again in 2001. Vuillemin’s performance in Europe after the 2000 AMA series only confirms he is getting faster and more comfortable racing in the 250 supercross class. By winning all six 250 main events at the Bercy supercross event a few weeks ago (the first rider ever to do so), Vuillemin signaled that he is ready to be more consistent than last year, as well. This could spell serious trouble for Jeremy McGrath.

Two other riders will make this year’s AMA 250 Supercross championship very interesting. Kawasaki’s Ricky Carmichael, now entering his second full year on a 250, appeared comfortable and fast during the early 250 supercross races of the year 2000. In fact, Carmichael had just beaten Jeremy McGrath in a heat race when he was injured early in the 250 main event in San Diego. Although he recovered from this injury and rode most of the remaining races, Carmichael never seemed to find his rhythm on a supercross track — with the glaring exception of Daytona (which he dominated — the race is really more of an outdoor national than a supercross, however). Carmichael, of course, went on to dominate the 250 Outdoor National championship, and set the record for most wins in that series in a single season. More recently, he thoroughly dominated the Las Vegas U.S. Open of Supercross (although McGrath and Vuillemin were absent from that race).

Carmichael has the speed on a supercross track (he has already shown that). The question is whether he can ride consistently fast, and keep it on two wheels. We think Carmichael will be more consistent this year, and win more than one race (perhaps several races).

Suzuki’s Travis Pastrana steps up to the 250 supercross class after finishing in the runner-up position in the East Coast 125 series last year. Pastrana, like Carmichael, rode a stellar Outdoor National series, capturing the 125 Outdoor National championship.

In our opinion, Pastrana will struggle early in the year (with flashes of brilliance) on the 250. He is still quite young, and moving to a 250 is difficult enough. Moving to a 250 in supercross (as opposed to outdoor motocross) is more difficult still. Nevertheless, if Suzuki sticks with its plan to keep Pastrana on a 250 all season, Pastrana will win at least one race.

Other riders to watch will be Suzuki’s Kevin Windham, Honda’s Mike LaRocco and Sebastian Tortelli, and Kawasaki’s Stephane Roncada (last year’s East Coast 125cc Supercross champion). Windham still has as much, or more, talent as any rider on the track. After several seasons of riding below his ability, however, we have to question his chances at gaining the 250 Supercross championship. We chose Windham to win last year, because we thought he had matured enough on the 250, and knew he had blazing speed. He never seemed to put it together last year, however. We see no reason to expect Windham to consistently ride at the level he is capable of this year, either.

By all accounts, Honda’s Sebastian Tortelli has improved his supercross skills, yet again. The outdoor master (who might have made Carmichael sweat a little more outdoors this year had he not been injured with several rounds remaining) would need to improve dramatically, however, to run with McGrath, Vuillemin and Carmichael (and even Pastrana, once he figures out how to ride the 250).

LaRocco, is now the old man of motocross. The former National champion is still very fast, however, and still capable of riding harder at the end of a race than most competitors due to his outstanding conditioning. LaRocco would love to win a race or two, and he came close to doing so last year.

This will be a learning year for Stephane Roncada. A new bike and a new class (stepping up to 250s for the first time) will require significant adjustment. Roncada is definitely talented enough, however, to make the podium more than once in this coming season. Several other riders could make the podium from time-to-time, as well. Keep an eye on Tim Ferry. He will be on the potent Yamaha YZ426F previously ridden by Jimmy Button and Doug Henry. Some riders can switch to the four-stroke fairly quickly and smoothly, while others struggle to adapt. Ferry has been injured in the off season, which has kept him from practicing as much as he would like on the new machine, and this could mean he will struggle with the bike early in the season. We will have to wait and see.

Okay, now we will state our expected finishing order for the 2001 AMA 250 Supercross series. We are picking David Vuillemin to take the championship this year, with Jeremy McGrath finishing second. Although Ricky Carmichael might dominate a few races (Daytona included), we think that he will still have problems with consistency, and will finish third in the championship. Travis Pastrana will grab fourth place, and come on strong in the second half of the season. Fifth place in the championship will go to Mike LaRocco, who will show his usual strength and consistency, but be unable to consistently finish ahead of the other four riders mentioned above.

Send us a short e-mail with your prediction for the top five finishers.