In two weeks, the AMA 250 Outdoor National Motocross championship series begins in San Bernardino, California. The 250 class is stacked with talent, once again. Once again, Ricky Carmichael (this year with Honda, rather than Kawasaki) is the clear favorite, but there could always be surprises.
Carmichael’s teammate, Sebastien Tortelli, former 250 World Motocross champion, has struggled with bad luck and injuries in prior seasons, but has always shown the speed to run with Carmichael and, occasionally, beat him. We think Tortelli is due for some good luck this year, and that he will give Carmichael fits at certain tracks.
Another Honda rider could make things very interesting outdoors. Mike LaRocco will campaign the 450cc four-stroke. A four-stroke has already won a 250 National championship (with Doug Henry on a Yamaha YZ400F . . . remember?), and Tim Ferry was very competitive on the YZ426F last year. LaRocco could be a perfect fit with this bike. After a history of poor starts, the big four-stroke could help LaRocco get out front early, and then do what he does best — outlast everyone else.
Over in the Kawasaki pits, Stephane Roncada could surprise a few people this year. Just as he did in the Supercross series, Roncada could show he has adapted to the 250, and is ready to mix it up with the leaders. Teammate Ezra Lusk is known more for his supercross riding than his outdoor skills, but, after a disappointing Supercross series, Lusk will be very determined outdoors and could finish on the podium with some frequency.
Yamaha’s Tim Ferry, as we already stated, proved he belongs at the front of the pack outdoors on his YZ426F. He should be even faster this year on the big four-stroke. Teammate David Vuillemin, after losing the Supercross title to Ricky Carmichael, will be out for blood outdoors — feeling he has nothing to lose.
Suzuki has two of the riders with the speed to challenge Carmichael, but both of them have had health problems recently. Kevin Windham’s broken femur a couple of months ago means he will be working himself back into shape for several rounds, and probably be off the pace until mid series. Travis Pastrana, meanwhile, after surgery to correct some sinus problems, and removal of his tonsils, is reportedly quite run down and weak. He may be questionable for the opening round in San Bernardino, but he clearly has the speed to challenge for wins once he gets his strength back.
Overall, we simply cannot bet against Ricky Carmichael. We expect Carmichael to take yet another championship with teammate Sebastien Tortelli hot on his heels. From there, it really is a crap shoot given all of the injuries in the 250 Supercross series this year. LaRocco is dealing with his own injury — the wrist he broke fairly early on in the Supercross series. If LaRocco shows up healthy at Glen Helen, we think he will finish third in the championship. Otherwise, we like Tim Ferry followed by his teammate David Vuillemin. Any way you look at it, it will be a very interesting series, and one of the toughest championship fights Carmichael has faced in a while.