As we have already reported, Ricky Carmichael will miss the entire AMA Supercross series with a torn ACL in his knee, and surgery rehabilitation. We have also reported on Chad Reed’s recent shoulder injury and surgery which should see him on the side lines until the start of the AMA Supercross series in Anaheim next January.
With Carmichael out, and Reed hoping to come back from an injury at the very start of the series, we could see some unfamiliar faces at the top of the supercross podium this year. Not unfamiliar completely, because they are riders we know well, who simply have not been able to take home the trophies that Carmichael and Reed have been keeping to themselves.
One such rider is Ezra Lusk, now on a Yamaha. Ezra is the answer to that trivia question: “Who is the only rider to win a supercross race in 2003 besides Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed?” He was aboard a factory Kawasaki when he won the Phoenix supercross earlier this year.
Lusk has always had good speed on a supercross track. In the late 1990s, he was the first rider to beat Jeremy McGrath straight-up (Lusk was on a Honda at the time). Problems with injuries can be blamed for much of Lusk’s lackluster performance thereafter, but he is now healthy and hauling at the Yamaha test track, where is lap times are reportedly quicker than either David Vuillemin or Chad Reed (before he was injured).
Vuillemin returns on his factory Yamaha this year, and is reportedly benefitting from a relationship with retired racer David Baily, his trainer/coach. Vuillemin has looked like he might win the AMA supercross series in the past, running Ricky Carmichael’s pace when an injury in a photo shoot effectively ended his season a couple of years ago. Vuillemin has been working himself back into better shape, and should be able to run at or near the front this year.
Kevin Windham looked like a different person aboard his Honda CRF450R in the Outdoor Motocross series this year, where he occasionally beat the previously unbeatable Ricky Carmichael. Windham is also one of the most skilled supercross riders we have yet seen, but has had historical problems with confidence and mental concentration. If the Outdoor series is any indication, Windham has largely conquered those problems, and he could be a legitimate threat to take the title. You can bet that his 450cc thumper will get to the first turn very quickly in every race, nailing many holeshots.
Of course, if Reed shows up at the first Anaheim race physically ready, he would have to be the favorite to take the title. He finished the AMA Supercross series last year by shutting out Ricky Carmichael six straight races . . . a remarkable accomplishment.
Other riders to watch include Ernesto Fonseca (Honda), Mike LaRocco (Honda) and Michael Byrne (Kawasaki), who is recovering from a shoulder injury himself. Fonseca might be inspired to push harder with team leader Carmichael on the sidelines. LaRocco was off the pace last year, but this may have been due to nagging injuries. He has reportedly been fast in practice this last month. Byrne surprised many last year by running the pace of the leaders in more than one race. He is still learning supercross, and should be even faster this year.
Who does MD predict to be champion? We think Chad Reed will have the speed and consistency this year to take the title, even if he is slightly off the pace the first few races due to his recent shoulder injury.