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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

The Usual Suspects Return to Battle for AMA Supercross Title in 2006

Two Canadian rounds of the World Supercross GP occur over the next two weekends, leading into the AMA Supercross series that begins in January of next year. This year, most of the top riders will compete in Canada. Last year, the only top rider competing in Canada was Ricky Carmichael (Suzuki), and as a result Carmichael showed up for the opening round of the AMA Supercross Series faster, and more race-ready than his competition.

Tomorrow night in Toronto, all of the top riders will sort out their new machines in an effort to be ready for the AMA Series in January. As we have stated before, the top riders all appear to be switching to 450cc four-strokes (from 250c two-strokes) for the 2006 series.

Who will win the AMA title in 2006? We have to begin by looking at the same top riders who contended for race wins last year, including Suzuki’s Ricky Carmichael, Yamaha’s Chad Reed, and Kawasaki’s James Stewart.

Carmichael, of course, not only won last year’s AMA Supercross title, he had a year that no one will ever forget. On top of his Supercross title, he added the AMA Outdoor Motocross Series title (winning every round in the series), the World Supercross GP crown, the US Open title and the US Motocross des Nations title. You would think that Carmichael, who is healthy and rested, is the clear favorite to take another AMA Supercross title in 2006. Not necessarily.

Both Carmichael and Reed will be aboard four-stroke 450s in supercross for the first time this year. Reed is on an all-new YZ450F, while Carmichael will race the same RM-Z450 he competed aboard outdoors earlier this year. You have to give the advantage to Carmichael here, because he certainly knows his bike better than Reed does the all-new YZ450F.

We have ridden the new YZ450F (our report is here), however, and we know it is an excellent bike. Both Reed and his teammate Heath Voss claim it is a very effective supercross weapon. We do not doubt this. Yamaha has been at the four-stroke game longer than any of the other Japanese manufacturers, and we expect Reed’s bike to be very competitive from the start.

What about James Stewart? He will also be aboard a brand new 450cc four-stroke, the KX450F we tested here. Another outstanding motorcycle, and Stewart is reportedly very fast on it and very consistent with his lap times in practice. Nevertheless, Stewart has less four-stroke experience than any of the other top riders, and is therefore more likely to suffer from the stalling/starting issues we discussed in our article dated November 27, 2005. We have no doubt that Kawasaki will have the KX450F ready for battle, but there is definitely a learning curve when switching from a two-stroke to a four-stroke, and Stewart must be closer to the beginning of that learning curve than either Carmichael or Reed.

Obviously, there are plenty of other talented riders competing in the AMA Supercross series in 2006, including but not necessarily limited to Kevin Windham (Honda) and Carmichael’s new teammate Ivan Tedesco (a two-time champ in the 125cc division — now called “Lites”). These riders, and others, threaten to mix it up with the leaders, but we do not consider any of them title threats.

So what is our prediction for 2006? We think 2006 will be another dog fight between Carmichael and Reed for the title. They are the two most experienced, consistent supercross riders expected to run at the front each Saturday night. Both are past AMA Supercross champions, as well. Frankly, we think it is a toss up between these two, and either of them could take the 2006 AMA Supercross title. Forced to make a choice, however, we have to go with Carmichael, due to his incredible performance in 2005 and his close familiarity with his four-stroke RM-Z450 motorcycle.

Where will Stewart finish? James Stewart is going to be the fastest man on the track at times, no doubt. We also think Stewart is easily capable of taking race wins in the series. The reason we are not picking Stewart for the title is simple, however. Stewart has lacked consistency since moving from the 125cc class to the big bike class last year. Erratic riding, crashes, and injuries have plagued Stewart since that move up, and a new, more powerful KX450F will require Stewart to adjust his riding style and potentially lead to additional mistakes or even crashes. Stewart is clearly fast, and a likely future champion (if he stays healthy), but we don’t think 2006 is his year.

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