A new champion will be crowned in AMA Supercross
2004 season kicks off with traditional Anaheim opener.
PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Dec. 29, 2003) -- The 2004 THQ AMA Supercross Series gets underway this Saturday, Jan. 3, at Edison International Field in Anaheim, Calif. The door to this year's championship flung wide open with Honda's announcement that three-time and defending AMA Supercross Champion Ricky Carmichael would spend the 2004 AMA Supercross season recovering from knee surgery and would concentrate on preparing for the AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship, which begins in May. With Carmichael on the sidelines the series takes on an entirely new character with the only certainty being that a first-time AMA Supercross champ will be crowned when the season concludes in Las Vegas on May 1.
With Carmichael out, the heavy pre-season favorite is Yamaha ace Chad Reed. The 21-year-old Australian closed the 2003 AMA Supercross Series with an outstanding run of six-straight victories, pushing Carmichael to the final event in the championship chase. Even if Carmichael would have been able to race this season many believe Reed was primed to take over the mantle considering the way in which he finished the series last season. Reed comes into Anaheim I the defending winner of the race. What a difference a year makes. Last year Reed was a surprise and first-time winner of the opening round and now, in only his second full season of AMA Supercross, he is expected to be the number one contender for the title.
While Reed is favored to win the series, by his own admission he may not be fully ready to challenge for the win this weekend. Shoulder surgery kept Reed's pre-season training to a minimum. He's only been practicing on the bike about a week or so prior to Anaheim I and his expectations for the season opener are realistic.
"My whole priority is to get through the first Anaheim weekend, then to start looking towards the entire series," Reed told Racer X Illustrated. "It's going to be a challenge to come back from the injury, but I'm looking forward to it. I've been hearing stories out there and I'm looking forward to getting the season started."
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited comeback in years in the series is the return of Honda's Kevin Windham to AMA Supercross competition. It's been nearly two years since Windham last raced in an AMA Supercross event. In February of 2002 Windham suffered a severely broken leg at the Atlanta Supercross. Last summer Windham made a spectacular return to professional racing in the AMA Motocross Championship, winning two events and finishing runner-up to Carmichael in the final 250 Motocross standings.
Now Windham returns to the stadium battles riding the brutally powerful Honda CR450F. Many pundits feel that it will be Windham, not Reed, who breaks through to win his first AMA Supercross Series title. The Mississippi-based rider hopes to win his first main event in Anaheim. A victory for Windham in the series opener would be his first in AMA Supercross since April of 2000.
Others riders to watch for in Anaheim include Yamaha teammates David Vuillemin and Tim Ferry. Vuillemin feels he's in the best shape since the 2002 season when he won three AMA Supercross rounds and finished second to Carmichael in the final point standings. The Frenchman won the Anaheim season opener in 2002. Tim Ferry has been a steady workmanlike performer over the last few years. Many consider the 28-year-old Floridian to be the best rider to never have won an AMA Supercross race. Ferry hopes to change that at Anaheim this Saturday and finally put one in the win column after six years of trying.
The Honda camp looks a lot less intimidating without Carmichael, but the team still fields perhaps the toughest competitor in the history of AMA Supercross in Mike LaRocco. The 32-year-old Hoosier racing veteran known as "The Rock" is always a threat. He's also a former Anaheim winner. Fellow Honda rider Ernesto Fonseca is a rider who many feel is ready to step up and start winning races. The Costa Rica native is a three-time 125 West Supercross winner at Anaheim, but like Ferry is looking for his first victory in the premier class.
Defending AMA 125 Motocross Champion Grant Langston hopes to bring KTM its first AMA Supercross victory. The South African is one of the most versatile riders in motorcycle racing proving a winner in the AMA Red Bull Supermoto Championship as well. Langston would love to accomplish something his famous South African countryman Greg Albertyn was never quite able to pull off and that's a victory at Anaheim.
Kawasaki will rely on Australian Michael Byrne to return the AMA Supercross title to Team Green. "Burner" raced AMA 250 Supercross part time last season and turned in some good performances, including leading a major portion of Anaheim III.
Suzuki's AMA Supercross team has seemed almost cursed in the last few seasons. The team's riders have been saddled with almost constant injury. The bad luck continued in the off-season when Sebastien Tortelli elected to have surgery on his knee and is expected to miss the entire AMA Supercross Series this year. Up-and-coming riders Sean Hamblin and Nick Wey will put on their hard hats and try to give Suzuki its first Anaheim victory in 23 years.
This year former Kawasaki factory rider Ezra Lusk finds himself among the support team ranks with the Mach 1 Yamaha squad. Lusk was the only other rider besides Carmichael and Reed to win an AMA Supercross last year. A victory at Anaheim would be a triumph not only for the Georgian veteran, but for all non-factory racers as well.
Others hoping to break through at Anaheim include Tennessee native Mike Brown, who will be riding for Yamaha of Troy and Larry Ward, who has one of the longest careers in the history of AMA Supercross. At 33, Ward will be plugging away trying to win his first at Anaheim.
Anaheim I will receive next-day coverage on ABC's Wide World of Sports beginning at 4:00 p.m. EST on Sunday, Jan.4. Tickets for Anaheim can be purchased via Ticketmaster. Call (630) 566-6100 for additional race info.