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Hangtown: Round one preview

Carmichael's curtain call, Stewart's next challenge Villopoto and Townley set for Lites showdown PICKERINGTON, Ohio (May 11, 2007) -- The 2007 AMA Toyota Motocross Championship presented by FMF promises to be one of the most memorable in series...

Carmichael's curtain call, Stewart's next challenge
Villopoto and Townley set for Lites showdown

PICKERINGTON, Ohio (May 11, 2007) -- The 2007 AMA Toyota Motocross Championship presented by FMF promises to be one of the most memorable in series history. This will perhaps be the final opportunity for fans to see Ricky Carmichael, the all-time wins leader in AMA Motocross, race his Makita Suzuki in AMA Motocross. This season also provides Monster Energy Kawasaki's recently crowned Amp'd Mobile AMA Supercross champ James Stewart with his next big challenge. Can he beat Carmichael in RC's element? And can No. 7 emerge a stronger rider after suffering a difficult campaign in AMA Motocross last year?

While the final chapter on the Carmichael/Stewart rivalry will be the headline story for much of the season, AMA Motocross Lites promises to provide plenty of storylines on its own. Young Ryan Villopoto emerged as perhaps the top up-and-coming rider after winning the Motocross Lites title last year, but this season he'll face an even tougher challenge in the form of his own Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki teammate and former world champion Ben Townley, of New Zealand.

The sizzling summer kicks off on May 20 at the 39th Annual Hangtown Motocross Classic near Sacramento, then embarks on a whirlwind tour of ten states in just under four months, ending back in California for the finale on Sept. 9, at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino.

In addition to great battles between great rivals, motocross fans will see a new qualifying system implemented this year. AMA Racing will debut timed qualifying in place of heat races. Another new feature will be a consolation race for the riders who don't qualify. The top two riders from the consolation races will be placed as reserve riders for the national. Carmichael will not attempt to defend his 2007 AMA Motocross Championship. The 27-year-old rider from Tallahassee, Fla., is making the transition to stock car racing and is now a developmental driver in Ginn Racing's NASCAR program. But while he'll be part-time in AMA Motocross this year, he's slated to race at least six of the 12 events in the championship and would love nothing better than to leave mid-season leading the series standings.

He has another goal he's hoping to reach; he'd like to round off his combined AMA Motocross and Supercross wins total at 150.

"I'd love to get 150 AMA wins, I'm so close," Carmichael said of his record 144 combined AMA Motocross and Supercross victories. "Since I'm not running for a championship, that's a goal I put out there for myself."

Carmichael's Suzuki contract runs through 2009 and he says he's leaving the door open to come back and do a select race or two after 2007 if he feels he has a chance to reach the 150 win plateau.

While Carmichael is thinking wins coming into the season, Stewart is thinking championships and the record books. The 21-year-old from Haines City, Fla., is coming off his first AMA Supercross Series title and would love to add an AMA Motocross Championship to his already impressive resume. He'd also like to begin chasing some of the records riders like Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath established before him in motocross and supercross.

"The record book is what I'm shooting for now," Stewart said boldly. "I figure if I put my head down for the next couple of years I can break some records, so I'm looking forward to trying for that. Winning the supercross title rejuvenated me. A lot of times when you're trying to win championships you get into a situation where it turns into work. Now that I've got that out of the way [winning the supercross title] I can just have fun and enjoy racing."

The focus will be on the Carmichael/Stewart duel during the first half of the season, but riders like Kevin Windham, Grant Langston, Ivan Tedesco, Davi Millsaps, Tim Ferry and a few others are hoping to run consistently enough to be in the championship hunt.

Windham, of the Sobe/No Fear/Samsung Honda team, can run with anyone on his best days. A few years ago he was the only rider to challenge Carmichael. At 29, Windham knows his window of opportunity to win a championship is narrowing. Many experts feel he has the talent to win, time will tell if he can step up to the challenge.

Stewart's Kawasaki teammate Ferry is another longtime veteran who showed renewed speed in supercross and is hoping to carry that over onto the outdoor circuits.

Honda's Millsaps and Andrew Short are two of the younger generation to show great potential. Both have been injured recently and they hope to bounce back strong this summer. Mike Alessi is another exciting young rider hoping to make the jump from the Lites ranks to the premier Motocross class. Alessi won a national last year in Motocross Lites and was a consistent podium finisher. He rides for Red Bull KTM. His brother Jeff Alessi will join him on the team.

Langston and Tedesco are both former Motocross Lites champions. With Chad Reed racing with a Supercross-only contract, Yamaha's hopes fall squarely on Langston's shoulders. The same goes for Tedesco at Suzuki -- with Carmichael racing part-time, Tedesco is Suzuki's big hope to win in the class.

Frenchman David Vuillemin has what it takes to win on any given Sunday. He will ride on the privateer Xyience /MDK/Answer Honda squad.

The spotlight will shine on the two-man battle between Carmichael and Stewart in the Motocross class and in the Lites class it's also two riders, Ryan Villopoto and Ben Townley, ranked as pre-season favorites. Not only will the duo battle to determine the fastest Lites rider in the country, they'll also be fighting to be the top rider under the same banner -- Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki.

It's rare for one manufacturer to have so much talent across the board, but with riders like Stewart, Villopoto and Townley it would be hard to bet against Kawasaki at any race this summer.

"I had a great season in Supercross and I'm looking forward to trying to defend my championship in the outdoors," said Villopoto, who hails from Poulsbo, Wash. "I think the competition is going to be even tougher this year. Hopefully I can continue to improve my riding and do what it takes to win back to back."

The last rider to win back-to-back championship in the Lites class was Ricky Carmichael, a rider many are comparing Villopoto to. "I enjoy the comparisons," Villopoto admitted. "But I've got a long way to go to reach Ricky's level. I'm just trying to stay focused on what I've got to do to win championships. I want to do the best I can."

Four different riders won in Motocross Lites last year. Beside champ Villopoto, the only one of those winners returning to the series this season is Yamaha's Broc Hepler. Hepler scored an impressive three-straight national wins last season and is slated to return to the track for the motocross season. He was injured training this winter and is hoping to make his comeback by Hangtown. His teammate Josh Hill is coming off a better than expected supercross season and is primed to get off to a good start.

Ryan Dungey, of Makita Suzuki, showed raw speed during the supercross season, but lacked the consistency to win a title. In spite of that, Dungy is the third ranked Lites rider in the most recent Toyota/Racer X Power Rankings. A win in the Supercross Lites season finale might provide just the momentum Dungey needs.

Jason Lawrence is an animal when he's on. The Boost Mobile Yamaha rider claims he's ready for motocross. "I plan on shining outdoors," Lawrence said. "That's what I've been looking forward to all supercross season long." With Lawrence and Ryan Morais the Boost Mobile team will be loaded.

Josh Grant burst onto the scene a few years ago by leading the series opener at Hangtown. The Sobe No Fear/Samsung Mobile Honda rider is hoping to start this year the same way.

Other riders to watch in the support class include Motoworldracing.com Yamaha's Branden Jesseman, Honda's Tommy Hahn, Jake Weimer of Sobe No Fear/Samsung Mobile Honda, who came on strong with a second-place result in the Las Vegas Supercross Lites finale, and Red Bull KTM's Martin Davalos, who was third in Vegas.

The AMA Toyota Motocross Championship presented by FMF from Sacramento, Calif., will broadcast on SPEED with coverage of the AMA Motocross class May 27 at 6 pm Eastern. Motocross Lites coverage will air Tuesday, May 29 at 3pm Eastern.

Racer X Illustrated magazine will be providing web coverage including audio and streaming video. Additional live timing and scoring will be available on www.amamotocross.com.

-credit: ama

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Series AMA
Drivers Ricky Carmichael , David Vuillemin , Kevin Windham , Jeremy McGrath , Branden Jesseman , Josh Grant , Josh Hill , Mike Alessi , Jake Weimer , Ryan Dungey , Ryan Villopoto , Davi Millsaps , Andrew Short , Jason Lawrence