This is the type of article where the audience is usually peppered with cheap, promotional-sounding clichés: “It’s the deepest field in history,” or “The starting gate is stacked with talent,” or, the most cringe-worthy, “Anyone could win.”
No. Not every rider can win. Looking fast in pre-season testing is not as telling as it seems. Everyone looks fast in practice. Yes, this is Scrooge-like post-holiday candor, but before this curmudgeonly rant starts to reek, here are the facts:
The magic number is 4.5. In 42 years of Monster Energy Supercross, the average number of riders to win in a single season is only four and a half. With 22 riders on the main event starting gate, that’s scant diversity. The Supercross season has ranged greatly from just three events (1974) to 18 (1990 and 1991) and has settled on 15 to 17 for the past 20 years. There has been one perfect season (Jimmy Ellis, four for four in 1975), two seasons where only two riders won (1996 and 2001) and the most diverse season in Supercross history was 1985, when eight riders won in 11 rounds.
Thankfully, the dominating days of Ricky Carmichael and Jeremy McGrath are gone. At least five riders have earned a victory every season since 2010, and in 2015 the number was six. But over four decades, 4.5 is the baseline. In honor of that, here are 4.5 storylines to watch for in 2016.
1. Ryan Dungey
Dungey was not a popular pre-season pick for champion a year ago, and even now most experts are reluctant to blurt “RD5!” when asked who will be the points leader in early May. Mathematically, however, everyone knows Dungey is as logical as it gets for two reasons: consistency and presence. The Minnesotan is entering his 10th year as a professional racer and he’s missed exactly nine (9!) Supercross and motocross races in his entire career. Eli Tomac missed nine rounds of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in 2015 alone. Ken Roczen missed eight Supercross races last year and Trey Canard was absent 14 events between the two series.
Dungey is not usually the fastest rider on the gate, just like Jeff Stanton was rarely faster than Damon Bradshaw. While Dungey has piled up quite a collection of those behemoth 55-pound Monster Energy Supercross winner’s globes, he never misses the chance to take home a lighter trophy, too. In the 17 supercross races of 2015, his worst finish was fourth, and that was only once. While Tomac ended 2015 with a very respectable 11 top-three finishes (and three wins), it was the pair of 20th-place nights that killed his title hopes.
Dungey did all of this on a motorcycle that he and his team were still developing and he started the season with only part-time help from proven trainer Aldon Baker. In 2016, Dungey enters his fifth year with KTM and second on the all-new 450SX-F. It will be his first full year working with Baker, whose pre-season prep program would seem like an urban legend if we didn’t already know that it led riders such as Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Ryan Villopoto to championships.
Good luck to everyone else.
2. The return men
Ken Roczen, Trey Canard and Eli Tomac collectively won seven Supercross main events in 2015 but they missed double that. Dungey’s most realistic and consistent competition will come from these three — if they last the season. Roczen enters his second year with RCH Racing and will attempt to become only the second rider in Supercross history to win the opening round in three consecutive seasons (Jeremy McGrath 1994 through 1996).
The most complete Supercross season Trey Canard has ever had was in 2013, when he was knocked out in round 11, missed round 12 and finished sixth overall. He’s the type of athlete everyone wants to root for, but his injuries have been tragic and some threatened to end his career. Through them, he’s remained unflappable, upbeat and continues to win races.
Tomac has moved to Monster Energy Kawasaki, a program that has won four of the last five championships. His speed will earn him race wins, but until he learns he doesn’t need to be that fast all the time, his mistakes will hurt him.
3. The over-30 club
Only four riders have ever won a Supercross main event after turning 30. Chad Reed is one of them. No rider has won a championship after turning 30. That’s bad news for Reed and James Stewart, who returns to the Supercross starting line for the first time since May 2014, following a 16-month suspension handed down by the Federation of International Motorcycling.
Stewart’s appearances in the off-season events were mixed. He won the Red Bull Straight Rhythm but DNF’d at both the Monster Energy Cup (jammed wrist) and the Lillie Supercross in France (ankle). An important positive for Stewart is that his team, Yoshimura Suzuki, has stuck with him. While it might take him some time find rhythm at the races, he won’t be trying to gel with a new team.
Reed's own TwoTwo Motorsports team is done and for 2016 he returns to the factory Yamaha team where he won Supercross titles in 2004 and 2008.
“I honestly feel like I can still be a champ,” Reed told MotoGP commentator Daryl Beattie in an interview. Reed, who turns 34 in March, said he gets a lot of inspiration from friend and fellow racer Valentino Rossi who, at 36, nearly won the 2015 MotoGP championship.
Reed has won at least one main event in 11 of his 13 seasons in the 450SX class. Stewart has at least one win in every season he’s competed.
Justin Barcia, Davi Millsaps, Cole Seely and Andrew Short are all former race winners with potential for more. Other riders to watch include Weston Peick, Broc Tickle, Dean Wilson, Jake Weimer, Will Hahn and Jason Anderson.
Moving up to 450SX are two former 250SX champions, Marvin Musquin and Christophe Pourcel of France. Musquin and Pourcel bring maturity as 450SX rookies and as Dungey’s teammate, Musquin will benefit from all the technical work that has been done on the KTM 450. Pourcel is an unusual case: He won his 250SX championships in 2009 and 2010 and hasn’t raced Supercross in America since. He was fifth overall in the 450 class of the 2015 Pro Motocross championship.
Only five riders made all 17 main events in 2015 and many marquee riders missed huge chunks of the season. Blake Baggett, who finished fifth overall, is already missing part of 2016 with a broken collarbone, ribs and scapula. Injuries destroy championship runs. They’re a part of the sport and they’re the main reason why only 4.5 riders win in any given season.