450 Class Championship Preview

The Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season has finally arrived, after much anticipation. Once again Hangtown will be host to the first round of the season, setting the stage for 12 rounds of intense racing all summer long.

With James Stewart back in the fold, the season started off with a bang in the 450 Class last year. JS7 showed his old speed, winning the first four motos despite some close competition from 2010 champion Ryan Dungey. Everything changed after Stewart's injury in the third race though, and from that point on, Dungey was able to coast to his second championship in three years.

Dungey realizes that things won't be as easy this year, but the Red Bull KTM rider is excited to take on the challenge of defending his #1 plate. "With Villopoto being back, and Reed, and Stewart and the rest of the guys you can't count out, it's gonna be good," he told us. "It's gonna be a very rewarding season to win."

As for Stewart, his decision to line up at Hangtown this year came as a bit of a surprise after he tore his ACL early in the Supercross season. Although it clearly inhibited him early on, Stewart rode through it and was cautious enough that he feels great heading into the oudoor season. "My knee's doing good," he said. "Luckily I just babied it around for about two months there, and I've got it healed up now."

Fresh off his third Supercross title in a row, Ryan Villopoto is certainly a title favorite after missing last season, and Chad Reed proved more than capable of winning races when he last contested the series in 2011. Both riders had some epic battles with Dungey that year in a season filled with plenty of drama. Two other guys who could throw a wrench this year into any of these folks' title plans are the Team Honda Muscle Milk duo of Justin Barcia and Trey Canard.

Barcia is technically a rookie in the 450 Class, although he's no stranger to competing on the big bike. He was tapped to ride the 450 in a couple Lucas Oil Pro Motocross race two years ago and did quite well. "That was definitely awesome for me to ride with the 450 guys outdoors," Barcia recalled. "I think I learned a lot."

Having dealt with multiple serious injuries over the last few years, Barcia's teammate Trey Canard is looking to put in his first full season outdoors since winning the 250 Class title in 2010. Canard's got talent, and the whole sport has been behind him all year, rooting for him to stay healthy and try to reach his full potential. "I'm in a different place this year," he said. "I'm just grateful to be at Hangtown."

With many of the contenders sidelined last year, the door was opened for Mike Alessi to challenge Dungey for moto wins, which he got at Washougal last year. Now with Stewart, Villopoto, Reed, Barcia and Canard all in the mix, the field has been stacked, and Alessi knows that he's going to raise his game in order to finish on the podium this year. "I think it's awesome," the MotoConcepts rider said of the added competition. "I believe it's good for the fans, it's good for the riders, and it raises the level of the riders."

One of the x-factors in this year's championship battle will be the introduction of Dean Wilson to the premier class. Deano was a 250 Class champion two seasons ago, but we have yet to really see what he's capable of on the big bike.

For more insights from these riders, watch the video at the top of the page. And make sure to see how it all plays out when the gates drop at Hangtown on Saturday. The live stream starts at 4pm ET with coverage of all 450 and 250 motos.