2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season preview: 450 Class

With Dungey and Roczen out, is this Tomac's title to lose?

It's "Stopwatch Nationals" season out in California, which means another summer of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross is nearly upon us. Starting May 20th at Hangtown, 12 rounds of racing in the great outdoors and the possibility of a wide-open title chase in the 450 Class will commence.

Of course, it often seems like there's a level of intense hype and anticipation at the start of every season, when often times one rider to end up asserting themselves as "the one to beat" that year — you know, the dominant racer who racks up double-digit moto wins and decidedly wins the title. Last year was one such season, as you probably recall Ken Roczen laying a beatdown on the rest of the field for 12 rounds. He won 20 of 24 motos!

But defending a title has proven to be harder than ever lately. You would have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time a rider accomplished that feat — it was the great Ricky Carmichael winning his seventh straight championship. There are many great names on the list of recent champions, but it's possible we may not see any of them lining up this summer, which could leave the 2017 title up for grabs.

Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champions
2016: Ken Roczen

2015: Ryan Dungey

2014: Ken Roczen

2013: Ryan Villopoto

2012: Ryan Dungey

2011: Ryan Villopoto

2010: Ryan Dungey

2009: Chad Reed

2008: James Stewart
2007: Grant Langston

2006: Ricky Carmichael

2005: Ricky Carmichael

2004: Ricky Carmichael

2003: Ricky Carmichael

2002: Ricky Carmichael

2001: Ricky Carmichael

2000: Ricky Carmichael
 

 

The 2016 champion, Roczen, is out for the season after suffering a laundry list of injuries (compound fracture of the radius, dislocated wrist, dislocated elbow) at a supercross race back in January.

Also potentially out of action is Ryan Dungey. Steve Matthes of Racer X Illustrated is reporting that he is likely to sit out this season and could be mulling retirement. The Red Bull KTM rider won his fourth supercross title earlier this month, but the future is uncertain for Dungey. His deal with KTM expires at the end of this season, and retirement speculation has been swirling about lately. Have we seen the last of him outdoors? Only time will tell.

If Dungey indeed joins Roczen on the sidelines (UPDATE: he will), then one thing becomes certain: A first-time champion would be crowned this summer. But who will it be? Let's dive in, starting with a few of the leading contenders.

 

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Eli Tomac, #3 Monster Energy Kawasaki
2016 Ranking: 2nd

2016 Moto wins: 3

2016 Overall wins: 2

Any championship discussion has to start with Monster Energy Kawasaki's Eli Tomac. He's just two years removed from what looked like a historic season in the making when he went 5-for-5 in moto wins to open the season before going down with a shoulder injury. He was solid riding outdoors last year, finishing 2nd in 450MX points and earning three moto wins, but his Kawasaki appears much more dialed in this second season with the team.

The proof is in his supercross results. Tomac won nine of 17 races this year, at one point winning five in a row. Although some mistakes ended up costing him the title, Tomac was in the thick of the championship hunt right up through the final round.

Marvin Musquin, #25 Red Bull KTM

2016 Ranking: 3rd

2016 Moto podiums: 9

2016 Overall podiums: 5

Marvin Musquin just became the cornerstone of KTM's factory team, and will likely continue to be for several years to come. They just signed him to a two-year extension, which is especially important considering Dungey's future status is up in the air.

The Frenchman's debut in the premier class last year was extremely solid. He finished third in 450MX points and had a nice little run of seven consecutive motos on the podium at one point. His supercross success this year (two victories) suggests he's ready to take the next step forward.


Marvin Musquin will work to improve on his 450MX debut finish of 3rd on the season. (Photo: Cudby)

Jason Anderson, #21 Rockstar Husqvarna

2015* Rankings: 6th

2015* Moto podiums: 4

2015* Overall podiums: 4

*Missed 7 rounds due to injury in 2016. Last full season was 2015.

Rockstar Husqvarna rider Jason Anderson was shaping up to be a weekly podium threat before getting injured last season, which was exactly what he was down the stretch in supercross this year. He even scored a win at the final round, so he should have some confidence coming into Hangtown. Add in the fact that he's had another solid year of training with renowned coach Aldon Baker down in Florida and, like Musquin, he's a candidate to take another step forward.

Justin Barcia, #51 JGR Suzuki
2016 Ranking: 4th

2016 Moto podiums: 6

2016 Overall podiums: 3

Justin Barcia is still with JGR but is on a new bike this year, as the team switched from Yamahas to Suzukis in the offseason. The early returns haven't exactly been promising, as Barcia has been mired in a disappointing supercross campaign for the past few months. He ranked 17th in 450SX points and had a season-best finish of 9th place but missed a few early rounds due to injury. It wouldn't be prudent to write Barcia off based on that though. His supercross outings in 2015 and 2016 were similarly discouraging

But we all know he is a man of real racing in the outdoors. Last year Barcia ended up 4th in 450MX points and landed on the podium a few times late in the season. The year prior, he finished 3rd in points and legitimately looked like the best rider on the track for a few weeks in the middle of the season. When Barcia and his bike are dialed in, Bam Bam can be a hard rider to pass.

Cooper Webb, #2 Factory Yamaha
2016 Ranking: 1st in 250MX

Last year's 250 Class champion has made the leap to the premier class.

The top incoming rookie to the 450 Class, Cooper Webb — now sporting the #2 previously used by legends Jeremy McGrath and Ryan Villopoto — will be one to watch. His first supercross season on the big bike, which included just one top-five finish, left a lot to be desired thanks in part to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a few weeks. But the 21-year-old has shown himself to be fast outdoors and has previously had some success in his limited appearances on a 450. For instance, he rode one to 2-3 moto finishes during the 2015 MXGP race held at Glen Helen.

 

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Other riders to watch

It was an offseason change for many riders, including some whom we could easily see on the podium throughout the summer.

One of the season's highest profile moves was Trey Canard (#41) joining Red Bull KTM after 10 years with Honda. However, his current status is unclear, as he suffered a reported collarbone injury while testing just a few weeks ago.

The team formerly known as BTO Sports KTM is now going by "Team Rocky Mountain ATV/MC/KTM/WPS." Their big offseason signing was Blake Baggett (#4), who was injured much of last summer but has shown plenty of podium potential and could end up being one of this season's top riders. He'll be joined by Benny Bloss (#34). Bloss, originally signed last year as a fill-in rider, ended up being one of the season's biggest surprises and now has a full-time ride with the team. The third member of the team, Davi Millsaps (#18), will reportedly be undergoing wrist surgery.

With Ken Roczen on the mend, Honda HRC has turned to Christian Craig (#48) to fill-in for him this summer. Craig has been on a 250 with GEICO Honda since coming out of retirement in 2015 but has raced the 450MX Class as recently as 2014. His stablemate will be Cole Seely (#14). Seely, who posted a few top-five finishes last year before getting hurt, has been dealing with an adductor injury and was recently forced to sit out the supercross finale.

After spending his first pro years with GEICO Honda, Justin Bogle (#19) moved over to the RCH/Yoshimura Suzuki squad this year. He was limited to just seven rounds of racing last summer. Bogle's teammate will be Broc Tickle (#20), the O.G. of the RCH crew. Tickle also missed several races last year but has proven to be a consistent top-ten finisher in the past. He sat out the final two rounds of supercross after fracturing a bone in his wrist.

Weston Peick (#32) has been out since January due to a wrist injury but is back on the bike and is expected to line up at Hangtown. Peick and Phil Nicoletti (#37) are still with JGR. Nicoletti had his best season to-date last year, finishing 5th in 450MX points, but is expected to miss the majority of the season due to ankle, heel and fibula injuries.

Dean Wilson (#15), a former champion of the 250 Class, landed a ride with Rockstar Husqvarna in February. He had three top-five moto finishes in limited action last summer. Wilson takes the spot of Christophe Pourcel, who will be racing the Canadian Nationals instead.

Josh Grant (#33) has been upgraded from fill-in to full-time rider for Monster Energy Kawasaki. He's coming off a respectable top-ten supercross season with a podium at the final round.