There will be a few familiar faces — and some not so familiar ones too — when the AMA Supercross/FIM Supercross World Championship gets underway at its spiritual home of the Angel Stadium, Anaheim in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
This first visit of three rounds to be staged at the venue in the 17-race 2010 schedule will see defending champion James Stewart of the L&M Team take the new Yamaha YZ450F into its maiden major international campaign.
Stewart will be backed by new team-mate and Yamaha mainstay Josh Hill while also being supported by brand-mates Josh Grant and Bercy SX winner Justin Brayton as members of the Joe Gibbs Racing squad.
The opening round of the championship will also witness the first competitive outing for Yamaha Monster Energy Motocross Team’s new rider Gautier Paulin. The French teenager – who finished 3rd in the 2009 FIM Motocross MX2-GP world championship – plans to contest the initial three meetings of the West Coast Lites series for further experience in the sport.
Yamaha clinched the AMA/FIM supercross title in 2008 and 2009 and with Stewart’s undoubted status as the fastest rider of the Indoor discipline they will be aiming for a hat-trick come the final round in May in Las Vegas.
The Florida rider missed the podium only twice from 17 starts in 2009 and collected 11 wins. The story of last season was the 24-year-old’s duel with Chad Reed, and the arch-rivals are set to clash again on Saturday as the series then heads from West to East coasts with a visit to Toronto, Canada also part of the calendar.
Two-time former SX champion Reed is now on Kawasaki and comes to the US in hot form after winning the Australasian Supercross Championships in the final months of 2009.
With a total of 36 wins, Stewart is presently third in the all-time winner’s list, needing two more victories than Reed for further promotion and has to accumulate 13 triumphs to hit the No.1 spot ahead of Ricky Carmichael.
Yamaha has a long standing association with Supercross as Pierre Karsmakers won the inaugural championship on a DT250 in 1974, Jeremy McGrath ruled the class for three years in succession from ‘98 to ’00 and Doug Henry famously took the YZ400F to four podiums in 1998 introducing the wave of four-stroke technology that dominates the sport today.
A fast track awaits the riders in Los Angeles and the priority for Stewart surely has to be to improve on his 2009 result in which he tangled with another rider and crashed out of the Main Event. Josh Grant was the surprise victor 12 months ago and the 23-year-old followed up his achievement with some decent speed and a rack of top-five finishes.
Photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com