Why Canada?

Ricky Carmichael has always approached racing motorcycles with a blue-collar attitude. Since well before he turned pro, he’s been burning fuel and calories while he practices, testing and training to be one thing: the best. Eight years and 11 championships later, RC is the winningest rider in the history of the AMA, regardless of discipline. Ricky has always done whatever it takes to win.

That’s where Canada comes in. With the announcement that the FIM World Supercross GP rounds would be held in North America this year, Carmichael determined that his best shot at getting ready to go on a new bike against some new competition would be to head north of the border and get as much seat time as he could in race conditions. The fact that there wasn’t much competition for RC in the Great White North is beside the point. He was racing a ghost.

With the hype surrounding James Stewart’s arrival in the 250cc class, it almost appears that Ricky Carmichael, a three-time AMA Supercross Series champion (and the man who single-handedly dethroned the King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath), is considered an underdog to someone who hasn’t even raced a 250cc event.

It all sounds eerily familiar. Back in 1999, a chubby, naãve redhead was about to make his 250cc debut after a perfect 125cc Supercross season and two-straight 125cc Outdoor titles. Wherever McGrath went, people would ask the five-time champ about how he was preparing to beat Ricky Carmichael.

“Right now nobody can ask me a question without mentioning James Stewart’s name,” said Carmichael. “I remember when I was coming up into the 250cc class and McGrath was in his prime, and everyone kept talking about me. However, I never won anything on a 250cc bike. I was unproven and yet people were already discounting McGrath’s ability to keep the number-one plate. Heck, it was three years before I even did anything worthwhile in the 250cc class.”

Actually, it was 2001, two full seasons after his 250cc debut. He showed up fit and he beat MC down, winning 14 of the 16 races-the last 13 straight on his KX250. The Floridian followed up with two more championships before injuring his knee and missing the entire 2004 Supercross season.

The same scenario has developed now that Carmichael has aged (25) and the younger, flashier and ultra-hyped Stewart stages his 250cc campaign after dominating the 125cc class for three years.

“It’s like people have already written me off,” adds Carmichael. “That’s just how it goes, I guess.”

Growing up in the same state as Stewart, the two have always acknowledged the other’s skills and accolades. The mutual respect that the two have shared over the years will be put to the test this year.

“You know, everyone is talking about Stewart, but he’s a young buck,” said Carmichael. “He has never raced against the 250cc riders where everyone is tough and the competition level doesn’t get any higher. He is going to be fast, but he will need to keep that intensity for the entire season.”

Carmichael chose to race in the THQ World Supercross GP that started at SkyDome in Toronto while Chad Reed and James Stewart stayed home to continue training and testing.

“You know, I regret not doing this series two years ago,” added Carmichael. “I think it gave Reed a big advantage (in 2003). When I go to the third race of the series in Anaheim, it will be everyone else’s first race. I won’t be going to Anaheim with a doubt in my mind. I’m happy that we’re doing it. I think Sebastien Tortelli and I are going to gain a lot from doing this. It’s a big plus and a big advantage.”

Carmichael’s road to dominance in the 250cc class didn’t come easy, as he said. After winning the 125cc Eastern Regional Supercross championship in 1998 (still the only perfect season in Supercross history), he made the transition to the bigger bikes for his 1999 campaign. More times than not, Carmichael found himself on the ground, and he didn’t make it onto a single podium that year.Not much chang in 2000; however, he did win his first Supercross at Daytona-which is sort of reminiscent of an outdoor race anyway. He felt right at home there. That year he also earned five additional podium finishes.”I think the biggest adjustment was trying to get the experience that all the other competitors had,” said Carmichael. “It was my first year and everyone else had years of experience on me, and that makes a big difference in the 250cc class.”

Going into the 2001 season, Carmichael knew it was going to be a make-or-break year. He put everything he had into it. He knew that moving seven-time Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath off of his throne would be no easy feat.Dramatically altering the scope of his training methods before the 2001 season, he shed nearly 20 pounds. Subsequently, he transformed his appearance from a chubby redhead to a lean, mean racing machine. He now looks like a prize-fighter. Well, a welterweight prize-fighter, but a prize-fighter nonetheless.

“The biggest change before that season was just my physical appearance,” laments Carmichael. “I lost a lot of weight by being on a strict diet; I did the same amount of riding as I had always done – but I just began dieting right.”Quite a few people say that the 2001 Supercross Series was the first one that was won by athleticism, not talent. RC could just go harder than McGrath for longer periods of time. That made the difference.

Carmichael’s career and image has been on a rollercoaster ride since he started racing. Fans booed him for changing teams, others said he had no personality, but most were exercising poor judgment. He just takes his job seriously.”Ricky takes racing as serious as anyone,” said friend and sponsor Scott Taylor, who works for Fox Racing. “He races to win. Winning is everything. If the opening round of Supercross had not one fan in the stadium, he would still race as hard as if it were sold out.”

Carmichael’s way of getting into the zone may not play well for his social image, but he knows when to play and when to work. Longtime friend and Oakley sponsor Anthony Paggio has been a part of Carmichael’s career since his amateur days, and he’s still amazed at his determination.

“He has as much fun as the next guy, but when he is set on doing something, he takes every step to get there very seriously,” said Paggio. “When it’s time to train, he trains as hard as possible. When he rides, it’s to the best of his ability. A lot of people start working towards a goal and then get sidetracked; Ricky is all business – always has been, always will be.”

Carmichael’s return to Supercross has given him a new lease on his career. He has 11 AMA National Championships and his eye on both the THQ World Supercross GP and the THQ AMA Supercross Series championships this year. Most riders would be retired by now after a career like RC’s.

But that’s probably why he always seems to shellac most riders.

The Ricky Carmichael that fans in the Great White North got to see in action was nothing like the RC that we all last saw in Supercross 2003. Knowing well that he will have to be the best he’s ever been to win his title back in ’05, RC is pushing, scrubbing and leaping like never before.

Factory Yamaha’s lone rider Tim Ferry was eager to get back into racing mode, as he missed most of the 2004 season with an injured wrist. Although his team opted not to compete in the THQ World Supercross GP, Ferry wanted to knock the rust off. “I have been riding since the beginning of September, but there is nothing like racing,” said Ferry, who was visibly happy to be competing again. Sebastien Tortelli, meanwhile, gave the highly-anticipated Suzuki RM-Z450 four-stroke its Supercross debut. Seb was impressive aboard the big ‘Zook, but DNFed in spectacular fashion when he swapped off the face of a jump and crashed violently. Sore but uninjured, Tortelli looks to be a contender in ’05.

Time seems to have no effect on Mike LaRocco. After spending the summer vacationing, The Rock came out swinging in Ontario and scored a solid second-place finish. “I am still not where I want to be,” he said. “I tried to check in with Carmichael’s pace and that didn’t happen. I have a few more weeks before everyone joins us, and by that time I will be ready.”

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the US Open, MDK Motorsport’s Nick Wey came to Canada looking to get some more track time aboard his new Honda CR250R. Fourth at the finish, NYK was happy to run towards the front of his pack. “I like the CR,” said Nick. “The Honda isn’t known for its bottom end, but I tend to ride higher in the powerband so it suits me fine.”

After a dismal showing at the US Open, Josh Hansen came to Toronto looking for redemption. After brawling with a security guard in the stands, Lil’ Hany went on to crash out of the main and was credited with 17th. Hopefully, his fortunes will turn when he mounts up the new 250cc four-stroke KTM and returns to the Eastern Region 125cc class.

Defending World SX GP Champion Heath Voss proudly sported the number-one plate he earned in last year’s series. Voss was outspoken about his delight with the 2005 Yamaha YZ450F, reporting that it is twice the machine it was last season. Fifth in Toronto, Voss looked as solid as ever aboard his booming thumper. In the United States, Voss will run his new permanent number: 13.

summer vacationing, The Rock came out swinging in Ontario and scored a solid second-place finish. “I am still not where I want to be,” he said. “I tried to check in with Carmichael’s pace and that didn’t happen. I have a few more weeks before everyone joins us, and by that time I will be ready.”

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the US Open, MDK Motorsport’s Nick Wey came to Canada looking to get some more track time aboard his new Honda CR250R. Fourth at the finish, NYK was happy to run towards the front of his pack. “I like the CR,” said Nick. “The Honda isn’t known for its bottom end, but I tend to ride higher in the powerband so it suits me fine.”

After a dismal showing at the US Open, Josh Hansen came to Toronto looking for redemption. After brawling with a security guard in the stands, Lil’ Hany went on to crash out of the main and was credited with 17th. Hopefully, his fortunes will turn when he mounts up the new 250cc four-stroke KTM and returns to the Eastern Region 125cc class.

Defending World SX GP Champion Heath Voss proudly sported the number-one plate he earned in last year’s series. Voss was outspoken about his delight with the 2005 Yamaha YZ450F, reporting that it is twice the machine it was last season. Fifth in Toronto, Voss looked as solid as ever aboard his booming thumper. In the United States, Voss will run his new permanent number: 13.