2014 Monster Energy Cup Preview
Photos by TWMX Staff, Jeff Kardas, Suzuki press release
The richest race in motocross, the Monster Energy Cup, is just days away and our anticipation for the action is at an all-time high. With so many changes taking place this offseason, the weekend in Vegas will serve as our first look at some of the competitors in their new liveries, as well as more topics for bench racing banter about who will dominate in 2015. Saturday’s racing will take place at Sam Boyd Stadium, with the course created by Ricky Carmichael using every available inch of the venue. Runs into the stands, around the outside of the venue, and through the Joker Lane are standard at the unique event, but this year’s track is the most ambitious we’ve seen since the initial incarnation of the event in 2012.
Saturday will be a busy affair, with timed qualifying filling the afternoon hours while a massive pit party rages in the parking lot. If you’ll plan to catch the event in person, we recommend you cut the day-drinking short and head to the stadium for practice, freestyle motocross, drifting, and the Dirt Shark Best Whip qualifier. The focus will turn back to the track when the suns sets and the first gate drops. Not making the trek to Vegas? You can still catch all of the action thanks to the broadcast coverage running all day on Saturday. Follow practice for all three classes (Pros, Amateur All-Stars, SuperMini) with the Supercross! Live online stream from 4:00PM ET/1:00PM PT, and then turn your television to FOX SPORTS 2 for the night’s racing as it unfolds 9:00PM ET/6:00PM PT. Be sure to check your local listings for complete details on FOX SPORTS 2. The race will be aired again in its entirety on Sunday afternoon at 1:00PM ET/10:00AM PT on FOX SPORTS 1. Alright, let’s get to the real preview, where we’ve complied the top picks for the weekend off of the small list of “confirmed” riders on the Monster Energy Cup website. It’s worth noting Ken Roczen and Ryan Villopoto are not competing at all. Sorry that some of the photos are months old, but seeing everyone in new threads on new bikes makes this weekend even better… Best believe we will be at the track all weekend, and you can catch what we see through our Instagram account @twmxdotcom…
Seeing how Reed used the recent Motocross of Nations as a huge test session, we expect much of the same at the Monster Energy Cup, as it could be his first Supercross style race on Ohlins suspension parts. Reed openly talked about the lack of training he did through the final months of the Nationals and leading into the MXON, and went straight from Latvia to Australia for an extended vacation with his family. Simply put, Reed will not have spent any considerable time on the bike since the rough and sandy international race that is far different than the "hybrid" MEC. Still, the former Supercross champion that knows what it takes to get a win, and the three short main events could play into his favor.
While Seely has turned laps in competition aboard a factory Honda CRF450R before, this would be his first race as a team member. Since the Honda he previously raced on and the new ride are so similar, Seely went ride into Supercross mode at the end of the 2014 race season and has turned countless laps at the team's private test track in the California hills. He's proven that he can run with the best in the 450 class, even when it came in the middle of his 250 season, and will be one to watch throughout next season.
Webb knows that racing the MEC aboard a 250 is a disadvantage, and despite being one of the smaller riders in the field, is set to come equipped with a full factory Yamaha YZ450F. The Yamalube/Star Racing/Yamaha rider used the same bike at last year's running to claim twelfth overall in the class, which we will admit doesn't sound impressive, until you remember that it was Webb's first professional indoor race. The young, aggressive rider has learned plenty about the professional side of the sport since then, but how will his tactics fare against those in the premier class? This makes Webb one of the question marks of the weekend.
It's been roughly seventeen months since Davi Millsaps turned a competitive lap on a motorcycle, the last coming at Sam Boyd Stadium during the 2013 Las Vegas Supercross, and it just so happens that the first race aboard his new Monster Energy Kawasaki will come in the same venue. Millsaps has spent plenty of time aboard the green bike since inking the deal late in the summer, and the general consensus is that both the bike and team environment offered by Kawasaki might be exactly what he needs to reclaim the speed last shown in 2013. This is the longest Millsaps has been off the gate in his pro career, and in creates a massive amount of intrigue around the rider and team. Trust us when we say that all eyes will be on the eighteen when the gate drops.
Wilson wasted no time making the switch from a Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki and onto a Red Bull KTM, with only six days separating his competition time on the two very different bikes. His performance at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm was stellar, where Wilson squared off against some of the sport's best in a sheer showcase of speed. But there are questions of how he will fare in a longer race and if the arm pump that held him back in Supercross could flare up.
You can never count Eli Tomac out for a race win. The GEICO Honda rider has claimed a moto win at the MEC before and a last to third run in the last race of the MXON weekend reaffirmed his status as one of the fastest riders in the world. Although opted out of the Red Bull Straight Rhythm, the Monster Energy Cup will be the first of many preseason Supercross races for Tomac, and we predict he uses each as a test session for next year's settings. This could be an issue, however, as the search for the perfect bike have hindered his race results in the past and a poor finish at this event is that last thing one wants when working through the winter months.
With no offers from a team on the table, Jake Weimer is set to race the Monster Energy Cup aboard his own Kawasaki and with support from Pro Circuit. That's pretty much all we know about Weimer's program heading into the weekend, as all of his contracts, from apparel to eyewear, expired on October 1st. Injuries and issues made his final year at Monster Energy Kawasaki a complete wash, but the industry knows that Weimer still has the speed it takes to run with the pack. A solid result at the MEC is critical for not just 2015, but the rest of Weimer's career.
From the sound of things, this could be the last time we see James Stewart compete at a professional level and we will get to that more in a bit. The defending winner is a heavy favorite to repeat last year's performance, and his recent overall victory in the head-to-head Red Bull Straight Rhythm proved that the time away from racing hasn't slowed him down. Since the Monster Energy Cup has no FIM sanction, Stewart is briefly away from the amphetamine positive test that wrecked the remainder of his 2014 season. Images on Instagram from the Suzuki test track show that he will continue training as normal until the official word from the FIM comes down, which is said to come within the next few weeks. We've heard talk that Stewart will head to the final hearing in Europe shortly after the Monster Energy Cup, and if he is handed a full suspension (likely two years) it will mark the end of his career. UPDATE: There is a chance Stewart may not race after all. The defending race winner is not currently listed anywhere on the Monster Energy Cup website, and could be forced to sit out this race due to the provisional suspension. Turns out the FIM has a hand in the event via the AMA, and their current punishment might keep him from coming to Vegas. According to the Stewart camp, he is currently not allowed to race but is working with the necessary parties to be included in Saturday’s prorgam.
Since Jason Anderson has no prior 450 professional experience, there's a lot to speculate about. Sure, the Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna isn't too much different than a KTM and he's burned plenty of fuel through the FC450's tank around SoCal practice tracks, but Anderson's wild riding style might not mesh with the bigger bike. The wide-open layout at Sam Boyd Stadium might help the situation, as it is far more forgiving to mistakes than a standard Supercross track.
As we mentioned earlier, Josh Grant took on the role as test rider for Discount Tire/TwoTwo Motorsports and has gotten pretty familiar with the Kawasaki, a bike that has not seen much in the way of drastic changes since his time at Jeff Ward Racing. Grant is no slouch when it comes to Supercross, and he'll need to make moves early and hang it out for the entire duration of the three short sprints.
The winner of the 2012 MEC is a full wild card, as we don't even know for sure if he will line up next weekend. He recently resumed riding after a season ending injury, aboard a JGRMX/Toyota/NFAB/Yamaha YZ450F, and looks quite comfortable on the blue bike, but the limited time back in the saddle may not be enough to race comfortably at a high level.
Justin Brayton's jump from Yamaha to KTM was another power move by the Austrian brand, and the veteran racer proved that he has figured out the new bike with a solid finish at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. Intensity matters most the at MEC, and those bar-banging skills Brayton learned in Arenacross some years ago will need to come back out if he wants to take a high spot in the overall results.
If it were not for one freak incident (bent shifter in 2012) and a lapse in concentration (missing the Joker Lane in 2013), Ryan Dungey might be a two-time winner of the Monster Energy Cup. The Red Bull KTM rider is always fast and in the front pack, but he'll need to make things happen quick in all three races. Put it this way: the aggressive, confident Ryan Dungey that we saw early 2014 needs to come to Las Vegas, and not the Ryan Dungey we saw struggle to make passes in Latvia at the MXON.
Like Weimer, the future of Josh Hill’s career hinges on a solid finish at the Monster Energy Cup since he has no signed contract for 2015 and the chances for landing on a team are becoming bleak . The winner of our 2014 TransWorld SLAM Head to Head Pro Race has support from Monster Energy and Mitch Payton and still has the speed to land on the box any given night. Although the hype around the MEC is high, Hill’s laid back personality will make it seem like just another day at the track, which is when he performs best.
Blake Baggett’s last run at the Monster Energy Cup was a bit of a misadventure, as he opted to race the Open format aboard a Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki KX250F until a busted wrist in practice ended his weekend. That is all in the past now, as the October event will serve as his competition debut for Yoshimura Suzuki in the 450 class, as well as in O’Neal apparel, Sidi boots, and Just1 helmets. How will the diminutive rider fare aboard the big bike? We’ll see soon enough…
There’s no room for error in the three moto format, and this is perfect Andrew Short’s consistent riding. Toss in the aggressive style the BTO Sports KTM rider is known for unleashing on the competition and we have a dark horse candidate for a spot somewhere near the top of the standings. One thing Short cannot afford to have happen is a temporary lapse in concentration, like when he missed the Joker Lane at last year’s Bercy Supercross. But we’re betting that after one time, the mistake will never be repeated.
Pardon the mistake of leaving Trey Canard off of the list earlier in the day, as a miscommunication between our end and Team Honda led us to believe that he opted out of the event despite heavy mention of the Monster Energy Cup website. We’ve received numerous replies that he is indeed slated to race the event on Saturday, and this throws another possible winner into the mix. This race will serve as the first Supercross race for Canard on KYB suspension components, the same equipment he used in the final stretch of the Nationals. Seeing how Canard led early laps in a number of motos throughout the summer, it’s safe to say that he will thrive in the abbreviated format that offers a million dollars for anyone that sweeps all three races.