It’s Europe versus Japan as always in the US Supercross series which kicks off in Texas on Saturday. For the first time, there will be three brands from the Austrian KTM powerhouse facing all four Japanese manufacturers in the only major series to still have a Suzuki presence.
Made in Austria are the teams from KTM, Husqvarna and now GasGas. Yes, we all know they use the same basic engine and chassis platform but there are significant differences in subframes and other components, although WP does provide suspension for all three factory teams.
Of course making their debut is GasGas, which is the brand the Troy Lee team will run instead of the KTMs it has in the past. And the biggest signing is luring Justin Barcia to ride the bright red machines. Barcia has ridden for Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha factory teams so it’ll be a big change for him to get used to the handling of a steel-framed bike and WP suspension in the heat of AMA competition.
But the Austrians know how to set their bikes up and the honourary Brit – whose wife is from the UK – has lots of experience and this could be his year to challenge for the title. He knows how to win races, and now in his ninth year of supercross he needs to string it together to be a real championship challenger.He is said to be using the WP air shock at Houston, too. It was tested several years ago by Ryan Dungey but shelved after it deflated on a supercross start line. But years of development will mean it’s ready for action, WP hopes.
Taking to the start line in the 250 division for the Troy Lee team, Pierce Brown and Michael Mosiman are young racers that each recorded strong 250 SX results in 2020. Looking to unlock their full potential, they’ll be aiming for the podium when the gate drops for round one.
Also sporting a new look for the season are the Rockstar Husqvarna team, led by 450 outdoor champ Zach Osborne plus former 450 SX champ Jason Anderson. And of course they are ably assisted by Briton Dean Wilson, who has a lot to prove against his championship-winning team-mates.
Osborne told MotoHead this week that he was confident of running up at the front, as long as he can get a good start.
The Husky crew has a large roster of 250 riders, with Stilez Robertson, Jalek Swoll and RJ Hampshire. Hampshire is a proven race winner, and already looks to be getting to grips with the Husky. And Swoll made his debut for the team last year and is getting faster and more experienced all the time. While Robertson is brand new and comes to the team from an incredible amateur career. Hopefully he will turn out to be one of the big new names in the 250 class.
And the mothership of the Red Bull KTM team is the one most pin their hopes on for lifting the supercross crown. The factory KTM team stays as Marvin Musquin and former champ Cooper Webb in the 450cc division, and rising star Maximus Vohland to KTM’s first in-house 250cc effort for five years. Musquin, now a factory KTM racer for a decade, returns to the 450 lineup in 2021 for the AMA Supercross championship after missing last year’s series due to a major knee injury.
And Webb made a strong title defence last season as the championship went down to the final race. But he finished runner-up to Eli Tomac with four race wins and nine podiums. A back injury kept him out of the 450 outdoor championship but he’s now fully fit and armed with another two-year deal with the Red Bull KTM team.
And it will be a learning year for first-time pro Maximus Vohland, who is trained by his uncle Tyson Vohland and dad Tallon Vohland. Both are former GP and AMA racers.
The leaders of the Japanese onlaught, certainly in terms of numbers, is Yamaha. The Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing 450 team is the official Yamaha factory squad for 2021 and will be spearheaded by Aaron Plessinger and newly-crowned 2020 250SX and 250MX champion Dylan Ferrandis, alongside Malcolm Stewart. The 250 team has signed two-time 250 MX Champion Jeremy Martin and Christian Craig to join returning riders Colt Nichols, Justin Cooper and Jarrett Frye as well as Nate Thrasher.
Plessinger returns with Yamaha for his third season in the 450 class. Two of the titles added to Star Yamaha’s tally were earned by Plessinger in 2018 – the 250SX West and 250MX championship. He has shown promise in his first two years in the premier class, but unfortunately has had injuries that have sidelined him for a good part of both championships in 2019 and the 2020 outdoor season.
Making his 450 debut, Frenchman Ferrandis looks to keep his momentum rolling as he transitions to the premier class. He won both the 250SX West and 250MX Championship, scoring three supercross wins as well as eight moto wins and three overall victories in motocross last season. His preprarations have been hampered by a wrist injury, but now he’s back.
The 2016 250SX East Champion Stewart will line up alongside Plessinger and Ferrandis. Stewart is fresh off his best season in the 450 class, when he really started hitting his stride in the seven-race run in Salt Lake City, finishing fourth at the season finale to end the year seventh in the standings.
On the smaller bikes, Martin returns to Star Yamaha Racing’s 250 team to fight for the crown and is joined by Californian Craig. Both are title contenders.
Nichols returns for his fifth season with the team, and Cooper also returns with the team for 2021. Since his first full season with the team in 2019, the New Yorker finished second overall in the 250SX East Championship with six podiums and went on to take his first overall win in Florida, ending the year third in the 250 outdoor championship. Mix in youngsters Frey and Thrasher and it’s the biggest squad of super talents.
Of course, the team they all have to beat is the Monster Energy Kawasaki race team of defending champ Eli Tomac and his team-mate Adam Cianciarulo. Last year triple 450 champ Tomac finally clinched the 450 Supercross crown that has always evaded him. Bike troubles meant he didn’t hang on to the 450 outdoor title, but the Supercross championship is the one he wanted more than anything, And now his plan is to hold on to it.
Cianciarulo went from winning the AMA Pro Motocross 250 class championship in 2019 to being a rookie in the 450 class in 2020 and had a phenominal year. He’s no longer the new boy, and wants to prove he has what it takes to beat everyone – including his team-mate.
The upcoming 2021 racing season marks 28 years of winning in the 250 class for Kawasaki and Pro Circuit. Returning to the team for 2021 aboard the all-new 2021 KX250 motorcycles is Austin Forkner along with Jordon Smith and Cameron McAdoo.
New is Seth Hammaker, as he graduates from the Team Green amateur race program, and Japanese teenager Jo Shimoda.
It’s in Suzuki where British interest lie. The Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports Suzuki Team will be the premier Suzuki 450 Supercross team and feature Max Anstie, Brandon Hartranft and Adam Enticknap. Anstie started his ride with the team in the US outdoor series and had some great rides, while rapper Enticknap had a solid season of racing in 2020 under the HEP tent. New to the team for 2021 is Brandon Hartranft, making his rookie debut in the 450 class.
Of course, just a few days before the opener Anstie crashed hard and has broken a bone in his back. He’ll be out for a while, but should be in action soon.
And that of course leads the Honda team of Ken Roczen and Chase Sexton, who moved up to the 450s after he won the 250 Supercross title in 2020. He had a solid outdoor season, and will be a strong force in supercross.
Last season saw Roczen take four AMA Supercross wins and finish third overall, before sitting out the outdoor season to recover from effects of the Epstein-Barr virus. This year, he’s back with Team Honda HRC aboard the all-new 2021 CRF450R
And Aussie brothers Jett and Hunter Lawrence are heading the official Honda team in the 250 class. Last season saw Jett lead and almost win only his third AMA Supercross 250SX main event, only to crash and break his collarbone. He recovered to race well in AMA motocross, netting his first overall victory at the final round and also taking Rookie of the Year honours.
Hunter notched 250 moto wins at the 2019 Millville and High Point rounds of the AMA Pro Motocross series and last year finished 13th. It’ll be an interesting season as both brothers go for glory.
However, Shane McElrath has been injured so initially said he wouldn’t be at the opening round as he makes his 450 debut with MCR Honda. But there’s now a chance he will make the gate.
Justin Brayton will spearhead the new Muc-Off Honda team in the AMA Supercross series. Team Muc-Off Honda, previously known as Penrite Honda, is run by Australian Yarrive Konsky and will be competing in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross as well as select European rounds during 2021.