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Ricky to ride 450 at Hangtown AMA return

10 May 2004

Ricky Carmichael will return to racing for the first time in seven months this Sunday, May 16, at the 36th Annual Hangtown Motocross Classic, the highly anticipated opening round of the 2004 AMA Chevrolet Motocross Championship.

The 24-year-old is making a 'comeback' after major surgery this winter to repair a torn ACL knee ligament – and will ride a four-stroke Honda CR450F for the first time after riding two-strokes his entire career.

RC is the most successful rider in the history of AMA motocross and has won a championship every year since his first full year as a professional in 1997. He'll be attempting to win his fifth straight title in the premier 250 class this year, but understands that coming back from this type of injury is not going to be easy.

"Coming back from such a long layoff is going to be tough," admitted Carmichael, the winner of the last two Hangtown Classics. "I'm fortunate to have great people working with me to help me make a solid recovery and I expect to be competitive by the time the season kicks off."

However, some experts feel that the injury could even be a positive thing for Carmichael.

"I think this injury will actually force Ricky to focus even more in his training if that's possible," said former AMA champion and TV commentator David Bailey. "He wants to prove to everyone that he can comeback and be even stronger. The one thing his competition should never do is count Carmichael out."

Adding even more intrigue to Carmichael's return is the fact that this season will be his last with Honda. In a surprise announcement last month, Suzuki revealed that Carmichael will be riding yellow when the 2005 AMA Supercross season begins next January.

This unexpected revelation came out before this year's Supercross championship was even decided and sent the industry reeling as each of the major teams scrambles to set their teams for next year. How this will affect Carmichael's bid for another AMA Motocross title remains to be seen.

Perhaps Carmichael's biggest competition this season will come from Yamaha's Aussie ace Chad Reed. The 22-year-old is fresh off earning his first AMA Supercross Series title, when he followed Jeremy McGrath and Carmichael as only the third rider to win ten AMA SX races in a single season.

"Winning the AMA Motocross Championship is something I definitely want to accomplish," said Reed, the third-ranked rider in the 250 class last year. "I'm happy that I won the supercross championship, but that doesn't mean I will be any less eager to do well in the nationals."

Factory Connection Honda's Kevin Windham is another key player in the championship picture this season. Windham was the only rider to beat Carmichael last year and he is a former winner at Hangtown.

The 26-year-old veteran racer from Mississippi, will arrive at Hangtown with his confidence at a high after two dominating victories in the closing rounds of the Supercross Series.

"I've been focusing my training for some time now for the outdoors," said Windham. "I'm happy with how things went in my return to supercross and I'm hoping that will carry over to success this summer."

Meanwhile, last year's 125cc champ Grant Langston is moving up to the 250 class this season, where the likeable South African is hoping to bring KTM its first premier-class Motocross title.

Runaway favourite to claim Langston's eighth-litre crown is James Stewart. The 18-year-old Kawasaki rider missed last year's Hangtown National after injuring his shoulder in the final AMA Supercross round of 2003, a setback which cost him the outdoor title.

Stewart is riding a seven-race winning streak in the 125s dating back to June of last year and, at present, looks unbeatable. Nevertheless, Bubba has declared he will step up to the 250 class next season and 2004 will be the last chance to see the #259 on a 125.

Another rider to watch for will be AMA 125 West Supercross champ Ivan Tedesco. The New Mexico native broke through to win all but one of the West coast rounds and is riding a wave of momentum coming into the motocross season, while Kawasaki team-mate Stephane Roncada can't be discounted.

Hangtown fans will be rooting for local favorite Steve Lamson in the 125 class. Lamson is tied with Hall of Famer Mark Barnett with a record of four 125 class wins at Hangtown.

The Hangtown Classic is one of the oldest and best-known motocross events in America. It pre-dates the formation of the AMA Motocross Championship and was one of the earliest of motocross races when the sport made its way from Europe to the U.S. in the 1960s.


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