Supercross 2017 Predictions
Before June 4 2016, it was just a numbers game for Ryan Dungey and Ken Roczen. As Dungey was reaching his peak (presumably, as he's 26 years old: MX Aging Curves), Roczen was showing the improvement during the Supercross and Motocross season that you'd expect from a 21 year old. But would Roczen's improvement allow him to catch up to Dungey, who had been the better rider in 2015 and started off 2016 the same way? Only time would tell.
But why June 4? Because just as Roczen appeared to be hitting a new level -- one on par with or even better than Dungey's -- Dungey went down at Thunder Valley in a crash that would end his season. First, we never got to see if Dungey could elevate his riding in response to how Roczen began the 2016 MX season. Second, now we have to worry about the potential future effects of Dungey's injury and the time off due to recovery.
Then, just to add to the difficulty, Roczen capped off his 2016 MX season win by switching teams and bikes. He'll be on a brand new, very different Honda CRF450R. Many say the bike could be the best in class for 2017, but even so, changing to a bike--with different handling, suspension, traction, stiffness, and more--introduces a number of new variables for Roczen in 2017.
So now instead of just one main factor to consider -- Roczen's improvement -- there are three: Roczen's improvement, Dungey's injury, and Roczen's new bike. The numbers can't tell much about the latter two, though, so it's up to the viewer to make their own inferences about the effects from those. But the improvement expected by age is something that we can address. Starting with Supercross in 2016, while Roczen was not on the same level as Dungey on the season overall, Roczen did show improved results as the season went along:
Is that entirely due to natural improvement of a young rider, or is it instead due to other factors like getting the bike settings right? There's no way to tell, but the improvement during Supercross lasted right into the Outdoor MX season, where Roczen was the clear #1 rider from start to finish (with the caveat of Dungey's injury of course, but Roczen's speed sure seemed to outclass all riders, including Dungey).
That is a long way of saying that for the 2017 SX Predictions, Roczen's projected improvement (relative to Dungey's minimal expected increase in ability due to approaching (or having passed) his peak) coupled with his success in the 2016 MX season is going to boost his predicted finish ahead of Dungey's. Naturally, the two of them are way ahead of the rest of the field, including #3 rider, Eli Tomac, who also has a decent gap above 4th place. The preseason prediction, without considering injuries (with the rider's 2016 finish on the right) is below:
-- Eli Tomac (3rd): same story since his 2015 injury and bike/team change. Flashes of #1 talent are undeniable, but until he shows consistent success, the "potential" won't be reflected in the numbers.
-- Jason Anderson (4th): not quite at Tomac's level, but his short 450SX history along with his 450MX success in 2016 along with a 250SX title have him knocking on the door.
-- Cooper Webb (5th): rookies in the Upper class are always interesting, and with him coming off of 250 titles in SX and MX, projecting him to debut in 5th seems high--especially in such a loaded field--but plausible. Taking into account that he'll be just 21 in 2017, and the projected improvement for a rider that young makes 5th seem even more realistic.
-- Trey Canard (6th): a new team (Red Bull/KTM) may help for 2017, but he didn't make a single podium in 2016 Supercross.
-- Marvin Musquin (7th): is probably the prediction I like least in here. But, he finished 2016 SX like this: 17th, DNS, 15th, 10th, 7th (and then was 21st at a rain-drenched Vegas for Round 17). He seems like a candidate who could be knocking on the door of the Top 3, but the numbers just weren't that great for him in 2016 SX, and his MX numbers were good but not good enough to lift him above 7th. He's also 26, which means there's not much projected improvement for 2017.
-- Cole Seely (8th): seems about right, maybe a bit favorable, but then again his 2016 SX numbers were actually better than Canard's and Musquin's. That said, I'd figure that when everyone's healthy, 8th is about his ceiling.
-- Justin Barcia (9th): looks really low for a guy who often enters the conversation as a potential Top 3 guy, but the results haven't been there, even when you factor out the time missed because of injury.
-- Malcolm Stewart (10th): another intriguing rookie, who has even more unknowns than the typical 450 newcomer. He has no 2016 MX results to factor in, and he'll be without an official team to start the season, which leaves quite a bit of mystery. If you looked at just his 2016 250SX results, you might put him closer to Webb and Canard at 5th/6th, but Malcolm's 2015 and 2014 250SX numbers are not quite as good. That, plus already being 23 years old, leaves him projected substantially lower.
-- Blake Baggett (11th) / Justin Bogle (12th): neither guy has shown recently that they're a Top 10 regular, and these predictions seem about right. If Baggett can get back to form after the knee injuries (and adjust to his new bike/team), maybe his ceiling is higher, but the loaded field probably leaves these guys outside the Top 10.
-- Dean Wilson (13th) / Brock Tickle (14th) / Weston Peick (15th): not much argument for any of these guys, I would imagine. Maybe Peick has the ability to put together a Top 10 run with his new team, but Wilson as a privateer in 2017 means he's no longer a Top 10 contender in a healthy Supercross field.
-- Christophe Pourcel (16th): he's had his streaks in the Top 10 in both Supercross and Outdoors, but until he does that consistently, then the mid-teens is his most likely projection.
-- Chad Reed (17th): his Supercross lap times in 2016 were the 6th best of all 450 riders (5th overall in points), so why is he predicted so low in 2017? The age adjustment projects a decline of 8 spots -- if you believe Reed is immune to the effects of aging, as he's shown recently, then maybe he slots in closer to 9th place. But he'll turn 35 before the Supercross season is through. Paired with newcomer Webb on the Yamaha factory team could be a volatile situation for good or bad: two headstrong riders might clash or might bring new life to keep Reed feeling young.
-- Davi Millsaps (18th): likely on the downside of his career, his speed was borderline Top 10 in 2016 but is expected to be passed up by the younger guys.
-- Josh Grant (19th): with a consistent team and bike, he might be someone who finishes closer to a rider like Baggett or Bogle near the Top 10, but in a loaded field at 29 years old, the projection has him closer to the end of the list.
-- Justin Brayton (20th): the numbers still don't like Brayton. They didn't love him in 2016 SX, yet he finished 8th. They didn't like him in 2016 MX, and he finished 11th (was 16th in terms of lap times, though). He's got a new bike and new team in 2017, which as for any rider could be a boost or create difficulties while adjusting, but at 32 the prediction is for him to be near the tail end of a loaded Supercross field.
Outside Looking In
-- James Stewart is projected in 23rd, with the "way too early" comments still valid:
Neither his 2016 SX or MX numbers signal that he's still a Top 10 guy, much less a Top 5 or Top 3 one. And at 31 years old, his skills are almost certainly declining. Even if we take an optimistic view and ignore his 2016 SX numbers under the assumption that the Week 1 concussion was the source of all the problems, he would still check in at only 14th.
In addition to that, he would seem to be riding without an official team, which casts doubt as to how much success he would have, if he does ride at all
-- Jake Weimer, at age 29 and without a team, doesn't have a great 2017 projection. He did finish 10th in 2016 SX, so perhaps this is selling him short, but his laptimes in 2016 SX were closer to 20th, and his prediction reflects this.
-- Mike Alessi / Vince Friese: as two riders who are getting up there in age and coming off of seasons where they typically finished in the mid-teens, they sit in the mid-20's in projections. Alessi has the more promising numbers, with a few good results toward the end of 2016 SX -- a 9th, 10th, and 10th.
Now, to factor in the riders' injury history for a different perspective on who will finish where. The injury prediction is always going to be a very rough guide, but it is based off of races missed in both MX and SX for the past 4 years. Sometimes that is a trend and sometimes it's bad luck (this is discussed at length in The MX Book), so take these with a grain of salt.
Eli Tomac gets dinged in points (but stays just ahead of Jason Anderson) based on recent injury history. Trey Canard, as we're all familiar with, has had trouble with injury and slips 2 spots in this ranking, to 8th. Justin Bogle has the largest negative effect from the adjustment, losing 4 spots down to 16th.
Who will emerge victorious? We'll need 17 races to know for sure. One of the exciting things leading up to Anaheim 1 is that anything is still possible, and until it's all over, everything can change in the blink of an eye. For now though, all we can do is make the predictions and argue about what's wrong and what's right. See you all on January 7 after the gates drop!