Features 18 May 2023

Top 10: Performances of the Supercross season

Breaking down a mix of standout rider moments from 2023.

Words: Simon Makker

The 2023 Monster Energy Supercross Championship delivered its share of action, excitement and challenges along the way. With this year’s series now in the books, MotoOnline looks back at the Top 10 performances from throughout the season.

Image: Octopi Media.

1. Sexton’s strong finish:
The saying ‘to finish first, you must first finish’ has never rung more true that this year’s 450SX championship. After 14 of the 17 rounds, Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton was 21 points behind Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s defending champion Eli Tomac. Early in the series, Sexton made a raft of costly errors while in race-winning positions, which had severely hurt his chances of taking the 2023 crown. But after his win at Atlanta, Sexton seemed to turn a corner and he became a much more imposing force on the track. When Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb, then Tomac, were sidelined in the final rounds, Sexton suddenly inherited the points lead, and he officially clinched his first premier class title at the final round in Salt Lake City. Sexton was in a league of his own at both Denver with an eight-second win and SLC as he won by 18 seconds, proving to everyone the value of never giving up.

2. Tomac makes his share of history:
Prior to his heart-breaking injury at the penultimate round, Tomac’s season had been a special one on many levels. Not only did he stand atop the podium at the historic Daytona International Speedway for a record seventh time, he also leapt past Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart to become the second-winningest Supercross racer of all time. Tomac now has 51 main event wins to his name, and only Jeremy McGrath’s all-time record of 72 race wins is ahead of him in the history books. In one of the toughest championships we’ve seen, Tomac’s seven main event victories edged Sexton on six and Webb on two.

3. Jett’s perfect send-off:
Having already wrapped up the championship and with a rookie 450MX campaign looming just two weeks later, there was zero pressure on Team Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence to perform at the final round in Salt Lake City. However, that didn’t stop him from catching and rubbing plastic with early leader RJ Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna) in the main event, as he charged into the lead and set off for the checkered flag. Jett would eventually win by almost five seconds, putting an exclamation mark on a spectacular campaign and ensuring he’ll be remembered as one of the most successful 250 Supercross and Pro Motocross riders of all time.

4. Title number one for Hunter:
Having built a near insurmountable 49-point lead heading into the penultimate 250SX East round at Nashville, Hunter Lawrence (Team Honda HRC) only needed to collect one point to take his first title. Not content to take it easy, Lawrence stalked early leader, Jordon Smith until the sixth lap, when the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing rider made a mistake and left the track. Hunter pounced to take the lead, and was never challenged, as he sailed to a 3.8-second lead and realised his dream of becoming a Supercross champion. A special mention must also be given to Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Haiden Deegan, who exceeded all expectations in his rookie campaign. Three podium performances, his first coming at the iconic Daytona International Speedway, plus heat race wins and consistent top-five finishes.

5. Webb’s mid-season surge:
After a winless 2022, two-time 450SX champion Webb’s turnaround was remarkable this year. From the outset he looked fast and determined, finding momentum during the middle part of the season. Two round wins at Tampa and Arlington put him right in the hunt, and he capitalized on a relatively average performance from Tomac at Indianapolis to take the points lead. Webb held the red plate for the next two rounds before a P4 result at Glendale let Tomac again take the advantage. Webb remained within striking distance until he crashed at Nashville, where the resulting injuries ruled him out of the remaining two rounds.

Image: Octopi Media.

6. Roczen breaks through at Indy:
Ken Roczen made a high-profile switch to the Progressive Insurance Ecstar Suzuki team this year, and after some up-and-down results early in the season, stunned everyone with an emotional wire-to-wire win at the rutted, technical Indianapolis circuit. To make it more special, it was the first time an RM-Z rider had stood on top of a 450SX podium since 2016, which was also Roczen. After a roller-coaster career and off-season, Roczen’s victory was a memorable moment that stands out this year. A late string of podiums saw him make a real charge for a top three championship result, but his hyper-extended knee at the final round saw him finish just one point shy of a series podium.

7. Tough break of Plessinger:
There were plenty of tough moments in 2023, but Red Bull KTM’s Aaron Plessinger’s Detroit performance has to rank up there as one of the most devastating. After leading the race from the first turn, Plessinger was just a handful of corners away from claiming his first-ever 450SX main event win when he crashed out of contention. The fan favorite was credited a devastating 13th place result, knowing he’d come close to fulfilling his promise at the top level. Another crash in practice at East Rutherford ruled him out of three rounds, but he returned to finish with a satisfying P2 result at the season finale at Salt Lake City.

8. East Rutherford mud-fest:
Thunderstorms and torrential rain midway through the night show at East Rutherford’s 14th round turned the track into some of the toughest conditions of the year. Two new winners of 2023 emerged in the form of Justin Barcia (TLD Red Bull GasGas) and Max Anstie (Fire Power Honda). Early in the 450SX race, Barcia made an aggressive move on Sexton for the lead, then negotiated the surface to take his first race win since the 2021 season-opener at Houston. Shortly beforehand, Anstie put all of his wet weather experience to good use with a convincing start-to-finish victory. It was the Englishman’s – and his team’s – first-ever Supercross win, and set him up for a career-best third-place finish in the 250SX East standings.

9. Lawrence and Thrasher’s Tampa thriller:
Eventual champion Hunter Lawrence put in a desperate charge to take the narrowest of race wins from Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Nate Thrasher at Tampa. A poor start from the 250SX East points leader Lawrence had him fighting his way through the pack while Thrasher quickly established himself at the front of the field. Lawrence dug deep, and with some aggressive passes, eventually clawed his way onto the back wheel of Thrasher. The two diced fiercely late in the race, but a spectacular move in the final turn before the finishline saw the Honda rider slide into the lead and take the race win by a mere 0.134s – the closest margin of victory in eight years.

10. AC makes it back onto the podium:
Recent years have been brutal for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo, who found himself injured during 2021, then missed the vast majority of the 2022 season with injury. AC treated 2023 as a rebuilding year as he tried to get through the season cleanly and with improving results. He still missed two rounds with a persistent wrist injury, but returned at Indianapolis and continued to ride his way back into form. His hard work paid off, with an emotive third-place result at the penultimate round in Denver. After leading the main event following Tomac’s demise, he battled to ultimately finish with his first 450SX podium since Houston 3 in 2021. Cianciarulo finished out the series in ninth place.