Further breaking down the opening round of Pro Motocross 2023.
Words: Simon Makker
The opening round of the 2023 Pro Motocross Championship at Fox Raceway saw the outdoor season begin with a bang. MotoOnline answers some of the key questions that emerged from a fascinating day of competition in this edition of Q&A.
Q: Which class is likely to produce the best racing this year?
A: If you’re looking for a championship that’s likely to feature a few genuine contenders, but provide some good battles, you don’t need to look much further than the 450MX class. If the opening round was anything to go by, Team Honda HRC pairing Jett Lawrence and Chase Sexton are likely to go toe-to-toe all season, but Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Dylan Ferrandis should be a major factor, too. However, if you’re looking for unpredictable racing in a talent-stacked field where anyone in the top 10 could win a race, then the 250MX class will be the one to watch. The field is as deep as we’ve seen in a long time and if the rest of the championship shakes out like Fox Raceway did, the most consistent riders who can stay trouble-free will be rewarded.
Q: Was Jett Lawrence as good as his results indicated?
A: Yes, and arguably more so. The multiple 250SX and 250MX champion played down his rookie year in the lead-up to the Pro Motocross opener, repeatedly saying he’s ‘starting at the bottom’ and wants to learn as much as possible. After Saturday, the element of surprise has vanished. The Team Honda HRC racer put down a lap time that was 2.5 seconds quicker than that of his team-mate Sexton in qualifying, then led every lap of both motos. The second race in particular was impressive, he showed a lot of maturity and composure as he responded to several challenges from Sexton, who stayed within striking distance for the entire race.
Q: Who’s likely to give Hunter Lawrence the biggest challenge this year?
A: Team Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence might be the title favorite in the 250MX class – and he started his campaign perfectly with a convincing overall round win courtesy of a 3-1 result – but his run to the championship is far from guaranteed. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s RJ Hampshire was impressive at Pala as he stormed to the win in the opening moto, then managed to scramble his way from last to 11th in the second race, after he suffered two crashes on the opening lap. At the same time, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Haiden Deegan put in an inspired performance on his way to second overall in his first full season of 250MX. Jo Shimoda (Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki) was well in contention, Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM) will only get better as he comes to terms with the US tracks and race formats, and Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing) showed great pace with a fastest qualifying time.
Q: When can we expect more than the six factory racers that lined up in 450MX?
A: The back-end of the Monster Energy Supercross Championship wreaked havoc on the 450SX field, with five factory riders crashing out of the series in the last six rounds. Fortunately, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Cooper Webb made an 11th-hour decision to contest the opening round after his Nashville concussion, otherwise, the 450MX field would’ve been even shallower. We’re potentially going to see TLD Red Bull GasGas rider Justin Barcia and Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jason Anderson return to the series in the coming weeks, which will bolster the ranks, plus Christian Craig will be back on track with Rockstar Energy Husqvarna come the second-half of the year. One of the positives of the new SuperMotocross championship format is the incentive for racers to return in order to bank points and try and snatch a win to make the three-round playoffs. In the meantime, though, the limited number of factory riders in the 450MX class creates some great opportunities for the privateers to gain valuable screentime and see their names higher up the leaderboard.
Q: Will the Frenchmen Ferrandis and Vialle be a threat to their respective titles?
A: Absolutely, and both should only get stronger. Two-time MX2 world champion Vialle was under the weather coming into Fox Raceway, and the fast-paced one-day race formats and the different style tracks will take some getting used to after racing the MXGP circuit for his entire professional career. A P3 result in the second race on his way to fifth overall showed plenty of promise, so it’ll be a good platform for him to work off. As for Ferrandis, he’s returning for his first full racing season in two years. He was disappointed to be off-the-pace of Lawrence and Sexton (17 seconds in moto one and 45 seconds in moto two), but he now knows where the bar is set. He and the new YZ450F can certainly improve from here and establish himself as a title threat.
Q: Who would be the most disappointed at this point?
A: Having only contested select Supercross rounds in order to largely focus on his 250MX campaign, Cooper had been widely-tipped to challenge Hunter Lawrence. It started well with a searing qualifying time, but Cooper had two relatively quiet races to finish with a 5-4 scorecard and sixth overall. Muc-Off FXR ClubMX Yamaha’s two-time 250MX champion Jeremy Martin won’t be content with P18 after finding himself fighting for points in both motos. In the 450MX class, Webb’s 4-5 result for fifth overall is something he’ll also want to improve on as the season progresses, but it was a good start nonetheless. Having taken a year off from racing Pro Motocross last year, Webb came into the series genuinely excited to be back, and is hungry to show he’s a force to be reckoned with again outdoors.
Q: Who stood out as the biggest revelation?
A: The two highest-placed rookies are the easy choices here. We’ve already talked about Jett Lawrence’s performance, but his debut 450MX appearance has set the scene for what could be an enthralling battle between himself and Sexton for the 450MX title. In the 250MX field, Haiden Deegan had a great day at his home round. ‘Dangerboy’ began with a strong sixth-fastest qualifying time, but a mistake early in the opening race saw him circulating in 14th. Unflustered, Deegan methodically picked off riders to finish a solid sixth. It was his second moto performance that really impressed, though – a P3 start saw him right in the hunt, and he was able to find his way past Vialle at the halfway mark and build a five-second buffer on his way to second. His 6-2 results saw him finish a memorable P2 for the round.