Features 19 Dec 2023

MotoOnline Awards: 2023

Annual feature highlighting the winners and events of the year gone by.

In the 2023 edition of the MotoOnline Awards, we name the leading performers and storylines of the season past in a reflection of domestic and international competition. These are done purely for editorial purposes, pieced together from what we witnessed during the year both locally and abroad.

Image: Octopi Media.

Rider of the Year – Jett Lawrence:
There’s no denying that Team Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence was the standard of 2023. Everything he touched turned to gold as he rewrote the history books in a number of ways. A commanding 250SX West championship win was just the beginning, as he then stepped up to the 450MX class for the Pro Motocross Championship and left the rest of the field in his roost. It’s not the first time a perfect season has been achieved, but it’s the first time it’s ever been done by a rookie. Lawrence then went on to win the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX), courtesy of a dominant performance at the Los Angeles SMX Finals. On top of that, the younger of the Lawrence brothers won a moto at MXoN, then emerged as the King of the Paris Supercross with four race wins from his six outings. The only box left to tick for the supremely talented Honda rider is the 450SX championship, in which he’ll enter for the first time in 2024.

Rookie of the Year – Haiden Deegan:
No small amount of hype has surrounded Haiden Deegan since he was ripping around on mini bikes, but this year the talented teenager lived up those expectations with a spectacular full-time rookie season. Three podium appearances and a string of consistent top five results during the 250SX East series saw the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing rider finish runner-up to Hunter Lawrence (Team Honda HRC). Deegan capitalized on a rough mid-season from a luckless Lawrence to temporarily inherit the red plate at Southwick, and posted another round win at Washougal, before a technical issue at Unadilla, then a difficult day at Budds Creek, saw his title hopes evaporate. He returned with a vengeance for the SMX Finals, though, finishing third in both Charlotte and Chicago, before taking a memorable win at the Los Angeles Coliseum to score the huge 250SMX payout. With both Lawrence brothers now in the 450 class, Deegan is a hot favorite for supercross and motocross success in 2024.

Personality of the Year – Hunter Lawrence:
There’s something refreshingly honest about the way Team Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence presents himself. He’s never one to hide behind a mask or the cookie-cutter responses that some riders give to media questions or his fans – with Hunter, what you see is what you get. He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade when it’s required, but at the other end of the spectrum, when he’s genuinely happy he’s not afraid to let his emotions show. Hunter’s growing a legion of fans as part of the Lawrence empire, and it’s in no small part to his witty, original quips and one-liners, his banter with his younger brother Jett, great social media presence and his consistent transparency off the bike.

Series of the Year – SMX World Championship:
2023 proved to be a marquee year for the sport in the US, with the Supercross promoter, Feld Entertainment, and the Pro Motocross promoter, MX Sports, banding together to introduce the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship, complete with a three-round SMX Finals system. It wasn’t without its sceptics and it did take a while for the formats and details to come to light, but for the most part, the new streamlined package and playoffs were a big success. With the final rider line-ups determined from points earned through the year, the playoffs gave racers a real incentive to return from injuries, rather than just writing off their seasons. The prize pool was also incredibly lucrative, with the 450 champion (Jett Lawrence) pocketing a massive $1-million, and 250 winner Haiden Deegan a cool $500,000 for his efforts. The hybrid tracks were unique, but it’ll be the final round, which saw racing return to the iconic LA Coliseum, that fans will remember most.

Image: Supplied.

Most Anticipated Motocross Model – 2024 Triumph TF 250-X:
It’s a huge deal whenever a new manufacturer enters the dirt bike market, but the anticipation that Triumph Motorcycles has built around its all-new TF 250-X has been something else. With the likes of Ricky Carmichael playing critical roles in the development of this all-new design, the British manufacturer did a fine – but very extended – job of rolling out information over the past six months including an in-person teaser at the SMX Finals, before taking the covers off altogether last month. The new TF 250-X boasts an all-new powertrain inside a unique aluminum chassis, a claimed best-in-class power-to-weight ratio, and has taken no shortcuts with the components. And the best thing, they’re going racing as soon as next year!

Top Team – Team Honda HRC:
It’s been a long, dry period for Team Honda HRC as far as the 450 championships go, but that all changed in 2023 as the team stormed to a record-breaking season. With Chase Sexton being crowned the 450SX champion, Jett Lawrence won the the 250SX West and 450MX titles, and Hunter Lawrence lifting the the 250SX East and 250MX championship trophies, it truly was a remarkable year for the red riders, and one that firmly re-establishes them as the powerhouse team in the pits. Next year will see the Lawrences lead the 450 program, with Jo Shimoda returning to Honda alongside Chance Hymas in the 250 class, but it will be tough for anybody to match what was achieved this season.

Best Event – Motocross of Nations at Ernee:
Some of the best Motocross of Nations weekends of the modern era have taken place on the picturesque, rolling track of Ernee, France. More than 100,000 passionate fans clog the hillsides armed with chainsaws, air-horns, flares and flags, while the world’s best racers go deep into the pain cave for national pride. 2023 saw the same incredible scenes we’d witnessed in past events, as the talent-packed French team (Maxime Renaux, Romain Febvre and Tom Vialle) carried out a memorable triumph, while Australia (Jett Lawrence, Hunter Lawrence and Dean Ferris) achieved its best-ever MXoN result – a remarkable second overall – from a fired-up Italian team. Ernee and its fans certainly know how to put on a spectacular event.

Hottest Topic – Drama strikes WSX:
After launching a two-round pilot season last year, all eyes were on the all-new FIM World Supercross Championship to see if it could deliver on its promises as a lucrative competitor to the well-established AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross championships. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations it set itself. Upheavals around the board table and the investors backing the series saw the German, Singapore and Canadian rounds cancelled, with the French GP substituted for a round at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. The British and Melbourne GPs still ran as planned though, as the dramatic action (thanks in no small part to MotoConcepts Honda’s Vince Friese) across the three rounds proved the series has potential. Let’s see where SX Global takes it next.

Image: Octopi Media.

Greatest Disappointment – Eli Tomac’s early exit:
If you ever wanted proof that lady luck plays no favorites, look no further than Eli Tomac’s 2023 campaign. After putting in all the hard work early in the season, then finally getting the better of Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb and Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton, defending champion Tomac had built himself a comfortable 18-point lead coming into the penultimate – and his home – round of the 450SX series at Denver. After leading the main event early, in a plot twist that no-one could’ve ever predicted, a seemingly innocuous incident saw Tomac rupture his achilles tendon and he was suddenly ruled out of contention altogether. It was a brutal way to end the 30-year-old’s season, but he’s confirmed he’s coming back for redemption in 2024 and we’re here for it.

Most Surprising Moment – Cooper Webb out, Chase Sexton in at KTM:
Rumors had swirled earlier in the year that there were changes afoot at Red Bull KTM, with Cooper Webb courting his old team Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing, and Chase Sexton linked to the Austrian manufacturer. While Sexton’s announcement in October itself didn’t come as too much of a surprise, Webb’s sudden departure from the team midway through the Pro Motocross Championship certainly caught many people off-guard at that point, because after five years with KTM, it was assumed that he’d see out his tenure before returning to the Yamaha camp for 2024. The move to his former team was made official just days before the SMX Finals began and the two-time 450SX champion lined up for those three races back in blue. It sets up a fascinating next season.

Social Standout – Adam Cianciarulo:
Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo has always been one of the most honest, down-to-earth guys in the pits, but this year he’s stepped up his social game to a new level, particularly in the YouTube space once again. The Florida-based rider has increased his vlog game significantly, and he’s also now doing sofa-based podcasts with the likes of Chase Sexton (which has gained 75,000 views in three weeks), MX Sports promoter Davey Coombs and 2023 Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Junior. On top of that, AC isn’t afraid to offer his opinion on a range of topics on Twitter and his Instagram content is varied, insightful and high quality.

Special mention – The champions:
This year saw some new faces stand atop the championship podiums in both the Monster Energy Supercross and the FIM Motocross World Championship. For Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton, this year’s 450SX title-chase was a classic example of refusing to give up. It looked like defending champion Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing) had the championship clinched, before he ruptured his Achilles with just two rounds to go. Sexton, who’d been fast all season, but had also had to overcome his own bouts of bad luck, inherited the points lead and claimed his first-career premier class crown. In MXGP, Spanish sensation Jorge Prado (Red Bull GasGas) asserted his authority on the 450 class early, and managed to win the championship by a comfortable 67 points. In MX2, Andrea Adamo (Red Bull KTM) was also a force to be reckoned with for most of the season as he got the better of Jago Geerts (Monster Energy Yamaha) early to finish the season with the same 67-point buffer to his credit.