Features 11 Jan 2024

Q&A: What we learned from Anaheim 1

Further breaking down the opening round of Supercross 2024.

Words: Simon Makker

The first round of the Monster Energy Supercross Championship at Anaheim 1 is traditionally one of the most unpredictable, chaotic races of the year, and the 2024 instalment more than lived up to those expectations. MotoOnline answers some of the primary questions that our team had from an intense night of competition in this edition of Q&A.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Should the rest of the field be concerned that Jett Lawrence has started his rookie 450SX campaign so strongly?

A: Nobody will be reaching for the panic button just yet, but there are certainly warning signs that the Team Honda HRC rookie is an odds-on favorite to continue his title-winning ways in 2024. Lawrence’s seven-second A1 victory saw him continue to break new records as the first rookie to win a 450SX round at his debut race, as he comfortably managed his main event lead from gate drop to checkered flag. Prior to that he’d topped the qualifying charts, and finished second in his heat race, despite a self-induced tumble in the latter stages as he closed in on leader Cooper Webb (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing).

Q: Who would be the most disappointed at this point?

A: At the other end of the sibling spectrum, Team Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence – also in his 450SX debut – endured a tough day out. He knocked his head in a first-turn pile-up in his heat and circulated to 17th, then was pinched off the start in the LCQ and narrowly missed out on making the main, despite a frantic charge from the rear of the pack. Two-time champion Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing) also had a very subdued night, even by his first-round standards, as he finished ninth in the main event. Still, that was three markers better than Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo, who was chasing pace all day and finished the night P12 after fending off MXGP champion Jorge Prado (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing). In the 250SX West opener, new Team Honda HRC recruit, Jo Shimoda had been widely tipped as a title threat, but bad starts hampered his opening round, finishing ninth in his heat race, then scrapping his way to a P4 finish in the main event.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Who stood out as the biggest shock?

A: In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Webb have such an impressive ride at Anaheim, especially after such a strong showing for the majority of last year’s Supercross championship. But entering 2024, the new Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing signing wasn’t really mentioned in title fight conversations, which mainly centered around Jett Lawrence, Tomac and Chase Sexton. Webb put himself right back in that conversation on Saturday night, setting the second-fastest qualifying time, winning his heat, then spending most of the main event hounding Monster Energy Kawasaki’s reinvigorated Jason Anderson for P2 before an unfortunate tumble late in the race. Also, lets shine some light on Aaron Plessinger, because for the Red Bull KTM fan favorite to finish fourth at the opener, he’s set himself up for a strong season ahead already. In the 250SX class, Max Vohland (Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki) and Jordon Smith (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing) both won their heats and looked impressive in the process, but the biggest revelation was Red Bull KTM rookie Julien Beaumer. Unfazed by the pressure and bright lights, the teenager holeshot both his 250SX heat (which he finished in P2) and the main event (P6), marking a very promising debut.

Q: How did Chase Sexton look in his first outing with Red Bull KTM?

A: It was a mixed day for the defending Supercross champion, Chase Sexton, on his first showing under the orange awning. The day started well, with Sexton logging a qualifying time less than half a second off Lawrence’s sheet-topper. He was then involved in the first-turn pile-up with Hunter Lawrence in his heat, but recovered well to finish sixth. The main event was a relatively quiet affair, in which he established himself in fourth for most of the race, before capitalizing on Webb’s late error to snatch a podium solid result. It’s valuable points in the bag and he’ll be satisfied to start his title defence with a new team in a strong position.

Q: Is there anyone whose results didn’t reflect their performance?

A: Webb’s sixth-place finish due to his late crash doesn’t do justice for the pace he was running, but he wasn’t the only one. Progressive Insurance Ecstar Suzuki’s Ken Roczen (who easily won his heat race) and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider Malcolm Stewart finished their night in 10th and 11th, respectively, but they were both involved in a first-lap pile-up and had to desperately claw their way from the back of the field. Similarly, MotoConcepts Honda’s Mitchell Oldenburg had to do a huge amount of damage control in the 250SX final after his bike got badly stuck in the gate and started a distant last. Despite that, he was able to move his way forward to a credible P8 result.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Could this be 250SX main event winner RJ Hampshire’s year?

A: The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna rider definitely stamped his authority on the opening round of the 250SX West championship, quickly dispatching of the fast-starting Beaumer on the second lap, and then controlling his lead over Smith for the rest of the main event. Earlier in the day, he’d qualified second to Levi Kitchen (Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki) and finished a close P2 to Smith in his heat, but it was the main event where he really shone. If Hampshire can continue to hold his Anaheim pace and form into the remaining rounds, he’ll be a very real contender for his first Supercross crown.

Q: What’s the latest news injury news for the riders who crashed?

A: There were numerous crashes and DNFs throughout the day and the outcomes range across the spectrum. In good news, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Nate Thrasher (250SX) and Cooper Webb are confirmed as starters for this weekend’s second round at San Francisco, despite both crashing on the same jump at A1. Kawasaki privateer Freddie Noren has also confirmed he’ll line up on Saturday night, despite a minor wrist injury and some facial bruising sustained in his 450SX main event crash. While there’s no word on Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Christian Craig’s status after his main event crash, there are unofficial reports that controversial SmartTop MotoConcepts Honda Racing rider Vince Friese separated his shoulder after tangling with Dean Wilson (Fire Power Honda). The extent of the injury and how long he might be sidelined are unclear. Further down the order, Lux Turner (AEO Powersports KTM) fractured his hip, Dylan Walsh (Host Grindstone Kawasaki) lacerated his small intestine early in the practice sessions, and Logan Karnow (Kawasaki) dislocated his ankle in a first-turn heat crash.