News 15 May 2024

First 450SX podium 'best race of the year' says Cooper

A strong P6 in the points and a first ever 450SX podium for Justin Cooper to cap off the season.

Justin Cooper capped off a solid rookie 450SX season with his first career premier class podium in Salt Lake City. The ride sealed P6 in the championship for Cooper as he collected 14 top 10 finishes to be the highest finishing rookie outside of newly crowned champion Jett Lawrence.

Cooper’s ride in the main event looked much like the Justin Cooper we grew to expect on a 250. A holeshot got him the early lead before Red Bull KTM’s Chase Sexton snatched it away from him. Cooper never let Sexton go though as he hung on his hip the entire way, never slipping more than a few seconds behind. While Cooper has had rides through the field this year coming from down early to a top 10 result, even Cooper himself felt he put together his best main event of the season.

Image: Octopi Media.

“I don’t want to say just because I got P2 that it was my best race of the year, but it really was,” said Cooper. “It started out with the holeshot and that put me in a good position. I knew that I had good speed tonight. I felt good on the bike and the track was really coming around for me. I just clicked off my laps and my focus was really good. I was able to have a little bit of a gap to third and I knew my teammate was behind me. I ride with him all the time so it kind of gave me a little bit more comfort with him there and I was just clicking off my laps. The pace was definitely high and there was no settling. Everyone in the top five was really going for it. It started to spread out there at the end which was nice so that I could settle a little bit, but still those guys were hot on my heels. Overall, I’m pumped. This was a long time coming. It feels good after 16 rounds of missing the podium to end it like this and move on to outdoors.”

A podium seemed on the cards even earlier in the season for Cooper as he qualified fastest at the fourth round in Anaheim. A month later he ran in P3 for nearly the entire main event at the ninth round in Birmingham before slipping back to P5. At the time, his trajectory had been nothing but upward. But that ride in Birmingham led to a bit of a stall out for Cooper who followed up at the next round with a P10 result.

The good news is that Cooper never finished worse than 10th the rest of the year, meaning from his seventh-place finish at the seventh round in Arlington onward, he was a top 10 guy the whole way. Slowly but surely late in the year, he built back up towards the form we saw out of him at Birmingham which led to ending the season with a podium finish.

Image: Octopi Media.

Jett Lawrence earned rookie of the year honors and rightfully so as he became just the third ever rookie to win the 450SX title, but Justin Cooper’s rookie season cannot be slept on. Outside of Jett, P6 is the highest a 450SX rookie has finished in the championship standings since Cole Seely finished P3 way back in 2015. Even names like Chase Sexton (P12), Marvin Musquin (P7), Dylan Ferrandis (P7), and Joey Savatgy (P8) did not finish as high in the championship in their first season as Cooper did.

“If I’m the second rookie, that’s pretty good because the first rookie won the championship,” said Cooper. “He’s riding really well, but it was definitely a really good year for me. I was able to finish up sixth in the championship. It definitely started out slow. I missed the main in the mud. It’s been an up and down year. We were definitely trending in the right direction towards the end there and I’m just really stoked to end it like this.”

Image: Octopi Media.

Cooper’s strongest trait always seems to be his consistency as he fought for 250 class championships for years by hitting the podium at a nearly perfect rate. That consistency will pay dividends in the 450 class where often riders are slowed by injuries or up and down results. Cooper has now laid a framework moving forward of what could be a baseline in performance for him on a 450.

On top of that, Cooper has arguably been a better rider in AMA Pro Motocross than he has been in Monster Energy Supercross over the years. Though he never won a 250 class AMA Pro Motocross title and did win a 250SX title, Cooper was seemingly always in the fight for the championship in Pro Motocross from 2018 to 2023. Now that we’re about to head outdoors, his ceiling might be even higher than what he just accomplished in Supercross to begin his career aboard a 450.