Features 29 May 2024

Q&A: What we learned from Fox Raceway

Breaking down the action from the opening round of Pro Motocross in 2024.

The opening round of the 2024 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.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Are we in for a closer 450MX title fight this year?

A: Although Jett Lawrence left Fox Raceway with a bigger points gap than he did at the opening round last year, there seems to be a growing expectation that the perfect streak will be over sooner rather than later. Chase Sexton kept him honest the whole way home in the second moto, and his brother Hunter Lawrence was on his hip the entire first moto. Jett spoke in the press conference about missing the mark with bike setup and feels he has work to do to get it better. The problem everyone else has is that Jett just consistently starts out front over and over again. By Hangtown last year, Lawrence did not have Chase Sexton on the track next to him as Sexton went out with injury after the opening round, so now he has to deal with this heightened pressure right from the start. He is still the clear favorite and nothing really will change until he starts losing motos, but Fox Raceway showed that may be closer to happening than we were last year.

Q: Who had the most surprising ride at the opener?

A: It was great to see Aaron Plessinger right back on form after a fractured elbow ended his Supercross season and it was also a bit of a shock to see how far Haiden Deegan and Levi Kitchen gapped the field in the 250 class, but another name was turning heads. That came in the form of Team Honda HRC’s Chance Hymas. Hymas dealt with a torn ACL for the entirety of Monster Energy Supercross, and while it still is torn, Hymas admitted it’s not hindering him anymore and he feels back to 100%. His best finish in AMA Pro Motocross before this past weekend was a fifth, and he did one better at Fox Raceway to end up fourth overall with 3-4 scores. He really was a fourth-place rider on the day as Tom Vialle crossed the line in front of him both motos but was later docked a position. Regardless, if you said, ‘Yeah Chance Hymas is going to battle Tom Vialle for an hour at the opening round,’ you would have certainly gotten some looks. Hymas looked strong and arguably will be even better at the next two rounds on soil more similar to his Idaho roots with rounds in Northern California and Colorado coming up.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Should Tom Vialle be concerned he wasn’t closer in both motos?

A: Vialle finished 16 seconds and then 38 seconds behind the winner of each moto, respectively, which was not what many expected out of the former double FIM World Motocross champion. He even holeshot the first moto and was rather quickly shuffled back to third by Levi Kitchen and Haiden Deegan. But as much as the aesthetics of that don’t look great, Vialle has never really been the type of rider to kick off a season with a bang. On top of that, he just came off a very close 250SX title fight in which he defeated Haiden Deegan. Deegan looked fine, so Vialle should have been fine too, right? Well the problem is Vialle put a lot of emphasis on winning in Supercross and perhaps delayed some of his preparation for Pro Motocross in the process, while Deegan was open about how he’d been riding motocross for over a month before Supercross ended. As the series gets into more technical and slower paced tracks, particularly when we head back east, look for Vialle to turn into the championship contender many expect him to be. Who knows, we could even see it as early as this weekend in Hangtown.

Q: Does what we saw at Fox Raceway show us what the whole season will be like?

A: There’s two flips of a coin here as it seems pretty obvious in both classes that the podium finishers should be the guys who will contend. But the other side is that Fox Raceway is a unique outlier of a racetrack that doesn’t always translate into what we see for the rest of the season. Because of that, many riders who looked off at the opener will probably be a fair bit better when we head to East Coast tracks and are closer to where many of them ride and train in places like Florida or Georgia. Even looking back to last year in the 250 class for example, RJ Hampshire and Max Vohland went 1-2 in the opening moto of the year at Fox Raceway and then finished seventh and eighth in the championship. By the time we get through the first four rounds and are leaving High Point in Pennsylvania, both championships should have a much clearer picture of what exactly will happen throughout the course of the season.

Image: Octopi Media.

Q: Can Hunter Lawrence be a title contender his rookie 450MX season?

A: Reading too much into one result is never a good idea but Hunter Lawrence seems like the real deal on a 450. If it wasn’t for his brother taking all the wins, we might have just seen a world where Hunter wins his first ever Pro Motocross race on a 450, which was close to happening with his brother on the track anyway. What’s becoming a normal trend is seeing 250 class Pro Motocross champions immediately threaten for wins and podiums on a 450. Recent examples include Zach Osborne, Dylan Ferrandis, and his brother Jett Lawrence all winning titles as rookies on a 450 in 2020, 2021 and 2023, respectively. The best thing Hunter may have going for him is a stark lack of pressure to deal with as the expectation from Team Honda HRC is likely for his brother Jett to repeat his success. That leaves Hunter wiggle room to continue learning how to win on a 450 while his brother is trying to keep his streak of success alive. If he’s winning motos soon, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.

Q: What was the biggest disappointment from the opener?

A: The most unfortunate thing from Fox Raceway is how many injuries we already have in both classes. We lost Cameron McAdoo and Seth Hammaker before we even got to the track as they crashed out while testing on Tuesday before the race. Then we lost RJ Hampshire in a press day crash. And then 30 minutes later, Garrett Marchbanks was also sidelined due to a press day incident. Each of those riders had strong expectations coming into the season and they all will be sidelined for a while. Marchbanks seems like he should return the earliest, but he is now concerned about earning enough points to qualify for the SuperMotocross Playoffs on a 450. Either way, it’s always a bummer to see riders getting injured and the week of Fox Raceway just seemed to have more and more names being added to the list before we even dropped the gates. Hopefully, everyone is able to heal up soon and get back to racing.

Q: Will Dylan Ferrandis get back to his old 450MX self?

A: The former AMA Pro Motocross champion started off his season with 7-5 finishes to pick up a P4 overall in his first race outdoors with Phoenix Racing Honda. When asked prior to the season whether he felt confident he had the machinery underneath him to contend, Ferrandis simply said, “We’ll see.” Despite finishing second in the championship in 2023, Ferrandis never showed the 2021 title winning speed we saw out of him just a few years ago. His day should have been better at Fox Raceway as he ran a comfortable fourth place in the first moto until a couple of late crashes slid him back to seventh. Now with one race on the new bike in Pro Motocross complete, he has a base he can work with to get better, and he should get better. Perhaps not to the level he used to be, but signs are pointing towards Ferrandis having a strong season for a team that will be thrilled if and when it happens.