Saturday saw the opening round of the 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship kick off at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Despite an extra two weekends off after Monster Energy Supercross, we still seemed to enter this weekend with little clue as to who the favorites would be. The 450 class has now three former champions of the series in it as Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, and Zach Osborne all lined up Saturday. Yet somehow, they didn’t feel like the clear-cut favorites. Adam Cianciarulo and Chase Sexton were looking to build on a strong rookie 450 class campaign in 2020, Cooper Webb was coming off his second Monster Energy AMA Supercross title, and up to 10 riders beyond that all had a legitimate case to build as to why they would be the guy to win the title.
By the end of the day, none of the riders mentioned above would walk away with the points lead. That’s because 450 class rookie Dylan Ferrandis, in his first ever Pro Motocross race in the 450 class, stunned the paddock by winning the first moto and backing it up with a third in the second moto to win the overall on debut. Ferrandis got there by methodically making passes in the first moto to get to the rear tire of Cooper Webb for second. When then race leader Adam Cianciarulo, who had built a 10 second lead, crashed, Ferrandis wasted no time to skirt around Webb into the lead. Despite a very similar start in his second moto, Ferrandis did exactly what he knew he had to as he made a late race pass on Justin Barcia to really seal the deal for his first overall win.
“I didn’t really expect it honestly. I didn’t wake up this morning and think I would leave the track with the red plate,” said Ferrandis of his shocking victory. “I’m really happy. Winning round one as a rookie is just such a great feeling. I just felt good today and gave everything I had.”
The questions that will immediately follow Ferrandis winning the opener often fall in the department of whether he can back it up or was this round just a strange one-off. From perusing the paddock after the race, the sentiment was that this Pala was unlike any usual version that riders normally see, which then leads you to believe it was an even playing field. But it also is the first of 12 rounds and there’s still so much that can change.
Defending champion Zach Osborne likely would like to forget much of today as he struggled with a bad start in the first moto and brought home a 13-5 result for 10th. However, if you look at who he’s around with that kind of result and those kinds of points today, you might say Osborne’s still in a pretty good spot! Jason Anderson only got 29 points for sixth on the day, Marvin Musquin placed seventh with 27, Cooper Webb earned 26 points for eighth, Eli Tomac ended up ninth with 25 points, and then Osborne in 10th with 24. And beyond that, Adam Cianciarulo finished 11th with 23 points after looking like he might dominate the whole day. Outside of the top five, nobody really seemed thrilled with their day, but the outliers are noticeable from a championship perspective.
Take Ken Roczen for example. On Wednesday, Roczen spoke at length about his lack of confidence in where he stands in Pro Motocross, describing it as a “disconnect” from his normal feeling. After explaining that he’s not sure where he’d end up on Saturday or how things would go… he finished second overall and won the second moto!
“I feel like I had some really good lines throughout the track, but the track is really gnarly,” said Roczen. “It feels good because like you guys said, I wasn’t really the old me yet coming into this round. I knew coming in we had some things to work on, but I want to learn from it and keep rolling.”
Behind Roczen, Aaron Plessinger had a standout day as well to end up third and even was on the verge of passing Roczen to potentially claim the overall victory at one point. So, suddenly we have a happy and confident Plessinger, a more understanding of where he is Roczen, and a debutant winning. This class might provide one of the wildest 12 rounds of Pro Motocross we’ve ever seen. As for Plessinger, he said that he did surprise himself a little when he was battling with Roczen, but he believed the success we saw in supercross was just the beginning.
“After the last two years not really getting what I came for, now to be battling up front for the lead and overall wins, it just feels good,” said Plessinger. “It was a great day, good to be back on the box.”
Rounding out the top five on the day were Justin Barcia and Chase Sexton, respectively. Barcia looked extremely strong in his first Pro Motocross event with the GasGas underneath of him. He’s seen a fair share of success in the 450 class before, but the Barcia that we saw today looked particularly cozy. Despite not having the best of starts in either moto, Barcia was almost always going forward and put himself in a good position.
“I’m really pleased with the day. I’m obviously always wanting more, but Pala isn’t my favorite place ever and that first moto was wicked,” said Barcia. “I felt really good all day long, didn’t make too many adjustments and I’m excited to keep it going.”
Sexton was a victim of a first turn crash in the second moto but was on a mission the entire way through. After nearly stealing the moto win away from Ferrandis in the first one to ultimately come home in second place, Sexton’s first turn crash was an unfortunate setback. But he did manage to charge all the way up to 10th and only sits 12 points back in the championship.
“Overall, it didn’t really start off that great in practice. And going into the first moto I just told myself I had to suck it up and get a good start and put myself in a good position,” said Sexton. “I feel like I was riding good all day and I’m excited to go on to Thunder Valley. I’m in a good spot with the bike and mentally and physically, so I’m excited to go to more of these rounds.”
No question it was a wild day at the races. When you have to go back to Ryan Villopoto to find the last time a rider won his first 450 class Pro Motocross race, you know it was quite an interesting day. And yes, we know Jeffrey Herlings went 1-1 in his Pro Motocross debut, but Villopoto was the last one to do it while also preparing to contest the full season. One down, 11 more to go.
|1||Dylan Ferrandis||Avignon France||1 - 3||Yamaha YZ450F|
|2||Ken Roczen||Mattstedt Germany||6 - 1||Honda CRF450R|
|3||Aaron Plessinger||Hamilton, OH United States||4 - 2||Yamaha YZ450F|
|4||Justin Barcia||Monroe, NY United States||3 - 6||GasGas MC 450F|
|5||Chase Sexton||La Moille, IL United States||2 - 10||Honda CRF450R|
As much as parity was talked about in the 450 class, the 250 class seemed to hold a similar vibe. Multi-time 250 class champion Jeremy Martin had switched over to Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing, but had spent almost all of Monster Energy Supercross on the sidelines after an injury at the opener. The injury casted some doubt on Martin’s potential to win his third Lucas Oil Pro Motocross crown, and the contenders that were on the list were suddenly being talked about a lot more.
The Lawrence brothers of Jett and Hunter, newly crowned 250SX champions Justin Cooper and Colt Nichols, a healthy Austin Forkner and RJ Hampshire, plus so many more, all seemed like there was case to made why they would step up this year. Jett Lawrence proved that theory right as he qualified fastest on the day and was actually doing so comfortably for a while. But that’s why we drop the gate!
Lawrence had a dreadful start in the first moto and would leave him to charge from 18th place on the first lap to get into second in the later stages of the race. He got there after surprise early leader Max Vohland’s bike ran into an issue while running second. Vohland led over half of his first Pro Motocross race ever before Jeremy Martin passed him and took off for the win. But even though Martin won the first moto, Jett was the story as he came through the field and finished only a few seconds behind Martin.
In the second moto, Jett used a much better start to latch onto Martin and early leader Justin Cooper for the first half of the race. Then, he seemingly realized it was time to go and passed Martin and then Cooper in quick succession before taking off with the win. Despite a late charge from Martin, Jett Lawrence claimed the opening overall win of 2021.
“My day went pretty smoothly in practice going P1 but first moto I didn’t give myself much hopes of a podium,” said Lawrence. “I kind of saw Jeremy up there and just kind of kept my same pace and ended up closing the gap a little bit but it was just nice to see where we were at… Pala’s a good track. It was really square edged and technical but no, today I just felt really good. I feel like I would have done the same thing on any other track.”
Martin was able to get around Cooper for second in the second moto and would essentially split 1-2 2-1 with Lawrence on the day. As such, both riders now share the points lead heading into the second round in Thunder Valley where those Star Racing Yamaha’s have proved mighty competitive in the altitude of Colorado before. But the real story for Martin on the day was that the injuries appeared not to be too much of a problem for him to handle, at least so far.
“I was pretty pumped with today. [My shoulder] held up strong in the moto. Some of that stuff was pretty big with the holes and stuff but we stayed strong throughout,” said Martin.
Jeremy Martin had dislocated his shoulder in supercross, but he also reportedly had a wrist injury come about recently. One round in and he could have fooled us!
So, third on the day ended up going to Justin Cooper who, of course, was fresh off of his 250SX West title. The podium finish is much different than how things began for the Long Island native last year when he left the opening round down 26 points. Instead, he’s just 11 back of Martin and Lawrence, and is heading into a track where he won at last year.
“I’ve heard a lot about this supercross hangover, and I was kind of worried about it, so I got right into training,” said Cooper of his motocross prep. “It was a good battle and I’m really pleased with how the day went. It started off pretty mediocre, but by the end we were able to find our flow.”
Similar to Justin Barcia in the 450 class, his Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas teammate Michael Mosiman had just a very solid day at the races. After ending up behind Jett Lawrence in the first moto, Mosiman just followed him through and eventually finished fourth. He followed it up with another fourth-place finish in the second moto to finish in—you guessed it—fourth overall.
“I kind of anticipated being pleasantly surprised with just how good my bike felt and where that would put me,” said Mosiman. “I just got on Jett there in the first moto and was flowing and it was coming to me easy. So, overall, I’m quite pleased.”
Other notables on the day include RJ Hampshire who finished third in the first moto but had a coming together with Max Vohland in the second moto that slid Hampshire down to ninth. He ended up fifth overall on the day. Jett’s older brother Hunter Lawrence had a strong day as well finishing sixth overall and going 6-5. It wasn’t maybe the best version of Hunter we might expect this summer, but he’s not too deep in the hole after round one like he has been in the past, and that could pay dividends.
Austin Forkner returned from his broken collarbone in supercross and actually was the fastest qualifier in the first session of the year. His day was marred by bad starts, but the results were consistent and that seems perfectly fine for Forkner who had discussed earlier in the week the balance between knowing when to push and knowing when to just take a result.
Garrett Marchbanks, Colt Nichols, and Jo Shimoda each ended up in the top 10 overall and had some good moments throughout their day at the races. The biggest story might have been Max Vohland as he looked potentially on his way to a historic moto win on debut, but the bike issue ended his chances with that. He did recover very nicely to finish seventh in the second moto and salvage a 13th overall on the day though. And that’s your lot from Fox Raceway to kick off the season. There are so many storylines within storylines in both classes this year, and round one is just the beginning. We’ll see you next week in Thunder Valley.
|1||Jett Lawrence||Landsborough Australia||2 - 1||Honda CRF250R|
|Millville, MN United States||1 - 2||Yamaha YZ250F|
|3||Justin Cooper||Cold Spring Harbor, NY United States||5 - 3||Yamaha YZ250F|
|4||Michael Mosiman||Sebastopol, CA United States||4 - 4||GasGas MC 250F|
|5||R.J. Hampshire||Hudson, FL United States||3 - 9||Husqvarna FC 250|