After the first weekend off of the 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, racing resumed on Saturday in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania for the High Point National. The third round of the 12 rounds series would be the first round on more typical east coast dirt that riders will see throughout the year and the racetrack was in tip top shape for Saturday’s action. A light rain permutated throughout the day of racing which kept a solid amount of moisture in the dirt and provided perfect conditions for racing.
In the 450 class, news broke on Thursday of reigning champion Zach Osborne’s departure from the series to heal a back injury that flared back up in a crash at the second round in Colorado. The door was already flung wide open regardless, however, as Dylan Ferrandis and Ken Roczen had claimed the first two rounds of the season to establish themselves as the guys to beat in the series. But would that trend hold true as we really sink our teeth deeper into this series?
Well, the first moto of the day certainly seemed like it was possible as both Roczen in the early laps and then Ferrandis in the later laps put on hard charges to land themselves in third and second, respectively, in the first moto. They both chased home Adam Cianciarulo though as the Monster Energy Kawasaki mounted rider claimed his first moto victory of 2021.
The second moto turned out to be one of the craziest motos in recent memory. It all started out with Aaron Plessinger and Justin Barcia battling for the holeshot, but both riders would fade down the order oddly quick. Instead, Cianciarulo shot into the early lead, and it seemed like much of the first moto story at first.
That is, until Eli Tomac finally found his groove for what seems like the first time all season and the three-time 450 class champion wrangled in his younger teammate for the lead. Tomac was back, but not so fast! By the mid-point of the moto, Ferrandis and Roczen were the fastest two riders on the track as they both were coming back from mid-pack starts and caught Cianciarulo.
Ferrandis tried to make the pass on Cianciarulo for second, but nearly lost third to Roczen in the process as the trio exchanged passes in a tremendous battle. Once both Ferrandis and Roczen were clear of Cianciarulo, they not only started chunking into Tomac’s lead, but they actually got into a frantic battle with each other for second. Roczen passed Ferrandis only for Ferrandis to pass him right back three corners later in the first true showdown between the top two in the championship all year.
It really seemed like they were going to catch Tomac at one point, but the charge settled and Tomac held on for a triumphant first moto win of the season. The day belonged to Dylan Ferrandis though as his 2-2 scores were just enough to earn him his second overall win of the season and help him regain the points lead in the championship by just three points.
“It’s amazing. What a race. The crowd is amazing today, I love it,” said Ferrandis. “Yeah, I don’t know. I got a good start and I kind of followed on Ken for a little bit. I didn’t do it on purpose but I’m glad I did because he was really fast today. It was just a war. Eli was on rails and he kind of gapped me and then it was a big fight with Ken. He passed me, I repassed him, we kind of got bar to bar but without being dirty I think so that was really fun, at least for me. After was crazy. We came back on Adam and passed him and then Ken tried to pass me, and it was gnarly. There was one section after the start where he was a little faster than me. I needed a little more traction. Every lap was crazy. I tried one lap to make a gap in that section and then he got me and then I tried again. That was just crazy. Getting the overall here is a dream come true again and stoked to get the red plate back. I’m really happy to see the crowd too, that’s really good.”
Though Roczen followed Ferrandis nearly all day a long and finished just one spot behind him in both motos, he didn’t even land on the podium overall. Instead, second place on the day went to Cianciarulo who held on for a fourth-place finish in the second moto for 1-4 scores on the day. Cianciarulo had been dealing with arm pump through the first two rounds of the series, and this result today was a big step in the right direction for the Floridian.
“Bummer to lose it with one point, but with where I’m at right now to be honest, I tried my hardest and I can rest my head tonight and get a good night sleep because I know I left it all out there,” said Cianciarulo. “Really impressive by Dylan, Eli, Ken, everybody going really fast. Those guys were really strong. So, I just need to be a little bit stronger. I’m stronger than I was last week and then last week I was stronger than the week before. So, I’m just going to keep grinding in that direction. I have a lot of positives to take away from this. Bummer to lose it, I want to win, that’s why I do this, but I left it all out there like I said.”
As for Eli Tomac, he made the biggest step in the right direction of anyone on the day. Tomac hadn’t even finish inside of the top five in a moto once all year, including the first moto of the day at High Point, so to turn around and win the second moto the way he did was certainly a massive talking point on the day. He’s been arguably the biggest question mark of the season, but perhaps the questions are starting to find answers.
“Well in that moto, I was just in clean air that time. I got off to a better start, but the riding was totally different,” said Tomac. “I want to call it like a five-moto slump, but I don’t know what was going on. I was just getting tight during the motos, struggling a little bit physically, and just wasn’t feeling comfortable on the bike. It was a whole different world that time and excited to feel it again and I feel like I can keep it going. So, this was huge for us.”
Just off the podium as mentioned, Ken Roczen still had a very solid day as he landed on the podium in both motos but fell short of a podium overall by virtue of a tiebreaker with Eli Tomac. Roczen has been very strong through three rounds of this championship and still appears to have a level of comfort on his HRC Honda that hasn’t been seen for some time out of the German. Despite missing the podium overall, Roczen was still happy with how the day went.
“I got pinched off a little bit on the start [in moto two], so I was about mid-field,” said Roczen. “I had to put on some moves in the beginning of the race and I got up there really quick. So, I felt like I was racing great, and I raced hard all the way to the end. Obviously, Dylan, he’s really good right now and I made the pass stick once and he got me back, but I had a lot of fun out there just racing in front of the fans with Dylan. You can’t win them all but all I wanted was to charge to the end and try my hardest. It sucks I’m only fourth, but I felt like I rode good today. The weather held up, the track was amazing, and I really enjoyed racing out here.”
The top four riders were definitely the story of the day, but Chase Sexton quietly put together a very solid day for fifth overall. A small crash in the first moto likely cost Sexton a chance at a better day overall, but he still sits right in the thick of the lead group in the championship through three rounds. It was, however, a strange day for Aaron Plessinger who brought home sixth overall. Plessinger looked just like the same rider we had seen at the first two rounds in the opening moto at High Point, but something was amiss in moto two. After getting the holeshot, Plessinger slid backwards very quickly before settling into eighth which lost him a large chunk of points to Ferrandis and Roczen on the day. He still remains third in the championship, but now sits 30 points behind Ferrandis out front.
|1||Dylan Ferrandis||Avignon France||2 - 2||Yamaha YZ450F|
|Port Orange, FL United States||1 - 4||Kawasaki KX450|
|3||Eli Tomac||Cortez, CO United States||6 - 1||Kawasaki KX450|
|4||Ken Roczen||Mattstedt Germany||3 - 3||Honda CRF450R|
|La Moille, IL United States||4 - 5||Honda CRF450R|
The 250 class was appearing to settle into a two-horse race early in this championship after two-time champion Jeremy Martin went down with an injury at Thunder Valley. Jett Lawrence and Justin Cooper had exchanged overall wins at the first two rounds of the series and sat 10 points apart from each other but healthily ahead of most everyone else.
So, the question was more on who could step up and challenge those two at High Point than it was trying to figure out who would step ahead in the championship. The first moto of the day saw Rockstar Energy Husqvarna teammates RJ Hampshire and Jalek Swoll sprint off into the distance while Colt Nichols, Justin Cooper, Jett Lawrence, and Jo Shimoda fought amongst each other for third.
Heartbreak came towards the end of the first moto when RJ Hampshire had his chain fall off while comfortably leading. The misfortune for Hampshire benefitted his teammate Swoll who was suddenly thrust into a chance at winning his first ever professional moto. Nichols put on a small late charge from second, but the gap was insurmountable as Swoll held on to win.
The second moto went more the way of Cooper and Jett Lawrence, though, as the duo got out front and sprinted away from the field. The eyes stayed focused on Swoll as he needed at least fourth with a Cooper win to win his first career overall. Garrett Marchbanks gave Swoll everything he could handle down the stretch in the second moto, but Swoll held on for a third-place finish and would prevail as a winner for the first time in his career.
“This one goes out to Rocky [Aiello],” said Swoll. “We had a guy within Husqvarna pass away earlier this week and it was just tragic. To come out here and get a W in front of all these fans and for him, it means the world to me. It’s my first outdoor podium, and to kick it off, it’s a win.”
While the win may seem like it was almost out of nowhere, 2021 has been markedly better for Swoll who struggled a bit to come to grips with supercross in 2020 and missed much of Pro Motocross last year as well with an injury. His turnaround in 2021 has been massive, and now his hard work has been rewarded with a race victory.
“I just dug deep. I knew I could do it,” said Swoll. “I’ve put in the hours in training for this and it just wouldn’t be possible without all my guys over here. Sean [Murphy], Scuba [Steve Westfall], my mom, my dad, my mechanic Jed [Rodriguez] putting in all the hard work, my girl Sophia, Fly, Rockstar. There’s just so many people to thank but I’m at a loss for words right now. I can’t even explain what I’m feeling right now.”
Second on the day and extending his championship lead out to 11 points was Jett Lawrence. The Australian put up 3-2 scores to just tip title rival Justin Cooper for second on the day by a single point. Lawrence showed a championship mentality throughout the day as well as he chose to settle into his positions when he realized he didn’t possess the pace to pass riders ahead of him in both motos.
“I got into second [in moto two] and was trying to put in a charge to Cooper and I was noticing the gap wasn’t really closing at all,” said Lawrence. “I kept it going for another few laps, it still hadn’t changed, and I had a few sketchy moments, so I thought I’m better off just riding this off and I’d rather get second than go OTB [over the bars] and end up losing more points. So, it was a bit of a disappointment today. I’m not very happy with this, but if this is a bad race for me, I’m very happy with it. Congrats to Swoll for his first win, he did perfect.”
For Cooper, his first moto win of the season finally came in the second moto at High Point as he held a steady gap ahead of Lawrence the whole way through. Unfortunately, his day was slightly held back by a small mistake in the first moto that ultimately cost him a lot.
“I had a tip over in the first one and it kind of took the wind out of my sails,” said Cooper. “I just ate a lot of roost and wasn’t really in a flow. So, made that [second] one happen. I got out front early, got aggressive, pulled the lead, and managed it from there. It was a race I needed and we’re feeling good going into the break. We’ve got a point to prove and we’re just getting started.”
Colt Nichols had a strong day with 2-5 scores and Garrett Marchbanks rounded out the top five overall with a tremendous ride in the second moto to go 10-4. Hunter Lawrence, who entered today as the closest rider to Cooper and his younger brother Jett in the championship, will be kicking himself a lot this evening about what could have been. Lawrence was a moto winner at High Point back in 2019 and was leading on the first lap of moto one when he crash and fell outside of the top 30. Remarkably, he charged back to eighth and set himself up well again for the second moto, only to do nearly the same thing. This time it was two crashes on the first lap for Hunter Lawrence and again he had to come from outside of the top 30 to finish 11th. He remains third in the championship but lost a huge chunk of points to his rivals ahead.
|Belleview, FL United States||1 - 3||Husqvarna FC 250|
|2||Jett Lawrence||Landsborough Australia||3 - 2||Honda CRF250R|
|3||Justin Cooper||Cold Spring Harbor, NY United States||5 - 1||Yamaha YZ250F|
|Muskogee, OK United States||2 - 5||Yamaha YZ250F|
|Coalville, UT United States||10 - 4||Yamaha YZ250F|