The opening round of Monster Energy Supercross often produces surprise winners but also mellow racing. The track is usually tamed down and less-than-average drama and aggression. The round-one track is usually designed to let the riders settle into the series, and the riders are usually tight and nervous. That was certainly not the case this year. The track was gnarly and the action was as intense as a mid-season round of the series. This night had it all, crashes, hard passes, some unfortunate injuries and tons of action. Also in a reverse fashion of the usual opener, the winners were totally predictable. Ken Roczen romped at Anaheim 1 for the fourth time in his career, and Christian Craig won the first 250SX race of the season for the second-straight year.
The two winners had solid gaps most of the time, but that in no way indicated how the night actually went. Roczen said he had a horrible December marred by sickness, so even while he holeshot the main, he only held on for a few laps before his teammate Chase Sexton started mounting an attack. It seemed like Sexton was set to make the pass and get away for his first career 450SX win, until he dumped it in a corner and threw it away. A few laps later, Sexton went down again in the whoops. Roczen was left with a huge lead, and he managed the tricky track the rest of the way to take the win. Behind him was pure chaos, passes, crashes, and even Sexton and Marvin Musquin going across the finish nearly side-by-side in a battle for fourth. You also had Justin Barcia knocking down Jason Anderson in a podium battle, and Musquin and Malcolm Stewart colliding and both going down. Just pure chaos, with Kenny well ahead of it all.
“I think part of the good thing is that I have a good few years under my belt now, so I’m not that worried come race time,” said Roczen. “Last year I came in knowing what I got, I didn’t have that crazy of a December, but again, having so many years under my belt I wasn’t that worried. Things just clicked. I’m a little surprised. I felt surprisingly good. It just came down to not riding as much in December. When you don’t do 20s all the time they just feel a little foreign."
Cooper Webb did what he does. He looked just off the pace in practice and was struggling a bit in the main when he suddenly found the right lines and came to life at the last moment. Then he started pulling away from riders like Eli Tomac and Malcolm Stewart, took advantage of crashes by others, then got around Barcia to net a runner-up finish.
“A1, everyone is fast and everyone is going for fast laps,” said Webb. “Shoot I think the three of us [on the podium] were 7-8-10 [in qualifying times] I believe. I wasn’t too mad, I was bummed in the heat when I tucked the front, that’s about it. Track was tough. You had to find that fine line between being aggressive but not going too far.”
Webb explained the tricky track well.
“It broke down a lot, it was a bit weird,” he said. “Even the build, even on press day, it felt different. I struggled in practice, some places were tight some places were open, the rhythms were tricky and the whoops were slippery. Surprising, for sure, especially here at Anaheim but everyone says it’s really been wet here so that’s probably why.”
Justin Barcia’s three-year opening-round win streak is over, but he looked just as happy taking third here than a win at previous openers.
“Feels great, I’m very happy where I’m at right now,” Barcia said. “It was tricky, it was survival mode at the end. I was just trying to jump stuff stupid, I wasn’t happy Cooper got by me, but I was able to pick up on his lines. I’m quite happy with myself and with how I managed the race, I wasn’t the fastest guy. The whole race was a lot of pressure and I usually handle that quite well. For the first round it was one of the trickiest tracks.”
Musquin had a roller-coaster night to finish fourth. It included a crash—assisted by Barcia in his heat race—which nearly put him into the LCQ. He rallied back to get in through the heat. His night ended with an epic battle with Sexton, as they passed each other back and fourth and Musquin just barely got the spot.
"I’m happy right now. It was a long and tough day, with quite a fight for the Main Event,” said Musquin. "I did my best with outside gate pick and I made some good passes, so I was pumped on the riding and the intensity early on. I made a couple mistakes and I lost contact with Cooper, and then Malcolm passed me. I tried to pass him to the inside but unfortunately, he railed the corner and we hit each other – he didn’t know I was coming – and we both went down. I got up and came back to fourth place, that was amazing. I’m pumped on the push and with the results, to be honest, with all the drama that happened during the main."
Shoulda’ been Sexton’s night. He was all over Roczen for the lead when he fell.
“That was one was tough I kinda feel like an idiot for making those mistakes,” said Sexton. “The first one kind of caught me off guard, and the second one was pretty much me just riding off emotion. Unfortunate for me but I showed a lot of fight in that one. I didn’t give up, Marvin and I had a good few battles there, he ended up getting me at the end. That was frustrating because it’s not the first time I was the fastest but I didn’t get the win.”
Eli Tomac’s debut night on the Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing machine was not looking good, as he had drifted all the way back to 11th at one point. The crashes around him allowed him to rally back for sixth. Tomac almost always struggles at the openers. It was actually better than his teammate Dylan Ferrandis who suffered a bad start, got tangled with Sexton in the whoops and stalled, then later went off the track. Ferrandis is considered a title contender but started the year with a 16th place finish.
Stewart rode amazing in practice but was just part of the front pack in the main, but Musquin darted inside and they both went down. Stewart recovered for seventh. Joey Savatgy was a quiet eighth. Aaron Plessinger was struggling big time with multiple crashes in practice, but finally recovered late in the main to log his best laps and net ninth. Anderson could have been podium bound but got bounced by Barcia while trying to take over second. Anderson’s teammate Adam Cianciarulo tried hard. On a separated shoulder Cianciarulo managed great starts and steady riding early, then things started coming undone and he faded bad, back to 11th.
|1||Ken Roczen||22 Laps||0:57.947||Mattstedt||Honda CRF450R|
|2||Cooper Webb||+07.296||0:58.656||Newport, NC||KTM 450 SX-F|
|3||Justin Barcia||+10.381||0:58.275||Monroe, NY||GasGas MC 450F|
|4||Marvin Musquin||+15.867||0:58.374||La Reole||KTM 450 SX-F|
|5||Chase Sexton||+15.881||0:57.840||La Moille, IL||Honda CRF450R|
It was a tale of two sides of the coin at the opening round of the 250SX West Championship on Saturday night. All of the positive vibes of being back at the races, having a packed stadium, being in Anaheim, and having a strong contingent of competitors to go for this title was washed away four laps into the first heat race of the year. Reigning 250SX East champion Colt Nichols had momentarily gone to the lead around Vince Friese when the Oklahoma native went over the bars in the first set of whoops in a violent crash. It felt as if the air was sucked out of the stadium as fans collectively held their breath while Nichols was down for the remainder of the race. Nichols was placed in a soft cast and gently taken off the track where it’s reported that he has breaks in both arms and a hip injury as well.
The hits kept coming in the second heat race as Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Jalek Swoll was collected with Nate Thrasher as the two tried to avoid Hunter Lawrence who had doubled the supercross triple on the opening lap. Swoll had his bike ripped from beneath him on landing and plowed into the next jump after the triple. Swoll needed to be backboarded off the track as the race was red flagged. There is no update currently on the condition of Swoll.
Despite the deflation, there was still racing to be done as the season kicked off with the first main event of 2022. Vince Friese ripped his fourth holeshot of the day when you combine his practice start prowess but was hawked early on by Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing’s Christian Craig. Craig waited for his opportunity and pounced on Friese for the lead on the fourth lap of the race. From there, Craig was simply gone. In a dominating display in which Craig topped free practice, both qualifying sessions, and won his heat race, the veteran put the cherry on top of it all but winning Anaheim 1. An emotional Craig after the race admitted Anaheim had always been a big bucket list race for him to win as he had remembered attending the race many times as a child.
“Last time I was here I was laying on the ground with Dylan [Ferrandis],” said Craig. “It was a perfect day for me, practice heat race and the main. Only thing I didn’t execute was the start, but we will work on that.”
Craig continued to explain how challenging of a racetrack it ended up being for the opening round of the series. The usual Anaheim 1 that is perhaps more tamed down in an effort to ease everyone into the swing of things at the start of the year was instead full of huge whoops and tricky rhythm lanes for the riders on Saturday night.
“You can only push so hard on that track,” Craig explained. “It was biting a lot of people. Unfortunately, my teammate had a big crash in the whoops, it sucks to see that, especially sitting on the line watching that. Track was tricky, I think my strength was the whoops, I was able to blitz the whole night.”
Behind Craig, the main event feature a fair bit of interesting storylines. There was the early crash for Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull/GasGas’ Michael Mosiman that came about simply from some first lap contact entering a set of whoops that sent him off balance and down to the back of the field. On top of that, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Jo Shimoda and Monster Energy/Star Yamaha Racing’s Nate Thrasher were two of many riders to hit the gate on the start, but both ended up dead last as a result.
By the time Shimoda really got the ball rolling and happened to be doing so with Mosiman after his early fall, Shimoda crashed in the first set of whoops and had to pick himself up and repass all the guys he had just done so for the few laps prior. All things considered, both riders did well to recover and end up inside of the top 10 despite each having an opening round they’d like to forget.
Second on the night came down to a nip and tuck battle between Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Seth Hammaker and Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence. Lawrence had also been affected by the several riders who hit the gate on the start, and only caught up to the battle for third at the very end of the race. He first had to pass Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha’s Garrett Marchbanks on the last lap to even have a shot at Hammaker, which he eventually did! The two made contact in the final corner with Hammaker going for a bit of a wild ride before the finish line jump, but ultimately hanging on for second place.
“In the final corner, Hunter came in and I kind of got a little cross-rutted coming up the three before the finish. I didn’t even mean to jump the triple and I kind of overjumped it and went nose first into the landing of the triple,” said Hammaker. “I hit my chest on the crossbar and knocked the wind out of myself so I was trying to get my breath back. It was a gnarly finish, but I’m glad I was able to hang on to it."
Hammaker’s second place was certainly a strong start for the second-year professional who flew way under the radar coming into the season. Despite winning a race in his rookie year last year, there was not a lot of Hammaker talk coming into the opener and he proved a lot of people wrong right away.
On the flipside, Hunter Lawrence did have a lot of talking going on around him and his valiant ride to end up on the podium showed the hype was worth the praise. In Hunter’s case though, the great ride to even get all the way back to third by the end of it was far from ideal on a night where he felt he had the speed to win.
“My start was pretty bad,” said Lawrence “The gate flinched a bunch of times and like seven guys hit the gate, I thought it would be a restart when it first moved. But it wasn’t, so, just go race. I had to make a lot of passes.”
What Lawrence hit on as well shows his maturation in supercross. While others were making several mistakes throughout the night, Lawrence did not want to panic after his bad start and realized he could only make matters worse by riding over his head.
“You go out and do the best to your ability but try to ride within your limits if you can,” said Lawrence. “Obviously, you have to go above sometimes, and it’s never good to see guys get hurt, but I’m just focused on myself.”
Rounding out the top five on the evening was the aforementioned Marchbanks and Vince Friese. Both riders had positives to take away on the night despite missing the podium. For Friese, he led several laps and showed he has the ability to hang with the leaders for a while and just needs to work on turning that into a performance for the full race distance. In Marchbanks’ case, the result will certainly be a welcomed sight after he cased a jump at the test track on Monday and injured his wrist. He said he was fine a few days before A1, but to still power through and just miss the podium is going to feel great for him moving into better health in the following weeks.
|1||Christian Craig||16 Laps||0:59.465||Temecula, CA||Yamaha YZ250F|
|+05.625||0:59.566||Bainbridge, PA||Kawasaki KX250|
|3||Hunter Lawrence||+06.054||0:59.908||Landsborough||Honda CRF250R|
|4||Garrett Marchbanks||+08.160||0:59.944||Coalville, UT||Yamaha YZ250F|
|5||Vince Friese||+26.635||1:00.110||Cape Girardeau, MO||Honda CRF250R|
So that’s the wrap from the 250SX class at A1. Craig puts a nearly flawless day together for his fourth career 250SX win and carries the red plate into Oakland next week. We will wait to hear more back from both Swoll’s and Nichols’ camp as to the full extent of their injuries, but it appears likely they will both be done for the remainder of supercross.
2022 Supercross Schedule
- SupercrossGlendale 250SX West
Triple Crown and Supercross Futures + KTM Junior SX
Saturday, February 510:00 PM
- SupercrossArlington 250SX East
Triple Crown and Supercross Futures + KTM Junior SX
Saturday, February 268:00 PM
- SupercrossSalt Lake City 250SX East/West Showdown
Supercross Futures + KTM Junior SX
Saturday, May 78:00 PM