Following two weekends off, the 2022 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship resumed on Saturday at the historic Unadilla MX circuit. Founded in the 1960s, the world-famous facility has provided numerous iconic moments and hosted legendary figures in motocross racing. Unfortunately, founder Ward Robinson passed away at the age of 85 on Monday, just days before the event. Even with the loss of Ward, the Robinson family prepped the facility for a huge weekend. And boy, did the racing deliver—with Robinson watching down from heaven.
In the premier class, Eli Tomac and Chase Sexton entered the day in the midst of one of the closest championship battles in history. Only five points separated them following the first eight rounds. Jason Weigandt wrote a story about the battle between the two following the seventh round Spring Creek National (incredibly, the championship has even tightened up since then!) as the young contender tries to battle the experienced past champion. Tomac had clicked off eight straight moto wins with Sexton finishing second in all of them, until Sexton broke the streak with a Washougal moto and overall win. Today, the duo battled side-by-side again in both motos—and this time it was the youngster getting the better of his competition. Sexton’s 1-1 was one of the most dominant performances of the season, as he passed and gapped Tomac in both races.
“I’ve always liked this track,” said Sexton. “Today was a lot different. I think every year I’ve come here it’s either rained before we came here or it was raining [while we were here], so it made it softer and more rutted than today. In practice I was really struggling with that. It was drier and choppy. We had to make a decent amount of bike changes, more than we have been doing, and it was good. I didn’t change from moto one to moto two. But yeah today was awesome. I like the rutted conditions. I grew up riding on more hardpack and ruts and that paid off today. I felt really comfortable even though the track could bite you really easily. I had a few close calls, you really had to be on your game. Today was one of those days where I felt like I was—not cruising—but I felt like I was in control.”
This might not be Tomac’s favorite track or the one that suites his style the most, but we just do not see people catch ET3 and run him down like this. Tomac had to give props to his competitor for the strong ride.
“Yeah, I mean looking at it cup being half full, it was a decent day,” said Tomac. “Looking back at the last few years here, I put myself in a good position in both motos, got a holeshot in moto two so that was sweet. Did what I could, made some small adjustments for moto two and it wasn’t enough. Obviously Chase was on fire today. I don’t know man, me and this place…it has my number.”
While most championships start to lose the hot flame around this time, this title fight seems to be far from over. Tomac will be strong at Budds Creek Motocross Park and Ironman Raceway, but remember, if Sexton can keep it close enough to come down to the finale, watch out. The #23 has been untouchable on a 450cc machine at Fox Raceway at Pala. Fingers crossed we get to see this thing come down to the final moto of the year.
“Budds Creek is fun, it’s got really good dirt and it’s one of my favorites,” said Sexton on the next track. “The last three, I wouldn’t say Pala is my favorite but I seem to do good there. So the last three, Budds Creek, Ironman and Pala, I would say Ironman and Budds Creek are two of my favorites. Budds Creek, it’s going to be interesting. It could get hot. We haven’t had really hot races this year, and I’m sure it’s coming at some point. I’m looking forward to that. Budds Creek has a nice layout, good flow, and it’s a lot slower.”
Behind the front duo, Jason Anderson rode strong for two third-place finishes in the motos and the final spot on the podium. While the #21 was gapped by the end of the motos and found himself in no man’s land, Anderson put in another solid day as he continues his best Pro Motocross season to date.
“Yeah for me, obviously it’s kind of tough being third-third-third-third because you want to see improvements,” said Anderson. “But for me, it’s been one of the best outdoor seasons I’ve had so far. I don’t want to ride over my head or so anything crazy, I’m just looking for consistent progress right now. There’s way too much ground to make up with the way these guys are riding. I’m trying to make some good progress to help develop my bike, get better myself, and be better for next year. That’s what my goal is right now.”
KTM’s Aaron Plessinger rode home 7-4 finishes for fourth overall. The #7 machine started right behind Tomac in moto two and brought home a top-five finish. With two more East Coast races left, Plessinger looks to capitalize and end his first season on orange on a high note.
Unadilla provided the first glimpse of Dylan Ferrandis racing since April. And, man, what a bummer that the defending 450 Pro Motocross Champion was not able to compete with Tomac and Sexton this year, due to a thumb injury. In his return, the #1 came out hot with the holeshot in the first moto before finishing fourth. Still working towards 100 percent race pace, the Yamaha rider could be a wild card in the championship battle. He was unreal last year at the Budds Creek National. Could the Maryland circuit be the French native’s first podium of the summer?
Other riders making their returns were the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna duo of Malcolm Stewart and Dean Wilson. Injuries sidelined them both for a few months and Unadilla is no easy track to come back to, but it was good to have both likeable personalities back. Everyone is talking about how long it was for Ryan Dungey between his last Pro Motocross events until this year, but Stewart raced his first Pro Motocross event since the 2014 Budds Creek National! Over eight years later, Stewart finished 14-16 for 15th overall, as Wilson went 19-13 for 16th overall.
“First outdoor race back in eight years and I think it was a good day just being back,” Stewart said. “Of course, the results didn’t show it, but just having that race back there again was really good for me. I'm happy to be back, but we have some work to do. I'm really looking forward to Budd's Creek because that's obviously one of my favorite tracks. I learned a lot, and you can't replicate racing, so this is just a good race just to come back to – to get through it.”
After racing as a fill-in for Stewart and Wilson to start the summer, Shane McElrath finished 16-18 for 17th overall in his debut on a Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha YZ450F.
|1||Chase Sexton||La Moille, IL||1 - 1||Honda CRF450R|
|Cortez, CO||2 - 2||Yamaha YZ450F|
|3||Jason Anderson||Edgewood, NM||3 - 3||Kawasaki KX450SR|
|4||Aaron Plessinger||Hamilton, OH||7 - 4||KTM 450 SX-F|
|5||Ken Roczen||Mattstedt, Germany||5 - 7||Honda CRF450R|
In the 250 Class, right off the gate it was New York natives—and teammates—Justin Cooper and Nick Romano out front. Cooper had a small mistake on the second lap that cost him big time—he handed the lead over to Jo Shimoda and he found himself in eighth. The #32 holeshot and checked out in the second moto, but his chance at the overall was ruined by his mistake in moto one.
“I haven’t won here and I’ve been close a couple of years,” said Cooper about racing in his home state event. “It seems like here I have one bad moto and I’m good for the other one. Today I got caught off guard with a pot hole, and it threw me on my head quicker than I could even react to it. That’s what happened there. Overall I put myself in good positions in both motos, but I mangled my bike pretty good in that crash so it was hard to come back from it.”
When the #32 went down, the #30 of Jo Shimoda stepped in, inherited the lead, and capitalized. Shimoda rode a great race to earn his second career moto win. In the second moto, Shimoda went down early but fought through the field like he has been all year. He got into an all-out duel with his teammate Cameron McAdoo for third place. He didn’t need the pass to win the overall anyway, but the teammates went back and forth until Shimoda finally pulled off a pass late to secure third in the moto and stamp his second career overall win. Shimoda’s 1-3 bested Cooper’s 5-1 and Hunter Lawrence’s 2-5. Jett Lawrence’s 7-2 gave him fourth overall.
“I don’t know too much about the history [of Unadilla] but every track I go to I just focus on doing my best and today was a good day” said Shimoda. “I do change small things. At Washougal I really struggled to set up the bike coming into corners, I didn’t really have a comfort. We worked on it during the break which made it a little better. I think today it kind of showed.”
Not taking anything away from Shimoda, but this was another weekend where Hunter Lawrence truly could have won the overall. The #96 took second away from Romano late in moto one and was in third in the second moto when he started looking down at his bike. He waved his hand in the air while going halfway over the Sky Shot jump, pointing himself out to the McAdoo-Shimoda battle right on his rear fender. He slowed down and dropped back towards tenth place but kept going. Eventually the #96 ramped the speed back up and was battling for a top-five spot before a late mistake overshooting a turn cost him a lot of time. He finished fifth, when without a bike problem he might have finished third or second to claim the overall win. Bummer for the #96, who has been on the fence so close to an overall win this summer a few times but has yet to stand on the center of the box.
“It was a sucky deal, I was in a good position just behind Jett and Justin,” said Hunter. “We swapped motors between motos. The character of what was going on is identical to how an engine seizes, so it was pretty scary. It did it on a jump once, and there are some pretty big jumps out here. So I stopped doing some of the jumps for a lap. Then after three laps I’m like, 'Hey, I guess it’s not the engine because it would have stopped by now.' I just did what I could from the position that I dropped to. So that was frustrating.”
This was the first “bad race” race we have seen from Jett Lawrence this summer. Three crashes for the normally crash-free rider resulted in the defending champion finishing off the overall podium for the second time all summer, although the first time was from a mechanical bike issue that resulted in a DNF (35th officially) at the RedBud National. That was the day Shimoda earned his first overall win. Still, on a tough day at the office, Jettson finished second in moto two, left healthy, and remained the points leader by about a moto over his older brother.
“Today was not my day,” said the series leader on the MAVTV broadcast. “I was overriding the track. I hope the fans enjoyed the crashes out there!”
Between the McAdoo-Shimoda battles, the Lawrence brothers shuffling around back and forth, plus Romano and Cooper starting up front, throw in RJ Hampshire, Seth Hammaker (in the first moto at least before his crash), Max Vohland, Ryder DiFrancesco, and Nate Thrasher, there were battles going on all throughout the top ten in both motos. Hampshire claimed third in the first moto after banging bars with the #1, but an eighth-place finish from the gritty rider gave him fifth overall on the day.
“We had positives today,” Hampshire said in a Rockstar Energy Husqvarna statement. “I was fast in qualifying, which I haven't been. First moto, I felt like I got into a really good flow early and was clicking good laps off and landed back on the podium for the first time since Round 1. Second moto, I got a decent start and then just split out right after the finish. Someone went into the line I was going for and I tried to get out of it and just swapped the front. It was a bummer but we'll definitely take the positives out of today.”
McAdoo’s 11-4 day for eighth overall was a strong showing after injuries sidelined him since the opening round. Starting near the front and competing for a podium is the ride many expected out of McAdoo and his was a step in the right direction. DiFrancesco had a strong showing, riding inside the top five for almost the entire first moto, despite handing over a few positions late. In moto two he took a rock to the shoulder and couldn’t finish, which hindered his overall result, but he expects to be okay for next weekend.
Max Vohland’s 6-6 was another rather quiet but solid showing. “Another solid weekend for me,” said Vohland in a team statement. “I feel like I rode really good today and feel like the bike is in a really good spot and my endurance is in a good spot. The only thing I'm missing is getting some good starts, so we're going to go back to Florida this week, really hone in and try to figure something out. I'm looking forward to going to Budds Creek next weekend.”
Romano finished 4-9 in his first “home” race, adding another top ten overall finish to his name after sitting out the Washougal National as a precaution following his collision with Thrasher at the Spring Creek National.
|1||Jo Shimoda||Suzuka, Japan||1 - 3||Kawasaki KX250F|
|2||Justin Cooper||Cold Spring Harbor, NY||5 - 1||Yamaha YZ250F|
|3||Hunter Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||2 - 5||Honda CRF250R|
|4||Jett Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||7 - 2||Honda CR250R|
|5||R.J. Hampshire||Hudson, FL||3 - 8||Husqvarna FC 250|
While the AMA often names Team USA for the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations at Unadilla, the announcement has been postponed until this upcoming weekend at Budds Creek. While Tomac and Sexton are widely expected to be riding the 450s for the event, the 250 slot is up for grabs, with Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammates Justin Cooper and Christian Craig rumored as the candidates for that spot. It will certainly be interesting to see which direction this goes, as Craig has had a solid 450 MX season and won the 250SX West Region Supercross Championship, but Cooper is rapidly building back to his old form and winning 250MX motos.