Following a wild up and down day of racing for both Eli Tomac and Chase Sexton at the Budds Creek National last weekend that left the tenth round with only a one-point championship difference between the two premier class title contenders, would the 11th round prove to be a huge swing in the championship one way or another? The Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship headed to Ironman Raceway for what could prove to be a pivotal round for one rider or the other. How did the penultimate round play out?
When the gates dropped early in the first 450 Class moto, Christian Craig grabbed the holeshot, but Ken Roczen quickly made his way into the lead. Tomac soon got around Roczen and the #94 let his teammate Sexton by as the two championship contenders went at it for the race lead. Sexton gained ground on the #3—which, as we have said before, we do not usually type!—but a mistake cost the Honda HRC rider a few seconds as he almost hit the tree on the inside of the U-turn towards the top section of the track by Duck’s Truss bridge.
Sexton got sideways off the small uphill double before the turn and was headed straight for the tree before he turned last minute, cutting through a banner as he essentially cut the corner of the track. Now, for those wondering why Sexton was not penalized while he cut the inside of the turn, race director at MX Sports Jeff Canfield explained to myself and Kellen Brauer afterwards that there was really nothing to penalize Sexton for: he had nowhere to go after a mistake and he did what he could to avoid the tree and he did not gain an advantage while off the track.
Sexton caught and passed Tomac when the Yamaha rider made a mistake coming through the turn following the mechanics’ area that sends riders back onto the start straight. Tomac was going to the inside of the turn and messed up the rut, allowing Sexton to swing wide and then cut underneath him to take the lead. Then, a few laps later, Tomac used an outside line past the mechanics’ area before going wide back onto the start straight and blasting by the #23 to retake the lead. Tomac held on for the race lead, even holding off Sexton’s second-fastest lap of the moto on the final lap to take the checkered flag by just 01.533 seconds. It was a three-point advantage for Tomac with another moto to go. The points between the two was unofficially four in favor of the #3.
Moto two began with Sexton blasting into turn one first, but again it was Roczen taking the early lead as the #94 scooted up the inside and scrubbing the tunnel jump before the rollers leading up to the Godzilla jump. On the second lap, Roczen knew Sexton was directly behind and he once again let the #23 by. Roczen and Tomac battled until the Colorado native took over second place. He was charging after Sexton but could not get close enough to attempt a pass. Late in the race, Tomac made a mistake and almost went down in the rutted turn before the jumps leading up to Duck’s Truss. The mistake, paired with a strong lap from Sexton left ET3 without a shot at the race—or overall win.
Sexton cruised home the moto win by over 10 seconds as Tomac came through second. Sexton’s 2-1 bested Tomac’s 1-2 for the overall as neither rider gained on the other, both scoring 47 points on the day (although the overall tie-breaker went to #23 for the better second moto finish). And yet here we are as the closest championship battle in the premier class of Pro Motocross continues as the duo remains separated by a single point heading into next weekend’s finale at Fox Raceway at Pala in California. As race fans, we want to see these championships come down to the finale and we are witnessing an all-time battle this summer. Sexton later admitted in the post-race press conference just catching up to Tomac in moto one cost him a lot of energy.
“Qualifying today was good again for me finally,” Sexton started about his day. “I’ve been off a little bit I think in practice rushing stuff and I felt like I had good pace today. I felt solid on the bike, which was good. The first moto… horrible start, got pinched, and just tried to make it to the first corner safely and not crash and then I had a lot of work cut out for me. Eli was not far in front of me. Maybe three positions or so, but he seemed to get through faster than I did so I was kind of either make or break and I got through finally. I spent a lot of energy getting to the front. I got to Eli and it was another battle. I got around him in that corner after the finish line and he ended up getting me back there. It was just a battle first moto.”
“I feel like second moto, when I got that holeshot, I was able to ride a little bit more, not conservative, but conserve energy a little bit,” he continued. “When I got to the lappers, I knew that Eli was going to kind of suck me up and I knew I needed to have some energy towards the end and that was kind of my game plan. So, I wasn’t expecting him to make a mistake obviously which gave me a bigger gap, but I feel like I had enough in me towards the end to be able to push.”
“Once again, we flipflop our motos here,” Tomac said. “Moto one, I had to make passes early and got to the lead fairly quick as well and I knew Chase was there. I basically saw his pit board the whole time and I was like, ‘All right, I know he’s going to be right here on me.’ We were running away once again. Once he got around me, at this point it was like all or nothing. So, I was able to make that line work in that sweeper after the mechanics [area] and make the pass.”
“So, moto one, it was a great thing for me to get back in the front and then moto two, we both got better starts,” ET3 continued. “He obviously got the better one. I did what I could. I got closer there in the middle of the race and then made one mistake and I was pushing really hard until that point and was right there and just cross rutted over a little single and lost a lot of time. It wasn’t just a small mistake; it was like a big mistake. I honestly thought I was going to tip over and crash right there. That was it and I kind of lost touch at that point and basically just stayed where I was at that point.”
This championship has been a full sprint to the finish for Tomac and Sexton and we should expect the finale to be no different. No matter who comes out on top, this battle has been one for the history books. Tomac (496 points) will enter the final two motos of the season with a single point advantage over Sexton (495 points) for the Edison Dye Cup, the premier class Pro Motocross trophy.
Behind the front duo was Aaron Plessinger, whose 3-4 landed the Ohio native third overall on the day. The Ohio native finished the second moto in fourth place, but Jason Anderson was penalized one position we believe for accelerating while off the track. More on the #21 in a minute. Plessinger battled with Ken Roczen, Ryan Dungey, and Christian Craig en route to his second overall podium finish of the summer on the East Coast rough and rutted track. The #7 returned to the overall podium since his 7-3 day for third overall at the Southwick National in mid-July.
“That one didn’t come easy!” Plessinger said. “I was really happy with how I was riding in the first moto, but I think I kind of overdid it and going into the second moto I was a little smoked. I knew it was going to be tough, but I had some good lines and jumped on the opportunity to make it happen. I really gel with this place; I’ve been coming here for years and it’s close to home, so a lot of fans and family come up here and it fires me up. It’s been a tough year but we’re back on the podium baby!”
Next up was Anderson, whose first moto started with a collision with Jacob Runkles in the first turn that saw the duo dead last. Somehow, Anderson grinded out a sixth-place finish in the moto! The #21 was on rails, picking off riders at a ridiculous pace. While most eyes were on the Sexton-Tomac battle out front, Anderson rode incredible to just outside the top five. In the second moto, he got a better start but was pinched off the track in the third turn, costing him a few positions. Later, Anderson got bumped off the track by his former teammate at Husqvarna Dean Wilson going up the tunnel jump before the rollers into Godzilla. While off the track, Anderson accelerated before reentering the track several seconds later before sending it up the massive Godzilla hill/jump. Following the race, Anderson was handed a one position penalty, bumping him from his eventual third at the checkered flag to fourth. First-turn crash and all, it was a solid day of charging for the New Mexico native.
Craig came through for an eventual 5-5 for fifth overall. As mentioned, the #28 machine was battling with Roczen, Dungey, Plessinger, and Anderson both motos. Dungey rode home a 4-7 for sixth overall on the day.
“The day was pretty good,” Dungey said. “We got the bike set up good during practice and I think that was the most important thing going into the motos. The bike performed really well in both motos and starts were good, so I was happy with where we were at. I really just tried to push it as hard as I could, for as long as I could, and the guys just had a little more than me today. Sometimes you have to accept that; it’s tough but we’ll rest up good this week and try to finish strong at Pala.”
Roczen came through 7-6 for seventh overall, ahead of Malcolm Stewart (11-8 for eighth overall), Fredrik Noren (9-10 for ninth overall), and Wilson (13-9 for tenth overall). Stewart rode well but in the second moto he was caught in no man’s land in eighth with no one in his near sight. At one point, Stewart was coming down Godzilla and the battle for third through seventh with Plessinger, Dungey, Roczen, Craig, and Anderson had already all hit the Monster Energy launch jump that sends riders to the top part of the track. Still, Stewart’s eight-place finish was the best so far in his six motos this season after entering the series at the ninth round due to a knee injury in Monster Energy AMA Supercross.
“I think the day was overall better for me,” Stewart said. “Qualifying was much, much better. Getting these races under my belt, it’s starting to kind of come back to me. I feel like we're going in the right direction. Our team made a few adjustments for that second moto, and we ended up eighth. I'm really happy just the way that I performed, but the results aren't quite there.”
|1||Chase Sexton||La Moille, IL||2 - 1||Honda CRF450R|
|Cortez, CO||1 - 2||Yamaha YZ450F|
|3||Aaron Plessinger||Hamilton, OH||3 - 3||KTM 450 SX-F|
|4||Jason Anderson||Edgewood, NM||6 - 4||Kawasaki KX450SR|
|5||Christian Craig||Temecula, CA||5 - 5||Yamaha YZ450F|
In the 250 Class, Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence had the chance to clinch the title one round early, but he needed a few things to all fall into place in order to hoist a trophy today. Right off the gate, it was Nate Thrasher who blasted his Yamaha YZ250F into and out of the first and second turns in the lead in the first moto. The #49 rode well, clicking off a total of eight laps before defending champion Jett Lawrence managed to catch and pass him. The #1 had made his way around a battling Max Vohland and RJ Hampshire then made a move on Thrasher that gave him the race lead. Jett Lawrence came up the inside of Thrasher on the tunnel jump and took away the #49’s line, jumping into the lead as Thrasher had to break check and jump into the rollers, killing his momentum. The #1 machine cruised to his tenth moto win of the season as Hampshire hung on for second. Hunter Lawrence charged to an eventual third-place finish ahead of Thrasher’s fourth and Jo Shimoda’s fifth place finishes.
In his first professional moto, Haiden Deegan was running in 11th when he made a huge mistake on the 14th lap that ended his moto early. Banged up, the debutant still wanted to lineup for the second moto. His 13 laps completed gave him 34th officially.
Check out his crash below, caught on film by Conner Schmude (@slowie_films on Instagram):
In moto two, Jett Lawrence needed things to go his way if he were to clinch, starting with a moto win. However, when Shimoda—who Jett needed to beat again in moto two—blasted out front early, the chances of the #1 defending his title one round early went out the door. Shimoda got by holeshotter Justin Cooper to take over the race lead as Hunter and Jett Lawrence both eventually caught and passed Cooper to take over third place and fourth. Shimoda went on to claim his fourth moto win of the season.
“Today was a good day, I think,” Shimoda. “In the morning, I struggled a little bit on tires, and I struggled a little bit to setup the bike. Even in the first moto too [I struggled]. Second moto got a little better and we improved from the qualifier to the second moto so to win the second moto is always great.”
Despite not clinching the title, Jettson claimed the overall win—his eighth of the season—with 1-3 moto finishes over Shimoda's 5-1.
“It was a pretty mellow day,” said the #1. “Just trying to click in some laps and get good times in qualifying and I ended up going P2. I was surprised, I thought the second qualifier was going to be faster, but it wasn’t as fast. First moto, I had a decent start, but I was able to make my way to the front and just had a good flow. Then in the second one, I had a really good jump, but then I got to the deeper stuff and the boys just ended up going passed me so I’m not sure if I might have missed a shift or something. In the first few laps, I kind of struggled to get a flow. I actually went back a few positions, so it was not ideal, but we were able to make our way through into third and the boys were already too far gone so I just settled in there.”
Hunter Lawrence’s 3-2 finishes gave him third overall on the day, besting Hampshire’s 2-4 for the final spot on the overall podium.
“It wasn’t bad," Hunter Lawrence said on his day. "First qualifying session was like pretty scary. The sun was so low, and it was super scary on not being able to see anything and you’re obviously trying to put a good lap in. So, I was kind of banking putting all my chips in the second qualifying session to get a better time in because I sucked in the first one. We went P2 in that one which I believe put us P3 for gate pick. First one [moto] wasn’t bad. Not the best of starts, but I got a better start in the second one. It was a good day, nothing to jump up and down about, but just kind of average. Just okay.”
“Another solid weekend,” Hampshire said in a post-race statement. “We were good all day and had good speed. Once I got my flow in both motos, I felt like I clicked off really good laps and was fast, battling at the front. I’m stoked to be back in this thing. We were not there for a while, and it's so draining whenever you show up and you're not at the level you know you can be at. I’m stoked on the things that we have going on and hope to be better next weekend.”
Jett Lawrence heads into the finale with 478 points, 41 ahead of Shimoda’s 437 and 48 ahead of Hunter Lawrence’s 430. With only 50 points available at the final round, Lawrence will more than likely clinch his second Pro Motocross title in a row in the penultimate moto of the year.
In one of his best Pro Motocross rides to date, Thrasher finished led laps in moto one then finished 4-6 for fifth overall (a new career-best overall finish) ahead of Cooper’s 6-5, Vohland’s 7-7, Jalek Swoll’s 11-8, Cameron McAdoo’s 10-9, and Seth Hammaker’s 12-10 to round out the top ten overall, respectively.
“I got a really good start in the first moto and got really close to getting into the lead at one point, which was really cool,” said Vohland in a post-race release. “About five laps in, my arms started pumping up a little bit – maybe it’s from riding up front and just being tight and not having been up there all year – so I ended up going back to seventh. Second moto, I had a little mistake first lap and a couple guys got me and I just stayed seventh all race. I was consistent today with 7-7 finishes, but I definitely want to get on that podium, and we’ve got one more week to do it. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Deegan, who suffered a big crash in the late stages of the first moto, did indeed lineup for moto two. However, he went down with a few other riders in the third turn and was limping before taking a minute to get upright and back on his bike. When he remounted, the field was already hitting the jump that massive Monster Energy jump sends them to the top section of the track. The #438 machine got rolling—and I mean rolling—and began catching the rider in 38th, then made a pass. Then he caught 37th, 36th, 35th, and on. Eventually, the rookie came through the checkered flag in 24th.
“Talk about getting the full experience," Deegan posted on his Instagram after moto two. "First moto felt super good running in 11th for 30 min with no rear brake from a little rubbin on lap one, had 2 laps to go and had a bad get off, glad I’m all good. Let’s keep pushing forward🔥🔥 Thanks to all the fans I heard you guys out there.”
|1||Jett Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||1 - 3||Honda CRF250R|
|2||Jo Shimoda||Suzuka, Japan||5 - 1||Kawasaki KX250F|
|3||Hunter Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||3 - 2||Honda CRF250R|
|4||R.J. Hampshire||Hudson, FL||2 - 4||Husqvarna FC 250|
|Livingston, TN||4 - 6||Yamaha YZ250F|
Main image by Mitch Kendra