Anaheim 1 is done! Lots to get into as the 2023 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship kicks off at what some would say is the home of supercross. We saw some great racing in the 450SX class. Like, seriously! The track conditions helped for sure, but if we get some more racing like that this year then this could be a 1990-ish year, as in, an all-time season. I mean, we had four different leaders in the 450SX main, people!
Anaheim 1 is always stressful for the teams and riders, I always think back to my days as a mechanic and remember this is the first day you’re wearing new team shirts and pants, the bike is all new, the rider is complaining that it feels too stiff, you have pesky media guys wanting to take photos of your bike, there are new rules to figure out, and more. Many of the sponsors come by to say hi and you still have to focus on the race. It’s a lot. Many Anaheim 1’s are just a blur, really, and this one felt like that as well.
Well, Eli Tomac showed everyone what was, up didn’t he? Very impressive ride by the champ and one that perhaps showed everyone else they’re in trouble? In a race full of mistakes, Eli made the fewest and captured the first Anaheim-one win of his career. Well, he crashed, but that was his only major mistake, he was cleaner than most through the rhythm sections, so he overcame the crash and won! Wild, right? We’ll have more on ET1 below.
Cooper Webb looked good on his own comeback for second. We had Cooper on the PulpMX Show Monday and he really dove into how hard he was on his team this off-season in trying to get his bike better. He said one of the things he regrets last year is not being hard enough on his guys to get the bike where they need it to be. He mentioned that yes, they tried the production 48mm WP forks with factory lugs on them, but they didn’t work as well as he needed them to (Aaron Plessinger ran these in MX last year for a bit). Webb mentioned that getting beat in Paris this year was a good thing, it made everyone get back to work and realize they weren’t where they needed to be.
As Webb was saying, when you’re only riding with people on the same brand of bike, the progress, or lack of progress, is tough to gauge and the Paris SX reaffirmed that they needed to do more work.
Well, the jury is in and Webb looked fantastic. You’ll see below that myself (and even Webb himself) isn’t fully buying into this great ride as a sign to come because there weren’t really whoops, but what we saw at Anaheim was great. He kept it low in the turns, his fitness was as good as anyone’s, and he showed he was ready to fight. He was six seconds back of second with four minutes to go, but he made up all that time and took that runner-up finish. He made up a ton of time late and passed a lot of huge names to do it.
Jett Lawrence had a rough start to his day when he kept crashing and making mistakes in practice. He told the broadcast crew that he just wanted to see Sunday, and that Anaheim hasn’t always treated him that well. Well, despite the sloppiness in the track and in his riding, THE JETT still qualified second but didn’t win his heat. I didn’t think he would win the main to be honest, I thought he’d make a mistake or two that held him back, but nope. THE JETT showed us what he’s capable of by going wire to wire, and basically didn’t make a mistake. The track was much better for the night show but remember, he didn’t win his heat. Champions gonna do what champions gonna do, right?
Here are a few things I think, and some that I know, coming from the opener:
I THINK you cannot judge how this season is going to play out from Anaheim 1. We’ve seen too many weirdo A1’s to really know how it’s going to go. Justin Barcia won three years in a row but didn’t end up as a true title contender, Ryan Villopoto crashed three times one year, Davi Millsaps won A1 and then faded…no wait! That Millsaps year, we thought it was a weirdo A1 but turned out it wasn’t because Davi was good all season. That’s rare, though. Just last year we had Webb get second and then not be a factor the rest of the year.
But I KNOWEli Tomac is going to be a real title contender this year. I said on the PulpMX Show that maybe 2023 was another weirdo Anaheim 1 and Tomac and Webb weren’t going to be there the whole year. More on Webb later, but Tomac looked incredible. To crash in the middle of the race and still win is impressive. He ate these guys up with speed and fitness, and he looks ready to go out in his final SX season with another title.
I KNOW that despite Yamaha telling photogs and media to not take shots of the bike and to kind of stay away from the tent, Tomac’s on a 2023 model of YZ450. That was the rumor going around at the race, that the frame was maybe a 2022—definitely not the motor, you can see that—or that Yamaha was hiding something on the bike. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s a 2023 model and Tomac, immediately after stopping by the podium after his win said, “Man, this bike is fun to ride.”
I THINK Webb is back to his title form but I don’t know. He said himself on the PulpMX Show he needs to ride on a track that has big whoops (won’t be this weekend in Oakland, he’s gonna need a Jet-Ski) before he knows if this bike is where it needs to be. I would agree with that. The early returns look great but let’s all just hold our balls on saying that the old Cooper Webb is back, okay?
I THINK that Chase Sexton would be upset at his Anaheim one ride. I mean if I were to tell Chase before the race he’s going to lead laps 13 through 17 and he’s going to get third, that might not be satisfactory for him. He looked tired to me and that’s the type of track that will do it to you. You’re feeling good, you case some stuff in the ruts and mud, and POOF, there goes your flow. Your heart rate spikes, you start holding on tighter, you’re thinking about things, and next thing you know, #1 and #2 go zooming by. Still, bright side is, he was fastest qualifier, smoked his heat, and he gets on the box? It’s fine, everyone calm down.
I don’t THINK I’ve seen Jason Anderson crash this many times. He hit the deck hard in practice (heard he broke his nose) and then many, many other times as well. And guess what? In the main he crashed again as he was moving forward. Jason was fast but he was loose.
I KNOW his teammate, Adam Cianciarulo, didn’t show a lot of flash out there but I know he was happy to just get out of Anaheim and take it to the next race. AC’s goal is to do all 17 races and slowly get better. I didn’t see it but he crashed in the main early when he tipped over. There was no flash from Adam, no awe-inspiring moments, but there was a top ten and some happiness, I think.
I KNOW I’m not going to judge Christian Craig too hard on his Anaheim one ride. He had a big crash in practice when he was jumping (?!?) the whoops, and then he texted Keefer and I that he was riding with only “half a body”. So yeah, it showed, but in the first untimed practice session of the year, before the crash, he was P2 behind Sexton. We’re not going to see much this weekend either with it being a complete mudder, so San Diego might be the first glimpse of the real CC.
I THINKKen Roczen looked like he needed more time on the Suzuki and that getting a top five was actually pretty good for him. Jury’s still out, people…
I KNOWColt Nichols’ sixth was maybe the quietest sixth in the history of 450SX. He got the holeshot, he got shuffled back to ninth pretty quickly, then passed some dudes who were laying on the ground to get sixth. Yay for him and for Honda, couldn’t ask for a better start than that.
I KNOW Mookie was riding great until he wasn’t. He told me one minute he was happy and the next he was looking up at the lights of the stadium. Hitting neutral on an on/off will tend to do that to you. But I still think he can take a lot of good out of Anaheim.
I THINKJett Lawrence shouldn’t be in the 250SX class another year. He’s 19, he’s a three-time 250MX and SX champion, he’s raced 250SX for three years now, he won his class at the damn MXoN on a 450 in the mud, and he’s ready for the big bike. Look at the past level of guys he’s compared to and note that they moved up before this (Stew raced three years of 250SX, RC two, McGrath three full-time, RV three, etc.) and this is Jett’s fourth year in 250SX and his fifth year on 250’s. It’s not the end of the world but if I’m Honda and the Lawrence family, I would’ve put him up.
I KNOW how hard everyone works to be ready to go at Anaheim 1. All the team members and riders do whatever they have to do in order to be ready for Anaheim and show it all off. All the sweat and tears of an off-season go into Anaheim, so to see Pierce Brown and Austin Forkner crash out and look like they’re hurt is a tough blow for them and their teams. That’s a huge bummer for sure.
I THINKEnzo Lopes will be this good the rest of the year but I’m not totally sure. Enzo’s a good dude, I helped him last year with some cash and so I was kind of plugged into what was going on. He’s a great rider form-wise and he had a nice season last year that saw him run close to top five. He also had some bike issues and some shoulder/nerve stuff going on that held him back. He should have those fixed this year. Last season at SLC, he qualified P-1 in the first qualifier at SLC and this year, he did the same thing at Anaheim. He didn’t get the start he needed but he quickly got to the front. He passed his brother-in-law Phil Nicoletti like he was tied to a post. Lopes ended up being the top Yamaha rider on the night. He’s fast and he showed it at A1. Maybe a podium maybe this year for Enzo?
I KNOW I had people in the industry and in my group texts who are worried about the two Star Yamaha guys (Stilez Robertson and Levi Kitchen) but don’t count me in on that. The track was weird, they both got garbage starts (Robertson’s start hook disengaged early) and both guys will be fine. This was Kitchen’s second ever SX, people. Will they win races? Probably not, but lots of top fives and podiums coming for these guys.
I KNOW the Star bikes are fast. Robertson himself told me that as good as he thought the bikes were, they were better than he thought once he started riding.
I THINKRJ Hampshire surprised me with his calm, mostly error-free day to grab second behind the JETT. I KNOW one would think RJ, always willing to grab a handful of throttle trying to make something happen, wouldn’t excel in these conditions, but he rode well.
I THINK, like Sexton, Cameron McAdoo won’t be happy with his ride. Podiums are great but none of these factory guys want to get passed late in a race. It just doesn’t make them too stoked on life, you know? I heard he overjumped something and stretched out an elbow, which caused him some arm pump. McAdoo was good, I just think he’s probably pissed.
I KNOWMax Vohland looked much improved all throughout the day and looked more assertive and confident out there compared to last year. I also THINK I’m conflicted on his race because Mitchell Oldenburg caught him from a ways back to grab fourth. So as good as he rode, he’s a factory guy! But maybe visor tip to Freckle for the good ride and we don’t crap on Max’s career best SX finish? I checked in with Tallon Vohland and he said he was happy with the ride and yes, Maximus is feeling much better this year.
I KNOW I didn’t have Grant Harlan on my list of 450 dudes who could make the first main event of the year but here we are. Great work for Grant while higher profile privateer dudes like Cade Clason and Alex Ray weren’t able to put it into the show. He’s on a 2022 Yamaha 450, he’s being trained by Troll Train (Alex Martin) and he’s one-for-one in 450SX mains. Nice work!
On that note, I KNOW I didn’t have John Short in there either. In fact, I didn’t even know John Short was racing the 450 class fulltime! He repassed Alex Ray late and that in itself is impressive. You never quite know, because Alex doesn’t know, where he’s going at any moment. Good for John!
Thanks for reading OBS yet again. We’re in our 13th or 14th (it’s the 15th, Matthes, -AH) year of this column and I’m gonna try some different stuff to keep it fresh for you (and me) and hopefully we can keep this thing light and knowledgeable. Send me an email at email@example.com if you want to chat about A1 or anything else.