When it comes to professional motocross, it’s rare that a talent comes along and immediately defies all expectations. Whether it be Jeremy McGrath winning the premier class supercross title as a rookie, or Ricky Carmichael breaking through to knock McGrath off the top eight years later, it’s moments like those that fans theorize could happen but it’s still incredible if and when it happens.
The story of Jett Lawrence in 2023 is that of a sure-fire motocross and supercross superstar that has now seen the sun set on his days racing a 250F. And at Saturday’s Fox Raceway National to kick off the 2023 AMA Pro Motocross Championship, everyone was finally treated to what Jett Lawrence really can do on a 450.
It might not be surprising that he topped qualifying, but it might surprise some that Jett Lawrence topped both qualifying sessions in his first shot and ended up 2.5 seconds faster than everyone else. It also might not be a surprise if he went out and won his 450 debut moto, but it might be surprising if he were to holeshot that moto, lead every lap, and then turn around and do it again an hour and a half later.
That’s what we got on Saturday. A Jett Lawrence debut that went from highly anticipated to a debut for the ages in the span of about eight hours. The 19-year-old Australian was simply perfect all day long at Fox Raceway and has sent a clear shot across the bow to anyone that not only is he ready to win on a 450, but he’s also planning on doing it a lot.
"It's awesome man, I can finally smile!" said Lawrence. "Today I've been trying to not get too excited and not have the emotions come over but now I can finally smile and let loose. It was fun. It was cool to have both Honda boys up there similar to last year with a 1-2."
As good as Jett was, it wasn’t exactly complete annihilation. Chase Sexton, fresh off his 450SX crown, was the clear second-best guy on the day. He qualified second fastest, finished second in both motos, and now sits second in the standings because of it. But aside from a odd first half of moto one where he took a little while to get going and get around Dylan Ferrandis, Sexton was every bit as fast as his young teammate.
In what ultimately was a Honda sweep just like the 2022 Fox Raceway 1 National where Sexton and then teammate Ken Roczen went 1-2-1-2, Jett Lawrence really spent the day just in front of Sexton. The entire second moto at Fox Raceway was really a battle that seemed inevitable but never materialized. After Lawrence grabbed the holeshot, he had Sexton hot on his tail and quite literally never broke away. So much so, Sexton got very close to making the pass in the final two laps only for Jett to just hang on to sweep on his debut.
So despite Jett Lawrence being the storyline, Chase Sexton coming straight off championship success into second place at the opener is nothing to scoff at. Often, we see a “supercross hangover” of sorts and if that’s what it is for Chase Sexton, who even crashed heavily in qualifying, things could be very different within weeks.
"I thought maybe if I get close enough, I could make a move," said Sexton. "I tried my hardest and I got close. I made a little bit of an attempt with maybe 10 minutes to go and kind of messed up a little but. I was just trying to pick my spots where I thought I could make a move and Jett was obviously riding really good. We were pushing the pace and it was a fun moto. It felt a little bit like last year and I'm looking forward to a good season. I have some experience racing Eli [Tomac] last year and I plan to put that to the test this summer."
While the Honda boys walked away to lay claim to the 450 class, it was Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Dylan Ferrandis who was left to collect the pieces. The 2021 AMA Pro Motocross champion ran third basically all day aside from that early stint in moto one where he was ahead of Sexton. But similar to Jett dealing with Chase, Ferrandis had Aaron Plessinger on him at varying points of both motos. Regardless, he kept the KTM man behind and kicked off his campaign with a solid podium.
Given that we haven’t seen Ferrandis since his concussion at the Houston Supercross, a 3-3 is perfectly solid to start with. It’s also Ferrandis’ first go on the new Yamaha YZ450F platform outdoors and the team will surely work through a few kinks along the way. It was eyebrow raising that Ferrandis was over 30 seconds behind at the flag for the second moto, but flashback to the opener last year when Eli Tomac finished 36 seconds behind Chase Sexton only to go on and win the title. You really just never know.
"Earlier this week I was pretty far from a podium position," said Ferrandis. "We worked together with the team and we made it happen. It was very hard. AP [Aaron Plessinger] was behind me pushing. I had to dig very deep but I made it and I'm very happy. It's very good for me, for the team, and all my sponsors after two very bad seasons."
Rounding out the top five on the day was the Red Bull KTM duo of the aforementioned Plessinger and two-time 450SX champion Cooper Webb. Plessinger certainly had the speed to be third on the day but some untimely crashes in the first moto followed by swallowing roost from Ferrandis all of moto two left the #7 machine with 5-4 results on the day.
His teammate Webb split the opposite way going 4-5, but it’s a result he’ll gladly take. Having just been cleared barely over a week ago following his concussion at the Nashville Supercross, Webb had almost no time on the bike to prep for Pro Motocross and walked away from the opener with 34 points. He’ll take it.
Adam Cianciarulo completed what will likely be known in this early season stretch as the Factory 6 as the front six riders were gone in the first moto. Unfortunately, Cianciarulo crashed in turn two of moto two and had to come from 38th to get seventh. Even so, his 6-7 scores were good enough for sixth overall.
Grant Harlan has the best result of his career going 9-6 for seventh while Spain’s Jose Butron and Venezuela’s Lorenzo Locurcio teamed up on their GasGas machines to go eighth and ninth overall. Fredrik Noren rounded out the top 10 on an eventful day for a lot of guys outside the lead group.
But all the attention was on Jett Lawrence and rightfully so. It’s rare to live up to the hype so well, but Jett Lawrence did all of that and then some on his 450 debut to kick off the 2023 AMA Pro Motocross season.
|1||Jett Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||1 - 1||Honda CRF450R|
|2||Chase Sexton||La Moille, IL||2 - 2||Honda CRF450R|
|3||Dylan Ferrandis||Avignon, France||3 - 3||Yamaha YZ450F|
|4||Aaron Plessinger||Hamilton, OH||5 - 4||KTM 450 SX-F|
|5||Cooper Webb||Newport, NC||4 - 5||KTM 450 SX-F|
The 250 class was quite the flipside to what the 450 class provided at Fox Raceway. While the 450 class was pretty well written in stone from the first gate drop, the 250 class had enough parity to go around for the whole. From Justin Cooper qualifying P1 but doing so in a lap time war with Max Vohland, to Tom Vialle not qualifying well at all in his first American motocross race, it was anyone’s guess what would happen in the motos.
Jo Shimoda holeshot the first moto and looked like he might sneak away but then RJ Hampshire pounced and took over the lead. The duo went back and forth before Shimoda eventually went down and slipped back to fifth. Then Vohland went after Hampshire for the lead, but RJ scooted away. When the checkered flag waved, Hampshire had won just his third career moto but in pretty convincing fashion as he had gapped Vohland, Shimoda, and Hunter Lawrence.
But then moto two saw Hunter Lawrence turn it all around with a holeshot ahead of Tom Vialle who was seventh in the first moto. Hampshire went down in the second corner while Vohland and Shimoda were buried in about mid-pack. Vialle would stick with Hunter Lawrence for a bit until the elder Lawrence brother inched away with the lead and eventually the win. While everyone else behind was so mixed up with one good and one bad moto, Lawrence’s 3-1 was more than enough to claim his second career 250 class victory to start of his season with a bang. Despite the win, it wasn't without a little adversity throughout the week.
"I had a massive crash Monday and I could barely ride three laps on press day," explained Lawrence. "I was in too much pain. This one goes out to Dr. G [Rey Gubernick]. He's got magic hands and he's taken care of me. So G, this one's for you."
Incredibly, rookie Haiden Deegan found his way around Vialle in the second moto to move into second place and he too was aided by the mix up of results. He had crashed in the first moto while running inside of the top 10, but rebounded well to finish that one up in sixth. The second moto was solid as a rock as he tailed Vialle for several laps, then passed him and took off. As such, his 6-2 results garnered him his first career podium in Pro Motocross with a second place overall.
"I'm actually kind of surprised," said Deegan of his result. "A lot of people said I wouldn't even be close to this. I guess we're proving people wrong and that's what we've got to do. Second place in my first full season of outdoors. I'm hyped."
Third on the day went to the inspired ride from RJ Hampshire. After crashing twice on the first lap of the second moto and sitting a clear dead last, Hampshire methodically picked his way through the field to start knocking on the door for a top 10 late in the moto. He had just gotten to 10th place when he crashed again and slipped back to 14th.
He would need 11th place to still get on the podium overall and he incredibly made it happen on the very last lap of the race when he passed Ryder DiFrancesco and Chance Hymas to get it done. The moves broke a four-way tie for third overall which would have went to Tom Vialle, but Hampshire would edge them all by just one point on the day.
"I just didn't have a great start and it kind of became mayhem in that second corner," said Hampshire. "I went down and picked it up in last. I made some really good passes and then going up the hill in the back, someone got out of whack and took my front wheel out and I was dead last again. I didn't really know if I had a shot at a podium but I was just digging deep and I was trying to get everyone that I could. Get out of here with a podium and good points."
Tom Vialle ended up tying Justin Cooper and Max Vohland for fourth overall as they each landed on 34 points. Vialle got there with 7-3 scores while Cooper put together a 5-4 day and Vohland turned in 2-9 performances. All three riders were very fast at different times of the day with Vialle really finding his groove in the second moto, Vohland being the fastest rider on the track in moto one, and Cooper topping qualifying. But each of them were left frustrated to not finish off the day on the box.
Behind them was Shimoda who finished seventh with 4-6 scores for the ultimate frustration award. He collected 33 points on the day and sits 12 off the lead but it was a good salvage day for Jo after picking up from his first moto crash to get fourth and working from way back in moto two to get sixth.
Guillem Farres, Levi Kitchen, and Carson Mumford rounded out the top 10. Frustrating day for Kitchen who was expected to contend higher and parlayed not great starts into a 10-7 on the day. But for Farres and Mumford, both riders looked the part of top 10 talent and even Farres finished fifth in the second moto.
Among all the parity of the class, Hunter Lawrence winning was definitely expected. But it may not be a walk away win for Lawrence by any stretch if the class continues to have races like we saw today. For now though, we’re left to wait a week to see them all line up again as we head up to Sacramento, California, for the Hangtown Classic. We’ll see you there!
|1||Hunter Lawrence||Landsborough, Australia||3 - 1||Honda CRF250R|
|2||Haiden Deegan||Temecula, CA||6 - 2||Yamaha YZ250F|
|3||R.J. Hampshire||Hudson, FL||1 - 11||Husqvarna FC 250 RE|
|4||Tom Vialle||Avignon, France||7 - 3||KTM 250 SX-F|
|5||Justin Cooper||Cold Spring Harbor, NY||5 - 4||Yamaha YZ250F|