What is it about Cooper Webb that shields him from the superstardom? He has the credentials, yet doesn’t go larger-than-life in the way peers like Eli Tomac and Ken Roczen do. He probably isn’t discussed and dissected the way Chase Sexton and Jett Lawrence are. During each preseason, Webb is routinely undervalued. I believe there are actual reasons for this. Webb’s skill set doesn’t work for bench-racing. When he shows up for off-season events, he barely makes a dent. His style doesn’t create insane off-season Instabangers. No mega-leaps, killer scrubs, or breathtaking whoop passes. He doesn’t have a vlog, he’s never on the “flying at the test track.” He does nothing to indicate he will be good…until the lights come on and the actual supercross races that matter begin. That light switch in the building, it flips the switch for him.
Webb could have had some hype this year thanks to a team switch from Red Bull KTM to Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing, but he was not up front in the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX) playoff rounds. You could shrug those off as learning rounds, but Webb himself, going in, said he was not there to learn but to win. He was fired up while riding his Yamaha in the summer, angry about his dismissal from KTM, and believing he was more prepared for supercross-type tracks than competitors who were in motocross mode through August. But any hype on his brand switch was quickly doused with so-so 8-7-3 results.
He wasn’t quite there in Paris, either, but to be fair, he was better at Paris in ’23 than he was in ’22. By Anaheim last year, he was fine. He was darned good again at Anaheim on Saturday
Whatever secret sauce Webb dials in during December, it’s worth millions, because Anaheim finally presented the good side of the Webb-on-Yamaha combo. You could argue that this was his best work ever at the opener. An uncharacteristic crash derailed his final result, dropping him to sixth, but he spent the day and night back in classic disruptor mode. Fans were hyped for the Jett Lawrence versus Eli Tomac duel, but Tomac ended up with a low-key day that really looked the part of a veteran returning from a big injury. Sexton’s KTM debut, also, was very much a work-in-progress. It was Webb, then, who put the challenge to Jett. The Webb skill set that doesn’t jump off the page in November absolutely showed itself in January, with feistiness and the fire all weekend.
Let’s go back to Friday’s preseason press conference. At one point, Tomac was asked to break down the two riders who are considered to be his biggest threats, Sexton and Lawrence. If you glanced over at Webb, you would see he was fuming. He even used the photo of his pissed-off face as his lead shot on Instagram that night.
“Only three contenders,” he laughed when I talked to him after the presser. Also, I added some fuel by reminding him that I put him in episode two of our annual Monster Energy Racer X Season preview videos, with Lawrence, Tomac and Sexton in show 1. We’ve actually joked about this during the off-season. He knows everyone is sleeping on him and added that, “Maybe someday I’ll get the respect of a two-time champion.”
I asked, though, if he would be a different rider than the one we saw at SMX and Paris. That’s the data we needed. He said he would be. He went into SMX confident but quickly realized he wasn’t as ready as he thought. He got his butt kicked. After Paris they really dug in, and his bike was much different for Anaheim. The problem at SMX, really, is that he thought he had the jump on everyone and quickly realized he did not. It was going to take more time.
He’s ready now. He showed he could do KTM stuff on the Yamaha, displaying the full kit: cutting low in turns, darting into and creating new lines, riding the front wheel on the brakes coming into corners, jumping whoops, you name it. This was Webb at his highest level, because he was already getting sneaky fast and creative in qualifying, which is rare. He ended up second overall in qualifying, which is much better than usual for him.
Then came the night show, and the most Cooper Webb of all things: Lawrence got out front, and the disruptor started disrupting. Webb quickly darted inside and made the pass on the kid. Then he started sprinting away!
It’s what Webb does best—surprise. Lawrence, in his remarkable leap since jumping on a 450, has rarely been shoved aside like that. Jett’s starts have been amazing on the CRF450R, and when he hasn’t holeshot, he has made passes into the lead so quickly that it’s scary. This might be the first time someone turned the trick on him. (Jason Anderson tried to do the same thing as Webb in the 450 main event, but this time Lawrence had it handled.)
We must add that Lawrence, also, has some learning to do considering it’s his first 450 supercross. He joked in the press conference that he learned his suspension was too stiff in that heat. Anyway, he started riding better and put in a charge to close on Webb. What would have followed next would have been fascinating. Webb also loves to disrupt from the front, stifling and stammering a rider who catches him quickly and thinks a pass will come easy. Have you ever moved into the left lane about to pass a slower car, and then that car suddenly speeds up? Does it drive you crazy? Yeah, it’s like that.
Webb was no doubt relishing the chance to test the kid, but before that happened Lawrence made a mistake.
In the main event, it was strategy versus strategy. Lawrence was back out front early and doing his usual bit, riding comfortably while managing a small gap. His ability to control a race with a two-second lead is remarkable. For Webb, though, a two-second deficit with five minutes to go is also his favorite spot. He had to deal with Anderson first, and while he closed at times, he also had a few bad lines, such as in the sand, where he gave time back. Once he figured that out, he went for the pass, but he was a hair too nice, and then Anderson, never accused of such, got him back, and good. That small bit of battle was enough for Lawrence to squirt away, forever. Then Webb crashed. Did Lawrence have this one under control, perfectly, as he usually does? Or was Webb readying the gunships for battle? We don’t know, and that’s what makes this fun. His unorthodox approach makes it difficult to make predictions. You’re just going to have to watch it all unfold.
“Today was a great day,” Webb said. “Qualifying went really well. I was second and third, which was awesome for me, and then I won my heat race. I’ve never won a heat race at A1, so that was really cool. In the main event, I got off to a decent start. I was in third place and trying to get around Jason (Anderson) the whole race. It was kind of us three the whole time – me, him, and Jett (Lawrence). I was trying to make passes, but I just couldn’t make anything stick. Then I had a big crash there at the end. I don’t really know what I did, maybe hit a kicker or something, but all I know is the front went over, and I took a big hit. I’m lucky to be feeling alright. I'm just a little beat up, but nothing crazy, and I still salvaged some decent points. Overall, I’m really happy with my riding. I felt like I was one of the best guys tonight, so I’m super stoked about that and ready for 16 more rounds.”
At least we know the SMX/Paris version of Webb is gone, and the two-time champ Webb is back. Mix his approach with the rest of this field, the ones we were talking about during the preseason, we’ve got a heck of a race brewing for 2024.