Rain, and plenty of it. That was the order of the day here in San Francisco, and thanks to abundant precipitation, both during the week and just about all day on race day, round two of Monster Energy AMA Supercross was a destined to be a mudder for the ages before the first gate even dropped. And when the rain intensified about halfway through the night program, so did the uncertainty of how things might play out in the main events. But who benefitted, and who came up on the losing end of the murky puddles in Oracle Park? Let’s splash into this week’s Saturday Night Live to find out.
The biggest winner of the night, quite literally, was Chase Sexton. The Red Bull KTM rider followed the book to the letter on how to win a mud race by getting out front, building a gap, and avoiding any mistakes that could take his wheels out from underneath him. The result? A brilliant performance, in which he led every single lap, and took over the points lead from Jett Lawrence. But even after such a great night, Sexton acknowledged that mud races are an outlier, and aren’t necessarily an indicator of how well he and his bike are performing.
“I didn't think we'd get here this fast, to be honest,” Sexton said on his comfort level and having the points lead. “I thought I was gonna really have to be patient and just trying to work into a good position with the bike and I knew it was gonna take a lot of time. We were testing some big, big changes the week of Anaheim. So, the week before Anaheim, they got me pretty comfortable with the rear of the bike. I was pretty happy with it, but it wasn't complete yet and this week we did some big changes and I feel like we're getting really, really close…I mean, we are good but there's always a little small stuff you can make [better].”
“I think from here on out…I expect myself to battle with Jett and whoever's up there,” Sexton continued. “Honestly, it could be a different podium every weekend, there's so many good guys that you can't really single out one person. It's gonna be a brawl and I'm here for it and definitely think I'm in the right head space and position to battle for wins for the rest of the season.”
As well as Sexton rode, there were moments when it seemed as though Eli Tomac would weigh in on who would be standing in the middle of the podium at the end of the night. After fighting his way into second place, Tomac was still figuring out the fastest way around the track. Sexton was faster in these early stages, but Tomac, who was a good 12 seconds back of Sexton at one point, started closing in on the lead as the race wore on. Tomac was able to get it down to about three seconds, but was never able to get close enough to put any moves on Sexton. He’d finish the night in second, while also jumping up to third overall in the standings.
“You know, my goal was to get on the podium,” Tomac said expectation wise heading into Saturday’s race after saying he simply "underperformed" at the opener. “I mean, that was my mindset and that's how good I felt physically. So, I wasn't like limping my in here at all. So, yeah, this is where I wanna be and where I hope to be. You know, Anaheim 1 was obviously really tough for me. Was just totally off, rode, really tight and there was nothing good about it. But here, put myself in a great position off the start there. So, key to be at least top three, you know, or in the front, like a couple of guys here did not get sprayed with mud when you go through that first turn. So that was my focus for the main and was able to execute that and then just try to stay on two wheels at that point.”
“It was one of the tougher ones,” Tomac put it simply in the post-race press conference.
Rounding out the podium was Ken Roczen, who was forced to fight for position after dropping spots when he stalled it in the beginning stage of the race. After the first lap, Roczen found himself in tenth, but wasn’t about to throw up his hands and toss in the towel. Roczen put his head down and steadily moved up, making five passes in a single lap, and continuing to move forward, eventually passing his teammate, Shane McElrath for third, which is where he’d cross the line.
“For a while that I had no idea where I was at, I just wanted to go and go and kind of tried to have fun with it,” Roczen continued. “And I also wanted to save the bike and kind of rode a certain way where I just wasn't slipping the clutch the whole time and, and I was actually really happy and that's a big thanks to the team and my mechanic.”
“Really just once I was third, I'm like, ‘Okay, let's keep this thing on the podium,'" he said. "And once I rode to the finish line, there was a big monkey off the back and a big relief and I'm just really happy to come back on the box.”
Scoring a career high was McElrath, who ended the night in fourth. Afterward we spoke with McElrath, who told us he didn’t really set his bike up for the mud at all, and that he just went out and rode. McElrath also told us he doesn’t mind racing in the mud, and he’s comfortable in it since he grew up dealing with these kinds of conditions. McElrath hasn’t traditionally been the first name that comes to mind when you think about exceptional mud riders, but after his performance in the San Francisco slop, that should probably change!
"Yeah, honestly in the mud it's like it can go either way and I try to put that on my side," McElrath told our Kellen Brauer afterwards. "But I mean, yeah, it's kind of all about mentality and today it's just trying to apply myself trying to be present and get a start because that can really make or break the race. So, pretty pumped about that and just, all day, the track was super tough."
Elsewhere in the 450 Class was Aaron Plessinger, who was fifth after setting the days fastest time in a muddy qualifying session. He looked great in his heat before bobbling and letting Dylan Ferrandis take over for the win, but he just didn’t get the start he needed in the main event to contend for the win. He ended the night in fifth place.
"San Francisco, mud race… a proper mud race," Plessinger said in a post-race recap from KTM. "Qualified first, which is a first! Then yeah, good start in the Heat Race, made a few mistakes, which cost me, and I got third. The start of the Main was horrible, I spun off the grate, but made it through with all the guys on the ground – don’t know how I did that. Lost goggles about mid-way, and just did what I could to fortunately get back to fifth. We got some good points, sitting P4 now in the points, and I’m ready to show them what I’ve got in San Diego.”
Hopes had to be high for Jorge Prado coming into the main event. The GasGas rider was amazing in his heat race. He jumped out to an early lead, gapped the field, and took the win. But in the main event, he just didn’t get the start and was never a factor up front like he was in his heat race. He ended the night in seventh. Still, that’s an exceptional result, especially for someone racing in just his second career AMA supercross race.
The night wasn’t so kind to Jett Lawrence, who seemed to struggle in the mud. The Honda HRC rider never found his groove today, and after getting a lackluster start in the main event, went down in the slop and was only able to garner ninth place, just ahead of his brother, Hunter, in tenth. He now sits second in points, seven back of Sexton, and three up on Tomac and Plessinger, who are tied for third.
|La Moille, IL
|KTM 450 SX-F
|KTM 450 SX-F
In the 250 ranks things played out in a similar fashion. Jordon Smith took over the lead immediately, then led every single lap to take his first win since Daytona in 2018. His win puts him in the points lead by five points over Levi Kitchen.
“Yeah, it means a lot,” Smith said on returning to P1. “It's been a long time coming. After my win in 2018, I felt like I was on the right path to win a championship and just kind of keep going up upward in my career. And things change in 2019 and gotten into 2019, 2020, 2021 raced a total of like 10 races in those three years and had like no time on practice or anything. And there was times that I didn't know if I was gonna keep racing or not. And so to be back here to get a win in these conditions was unbelievable.”
Even though Smith led every single lap and looked like he was in absolute control of the race early on, victory wasn’t a foregone conclusion, especially late in the race when Levi Kitchen started rapidly closing the gap on Smith. On the final lap Kitchen was right there on Smith, and was nearly able to throw a block pass on Smith in the final turn before the finish line jump.
“Yeah, I mean, I didn't get off to the greatest start. My jump was good and then I blew off the track in the first corner,” Kitchen said. “So I was pretty buried. But I was just kind of riding my own race and I think by lap too, I've seen P2 on the pit board already. So, like I had made or maybe P3 or something like that because of Phil. But, yeah, I mean, I didn't really know Jordon was the leader until right at the end pretty much. And, I don't know, it was fun and like, yeah, I got close, but to be honest, a night like tonight like a second feels like a win to me. I mean, there's so much that can go wrong. So, yeah, I was pretty happy with it.
“Yeah, it's definitely a hard couple of years, I didn't know if I was ever gonna get back from the podium and with the health issues and the injuries I had, it's definitely been a long time coming,” Marchbanks said in the post-race press conference. “So, you know, the one moto podium in the outdoors I had this [past] year. It's definitely great to get and definitely made me believe I could do it again. The work we put in this off-season was a lot. We did a lot of bike stuff, on suspension and off the bike stuff. So, I definitely believed this year coming in, we're gonna get another podium. It's just when. And, obviously I'd like to do it in the dry conditions, but in a mud race condition, you know, it's fun to do it.”
“Well, I knew G-Money was coming for a podium, but last lap, I crossed white flag and I had eight, ten seconds on him and then I had a lapper, obviously, [Cole] Thompson went down and took up two or three ruts that I was kind of like going in,” Nicoletti said to our Kellen Brauer. “I'm like, I couldn't panic and try and wheelie out and I just sat there, and I just saw G just come and I'm sitting there and I'm f&%^ing freaking out on Thompson like, ‘Pick up your bike, man!’ Yeah, it allowed G to get right on me and then that was it. So, I tried really hard, I just, kill or be killed. I got killed tonight. So that's the way it is.”
Having a disappointing night was RJ Hampshire. Just one week after winning the season opener, Hampshire crashed in the muddy 250SX main event and found himself on the wrong side of the blue flag when getting lapped by Smith. It just wasn’t Hampshire’s night, and the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider crossed the line in ninth place, demoting him to third in the points.
“Man, that was just a really, really, long and tough day for us,” said Hampshire in a Husqvarna press release. “Start was decent, got up to fourth, I think… but stuff happens with this type of racing with a guy cross-rutting and falling into me. I was in a really bad spot to go down in, hard to get back going, but managed what I could and knew I needed to get some points, so now headed to San Diego and hoping it’ll be a lot better than this weekend.”
Nate Thrasher, Max Vohland, Ryder DiFrancesco, and Jo Shimoda also had disappointing nights. Thrasher crashed and DNF’d, and after winning his heat race, DiFrancesco ended up DNF’ing the main event. Shimoda went down on the first lap and couldn’t get his bike to start again, and Vohland, who ran in second place early on, also had problems and found himself stuck in the mud and DNF’d.
On the other end of the spectrum, credit to guys like Carson Mumford, Anthony Bourdon, and Hunter Yoder, who all turned in career high results in San Francisco. Mumford was fifth, Bourdon sixth, and Yoder was eighth.
|Simi Valley, CA