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Anaheim 1 Look Back, San Francisco Look Forward

January 13, 2024

Anaheim 1 Look Back, San Francisco Look Forward

Insights from the Legends

Story by Pete Peterson

The 2024 Monster Energy AMA Supercross season-opener, Anaheim 1, delivered thrilling racing to a sold-out crowd of 45,050 fans inside Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. When the gate dropped on the 450 Main Event, Team Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence rocketed into the lead with the Holeshot. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Jason Anderson passed him briefly, but Lawrence took back the top spot and rode a nearly flawless race. Anderson held strong in second until Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Cooper Webb got close enough and block passed for the spot, but Anderson got the position back in the next corner. Webb crashed hard mounting another attack, handing the final spot on the podium to defending champion Red Bull KTM’s Chase Sexton. As he flew past the checkered flag Jett Lawrence made history by becoming the first rider to win his debut 450SX race.

Jett Lawrence – First Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Lawrence entered the 450 class last summer in the AMA Pro Motocross season, where he went undefeated to take that title as well as the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship. The only 450 crown left for him is the 450SX Class title, and he’s now the point leader and technically undefeated. Like he did in the motocross series, Lawrence got into the lead at the start and rode just fast enough to keep a safe gap on the field. The opening round is not always the best indication of how riders stack up, and several of Lawrence’s biggest competitors had trouble at the opening round. For Jett Lawrence the big question is whether he has the field covered with his speed, or does he have much harder races ahead this season?

Jason Anderson – Second Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

The 2018 champ didn’t have a great 2023 but started 2024 looking like his championship-form self. Anderson rides with a loose style on the bike and he looked very comfortable on his new-model KX450 at A1. He stayed close through most of the Main Event until the back-and-forth with Webb allowed Lawrence to get away. Anderson put a semi-aggressive re-pass on Webb and smartly (hopefully) didn’t get another on-track rivalry started with the move. Will Anderson have the speed early in the season to stay in the points chase, and can he avoid the pointless skirmishes that he got into last year with some of his competitors?

Chase Sexton – Third Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

In his heat race, Sexton got caught up in a big first turn crash, giving him a poor gate pick for the Main Event. He managed to come out of the first turn in the Main Event in sixth place and steadily improved his position from there. He kept close to the top three racers for the first part of the race before slowly losing touch. He inherited third place when Webb crashed. Although he seemed hot and cold with his speed early in qualifying, when the points were on the line Sexton played it smart and went home with third place points. Are we seeing a new Chase Sexton who’s more strategic and less go-for-broke in the Main Event, or was he just playing it cool for the first race?

Aaron Plessinger – Fourth Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Aaron Plessinger nearly won his first 450SX race last year until a small mistake led to a crash. He showed that he still has that speed to win by closing in on the leader in his Heat race and marching from 10th to fifth in the A1 Main Event. With a good start, Plessinger looks ready to go toe-to-toe with any rider on the track. Can Plessinger get that elusive win and, as the sport has shown, can the confidence gained from that first win lead to a string of wins?

Cooper Webb – Sixth Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Cooper Webb had a rare mid-season team change last year that enabled him to compete in the SuperMotocross World Championship playoffs and finals on his new Yamaha. He didn’t seem up to speed then, but what a difference a good off-season can make. Webb beat Jett Lawrence in his heat race. After a fifth place start in the Main Event, Webb got into second and hounded Anderson for most of the race. With less than two minutes on the race clock Webb has his big crash on a small but slick hip jump; prior to that he looked like he was going to take the battle all the way up to Lawrence. Are we seeing the Cooper Webb of 2019 and 2021 when he earned his two Supercross titles?

Eli Tomac – Ninth Place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Last season Eli Tomac was leading the points, looking to have this third Supercross title wrapped up, when a torn Achilles ended his year in an instant. He’s back, but did not make a dramatic re-entry at the season opener. He crossed the Holeshot stripe in 14th and made steady progress to eighth place. His teammate Justin Cooper passed him just a few laps from the end. Tomac’s put himself behind in the points with poor finishes at Anaheim, so if any rider understands the value of caution at the opening round, it is him. Was Tomac playing it safe at Anaheim, or has he lost some of his speed or fitness during his long injury recovery?

Ken Roczen – tenth place – 450SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

In his heat race, Ken Roczen pulled out an incredible lead and looked like he might be on track to win his fifth Anaheim 1. In the Main Event Roczen tangled with other riders down the first rhythm lane and nearly got caught up in another bike’s spinning rear wheel. After two bad injuries in previous seasons, one involving getting caught up in a bike’s rear wheel, Roczen could have been badly shaken. Instead he re-mounted his bike, with twisted handlebars from the fall, and charged back to tenth place. Roczen is traditionally a good starter, and won a race last year for his new Suzuki team. With a good start, does Roczen have the speed to gap the field like he did in his A1 heat race?

250SX Class

In the Western Regional 250SX Class Main Event, rookie Red Bull KTM’s Julien Beaumer grabbed the Holeshot. He juggled the lead with Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Levi Kitchen briefly, then reestablished himself up front ahead of Kitchen, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s RJ Hampshire, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Nate Thrasher, and Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Jordon Smith. Hampshire took over the lead early in the race and was never challenged for the top spot. Soon there was a tight three-rider battle for the second spot, and Smith emerged with the position and pulled clear of the fight. Thrasher crashed out hard, going over the bars on the track’s hip jump; Thrasher did not finish. Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Maximus Vohland moved up and took over third briefly, but later gave up the spot to his teammate Kitchen.

RJ Hampshire – First Place – 250SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

RJ Hampshire started up front and passed into the lead early. His pass for second and for the lead both came in the 180-degree turn between the two whoop sections. From there RJ rode smoothly and slowly stretched out a lead. RJ had great speed last year but was always a tick behind Jett Lawrence, who’s now moved out of the class. RJ also has a history of big crashes. Is 2024 truly his year, and can he stay off the ground all season even when he’s pushing to get through the pack?

Jordon Smith – Second Place – 250SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Contact with another rider early in the Main Event pushed Smith back from an early attack on the lead. He regrouped and steadily made his way up to second place. By then Hampshire had a big lead and Smith settled into second place. Smith’s teammate, Nate Thrasher, crashed out while riding near the front, which puts Smith as the sole racer of the powerful Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team with a strong shot at the title. He and RJ are friends, but race each other hard. They battled in the A1 heat race and Jordon came out on top. Will the season come down to these two former teammates fighting for the title?

Levi Kitchen – Third Place – 250SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

A crash in his heat race left Levi with a poor gate pick in the Main Event. He pulled a good start and ran in the lead briefly during the opening lap. Late in the race Kitchen lost a few spots and later said that he’d tightened up and that the first round jitters affected him. He rallied back to take the final podium position. Levi made news by jumping to a new team to make some changes to his program. Did we see the best of Kitchen at A1, or will he relax in the coming rounds and challenge for the lead late in the race?

Jo Shimoda – fourth place – 250SX Class. Photo Credit: Feld Motor Sports, Inc.

Like Kitchen, Shimoda crashed in his heat race and was left with a poor gate pick. Shimoda did not fare as well as Kitchen on the start and had to fight his way forward from outside the top ten. He closed up on Kitchen at the end and missed the podium by .2 seconds. Shimoda changed teams this year and is back on a Honda. Will Shimoda be able to get better starts this season and emerge as the top challenger for the title?

Insights from the Legends of the Sport

“I really thought the night went as expected. Obviously Jett did what everyone expected. I thought Tomac seemed off a bit. Webb surprised me actually, because I did not think he would be that quick; he seemed to be struggling in the off-season with that bike. Sexton looked good. Roczen looked good, it’s a bummer he crashed. I think Anderson has more in the tank and his bike looked great, so I look for him to give Jett a run pretty often if Tomac or Webb can’t do it. It’s going to be a good season to watch.”

Jeremy McGrath, 1990s-2000s era

“I’m going to be watching Eli and see how he does against Jett Lawrence and Chase Sexton. I know when I was at Eli’s point in my career you start feeling those injuries and you start finding your mind wandering about. That being said, he still has all the tools to win another championship. With Jett and Chase they’re still trying to find out how far they can go. There’s a lot of really talented and good riders out there. The sport is becoming more refined. There’s more knowledge about training setting up the bikes. That helps make the racing closer.”

Kent Howerton, 1970s-1980s era

“Jett Lawrence winning was kind of predictable with his winning streak, his winning attitude, and with the team [he has around him]. Having Jett come out there and win just kind of reassures us that he’s here for the long haul. He’s got a strong mind, he’s got a strong team. I think what Jett does differently than everybody else is he really knows how to use leverage on the bike. The way he can turn and get on the gas so early, the way he throws the bike around is, to me, what I see that he’s doing different. He definitely gets on the gas earlier than a lot of guys and can sort of pick his line a little bit better. I was really, really happy to see Cooper Webb up there. For Coop to show signs of speed in qualifying, that’s a plus. I think he was right there. I think he possibly could have given Jett some fits there toward the end of that race. I love seeing Jason Anderson up there, I’m super excited about that. About seeing Tomac in the back, I’m not worried about that. There’s no question in my mind that Tomac will be in it at the end. Kenny [Roczen] not getting the start that he needed for the main event pretty much ruined his night. Chase, I thought he did well. On a new bike, new team, everything, coming out third [is good]. I know that Jett sort of gapped him throughout the race but I think if I was Chase I’d be like, ‘That was a successful night for me.’ Coming in third, maybe not feeling quite comfortable, making some mistakes, I know that between his desire to win and the team’s desire to win, they’re going to fix the little hiccups that they had at this first race and he’ll definitely be on top of the podium at some point this year. I love what Monster’s doing with the whole supercross program. With Race Day Live where we can watch practice and qualifying and all that, I think they’re just doing an awesome job giving the fans a good idea of what it takes to go racing and really pointing out the interesting aspects of the sport.”

Doug Henry, 1980s-2000s era

“I think it’s a little difficult to put too much weight into A1 as a prediction for the season, but I was surprised by a couple riders. Anderson was a toss-up for me going into the night after an up and down year last year but he rode really well and was strong the whole moto. Also Webb, I was surprised how strong he was; he seems confident and comfortable. I think it’s going to be a crazy few weeks as the 450 class shakes out and everyone establishes themselves. As a fan it’s exciting to think about the racing coming up.”

Trey Canard, 2000s-2010s era

“It was a great race, a good reminder of how good Lawrence really is. A master class. He’s definitely beatable though, but they will need to up their pace and game. I’m very impressed with Anderson, and Webb. Roczen would’ve been right there too if he had not been taken out earlier. Hopefully Tomac can get his groove back. It’s going to be an exciting season ahead.”

Greg Albertyn, 1990s-2000s era

“Let’s start at the top with Jett Lawrence. No surprise, and unbelievable maturity showing out of this young rider. [In the heat race] Cooper Webb came in and gave him a little bit of a rub and then Lawrence settled in; it looked like his suspension was off a little bit in the heat race. The bike was kicking him; he wasn’t able to get the speed through the whoops and it was also kicking him over some of the jumps. It looks like they made a small adjustment and he was very, very comfortable in the main. He tangled with Anderson a little bit but then he showed unbelievable maturity and just walked away, about two tenths of a second a lap, and just basically demoralized that field after that. Jason Anderson: really happy to see him back in the mix. I think he needs to look at this as not that he got his ass kicked by Jett Lawrence but he stayed with Jett. If he picks it up that two tenths of a second per lap he’s in the mix to make Jett think about something else. If he focuses on staying close to Jett and keeping Jett thinking, he’s got a chance to beat him. Cooper Webb: Cooper’s showing the grit and determination that’s he had in the past to win a championship and looks very comfortable on a Yamaha. I look for Cooper to win some main events this year. Eli Tomac: I feel he did good for coming back off such a catastrophic injury, but I think he was surprised with the speed of the top three.”

Rick Johnson, 1980s-1990s era

Every race of the 17-round Monster Energy AMA Supercross season also pays points toward the 31-round SuperMotocross World Championship. Every round of the series will broadcast live on Peacock TV, and select rounds will be streamed or broadcast through NBC, USA Network, CNBC, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app. Every supercross round will also air in a next-day encore presentation on CNBC. International viewers can catch the action with the SuperMotocross Video Pass (supermotocross.tv) in both English and Spanish.

Round 2 brings the action to Oracle Park in San Francisco on January 13th. Tickets are available at SupercrossLIVE.com to experience the race live. You’ll also find results, video highlights, feature stories, live timing, and more right here at SupercrossL