2023 AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Preview Part 2
The overall depth of this 250 Motocross field is in a great spot even with some notable injuries on some blueblood squads. Star Yamaha alone has five riders slated to hit the gate at Pala, including some potential title contenders in Justin Cooper and Haiden Deegan. The KTM group teams have some down-the-order power as well with R.J. Hampshire with Rockstar Husky, and seemingly now outdoor specialist Max Vohland with Red Bull KTM, but there's still another name under that rig as well.
As stated in Part 1 of this 250 Pro Motocross preview series, one of the biggest stories in either class this season is the insertion of Tom Vialle into the AMA scene. The Red Bull KTM rider already has multiple World Titles to his name, including just last year in a dramatic late-season comeback. Can Vialle now conquer America in just his first try in the Great Outdoors?
AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Preview: Part 2
*- Bold statistic indicates series leader
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing
No. 24 R.J. Hampshire
2022 Motocross Stats: 1 Moto Win, 1 National Win, 10 Laps Led, 1 Holeshot, Average Start of 10.3, Average Finish of 5.5, 346 Points (5th)
I think people should be excited about Hampshire coming into this outdoor tilt simply because of how he ended things in Supercross. He looked as good as he's ever had before, and he enters the 2023 Motocross season with top-five points finishes in four of his last five tries. Staying upright will be a big stress point with Hampshire, which is mostly always is, but even so, he should be in line for a good summer. Potentially in line for a Des Nations spot as well? He was going to be the MX2 rider in 2021 before Team USA pulled out, wouldn't rule it out this year depending on how things shake, especially with the KTM group ties with De Coster.
No. 38 Jalek Swoll
2022 Motocross Stats: 0 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 12.6, Average Finish of 17.5, 346 Points (5th)
After suffering a fractured arm right before the start of the 250 East Supercross, Swoll has been hard at work back on the bike and is set to make his return this Saturday. Last year things didn't exactly go according to plan for the Florida native, who DNS'd five of the opening eight Motos of the year and had one top-five Moto all season, which came at Budds Creek. Assuming he's in a good spot this go around health-wise, I'd expect Swoll to be better than he was in 2022, even in a deep field. This is a kid who had four or five objectively really good outings in 2021, including a National win at High Point don't forget.
No. 339 Talon Hawkins
2022 Motocross Stats: N/A (Ran three rounds a season ago as he finished up his amateur career)
Not a bad end to Hawkins' career at the Ranch, just barely losing out on a 250 Pro Sport podium and finishing eighth in Open Pro Sport. Never won a class Championship, but he was rock solid the last four years at Lynn's. Additionally, he looked just OK running the east coast in Supercross as well. Wouldn't say I have massive expectations for the rookie, but if he can string together some solid results and just complete every lap, that would be a success.
Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha
*- Stilez Robertson, Nick Romano, and Nate Thrasher all injured, and unlikely to be competing.
No. 32 Justin Cooper
2022 Motocross Stats: 2 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 49 Laps Led, 9 Holeshots, Average Start of 6.8, Average Finish of 5.0, 415 Points (4th) (Motocross Des Nations Champion with Team USA)
What started as a rough summer for JCoop last year ended in statement fashion at RedBud, with his 9-4 performance being the best result of any MX2 rider in the Motocross Des Nations. A lot of people, myself included, were not in on the idea of him taking that spot after a shakey Pro Motocross campaign, but safe to say things worked out.
Jumping out right away from that 2022 stat line is the nine holeshots Cooper picked up, the most of any rider and it wasn't even close. That only led to two Moto wins the whole summer, however. Moto 1s were also a huge problem for Cooper last year as well, mainly down the stretch. He averaged a 5.58 finish in opening Motos, compared to a 4.33 in Moto 2s, with both of his wins coming in the latter. Assuming he dials that back in, I fully expect him to be a title contender.
No. 43 Levi Kitchen
2022 Motocross Stats: 1 Moto Win, 0 National Wins, 15 Laps Led, 1 Holeshot, Average Start of 11.7, Average Finish of 9.1, 193 Points (11th)
Three rounds in a season ago, Kitchen was all of one point out of third place with Moto finishes of 5-8-6-6-1-5. Then after a 15-12 at High Point, the Master Chef went on to miss five of the last eight rounds of the season. But you saw enough good in the seven Nationals he ran to feel good about this year. I'd say his ceiling is a top three points finish but realistically look for Kitchen to be in that 5th-10th range.
No. 58 Jordon Smith
2022 Motocross Stats: N/A (First Motocross Start since Thunder Valley 2019 this weekend)
That last start date is not a typo, it's going to be just days shy of four years between Motocross gate drops for Smith by the time we get to Saturday. Factoring that in along with some wildly inconsistent results in his last full season (2018), I don't have much to say regarding the veteran as it relates to this outdoor tilt.
No. 88 Guillem Farres
2022 Motocross Stats: N/A (Went 6-13 at Budds Creek and 9-16 at Ironman) (MX2 Class rider for Team Spain in Motocross Des Nations)
He impressed a lot of people last year and as of this weekend, Farres is going to be a full-time guy for Star Yamaha moving forward indoors and out. Not a gigantic sample size to base things off of here for the Spaniard, but the numbers told you he was just shy of being a top 10 guy. With that said, you can see the drop off from Moto 1 to Moto 2 in those two starts, and I would like to think that isn't going to be an issue, at least by the time the season ends. And on a final note, Farres should almost certainly be in for the Spanish Des Nations team once again, with most likely Jorge Prado and Ruben Fernandez over in MXGP.
No. 238 Haiden Deegan
2022 Motocross Stats: N/A (Went 34-24 at Ironman and 16-10 at Pala II)
I'm fascinated to see how Deegan holds up in his first full Motocross season. Looking back at the lap times and averages in the latter three Motos he did, he lacked the raw pace of the front runners in the class which was to be expected, but his pace hit a wall late in those Motos, specifically the Moto 2s. The pace we now know is a non-issue based on his Supercross season, that's not even in my peripheral. But I'll be watching how his late-race fitness holds up in these opening few west coast rounds. If it does then he has a real shot to make some noise as we get deeper into the summer.
Red Bull KTM
No. 34 Max Vohland
2022 Motocross Stats: 0 Moto Wins, 0 National Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 10.3, Average Finish of 9.2, 303 Points (6th)
Fair to say by now that Vohland is a better outdoor rider than indoor based on his 2.5-year sample size to this point. Last year even with a DNS to his name, he was just one of six riders to cross the 300 points threshold which tells a lot. He still lacks any sort of podiums or wins in the Great Outdoors, but I would expect the former at the absolute least to change by the time we get to Ironman in the late summer. Nine times a season ago did Vohland finish a Moto fourth, fifth, or sixth, so it's a matter of when at this point. Would like to think the folks over at Star Yamaha are going to keep an eye out on their newest rumored investment.
No. 128 Tom Vialle
2022 Motocross Stats (MX2 World Championship): 17 Moto Wins, 10 Grand Prix Wins, 308 Laps Led, 10 Holeshots, Average Start N/A, Average Finish N/A, 758 Points (MX2 World Champion)
18 Points. That was the deficit Vialle faced with three rounds to go last MXGP season facing off against Jago Geerts. On the back of a 2-1-2-1-1-1 finish to the year, he came all the way back after a pair of brutal outings at Locket (Czechia) and Lommel (Belgium) to steal his second World Title in the span of four seasons right at the buzzer.
Now just shy of nine months later, Vialle is a full go in hopes of securing his first AMA Pro Motocross Championship. A good thing too since his rookie campaign in Supercross had some bumps along the path. I don't think it's going to take long for him to get acclimated to these AMA tracks at all quite frankly either. Having watched a good deal of Vialle over the last few years but especially in 2022, I can feel confident in saying that he's my outright title pick in this 250 Class. His World Championship designation isn't just for show, this kid can go with any 250 rider on the planet, and his raw pace right from the gate drop is going to be tough to beat.
Gaffney's 2023 AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Preseason Power Ranking
10) No. 36 Garrett Marchbanks
9) No. 43 Levi Kitchen
8) No. 238 Haiden Deegan
7) No. 34 Max Vohland
6) No. 24 R.J. Hampshire
5) No. 6 Jeremy Martin
4) No. 30 Jo Shimoda
3) No. 32 Justin Cooper
2) No. 96 Hunter Lawrence
1) No. 128 Tom Vialle
2023 AMA Pro Motocross 250 Class Championship Pick: Tom Vialle
Main Image via KTM