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2023 AMA Pro Motocross Recap - Unadilla

For Jett Lawrence, Saturday for him is known as 'Hat and T-Shirt Day' to use an old New England Patriots adage. A simple five-point gain on Dylan Ferrandis was all that separated him from his first 450 Class Motocross Championship and a No. 1 plate at the famed Unadilla MX facility. Seems simple enough in theory, but for whatever little it's worth at this point, he went 7-2 here a season ago for fourth Overall on a 250, so that was your little glimmer of hope for Ferrandis or the Star Yamaha camp.

But beyond the Championship, which feels like it took a backseat about a month ago, the Jett is six Motos away from joining Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart (so good by the way) as the only three riders in the history of Motocross to pull off a perfect season. Between 'Dilla, Budds Creek, and Ironman, this is the toughest hurdle left for the Australian Phenom to pole vault over. He's aced all eight tracks put in front of him so far. Could he make it nine this weekend?

International Flavor

Always nice to see some non-AMA riders make the trip over here and get on the gate, and there was no shortage of that this weekend. Earlier this week, Star Yamaha revealed that they've acquired the services of multi-time National Champion in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, as well as the 2009 85cc World Motocross Champion Jay Wilson for the final three rounds. Wilson got the chance to come over to America earlier this year and do some testing for Star, on top of the fact that he's part rider, part bike development rider right in Yamaha's backyard. Not that the YZ model is lacking on the eye test, but never a bad idea to get a new perspective, a hell of a pickup for Jeremy Coker and Bobby Regan.

The other notable name on the entry list, on top of Stephen Rubini as well, was about the last person I expected to see in America. In the prime of his youth at THIRTY-EIGHT (38) YEARS OLD, the pride of Estonia Tanel Leok was indeed on the gate at Unadilla. He wasn't exactly pushing the envelope in qualifying, but for what it's worth, Leok ran the MXGP of Latvia in early June, going 19-13 for 16th overall.

Daytime Program/Injury Notes:

- 450s up first this weekend. Took a lot longer than I expected for that to happen.

- Barcia looked good in qualifying for a guy who hasn't raced in close to four months now.

- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 32 Justin Cooper (2:13.018) (Ran nearly two seconds faster in Q2. The only two top 10 qualifying 250 riders who ran slower times in Q2 were Austin Forkner and Jalek Swoll)

- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 18 Jett Lawrence (2:09.109) (Was about a tenth of a second slower than Chase Sexton in Q2)

450 Class Recap

1st- No. 1 Jett Lawrence (Honda HRC) (1-1)

2nd - No. 23 Chase Sexton (Honda HRC) (3-2)

Has to be soul-crushing to clearly have the speed to win races at the clip Sexton probably should have this year but have something go wrong 75% of the time. Twice in Moto 1 did he have two real opportunities to get out front, and neither materialized. At this point of the season, I don't blame Sexton for going in on the lappers on the podium at all. It was that bad. If a lapper held up Lawrence and led to him wrecking, specifically on the doorstep of a perfect season, people would be furious, and rightfully so, mind you. It was especially bad in those last five-ish minutes of Moto 1.

Sadly for Sexton, that Moto 1 surge was all he had in the tank. Once Lawrence got out to around a four-second lead in Moto 2, it was a 25-minute formality. Gotta feel for Sexton. He's been putting on some objectively great rides since he returned from injury but can't seal the deal.

3rd - No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (2-3)

Wanted to go back to find out just how much time Ferrandis made up on Lawrence to close out Moto 1, and the results were mental. From lap 12 to-16, the Frenchman made up nearly six seconds on Lawrence but 4.444 over the final two laps. The segment 1 and 2 data went dark for a stretch in Moto 1, which is unfortunate, but on the final lap, Ferrandis made up over two seconds there alone. One more lap, and he certainly would have gotten Lawrence, quite literally riding on air. That makes Ferrandis' Moto 2 performance all the more frustrating. His Moto 1 speed never carried over, and Ferrandis ended up a distant third.

6th - No. 953 Harri Kullas (BBL Racing/Cabscreen MX Yamaha) (7-7)

Excluding the Motocross Des Nations, the last time Kullas, a Finnish-born rider competing under the Estonian flag, finished top 10 in a Moto was in the second Moto of the 2022 MXGP of the Netherlands, where he finished 10th on the dot. Additionally, Kullas had never finished top 10 Overall in a GP since moving up to 450 in 2016. So for him to come in almost entirely under the radar and run as well as he did was massively impressive.

For those that don't know, Kullas has been a part of some legitimately good Estonian Des Nations teams, including the two years they finished fourth (2015 and 2019), on top of top five class finishes as either the Estonian MX2 or Open class rider.

8th - No. 21 Jason Anderson (Monster Energy Kawasaki) (14-4)

Just one of those days for El Hombre where the box score doesn't tell the story. Down in turn one, Anderson put together a great run for the ensuing 59 minutes and 45 seconds plus four laps of racing. The one time he got a clean start only four guys ran ahead of him all day, both HRC guys, Ferrandis, and his teammate Adam Cianciarulo. Not much Anderson can do relating to SMX, but he's in line for a top 10 Motocross points finish if he keeps it up, so at least that's something to chase for.

11th - No. 78 Grant Harlan (Manluk Rock River Yamaha) (15-11)

After everything that happened this week to Harlan, it had to hopefully feel good to go out there and almost end up top 10 Overall. If you're out of the loop, Harlan and his family lost everything in a shop fire earlier this week and are doing a fundraising raffle in conjunction with VurbMoto. So if you want to help out one of the best privateers this sport has to offer, in his time of need, you can do so by following the instructions here.

19th - No. 51 Justin Barcia (TLD/Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) (40-14)

A busted clutch lever mere seconds into Moto 1 was the perfect encapsulation of BamBam's return. He could only make things work for three laps clutchless, then never had the juice in Moto 2 after starting nearly outside the top 20. The big winner in Barcia's shortcomings is Ken Roczen. With four Motos left in the season, He's up 66 points despite only competing at High Point this summer. For Barcia to pass him now, he'd likely have to average a fourth the rest of the way to get by both him and Eli Tomac in the SMX standings, and the latter is not getting taken out of the running order due to injury.

23rd- No. 704 Tanel Leok (Unsponsored Husqvarna) (24-18)

38 years young and Leok came very close to a top 20 overall finish in what was unequivocally a deeper field than the MXGP field he went up against in Latvia. Although it sounds like his fellow countryman Kullas will be with us from here on out, this was most likely a one-off for Leok, who got to cross doing a U.S. National off his bucket list. Between MXGP, Motocross Des Nations, his one AMA Pro Motocross start, that brings him to 296 career starts, and that's not even getting into the numerous European National championships he's run over the last two decades. Calling Leok an Ironman would be the understatement of the century, especially in this sport.

450 Class Unadilla Top 10

1st No. 1 Jett Lawrence (1-1)

2nd No. 23 Chase Sexton (3-2)

3rd No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (2-3)

4th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo (4-6)

5th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (5-5)

6th No. 953 Harri Kullas (7-7)

7th No. 36 Garrett Marchbanks (6-10)

8th No. 21 Jason Anderson (14-4)

9th No. 81 Ty Masterpool (9-8)

10th No. 47 Fredie Noren (13-9)

450 Class Points After Unadilla

1st No. 1 Jett Lawrence (450 Points) (Clinched Championship)

2nd No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (347 Points)

3rd No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (312 Points)

4th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo (269 Points)

5th No. 23 Chase Sexton (260 Points)

6th No. 81 Ty Masterpool (215 Points)

7th No. 36 Garrett Marchbanks (200 Points)

8th No. 47 Freddie Noren (189 Points)

9th No. 2 Cooper Webb (147 Points) (Done for the remainder of Motocross)

10th No. 78 Grant Harlan (145 Points)

250 Class Recap

1st - No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC) (2-2)

I'm sure it's nerve wracking for Hunter too, he's supposed to be winning [this Championship]. And I'm glad I could put the American up front for all the fans." - Haiden Deegan on the podium after going 1-1 at Washougal.

I want to ask a partially rhetorical question. Did Hunter Lawrence race like a guy who was riding nervously on Saturday? Because if he was, he sure as hell did a good job concealing it. Even after two subpar starts that effectively took him out of Moto-winning contention, he stayed the course and took what was available ahead of him. Probably would have wanted a Moto win, but gotta think big picture at this point. Hunter entered this weekend +5 on Deegan, and now he's up +22 on Justin Cooper, with the No. 238 falling back to fourth.

3rd- No. 32 Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (5-1)

One man's loss is another's gain, and JCoop's home state performance, on top of Deegan's misfortune, has put him in an outside spot to win this 250 Championship at the buzzer. It took him next to no time to get by RyderD in that second Moto, and Cooper did a masterful job of maintaining things to around a 3-to-6.5-second advantage out in front afterward. Although JCoop still lacks an Overall win in six career trips to 'Dilla, he's now won three of the last six Motos with three Overall podiums, so it definitely could be worse.

Now onto the Championship fight. The biggest thing working in Cooper's favor right now is the starts. Head-to-head against Lawrence, Cooper is up 7-1 on the series points leader in the last eight 250 Motos, and the one time Lawrence bested him, Cooper went on to win that Moto (Millville Moto 2). And don't forget this as well, because I know the fact Lawrence has two 0-point Motos on the board is/was a talking point; Cooper got hurt in the middle of qualifying at High Point and missed both Motos that day. In essence, he and Lawrence are on a level playing field.

4th - No. 30 Jo Shimoda (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki) (3-3)

Another solid day for the Agenda™, but the winning speed hasn't been there for Shimoda all summer. He was never able to rally after some top-five starts and only was able to gain two spots total on the day, which has to be a bit frustrating. The good news for Shimoda is this. He's well on his way to securing the No. 5 seed for the SMX playoffs, and his window to finishing second in the Motocross Championship for the second year in a row is still open. 13 points is the margin he needs to make up to Cooper with just two rounds to go.

5th - No. 34 Max Vohland (Red Bull KTM) (4-6)

Mentioned this on Twitter (I'll never unironically call it X, I promise you), but Vohland will benefit greatly from getting onto a new bike next year. The issues with this '22/'23 KTM model have been well documented, but he still finds ways to put together some good outings, Unadilla being his best since Hangtown 2021. Whether his landing spot is Star or Pro Circuit, I think Vohland is a natural candidate to make a notable leap in production in 2024.

9th - No. 241 Daxton Bennick (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (14-9)

After a very successful final run at Loretta Lynn's (1-1-1 for 1st in Open Pro Sport and 7-2-6 for 2nd in 250 Pro Sport), Bennick put himself on the doorstep of making the 250 SMX Playoff LCQ field. His 14-9 has put him just 14 points back of the No. 30 seed and 16 back of the No. 29 seed. Seeing as he's gotten at least 14 points in three of his four professional starts, you can bank on the No. 241 being at ZMax Dragway.

13th - No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) (7-DNS/DNF)

Haven't seen a wreck like the one R.J. had in quite a long time and hopefully won't again for a long time either. Very glad that he was able to walk to the cart on his own two feet in any event, just a violent hit in every sense of the word. Don't think we'll see him in these final two rounds, at the least, with that being said. Video here, but it's a rough one.

17th - No. 238 Haiden Deegan (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (DNF-10)

Of all the ways this weekend could have gone for Deegan, this was undoubtedly, for sure, one of them. His Championship hopes are largely gone due to that bike failure, but he had zero juice in that second Moto. The bad gate pick certainly didn't help, but even then, he was initially in 16th before only making his way up to 10th. In the back half of Moto 2, he was running multiple seconds off of guys like Lawrence, Cooper, Shimoda, and even Tom Vialle, who only finished a few spots ahead of him. Although Deegan secured the 250 No. 2 seed for SMX, you have to imagine this weekend may haunt him for a bit. He had a real chance to win this Championship in year one, which says all you need to know about his long-term prospects.

250 Class Unadilla Top 10

1st No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (2-2)

2nd No. 43 Levi Kitchen (1-4)

3rd No. 32 Justin Cooper (5-1)

4th No. 30 Jo Shimoda (3-3)

5th No. 34 Max Vohland (4-6)

6th No. 128 Tom Vialle (8-7)

7th No. 38 Jalek Swoll (6-14)

8th No. 75 Ryder DiFrancesco (9-12)

9th No. 241 Daxton Bennick (14-9)

10th No. 33 Pierce Brown (12-11)

250 Class Points After Unadilla

1st No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (344 Points) (Clinches Championship at Budds Creek if he finishes +18 on Haiden Deegan)

2nd No. 32 Justin Cooper (322 Points)

3rd No. 30 Jo Shimoda (309 Points)

4th No. 238 Haiden Deegan (308 Points)

5th No. 43 Levi Kitchen (290 Points)

6th No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (288 Points)

7th No. 34 Max Vohland (252 Points)

8th No. 128 Tom Vialle (237 Points)

9th No. 75 Ryder DiFrancesco (167 Points)

10th No. 38 Jalek Swoll (166 Points)

Unadilla PulpMX Industry Idiots Fantasy Team

250 Class: Haiden Deegan (All-Star, +2), Seth Hammaker (+1), Pierce Brown (+3), Ryder DiFrancesco (+6)

450 Class: Chase Sexton (All-Star, +1), Jason Anderson (-1), Stephen Rubini (+9), Tanel Leok (+16)

FFL: Jett Lawrence (Successful) and Justin Cooper (Unsuccessful)

Points Total: 364 (Stop the Pain)

Next Up: Budds Creek (Mechanicsville, Maryland)

Main Image via Honda HRC


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