Space City played host to Round 4 (technically 5) of the Monster Energy Supercross, but also Round 1 of the 250 Eastern Regional Championship. A field headlined by several high-profile riders who have never reached the top of the mountain indoors. Hunter Lawrence, Jeremy Martin, Nate Thrasher, Jordon Smith, etc. But also some big rookies such as Tom Vialle, Haiden Deegan, and Chance Hymas.
After last weekend in Anaheim for the 450 Class, Chase Sexton took a chunk out of Eli Tomac's point lead by winning the first Triple Crown of the campaign. Honda HRC's ace looked even more impressive early on Saturday than he did last week, putting up a blistering pace in qualifying going to the top of the board. Could he make it happen two weeks in a row, and who would strike first in the East 250 Championship? But first, some other important notes.
Welcome to the Show Justin Cooper
Been a hot minute since we've seen Justin Cooper race, about 4.5 months to be exact since he helped the United States bring home a Motocross Des Nations victory at RedBud. Now his anticipated 450 Debut is here, although Cooper is on an abbreviated schedule. The expectation is you'll see him run exclusively on east coast rounds, then hop back down to a 250 in Motocross since there's no point-out rule outdoors. This is also going to be his first round of Supercross dating back to Salt Lake City 2 in 2021 where he secured that year's 250 West Championship over Hunter Lawrence and Cameron McAdoo.
Cooper's starts have generally been a strong point in his career, and I have no reason to believe that is going to drastically change now. However, I don't think he'll have the raw pace to stick with the top end of the 450 field for a full 20 minutes plus a lap, and that's perfectly fine. Cooper isn't running for a Championship this year anyway, and I think this stint is going to do him a ton of favors going into 2024. My personal expectation for him would be to make every Main Event and then try to be a 10th-15th guy right out of the gate. Further down the line, we'll have to see.
Mookie Out for the Season
Some more bad injury news popped up this week, this time in the 450 class. Malcolm Stewart, whom we haven't seen since San Diego, is officially out for the season with a knee injury and will be going under the knife here shortly. Simply a devastating turn of events for Mookie, who looked really good on the eye test over the opening two weeks of the season. Hopefully, we can get him back come outdoors.
Daytime Program/Injury Notes:
- Chase Sexton worked a triple over tabletop-triple-triple line in the middle rhythm section during qualifying.
- Justin Cooper qualifies 14th in his 450 Supercross Debut.
- Haiden Deegan, Chance Hymas, and Tom Vialle, all qualify in the top 10 in their professional Supercross debut.
- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 63 Max Anstie (52.128 Seconds)
- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 23 Chase Sexton (50.320 Seconds) (Over a full second faster than second fastest qualifier Dylan Ferrandis)
Heat Racing Roundup
Hunter Lawrence kicked things off with a bang in Houston, and in no time at all built up a lead of over three seconds over Nate Thrasher, Chance Hymas, and Zombie Blose in Heat 1. Hymas looked very competitive in his first pro action, as the Honda HRC rider held off both Blose and Michael Mosiman to finish third in his first-ever heat race. Lawrence meanwhile led this opening Heat Race wire to wire in dominating fashion.
Tom Vialle showed off his start skills off the gate drop, but overshooting the first corner gave the lead up to Jordon Smith, who along with Max Anstie, held the top two spots here from just about start to finish. Vialle and Haiden Deegan had a fun little battle in the early/midway portion of this heat, but Deegan couldn't make anything happen after a few surges. Further on back in sixth, Coty Schock had a scary-looking crash, going straight into the side of the bridge jump after mid-air contact with teammate Cullin Park. Luckily Schock was ok at first sight, but he would be going straight to the LCQ when it looked like a Main Event birth was a lock.
Back up front, a few mistakes by Smith opened up the door for Anstie down the stretch, but some savvy defensive riding by the Star Yamaha rider closed the door on the Brit, securing his first Heat Race win with the team.
A pretty well-rounded 450 heat opened things up in the back half of the Heat Racing action, with Jason Anderson, Dylan Ferrandis, and the KTM duo of Cooper Webb, and Aaron Plessinger contending early in the top five. Justin Cooper was also in the mix early, starting things off in fifth for a good amount of time before falling to seventh. Ken Roczen was the riser here, getting himself to a top-five finish after a relatively subpar start. Despite some mistakes out in front, Jason Anderson looked strong in this opening 450 Heat Race, picking up career Heat win No. 30.
Moments later, we got a brief preview of the Eli Tomac Chase Sexton show. I say brief because Sexton completely checked out on the reigning Champion in no time at all after passing him in the whoops. It was nearly an eight-second victory for the Honda HRC rider, and his best lap was over a full second faster than Tomac's. Simply one of the more dominant Heat Race victories we have seen in some time.
250 East Class Recap
1st - No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC)
Hard to start a season much better than Hunter did on Saturday. Once he got back by Vialle for the lead it was game over, picking up right where he left off in 2022 down the stretch where he was never off the podium. Things weren't all sunshine and rainbows to start, as Lawrence had to pull off some impressive riding to get back on track, going off on the triple section the first time around. Luckily that was the only resistance the 96 faced all night.
2nd - No. 63 Max Anstie (Firepower Honda)
The NRG Stadium staff can blame one Lewis Phillips for the stench of champagne in the media box, and it was because of this result. The Brit was one of the fastest riders in the class all day, and although it didn't translate into a win, this was Anstie's first podium of any kind in the United States since 2010.
4th - No. 238 Haiden Deegan (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Was Deegan a top-four rider on pace Saturday night? Probably not, but they don't pay points for mights and mabyes. Even then he passes with flying colors in his Supercross debut. Outside of a near crash in the whoops, he made zero mistakes, was able to pass guys in critical spots, and most importantly, looked like he belonged. A gigantic performance especially considering how Supercross Futures in Anaheim went last weekend. Also, don't look now, but he's technically in the title picture, even if it's one round in.
7th - No. 128 Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM)
First of all, congrats to the dozen people who decided to pick Vialle for FFL in PulpFantasy, given his documented GP starts, not the worst pick in the world. But despite his get-off forcing him to lose multiple spots, I was more impressed with the reigning World 250 Motocross Champion than anyone else in this field. Can't say I expected him to look that good right off the bat, even if the whoop speed was about where I'd expected. When he was running in second, Anstie and Smith had to legitimately earn their way by the Frenchman, and even then he didn't exactly give up. Some wrinkles to work out of course, but when that happens, the 250 class East or West is in massive trouble. He's only gonna get better from here folks.
12th - No. 285 Coty Schock (Phoenix Honda)
Keeping things short and sweet for Schock. I just find it impressive that he went from nearly puncturing a Honda CRF250-sized hole into the side of the tunnel jump, to riding a heavily fixed-up bike into the Main Event via the LCQ and then nearly finishing top 10 in said Main Event, all in the span of 90 ish minutes. Now imagine if he was on a bike at 100 percent and without the literal last gate pick.
250 East Class Houston Top 10 (Positions and Points for Round 1)
1st No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (26 Points)
2nd No. 63 Max Anstie (23 Points)
3rd No. 48 Jordon Smith (21 Points)
4th No. 238 Haiden Deegan (19 Points)
5th No. 6 Jeremy Martin (18 Points)
6th No. 31 Michael Mosiman (17 Points)
7th No. 128 Tom Vialle (16 Points)
8th No. 832 Chance Hymas (15 Points)
9th No. 67 Cullin Park (14 Points)
10th No. 57 Chris Blose (13 Points)
450 Class Recap
1st - No. 1 Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Of the four rounds run so far, this felt like the least likely night that Tomac would come out with a W. Chase Sexton was in another stratosphere from the daytime program up until the end of the heat races, but Tomac found that extra gear we've seen many a time, more so outdoors if anything, and kept at hard-charging Sexton at bay. Had the two flip-flopped, Tomac would still have the points lead, but the gap would be one point going into Tampa.
In the slightly bigger picture for Tomac, this was career win No. 47, which now puts him one back of Ricky Carmichael for third-most ever, and now only three back of James Stewart (so good by the way) for second. A lot can happen in the next 15 or so weeks, but you'd have to think the odds of him passing both are rather good through four rounds of racing.
2nd - No. 23 Chase Sexton (Honda HRC)
I don't think it's a stretch to say Chase Sexton would want his last 20 minutes and change of time on the bike in Houston back given how good he was earlier in the day/night. When I tell you he smoked Tomac in that heat race, know that I am not hyperbolizing it, there wasn't a soul on this planet who was beating him there. Although Sexton still looked good in the Main Event, he was making small mistakes here and there and seemed persistent on working the inside of the sand sweeper, even when Tomac pulled enough of a gap on him to where the roost wouldn't be too bad. Certainly not a panic button situation, but definitely a night of 'what if' for Sexton.
3rd - No 21 Jason Anderson (Monster Energy Kawasaki)
No win still for El Hombre, but he keeps on keeping on, and the consistent pace he's shown off in these last three rounds will translate sooner or later. Losing to only Sexton and Tomac all night is by no means a bad thing, but on the other hand, you can only finish third or lower so many times if those two are going to run like they are. But again, I have faith that Anderson will find the top step of the podium.
4th - No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (Red Bull KTM)
Before the red flag, Plessinger had the juice to get to the point and maybe even stay they for an extended duration. Even then, this was one of his best runs since moving over to Red Bull KTM, and that has to be big given how 2022 went with injuries. Looking forward to seeing if Tampa treats him good as Houston did.
7th - No. 32 Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Picture perfect debut for Cooper if you ask me. Nothing to write home about but he logged every lap and he finished inside the top 10. Furthermore, his lap times were super consistent the entire length of the Main Event and he was making key passes on the way to seventh. Very impressed by the New York native.
DNF - No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
A very scary scene with Ferrandis getting put into a neck brace after his incident with Ken Roczen. Coming out of the whoops, his front tire was on the back of the 94, but Ferrandis went down falling to his right side and seemingly hitting his head hard. The good news here is that Ferrandis got up on his own power, and didn't need to go onto a backboard despite one being brought out for him. Hoping for nothing but the best and hoping we see the former 450 Motocross Champion back sooner than later.
450 Class Houston Top 10
1st No. 1 Eli Tomac
2nd No. 23 Chase Sexton
3rd No. 21 Jason Anderson
4th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger
5th No. 2 Cooper Webb
6th No. 51 Justin Barcia
7th No. 32 Justin Cooper
8th No. 94 Ken Roczen
9th No. 17 Joey Savatgy
10th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo
450 Class Points after Houston
1st No. 1 Eli Tomac (95 Points)
2nd No. 23 Chase Sexton (88 Points)
3rd No. 2 Cooper Webb (83 Points)
4th No. 21 Jason Anderson (76 Points)
5th No. 94 Ken Roczen (73 Points)
6th No. 51 Justin Barcia (65 Points)
7th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (64 Points)
8th No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (56 Points)
9th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo (56 Points)
10th No. 17 Joey Savatgy (53 Points)
Houston PulpMX Industry Idiots Fantasy Team
450 Class: Eli Tomac (All-Star +1), Joey Savatgy (+1), Justin Cooper (+5), ARay (+15)
250 Class: Hunter Lawrence (All-Star +1), Haiden Deegan (+2), Henry Miller (+5), Coty Schock (+6)
Points Total: 244 (Seven Riders)
Next Up: Tampa, Florida (Raymond James Stadium)
Main Image via Yamaha