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2023 SuperMotocross World Championship Playoffs Recap - Charlotte

That start of the season feeling in September will be hard to get used to, but we've made it. All of the hype around SMX was set to be put to the test on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina, on a first-of-its-kind four-lane, quarter-mile drag strip. There hasn't been a 'Supercross' style event at a place like this since the late 90s, ironically enough in the shadow of where SMX heads next weekend in Chicagoland. But a good crowd was on hand to witness history in the form of the opening round of this inaugural three-round Championship. Who could seize the moment? Who could find a second wind racing on Supercross suspension again? We were about to find out all of that and more on Saturday.

Daytime Program/Injury Notes:

- Split starts are slightly elevated.

- The rhythm lane coming back down the left dragstrip lane is about a mile long. The math checks out, trust me.

- Lots of rain in the forecast

- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 35 Seth Hammaker (1.15:052) (All riders in the top 10 were separated by less than .700)

- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 18 Jett Lawrence (1:13.332) (Struggled to get a good lap in until his final pass)

- 250 LCQ Transfers: No. 55 Austin Forkner, No. 67 Cullin Park, No. 125 Luke Neese, No. 508 Hunter Yoder (Zombie Blose got a two-spot penalty which knocked him out)

- 450 LCQ Transfers: No. 69 Phil Nicoletti, No. 80 Kevin Moranz, No. 93 Jerry Robin, No. 91 Jeremy Hand

- Awesome crowd at ZMax Dragway.

250 Class

1st- No. 30 Jo Shimoda (Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki) (4-1)

I said earlier this week, word-for-word, bar-for-bar, that there was no rider coming into the SMX Playoffs with more momentum in the 250s than Shimoda, and he started things off with a bang. His duel with Tom Vialle in Moto 2 was probably the highlight of the day, specifically with Shimoda trying to power around the outside a couple of times in that wide right-handed sweeper to seal the deal, doing so successfully on attempt No. 2.

Despite entering as the five seed, Shimoda leaves Charlotte with split possession of the 250 SMX points lead, with no indication that he'll slow down anytime soon. You also saw what he can do after a so-so start and with a great start all in one afternoon here as well. With just how consistent Shimoda has been over the last 2.5 months, this was a great outcome for him, but a horrible one for everyone else. He was my title pick for a reason.

2nd- No. 128 Tom Vialle (Red Bull KTM) (3-2)

I'd like to imagine Ian Harrison and Roger DeCoster were doing cartwheels after Vialle's day because this was comfortably his best performance running Supercross suspension in race action. The fact that he led over half that second Moto alone is enough reason to celebrate, and now the Frenchman has some confidence paired with the fact he's all of four points out of the lead after one round. It's worth mentioning that Vialle pulled off a couple of great starts at Daytona Supercross this year and probably would have finished fifth at the worst had he not gone down violently in the opening three minutes. Is another big weekend on deck at Chicagoland Speedway?

3rd- No. 238 Haiden Deegan (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (1-5)

Even with the bad start in Moto 2, this was the exact kind of weekend Deegan needed to get himself back on track. With the way things went down, he would've ended up third in the overall standings, barring something drastic, but the fact he got every spot he could have in Moto 2 was huge. Jordon Smith had enough of a gap to him in fourth by the time Deegan got to fifth and was running better at that point. It happens. But he deserves credit for digging deep for the win in Moto 1.

4th- No. 75 Ryder DiFrancesco (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki) (7-3)

Before Saturday, Ryder D had never run a professional round of Supercross before. So, for him to come out and look as good as he did, especially in crunch time, speaks volumes of his talent on a motorcycle. His average lap time in Moto 2 compared to Vialle, who finished just ahead of him, was just .088 off. Very impressive work for the kid, who was visibly emotional knowing what he had just done.

8th- No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC) (9-7)

And just like that, Hunter's points lead coming into the weekend is gone on the back of his two worst starts of 2023. While he's only down three points to Shimoda and Deegan, he had a golden opportunity to be up by about 10 points if things went right. On that opening start, he got pushed out wide coming into the first corner and ended up 16th across the stripe for the first time, then immediately compounded things with a slide wreck on the under section of the split. Hunter in Moto 2 opted to start on the same side again, got a bad jump again, and then ended up going down there.

We talked earlier this week and through the back half of the summer about him having timely bad starts, and boy did it show up on Saturday. Luckily, the hole he dug himself is only about ankle-high. He has plenty of time to right this ship.

9th- No. 32 Justin Cooper (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (12-6)

A very odd day for JCoop is a nice way to summarize things. He had virtually opposite Motos, fading from as high as 3rd to 12th in Moto 1, then going from 16th to 6th later in the day. Unfortunately, he didn't come in with the same kind of bonus points Lawrence did, so he's a bit down in the standings after one round. No more mistakes now for Cooper if he wants to win this whole thing.

250 Class Charlotte Top 10

1st No. 30 Jo Shimoda (4-1)

2nd No. 128 Tom Vialle (3-2)

3rd No. 238 Haiden Deegan (1-5)

4th No. 75 Ryder DiFrancesco (7-3)

5th No. 58 Jordon Smith (8-4)

6th No. 35 Seth Hammaker (5-8)

7th No. 43 Levi Kitchen (2-11)

8th No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (9-7)

9th No. 32 Justin Cooper (12-6)

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

250 Class Points After Charlotte

1st No. 30 Jo Shimoda (42 Points)

2nd No. 238 Haiden Deegan (42 Points)

3rd No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (39 Points)

4th No. 128 Tom Vialle (38 Points)

5th No. 43 Levi Kitchen (35 Points)

6th No. 58 Jordon Smith (30 Points)

7th No. 75 Ryder DiFrancesco (28 Points)

8th No. 32 Justin Cooper (27 Points)

9th No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (26 Points)

10th No. 34 Max Vohland (25 Points)

1st- No. 23 Chase Sexton (Honda HRC) (1-1)

I mean, you want to talk about just an absolute barn burner of a day, on a day where you needed one, given how close he came to getting some Moto wins after he came back from injury. You want to talk about having unconscious speed when it's winning time (not the HBO show. Go Celtics). That's exactly what Sexton accomplished. Not only was he the best 450 rider on Saturday, it was not even remotely close, Jett Lawrence included. To prove that, Sexton, on the roughest the track was all day in 450 Moto two, dropped BACK-TO-BACK laps of 1:14.997 and 1:14.748 on laps 10 and 11. He was 1.355 seconds faster than Jett (also on a race-best stretch) and nearly 4.5 seconds faster than Ken Roczen, who led most of that Moto. Given the overall circumstances, this was the best outing of Sexton's career.

Also, a sneaky headline going into Chicagoland is that it's a home game for Sexton, a native of La Moille, Illinois, two hours outside Chicago. Probably going to be a home game for him, and I'd bet the mortgage that he runs that Bulls Alpinestars kit unless they have something else special on deck.

2nd- No. 94 Ken Roczen (HEP Progressive/Ecstar Suzuki) (3-3)

If there was any doubt Roczen had any rust coming into Charlotte, he immediately put those to bed. He looked super comfortable on the bike, all things considered, and was great in the opening stints of both Motos. In Moto 2 specifically, Roczen opened things up with 10 consecutive laps in the 1:16 range, which is impressive given that no one, and I mean no one, came close to that number. Sexton and Lawrence were going to get him no matter what, but a great day for Roczen, who is only a couple of points out of second and potentially has his 2024 running mate set in stone. Speaking of whom.

3rd- No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (2-4)

It's jarring that it took this long for his 2024 plans to lock in, but yes. Ferrandis is expected to land with HEP next year, which Michael Lindsay and Steve Matthes have stated this week, the latter doing so hours before things began. A great landing spot for the veteran Frenchman, and good work by Dustin Pipes landing another former Champion.

Now, onto Ferrandis' day, which was really good. Not only did he finish well twice, he started well twice on Supercross starts, which is probably the upset of the year. His average Supercross start this year was ninth on the dot, and he picked up two starts of fifth on Saturday. I'm not saying Ferrandis should buy a lottery ticket, but what better time than now?

4th- No. 18 Jett Lawrence (Honda HRC) (7-2)

Finding out in real time that Jett Lawrence's weakness was stiff Supercross suspension feels like the aliens in War of the Worlds being weak to the common cold. He took until his final qualifying lap to get a heater in and then was all out of sorts in Moto 1. The highest he ran was sixth on lap one, and he ended up losing four spots, hanging around in 10th for about four laps at the midway point.

When the bike adjusted to Jett's liking, things reverted to status quo. Jett talked early in the Motocross season about not riding all out but around that 90% range. For most of Moto 2, he was letting it all hang out. Once he got settled in, Lawrence rattled off six straight laps in the 1:15 bracket. In that stretch, he got by Jason Anderson and was closing in on getting Roczen. Thanks to that first Moto, the Jett is a dozen points out of first, but he's still alive in this one, even if Sexton is back in tip-top shape.

7th- No. 2 Cooper Webb (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha) (9-7)

Not a banner day by Webb's standards, but an excellent base to build on, given how acclimated he is to this '23 YZ450. James Stewart (so good by the way) went out of his way to mention that he thought the two-time 450 Supercross Champion looked good on the bike, and for what it's worth, he got better as each Moto went on. It'll be interesting to see what another week of practice does for Webb's performance going to a speedway track. He's finished runner-up to Eli Tomac at Daytona in four of the last five years and has podiumed in six consecutive seasons.

11th- No. 81 Ty Masterpool (HBI Kawasaki) (11-12)

Masterpool somehow gutting out two 20-minute Motos, AND pulling out a holeshot pumped up on antibiotics for appendicitis, and forgoing surgery is as tough as it gets. I have nothing else to add. That's impressive as hell.

450 Class Charlotte Top 10

1st No. 23 Chase Sexton (1-1)

2nd No. 94 Ken Roczen (3-3)

3rd No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (2-4)

4th No. 18 Jett Lawrence (7-2)

5th No. 21 Jason Anderson (8-4)

6th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (5-8)

7th No. 51 Justin Barica (2-11)

8th No. 2 Cooper Webb (9-7)

9th No. 36 Garrett Marchbanks (12-6)

10th No. 45 Colt Nichols (11-10)

450 Class Points After Charlotte

1st No. 23 Chase Sexton (50 Points)

2nd No. 18 Jett Lawrence (38 Points)

3rd No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (38 Points)

4th No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (37 Points)

5th No. 94 Ken Roczen (36 Points)

6th No. 21 Jason Anderson (32 Points)

7th No. 2 Cooper Webb (30 Points)

8th No. 51 Justin Barcia (27 Points)

9th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo (24 Points)

10th No. 36 Garrett Marchbanks (22 Points)

Charlotte PulpMX Fantasy Team

250 Class: Jo Shimoda (All-Star, +4), Seth Hammaker (-1), Jordon Smith (No Handicap), Hunter Yoder (+11)

450 Class: Ken Roczen (All-Star, +2), Colt Nichols (+3), Ty Masterpool (+7), Phil Nicoletti (+10)

FFL: Jett Lawrence (Unsuccessful)

Points Total: 224 (Not Terrible????)

Next Up: Chicagoland Speedway (Joliet, Illinois) (All point values are doubled from Charlotte)

Main Image via FELD

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