As of tomorrow, Monster Energy Supercross' annual season opener in Anaheim is just seven days out, and as cliche as it sounds, a 450 class that's gotten deeper every year since 2019 is still on that upward trajectory. Both Lawrence Brothers, Justin Cooper, and even MXGP World Champion Jorge Prado for a brief period, are all ready to drop in and go up against the best of the best this sport has to offer. Beyond that, this field still has all the usual suspects at the top of the food chain, many of which we get to in the opening leg of this 450-class preview. Let's dive right in.
Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing
No. 51 Justin Barcia
2023 Supercross Stats: 1 Win, 15 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 6.7, Average Finish of 5.9, 267 Points (5th)
Once Chase Sexton and BamBam rubbed bars at Daytona, something clicked in Barcia because he went on an absolute tear before he went down for the count at Nashville. Excluding that final round he ran, he podiumed in five of his last six Main Event starts, winning in the soup that was the track at MetLife Stadium.
Assuming Barcia can run at the level he was from Daytona onwards, he could be a real player in this Championship fight. The issue is simply, that hasn't been the case in most of the last few seasons. 2021 is a good example. After he won the opener at Houston, he finished ninth just days after at Houston 2, then later at the Indianapolis residency, he picked up two sub-top 10 results, partially due to the riding of Vince Friese (because, of course). As far as his contract situation goes, Barcia, who's set to turn 32 years old at the tail end of March, signed a two-year extension around Atlanta last year, so no worries on that front.
No. 111 Jorge Prado
2023 Supercross Stats: N/A (2023 MXGP World Champion)
The fun wrinkle into this year is Barcia isn't alone anymore at the 450 GasGas rig. Well, at least for a few rounds anyway. Prado has been hard at work getting ready for this pitstop in America before he has to gear up for his MXGP title defense for some time now, and we're single-digit days away from finding out the million-dollar question: Can Prado's pace and talent translate to Supercross success right away?
We saw Tim Gajser try the Monster Energy Cup a pair of times, and while he did well in his one healthy appearance, it wasn't a complete field. Prado is going against the healthiest this field will be all year, and while his starting prowess and pace are excellent, how well will it translate? Also, a nice nugget from Michael Lindsay, his wrench will be Kyle DeFoe from KTM, who worked with Marvin Musquin in Supercross and Cooper Webb in Motocross in 2023, also formerly working with Cameron McAdoo at Pro Circuit in 2022.
Liqui Moly Beta Racing Team
No. 45 Colt Nichols
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 2 Holeshots, Average Start of 9.7, Average Finish of 11.3, 141 Points (14th)
As far as what Beta could have gotten together for their US program, I love that they have Nichols aboard this first year, mainly since he rode multiple different bikes last year, even during SMX and WSX when he was already under contract with Beta. I think having a guy like that in-house right away, who's had experience winning at the highest level in either class, is gigantic. I thought Nichols looked really good in spots last year on the Honda, and while that didn't translate to podiums or wins, he can still be a competitive rider. This year, that depends on how this Beta is in the early few rounds. If they're still chasing the set up five or six rounds in, I'd be a bit worried.
No. 67 Benny Bloss
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 14.1, Average Finish of 14.7, 91 Points (19th)
At 6'6 to Colt Nichols being 5'10, the Beta squad leads the league in height differential between their tallest and shortest riders by default with Bloss underneath the rig. Entering his age 26 season (he has 450 Motocross starts dating back to 2015. Yes, that's not a typo), Bloss has yet to finish better than 15th in the 450 Supercross points. He would have likely finished 15th on the dot last year if not for an injury in Nashville, but Bloss also missed the first two Main Events in 2023 after a tailbone injury at A1. Here's to hoping this year's season opener goes a bit smoother.
No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 9.3, Average Finish of 9, 56 Points (25th)
Before going down with that brutal injury in Houston, Ferrandis put together a strong start to the season and was a mere four points shy of fourth in the standings after Anaheim 2. Now with the Phoenix Honda squad, I don't think Ferrandis is in title contention, but he has the opportunity to do some good things now that he doesn't have the pressure of being a factory rider, and for Bobby Regan of all team owners. Also worth noting is that Ferrandis still has his Monster Energy sponsorship intact, and he's switched from Thor gear to O'Neal.
HEP Progressive/Twisted Tea Suzuki
No. 11 Kyle Chisholm
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 14.5, Average Finish of 15.0, 112 Points (15th)
Chiz has simply been one of the great guarantees in my life for the better part of the last 15 years, and I'm delighted to say that'll continue into 2024. For any Pulp Fantasy players out there (state regulations apply), you could do a lot worse than swapping him in and out every week, would have saved me a ton last season.
No. 12 Shane McElrath
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 14.7, Average Finish of 13.6, 151 Points (11th)
Swapping from HEP to Rick Ware Racing midway through the year in 2023, McElrath is sticking with Dustin Pipes' squad for the full SMX Championship this year. A lot of rough sledding a season ago, but the No. 12 put together a strong finish to the Supercross season. McElrath put up a sixth in East Rutherford, a fifth in Denver, and a seventh in Salt Lake City after finishing in the 13-18 bracket for the entire year. I'd like to think the fact he's sticking with one program all year will help out this year, but we'll have to see.
No. 94 Ken Roczen
2023 Supercross Stats: 1 Win, 33 Laps Led, 2 Holeshots, Average Start of 6.0, Average Finish of 5.7, 304 Points (t-3rd)
Dynamite would be a great way to describe KRoc's 2023. The vibes with him and the HEP team felt significantly better than they were in the final days of his Honda run, which led to some awesome outings year-round. Given that he looked as good as he did on a Suzuki of all bikes, I think Roczen resides at or near the top of that second tier of 450 guys going into A1, with the potential to be in that top rung as we move along (I'd say Tomac, Sexton, and Jett Lawrence are Tier 1 going into next weekend, for the record). On a final note, not a big fan of the look for his bike this year compared to Chiz and McElrath, but might just be me.
Team Tedder (KTM)
No. 46 Justin Hill
2023 Supercross Stats: 0 Wins, 0 Laps Led, 0 Holeshots, Average Start of 10.2,
Average Finish of 10. 6, 212 Points (8th)
Barcia's run from Daytona until he got hurt was impressive, but Hill's run from Indianapolis onwards was right on par, if not more so, given that it wasn't for a factory team. Needless to say, the Hill-Team Tedder marriage, which was especially great over the final month of the year, is continuing into 2024. Even with the deep field to begin the year, I could absolutely see Hill sneak into the top five in a couple of these earlier rounds and improve from there.
Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha
No. 2 Cooper Webb
2023 Supercross Stats: 2 Wins, 12 Laps Led, 1 Holeshot, Average Start of 3.1, Average Finish of 2.8, 304 Points (t-3rd)
While the results didn't jump off the screen in SMX, I think the fact that Webb got those reps in with the Star Yamaha guys will pay some big dividends going into A1. Remember, he was right in the thick of the Championship before he went down at Nashville, just nine points back of his now teammate Eli Tomac. I also thought Weege brought up a good point on the Racer X previews, saying that he just might need that internal drama/pressure to keep him at the top of his game. There's something to that, I think. Also, his new wrench is Adam Campbell, who last worked with Dylan Ferrandis.
No. 32 Justin Cooper
2023 Supercross Stats: N/A (Raced five rounds of 450 Supercross in 2023 with an average finish of 7.8)
JCoop is at last fully prepared for a full year of 450 racing after some solid showings midway into last season. I would have probably liked to have seen him get a few more rounds in, but Star was probably more interested in getting him fully prepared for the Motocross season, which is understandable. The biggest takeaway from those rounds he did was that Cooper can make meaningful passes, even though the starts can be a bit below average. He finished nearly a full three spots better than he started in those five rounds, something to keep in mind for next weekend.
No. 3 Eli Tomac
2023 Supercross Stats: 7 Wins, 97 Laps Led, 4 Holeshots, Average Start of 3.6, Average Finish of 3.9, 339 Points (2nd)
By the time we get to A1, it'll be 246 days since Eli Tomac ruptured his Achilles in Denver, Colorado, 245 since he got it surgically repaired, and give or take 80-ish days since he's been back on a motorcycle. That stunning injury also brought what could have been the best Supercross season of his career to a grinding halt. Before Denver, the only statistic you see above he didn't lead the sport in was average start, and it wasn't by much, just .3 back of Chase Sexton.
Simply from the videos that have been put out there the last couple of months, Tomac seems to be in a good spot as far as his riding goes, but we won't know where he stacks up post-injury to guys like Sexton, the Lawrence Brothers, Roczen, Anderson, etc until we get to some timed sessions. My guess would be he's going to be not that far off from where he was in 2023, which again, was probably the best he's ever been. His starts had never been that dialed before, he led 97 laps in 15 and a fraction of a Main Event, and put up another season of over a half dozen wins. Not far from that kind of production would still make him a top-five guy, worst-case scenario. Regardless, I'm just happy he's getting the chance to end his career on his terms.
Main Image via Yamaha/Octopi Media