At long last we've made it to A1 weekend after one of the more high-profile offseasons in recent memory. No more bench racing, no riders speaking on how everyone's bike was great, their offseason was the best, etc. But best of all, a gate drop two hours earlier than normal, a monumental victory for the East Coast. But when the rubber met the dirt, who would take all the early season momentum on the biggest stage this sport has to offer?
Daytime Program/Injury Notes:
- On the eye test, I thought Cooper Webb looked excellent in both qualifying sessions
- The Dragon's Back that was there for press day got torn down. Was also surprised that the finish line double into the triple section stuck, given the threat of rain earlier in the week.
- Whoops were rutted up very quickly and weren't super tall to begin with. Guys were getting loosey-goosey frequently.
- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 47 Levi Kitchen (1:01.398) (three-tenths faster than anyone else. Rookie Julien Beaumer was fastest Q1)
- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 18 Jett Lawrence (1:00.686) (He and Sexton were trading BOMBS in that final qualifying session. Webb second, Sexton third, then Tomac sixth, Prado ninth)
Heat Racing Roundup
Taking the field to the opening lap of 2024 would be a surprise rider, Carson Mumford, now with MCR Honda, who paced title contenders Jordon Smith and R.J. Hampshire for the opening 90 seconds. Both factory guys would get by, as would Nate Thrasher not too long after Hampshire made his move. As for Jo Shimoda, who was also in this stacked heat, he went down early after a so-so start but rallied to avoid an LCQ bid. Upfront, Hampshire looked super good, specifically in the whoops, where he made up a ton of ground on Smith, but he couldn't capitalize, and the Star Yamaha rider took home the opening heat race win of the year.
Onto Heat 2, we got another surprise in the form of a Julien Beaumer holeshot. Not only was it definitive, but he pulled out to a multi-bike length lead instantly. However, a bobble gave the lead right over to Max Vohalnd, but that was a wildly impressive opening stint. Vohland was impressive here as well once he took the point. I thought he looked super smooth on the Kawi, and he did a great job of maintaining a gap in the 2-3 second range back to Beaumer.
Let me be the first to congratulate those who took the over on how many riders Vince Friese would be responsible for taking out on Saturday, as it took him 10 (ten) seconds to collect multiple riders. That group included Chase Sexton, who barely made the top nine, Hunter Lawrence, who looked banked up and finished around 15th, and Logan Karnow, who was carted off with a soft cast around his leg. Anyway, Ken Roczen looked excellent from wire to wire in this one, but Friese being Friese not even 10 seconds into his season was as disappointing as expected.
It appeared that we would get a battle of the World Champions right away between Jett Lawrence and Jorge Prado, but Cooper Webb made a power move around the bottom of turn one, then rode him high in turn two, and took 450 Heat by the throat and never looked bad. He looked better here than Roczen did in Heat 1, and that's a bad sign for everyone else if this kind of speed is the norm in 2024. We also saw Lawrence maybe go beyond that 100 percent mark, leading to a get-off on the double/single option coming out of the whoops. That only lost him one spot to Jason Anderson, but that was the difference between Gate Pick 5 vs. 3. Regardless, Webb took this one easily while Jorge Prado hung onto a transfer spot, coming home eighth.
250 West Class Recap
1st - No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing)
Richard James Hampshire's (zero clue if that's what R.J. stands for, but it would be sick) only obstacle these last few years was Jett Lawrence, and on Saturday, he raced like he was the clear-cut top guy from the moment he got by Beaumer. By lap three, he was up by 2.6 seconds, and before he started to cool it down, he nearly added a full seven seconds to that. A dominant outing in what is only the Rockstar Husky rider's third career Supercross win.
2nd - No. 31 Jordon Smith (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
I think even with the second, Smith and Star Yamaha should be very excited moving forward in this Championship. Simply seeing the veteran make a healthy number of competitive passes after losing some spots in the second corner of the Main Event and mixing up with Hampshire earlier in the night is good enough in my book, anyway. So much for the youth movement in this 250 class though. A round in, this Championship fight is led by a 27 and 28-year-old. Funny how that works out.
4th - No. 30 Jo Shimoda (Honda HRC)
While Shimoda's poor start and inability to get things going quickly enough was disappointing, his rally from as far back as 10th after nearly going down in the opening corner made the best of an otherwise poor night. It took Shimoda until lap four to break into the 1:04 second lap range, and he never got into the 1:03s, something every other top-six rider did by that fourth lap. Still, it's a long season, and things could (should, frankly) have been much worse after round one.
6th - No. 929 Julien Beaumer (Red Bull KTM)
Figured Beaumer would be a fun, scrappy rookie this year, but on Saturday, you saw a kid nearly a year removed from showing up A2 as a privateer Yamaha SX Futures rider flash some high-end pace and speed. The keyword there was flash since he only led one lap, and he would fade out of the top five, but to see the teenager mix it up with virtually all the title contenders right out of the gate was a fun sight. His development throughout the year is going to be a blast to watch.
8th - No. 55 Mitchell Oldenburg (MotoConcepts Honda)
I don't know how he did it, but the fact Freckle went from hitting the gate on the start to ending up in the top 10, but this guy simply delivers the mail every single weekend without fail seemingly. Awesome run for Oldenburg.
DNF - No. 57 Nate Thrasher (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Gotta feel for Thrasher, who was on a major charge to go from fourth to sixth and back to fourth again when he went down behind the Pro Circuit boys. The way hit he the deck was notable specifically because he's not even a year removed from collarbone surgery. Additionally, he also went down in that Atlanta crash the same way with his left shoulder bearing the brunt. Hopefully, this is a 'looks worse than it actually is' situation. Thrasher has a ton of talent, but this looked like another major injury for the multi-time Main Event winner in about nine months.
250 West Class Anaheim 1 Top 10 (Plus Points Standings after Round 1)
1st No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (25 Points)
2nd No. 31 Jordon Smith (22 Points)
3rd No. 47 Levi Kitchen (20 Points)
4th No. 30 Jo Shimoda (18 Points)
5th No. 20 Max Vohland (17 Points)
6th No. 929 Julien Beaumer (16 Points)
7th No. 26 Garrett Marchbanks (15 Points)
8th No. 55 Mitchell Oldenburg (14 Points)
9th No. 34 Ryder DiFrancesco (13 Points)
10th No. 41 Carson Mumford (12 Points)
450 Class Recap
1st - No. 18 Jett Lawrence (Honda HRC)
I lost the words to describe Lawrence around midway through the summer of '23, so while this ultimately didn't stun me, the kid is objectively unreal. Especially after Webb boxed him out in the Heats, I felt like when he started running into lappers with Anderson and Webb making inroads on him, he might have cracked a bit, and oh boy, didn't he. Might not have been his best outing ever, but he managed things masterfully, and now, he's a mere 71 races back of tying Jeremy McGrath on the all-time wins list. Also, just to clarify: guys have won Anaheim 1 in their first full rookie seasons before, Ken Roczen and Josh Grant come to mind, but no one had ever won their first Premier Class Supercross Main Event...until now. Daniel Blair was a prophet. I have to call it like I see it.
2nd - No. 21 Jason Anderson (Monster Energy Kawasaki)
If you fly the Team Fried banner, this was the exact kind of night you were hoping for from Anderson. Really until he and Webb really started going at it, he kept Jett honest, and it felt like there was a section or two where he looked definitively better than him, it just wasn't enough. But for the opener on the new look Kawi, I thought Anderson was excellent. Excited to see if he can keep this good start-up in this West Coast swing.
3rd - No. 1 Chase Sexton (Red Bull KTM)
Not Sexton's best night by any means, but this could be one where, down the line, we all say, "Those extra two points came up huge". Before Webb went down, he was north of five seconds back and was destined for a fourth-place night had things not ended like they did. Still, walking out of Angel Stadium with at least 20 points for the second year in a row is never a bad way to kick off the year, and I'm sure he and the team will get that KTM dialed in sooner or later.
5th - No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (Phoenix Honda)
Without question, Ferrandis ending up in the top five with the Phoenix Honda boys was the best storyline leaving A1. I didn't even have him ranked as a top 10 guy coming into the year, and this was probably the best he's looked on a 450 in Supercross. Whether or not this is sustainable remains to be seen, but for Ferrandis to pull this off on the sport's biggest night was gigantic.
6th - No. 2 Cooper Webb (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
While he went head over heels and out of a podium spot, my gut is Webb was the second-best 450 rider in the field when you consider the whole of Saturday. His big issue was that he couldn't get by Anderson for second, but if he did, I genuinely think he would have caught Jett before the checkered flag dropped. Passing him is a different story, but Webb jumping through the whoops in the Main's second half was visibly paying dividends, and if he could have done it more consistently, he probably would have passed Anderson.
9th - No. 3 Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
While ET3 looked solid, it felt pretty clear from about midway into his heat that a win was probably out of the cards. His starts were not great, but it also felt like he wasn't trying to force the issue on a gutted-up track by the time we hit the 15-minute mark in the Main Event. Either way, the highest he ran was eighth, but in any case, it's hopefully onwards and upwards as the two-time Champion builds up his base.
10th - No. 94 Ken Roczen (Progressive Ecstar HEP Suzuki)
Roczen, and Malcolm Stewart as well, if we want to be honest, deserve some kind of medal or points bonus after what happened to him. We wouldn't know it until about a minute after it happened, but he was one of Vince Friese's final victims for the evening and was scored dead last after lap one. Going from 21st to 10th on a track as rough as it got, when you mentally know a win is unobtainable, was some top-notch work by the No. 94. He 100 percent deserved better than what the stat sheet shows.
13th - No. 111 Jorge Prado (TLD/Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing)
Outside of the fact he finished a lap down, I thought Prado looked more good than bad in his maiden Supercross voyage. The most important thing at the end of the day is he ran every lap he could, and his starts were as good as expected. The goal at San Fransisco for the World Champ should be to get a top-10, but at the very least, build on this and finish on the lead lap. I'd love to know the last time Prado finished off the lead lap on his own merit without a wreck or mechanical failure while we're on the subject.
DNQ - No. 96 Hunter Lawrence (Honda HRC)
The vibes in the HRC rig couldn't have been more opposite after Round 1. While you can largely chalk up Hunter missing the Main on Vince Friese, cutting him off seconds into the year, he did himself zero favors with his LCQ start as well. The good news is that barring injury, it cannot get worse than it was at A1 for Hunter.
450 Class Anaheim 1 Top 10 (Plus Points Standings after Round 1)
1st No. 18 Jett Lawrence (25 Points)
2nd No. 21 Jason Anderson (22 Points)
3rd No. 1 Chase Sexton (20 Points)
4th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (18 Points)
5th No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (17 Points)
6th No. 2 Cooper Webb (16 Points)
7th No. 51 Justin Barcia (15 Points)
8th No. 32 Justin Cooper (14 Points)
9th No. 3 Eli Tomac (13 Points)
10th No. 94 Ken Roczen (12 Points)
Since Pulp Fantasy as we know it is dead, we'll instead highlight my favorite kit from each weekend, and specialty bike graphics when appropriate. With that said...
Anaheim 1 Lit Kit Recipient:
Next Up: Oracle Park (San Francisco, California) (8:30 EST gate drop exclusively live on Peacock)
Main Image via Honda HRC