It's funny how much and how little things can change in a year. This weekend in 2023, Supercross was set to run in Oakland, and I say set since some torrential flooding pushed things back several weeks. 52 weeks later, Supercross is back in the Bay Area, in San Francisco instead of Oakland, and still, tons of rain loomed over the picturesque backdrop that Oracle Park and McCovey Cove provide. This wouldn't be the first notable mud race in San Fran either, 2006 provided a classic duel between Ricky Carmichael and a victorious James Stewart (so good btw).
Nearly 20 years later, the inclement weather would be a big early test for point leaders Jett Lawrence and R.J. Hampshire. Simply getting through the night unscathed with a fifth or sixth is a solid outcome, when compared against dumping the clutch at the midway point or losing the battery. It also served as an opportunity for those who didn't have a great A1 to slip through the cracks and turn their early-season troubles around. Guys like Malcolm Stewart, Ken Roczen, and Hunter Lawrence, all jump out in that regard.
Daytime Program/Injury Notes:
- RAIN. MUD. BAD VIBES.
- The track crew did as good a job as they could have of shaving some of the jumps and obstacles down given how quickly things got away.
- Despite a shoulder injury after (intentionally) running into Dean Wilson, Vince Friese was a full go.
- Due to the weather, both classes only got one timed qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. This led to some notable 450 guys outright failing to qualify like Justin Hill and Anthony Rodriguez.
- 250 Fastest Qualifier: No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (1:06.054) (250s got a significantly better track if you couldn't tell.
- 450 Fastest Qualifier: No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (1:09.128) (Only Plessinger, Sexton, the Lawrence Brothers, and Cooper Webb ran in the 1:10s or faster)
Heat Racing Roundup
While things weren't in 'roll everything' territory right off the bat, things spread out very quickly save for the front pair of Jo Shimoda and Jordon Smith. Everyone in the opening 250 Heat ran into the same kind of trouble, even Shimoda, who won by upwards of 20 seconds over Smith and 30 seconds over anyone else. Additionally, just eight riders finished on the lead lap.
Playing the role of Shimoda and Smith in Heat 2 were Pro Circuit teammates Max Vohland and Levi Kitchen, but the two blew the first corner just enough for Ryder DiFrancesco to jet away for the lead and win. Lots of slipping and sliding still, and no one had a worse ride than Star Yamaha's Nate Thrasher. After rallying from outside of a transfer spot to inside, he dumped it in the whoops to give away eighth and ninth, and his night essentially came down to one LCQ gate drop.
Well, if there was one scenario that Jorge Prado was hoping for, it was this. In the deep NorCal mud, the MXGP World Champion got shot out of a cannon and was long gone early in this one. Despite being caught by Chase Sexton at the end, the Spaniard did just enough to hold on but wasn't comfortable jumping everything when the No. 1 was still hitting some doubles. Two big losers in this Heat were Jett Lawrence, who had a notable goggle issue and went down a couple of times, and Justin Barcia, who was off to the LCQ after some tough luck.
Up front early in Heat 2, meanwhile, were Aaron Plessinger, Hunter Lawrence, Dylan Ferandis, and Jason Anderson, the latter of whom was in a rough spot on the far inside. The real story in this one was the ending. Plessinger, having some apparent stalling issues, gave up a massive lead to Dylan Ferrandis, which cost him first and second to the Frenchman and then Cooper Webb. Elsewhere, HLaw wasn't feeling the whoops in the final few minutes, given that he completely skipped them and willingly lost a pair of spots down the stretch. Just going to assume he didn't feel comfortable running there for now.
250 West Class Recap
1st - No. 31 Jordon Smith (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Going back and watching the start, I'm stunned Smith didn't crash going into turn one and take anyone else with him. He was fighting some absolute demons of ruts right at the end of the start straight, and somehow kept it upright. That start, paired with the fact he was going much harder than anyone else on that opening lap, was pretty much your race. Even if this was a full 15-minute Main Event, I still think Smith wins in the same fashion. He was taking it super safe at the very end, which is why Kitchen closed up on him at the very end. Still, this is a big night for the veteran. Before Saturday, Smith hadn't won since Daytona Supercross in 2018, and that'll be the first time he's held a red plate since Las Vegas in 2017...yeah...that race.
2nd - No. 47 Levi Kitchen (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki) I know he hasn't won yet, but I'd like to think Mitch Payton is pretty happy where the Master Chef is at the moment. Hard to take much away from a mud race, but Kitchen's pace has been as good as anyone in this class. You may have missed it, but he came across the holeshot line around fifth but nearly threw it all away in that first rhythm lane. Luckily he was able to gather it back up and was tracked ninth across the finish jump the first go around, things could have ended up much worse. All things equal, I think he gets at least one win before the initial West Coast break, been very impressed with the Master Chef to this point.
3rd - No. 26 Garrett Marchbanks (Muc-Off/FXR ClubMX Yamaha)
The call to move Marchbanks down to the 250s is paying off very well for the ClubMX guys. He was in the same boat as Kitchen on the start but kept picking guys off for the full dozen-ish minutes. And while we're on the topic of long waits with Jordon Smith, this is a long time coming for Marchbanks. Before tonight, his last podium indoors or out was Orlando 2 in 2021. Now, as much as a Marchbanks win would be a cool story. 1) The last time he won a Main Event (Daytona Supercross 2020), the world was less than five days out from shutting down as we know it. I simply can't risk that again. 2) In finishing third, Marchbanks robbed us, the people, of a true moment.
4th - No. 36 Phil Nicoletti (Muc-Off/FXR ClubMX Yamaha)
I told myself very early in that Main Event that Kitchen and Smith had the opportunity to do something special, assuming their bikes gave out. You would've told your grandkids about the time Filthy Phil won a 250 Main in San Francisco with ruts five feet deep and rain up to your ankles, but alas. Even as he gave up a podium birth in the waning moments, I thought Phil rebounded great after a bike issue kept him off the gate at Anaheim. We've seen in years past that he's an objectively good Supercross rider if he can stay healthy, which has been a bit of a battle as of late.
9th - No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing)
Grand opening grand closing for R.J.'s first stint with the red plate. Not his fault, if you watched, but things were out of his control when he tried to avoid Anthony Bourdon (excellent night for him, by the way). The good news for Rick James is since he was fourth at that time, and several guys either already had or were about to call it a day, that significantly helped out what could have been a genuinely catastrophic points night. Relatively speaking, being nine points out of the lead is still a great place to be in after two rounds.
DNF - No. 20 Max Vohland (Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki), No. 34 Ryder DiFrancesco (TLD/Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing), and No. 30 Jo Shimoda (Honda HRC)
Simply a devastating way to end the night for three guys who seemed primed for great runs in the Bay Area. Now, Vohland sits 27 points back of Smith, Shimoda 29 points, and RyderD 34 points back. A long way to go, still of course, but you couldn't draw things up much worse for three factory guys than what happened to these three.
250 West Class San Francisco Top 10
1st No. 31 Jordon Smith
2nd No. 47 Levi Kitchen
3rd. No. 26 Garrett Marchbanks
4th No. 36 Phil Nicoletti
5th No. 41 Carson Mumford
6th No. 100 Anthony Bourdon
7th No. 78 Josh Varize
8th No. 85 Hunter Yoder
9th No. 24 R.J. Hampshire
10th No. 55 Mitchell Oldenburg
250 West Class Points After San Francisco
1st No. 31 Jordon Smith (47 Points) (New Points Leader)
2nd No. 47 Levi Kitchen (42 Points)
3rd No. 24 R.J. Hampshire (38 Points)
4th No. 26 Garrett Marchbanks (35 Points)
5th No. 41 Carson Mumford (29 Points)
6th No. 929 Julien Beaumer (27 Points)
7th No. 100 Anthony Bourdon (27 Points)
8th No. 55 Mitchell Oldenburg (26 Points)
9th No. 85 Hunter Yoder (23 Points)
10th No. 78 Josh Varize (22 Points)
450 Class Recap
1st - No. 1 Chase Sexton (Red Bull KTM)
I can't speak for anyone else, but I have never, in my entire laugh, seen a more comically good start in a race than what one Chase Sexton did on Saturday night. Everything about it was tremendous, the fact Jorge Prado, the best starter on the planet, was all of two gates down, the fact he nearly lost it, then made an excellent save, everything I tell you.
I also can't say I'm naturally pre-conditioned to expect something to go wrong for Sexton at this point, so the fact he got through this one as clean as he could have was an excellent development. The win itself wasn't shocking though. Sexton looked fasted pretty much all day, and that especially rang true when this track was at its absolute worst.
2nd - No. 3 Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Given his practice times and the conditions in general, my internal expectations weren't that high for Tomac, so for him to walk out of San Fransisco with a podium was a nice sight. I think I've seen enough to say he's not at full strength still, which, given the injury, is hard to knock him for, and even so, he's only 10 back of the points lead as he's still building himself up. You'll probably know when it's all starting to click, and my guess is that'll start happening in the next 3-4 weeks.
3rd - No. 94 Ken Roczen (Progressive Ecstar HEP Suzuki)
This run was more in line with what Roczen deserved last weekend, so a nice bit of positive karma for the No. 94. His pace feels right on the level with his best runs from a year ago so far, and if that keeps up, he'll almost certainly dig himself out of the hole that Vince Friese put him in during A1, it'll just be a matter of when.
4th - No. 12 Shane McElrath (Twisted Tea HEP Suzuki)
An awesome story for McElrath, and the HEP squad as a whole to almost get two bikes on the podium. I don't even want to try and guess the last time that happened for Suzuki, but I'll guess about 10 years and feel good about that. But back to McElrath, he spent that entire Main Event inside the top five and ran as high as third around laps 3-5. To stick with the best this sport has to offer in those conditions, even in a time shortened race is no joke. He should be proud of himself, just as Dustin Pipes and the boys should be, as well.
9th - No. 18 Jett Lawrence (Honda HRC)
On top of stiff suspension, we can officially add 'A torrential combination of rain and mud' to the list of things that weaken the Jett on a 450. You could chalk this up for both Lawrence brothers, but neither felt all that comfortable once the night program began, at least compared to other guys who had good nights. On another note, that inside most gate choice probably should've been worse than what it ended up being. Jett was around eighth going into that first rhythm lane, but it would have almost certainly been around 11th-14th had a slew of guys not gone down immediately. A bad night for sure, but I don't think this is a bad thing, long-term. I think it's important for everyone to realize that he's not just going to moonwalk to the win in every race he lines up for. If anything, that may loosen up Lawrence, which would only help him.
11th - No. 2 Cooper Webb (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)
Add Webb to the list of guys who fought through it on Saturday. A five-spot free fall over 15 minutes has put the former two-time Champion nearly 20 points out of this thing, just a week after he finished second in Anaheim. That's how quickly things change and how chaotic these mud races can be.
450 Class San Francisco Top 10
1st No. 1 Chase Sexton
2nd No. 3 Eli Tomac
3rd No. 94 Ken Roczen
4th No. 12 Shane McElrath
5th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger
6th No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis
7th No. 111 Jorge Prado
8th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo
9th No. 18 Jett Lawrence
10th No. 96 Hunter Lawrence
450 Class Point Standings after San Francisco
1st No. 1 Chase Sexton (45 Points) (New Points Leader)
2nd No. 18 Jett Lawrence (38 Points)
3rd No. 3 Eli Tomac (35 Points)
4th No. 7 Aaron Plessinger (35 Points)
5th No. 14 Dylan Ferrandis (33 Points)
6th No. 21 Jason Anderson (32 Points)
7th No. 94 Ken Roczen (32 Points)
8th No. 2 Cooper Webb (27 Points)
9th No. 111 Jorge Prado (24 Points)
10th No. 9 Adam Cianciarulo (24 Points)
San Fransisco Lit Kit Recipient: Benny Bloss (FXR)
Main Image via KTM