There is no bigger headline going into the 2023 AMA Pro Motocross campaign than Honda HRC's Jett Lawrence officially getting the call-up to the proverbial big leagues. It's not often guys make the jump to the 450s midway through the calendar year, but funny enough, the last two notable times this has been done is with Honda HRC. Chase Sexton in 2020 was that last occasion, and much to my surprise did much better than I had anticipated and managed to win the finale at Pala (3-1) en route to a fifth-place point finish.
The biggest reason I was surprised by that was that Sexton had just five career overall podiums in three Motocross seasons, with only one Moto victory and zero National wins. Jett is not coming into this class with the kind of resume, in fact, I would say he probably had the best 250 outdoor career in the States since either Blake Baggett or Ryan Villopoto, really just take your pick. 21 career 250 Moto wins, 15 career National wins which rank eighth all-time, and two titles which makes him just one of 13 riders ever to have multiple. Additionally, the only three riders to ever beat him in points (when he was a full-time guy) were Shane McElrath, Jeremy Martin, and Dylan Ferrandis in 2020. In short, he's as advertised.
We also got a chance to see Lawrence on a 450 last October at Des Nations, and he certainly passed the eye test. He went 1-2 for Team Australia and got them on the podium for the first time since 2011. Not bad you may say, especially in a high-leverage spot. Additionally, the only faster riders on a 450 than him in the free practice sessions that weekend were current MX2 points leader Jago Geerts, current MXGP points leader Jorge Prado, Jeremy Seewer, and Eli Tomac just to give you an idea of his speed, and at RedBud no less. So with his official 450 debut now just about 10 days out, here are what I feel are four fair, grounded expectations for Lawrence this Motocross season.
No. 1: Win At Least One National Overall
Before the Eli Tomac injury and news that Ken Roczen is going to run World Supercross, the wording here would have been just win a national. Tomac (most of the heavy lifting) and Roczen combined for 66.6 percent of the Moto wins a season ago as well as half of the National wins. Factoring that in with several other guys either set to miss the beginning of the season or just coming back after varying layoffs, I don't think Lawrence winning a National is that much of an expectation. There's going to be one week at the bare minimum where he's dialed in 100 percent, and his raw talent should take care of the rest. I'd say best case scenario, the ceiling in year one is five wins, which is exactly what Ferrandis did during his first outdoor season in the class.
No. 2: Hit Moto and National Overall Podium Benchmarks
For what my benchmarks for Lawrence here look like, I went back to the 450MX rookie seasons of Ferrandis, Sexton, and Adam Cianciarulo. All three of them ended up at least fifth in the points and won at least a National for context as well by the way. Ferrandis is what I would call the highest end of the spectrum for what Lawrence could do, because he hit the Overall Podium in all 12 rounds in the 2021 season, and finished top three in every single Moto save for twice where he finished fifth. Sexton is on the other side of things here, who in 2020 only had six Moto podiums and two Overall podiums, but did end that year with top 5s in his last seven Motos.
AC is where things meet in the middle of this conversation. After a dismal 6-38 at Loretta Lynn's 1, which ultimately cost him the 2020 Championship, he rattled off podiums in 12 of his last 16 Motos and totaled six Overall podiums in that COVID-shortened season (Nine rounds). As far as this season would go, here's what those numbers would adjust to under the current 11-round format
Rider and Year
Moto Podium Percentage
Overall Podium Percentage
Adjusted Moto Podiums
Adjusted Overall Podiums
Dylan Ferrandis '21
Adam Cianciarulo '20
Chase Sexton '20
All of this is to ultimately say that a fair expectation for Lawrence should be somewhere in-between Ferrandis in '21 and AC in '20. Say 15 Moto podiums and 7 Overall podiums as the absolute bare minimum. Given the strength of the field, Lawrence should hopefully be up to the task, even if there are going to be some growing pains here and there, and my guess is there will be. Surprisingly, though the only real bit of adversity he faced last year was a terminal bike failure in Moto 1 at Red Bud. Given how things can get sketchy for him both indoors and out that was a great sign for Lawrence a year ago.
No. 3: Nail the Starts and Spend Time Out Front
This may not come as a shock, but Lawrence was very good off-the-gate drop a year ago. His 4.0 average start led the 250 class by a full two spots, but he only had three holeshots the entire season. On a bigger more powerful bike and against an objectively tougher field, I think there will be some struggles in that department. The good news is his qualifying pace should translate right away, so getting good gate picks should be a non-issue.
As far as spending time out front goes, I also think that should be a non-issue, aside from the fact that Lawrence probably won't do so to the degree he did a year ago. Of the 380 laps ran last year, Lawrence led 35.5 percent of those, which adds up to 135. I look at what Ken Roczen did a year ago as a good idea of what Lawrence's total could look like in 2023, that number being 74. Anything above that but below 120 wouldn't shock me either. More of a simple pair of hand-in-hand expectations, but once again, very doable for Lawrence.
No. 4: Finish Top 5 in Points
Circling back to No. 2 for a moment, all three of the riders in question ended up finishing in fifth in points at the absolute worst. Ferrandis of course won the whole thing in 2021 and AC came up less than 10 points shy the year before, and Sexton ended up in fifth on the dot 55 points up on both he and Lawrence's former teammate Christian Craig. So I would be disappointed if Lawrence didn't end up top five in the 2023 standings based on the state of the 450 class. My guess as of this moment is that Sexton, Cianciarulo, and Ferrandis for sure outrun him in some order, then there's that next grouping of Jason Anderson, Justin Barcia, and Aaron Plessinger. I would like to think that he at least bests two of those three assuming all three start the season next week. Anyone expecting a Championship in year one no matter what is expecting a bit too much for my liking. Not to say that it can't happen, he certainly has the raw speed to do so, but this is a whole new game for the Jett.
Main Image via Honda HRC