That’s a wrap! The 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Championship is done and dusted and what a series it was. We are on a path towards normalcy with fans returning, increasing fan/rider engagement, and less restriction across the board. My hope is that 2022 resembles 2019 much more than 2020 both in schedule and atmosphere. With rumours of a return to California, as well as full capacity stadiums on the horizon (NFL and NCAA already resuming this fall), the future, for the first time in a while, looks bright.
Next up for America is Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. The two series are in the midst of the longest scheduled break (2020 notwithstanding) that I can remember. Having three full weekends off for testing, practice, and recovery is more valuable than most would think. The SX series is a grind, plain and simple. In years where Hangtown or Glen Helen immediately followed the finale, most riders and team personnel were suffering as we rolled on motocross. This year will feel much different. Everyone will be refreshed and energized. There will be a feeling of anticipation instead of fatigue. As we prepare for the opener at Pala, let’s take a look at what I expect from the field.
- Justin Cooper enters as one of the title favourites. His ability to start well and sprint in the early laps bodes well when considering his competition. If he can round lap one inside the top three on a consistent basis, he will be tough to deal with.
- Jeremy Martin is the most impressive rider on paper. His perpetual winning ways in this series are hard to ignore, especially given his equipment this season. For my money, J-Mart is the man to beat. The only real question is any residual effect from his shoulder injury.
- Colt Nichols is a wildcard. He is coming off of his first title so I wonder where his motivation level will be in a series he isn’t expected to win. I think we will see flashes of brilliance but tougher days as well.
- Nate Thrasher shouldn’t be overlooked here. I don’t know if he can stand up to the relentless onslaught that J-Mart will bring but I do think he will surprise. His confidence level is surely at an all-time high after his Atlanta wins. If he grabs a holeshot, look out.
- Austin Forkner has been off the racing radar but is going to change that on May 29. He has had the benefit of focusing on motocross exclusively whereas many of his competitors have had to split time with their efforts. My only concern with Forkner is if he can avoid the crashes that have plagued his career to this point.
- Cameron McAdoo will be a podium threat but he has to find a balance in his racecraft. The “crash or win” approach that he seemed to employ in supercross won’t work in a 24-moto series. One of the nicest guys in the sport, let’s hope he can figure it out.
- Seth Hammaker comes in with low pressure but could find success due to being off the radar. He is an elite starter and good things happen if you’re in the top five each time the green flag flies. Look for Hammaker to be a talking point in a few moto’s this year.
- Jo Shimoda could be a sleeper when everything is clicking. His improvement this season was undeniable, winning his first ever SX main event. How far can he push up the field this summer will be fun to watch.
- Jett Lawrence enters this series with a ton of hype and for good reason. His electric personality both on and off the track will have his fellow racers worrisome. Even more dangerous, he’s only 17! There may be no brighter future in this sport than #18. I don’t know if this is going to be a championship season just yet but he will win motos.
- Hunter Lawrence’s time is now. He has taken incredibly large strides forward in 2021 and I expect to see that reflected in this summer’s results. Hunter’s biggest challenge will be to sustain consistency. He will need to minimise the damage on his lesser weekends if he wants to challenge the likes of Martin, Cooper, and Forkner.
- Max Vohland will be a work in progress this summer but I don’t expect winning form just yet. I think he will be a top-ten guy most weekends but I am in a “wait and see” mode on the second generation speedster.
- Michael Mosiman showed so much promise in this year’s supercross series but simply couldn’t put it together when it counted. He will get to press the reset button this summer and podium results wouldn’t surprise me. He needs to figure out his decision making in critical moments but his ability and speed is not in question.
- Alex Martin won’t be on factory equipment like the rivals he faces above but the Yamaha 250 is a great platform to work from. If he can come out with a podium at Pala, I think his chances of getting a few works parts thrown his way increase exponentially. He needs to start this series on the right foot, setting a tone that he’s on the same form as last summer.
- RJ Hampshire was winning races last summer and will be expecting the same this time around. The questions for RJ are in his injury recovery as well as removing the crashes that have plagued him. This 250 class requires pushing the limits but staying on the correct side of that limit is an under appreciated art. RJ will be fast but can he be there every moto?
- Jalek Swoll will find himself up front several times this summer but the pace required to stay there is in question. He suffered through tough results last summer but was much better this supercross season than many expected. This summer is critical for Swoll’s overall trajectory.
- Eli Tomac shook the racing world with news of his departure from Monster Energy Kawasaki to Monster Energy Star Yamaha. I was as surprised as anyone at the news, never seeing that as an option. I believe this to be a desire for a change in scenery as well as a new challenge. Something was missing for Tomac in the past two series and his results tell the tale. I am curious to see where his mind is this summer as he undoubtedly will be preparing for a huge change in 2022.
- Adam Cianciarulo is going to be up front early and often this summer. His starting prowess is only bested by his sprint speed on the opening lap. Maintaining that pace for 70 minutes without a mental lapse is again going to be the challenge #9 faces. He has been riding motocross while others have been riding supercross so look for him to come out swinging at Pala. I would bet a large amount of money we see AC lead laps.
- Cooper Webb just wrapped up his second 450SX title and with that, I think his summer will suffer. There is typically a “supercross hangover” for the champion that precludes their best effort in the next months. The toll that the SX title takes has played out over and over, and honestly, I think riders simply don’t care as much in the wake of that SX success. Webb will likely take a huge exhale this summer and he’s earned it.
- Marvin Musquin came on strong to end the SX season. Marvin is in a contract year and while I expect to see him stay at Red Bull KTM, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in the balance of his negotiating power. He helped his argument in Salt Lake City and will push the narrative even further with a strong start to the summer. I expect Marvin to be a week-in/week-out podium contender but I don’t know if he has the pace to win consistently.
- Ken Roczen is a huge question mark. The last few rounds of his SX season were not ideal and I can’t imagine that is a positive indicator for the brutal summer lying in wait. I am still not convinced we will see Roczen competing this summer but I will be even more surprised if we see 24 motos.
- Chase Sexton is going to be a problem this summer. He is maturing quickly and remember, he won the last moto of the 2020 season at the opening track of 2021. If you told me that Sexton will leave Pala as the points leader, I wouldn’t bat an eye. I don’t know if Sexton is quite ready for the title but he is going to win races. A few crashes will take him out of the championship picture but make no mistake, Sexton is for real.
- Zach Osborne is your defending Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champion. The biggest question mark for Zacho is his nagging back issue that took him out of supercross. He hasn’t been able to ride as much as he would like but he should be refreshed and enthusiastic while his competition could be showing wear and tear from 17 rounds of SX. Zacho will rely on his fitness and if we see a warmer series than last year (latest series start in history), the pendulum could swing back towards the #1.
- Jason Anderson won the opening moto of the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship surprising, well, everyone! He wasn’t able to match that pace but if we have learned anything with JA21, we know to expect the unexpected. Anderson is on contract watch and with Tomac taking his expected landing spot at Yamaha, could Anderson fill in that Kawasaki seat for 2022?
- Dean Wilson is in a contract year (as are many) and needs a strong summer. His supercross season wasn’t flashy and while he has a ton of upside off the track, Deano needs to get back into that top five mix. The 250 champ in this series a decade ago, talent isn’t the issue.
- Justin Barcia enters this series for the first time on a GASGAS. I don’t really know what to expect from Bam Bam but a fair guess would be several motos in the 4-8 range. I don’t expect wins but I don’t expect disappointment either. I think we will look at the overall results each weekend and find him in decent position despite not having seen him on the broadcast often.
- Aaron Plessinger will depart Yamaha for Red Bull KTM in 2022. With that move in mind, what will we see from AP’s summer? His free spirit personality is contagious but I believe his thoughts will be on the switch to Aldon Baker’s program and title aspirations next January.
- Dylan Ferrandis could be the breakout story this summer. The defending 250 champ, not many people are on the Ferrandis hype train but that could change quickly on the evening of May 29. His biggest challenge will be to improve his first lap positioning, avoiding a large gap to the likes of Tomac, Roczen, Sexton etc. If he is on equal footing after a few laps, the sky is the limit for the Frenchman.
- Max Anstie is a sleeper in this series. He showed podium promise in 2020 and will be bringing confidence to the table after a nice ending to the supercross season. My only issue with Anstie’s aspirations is the equipment factor. Can Suzuki provide a platform on par with the other brands? Beating Eli Tomac is hard enough without being on subpar equipment.
- Joey Savatgy could surprise with top five finishes this summer. His starting ability puts him in good position for success and he is trending upwards after a brutal 2020. I fully expect to see Savatgy up front this summer on more than one occasion. Can he stay there is the million dollar question.
Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Align Media