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Spotlight: Composed Brayton clinches AUSX title in thrilling decider

Justin Brayton secured his fifth straight Australian Supercross Championship by one point over Matt Moss following a dramatic season finale at Wagga Wagga.

Words: Edward Stratmann | Lead Image: Honda Racing Australia

Holding an eight point lead heading into the last round over a resurgent Moss, Brayton knew what had to be done to get the title over the line. But seeing as a bike issue cost him in the final race in Newcastle the week before, he wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“I feel really good, I started off great with a win and round two in Adelaide was second right on (Aaron) Tanti there pretty much the whole main. Felt like last weekend I got robbed a little bit, had the win, but I had a bike issue. But still got an eight point lead, so happy to be here in Wagga Wagga. The track looks really good, was good in practice, so yeah just need to execute tonight, get some good starts. We’ve got a double header, so got to execute two really good ones and two good finishes and wrap this thing up,” he explained in the lead-up to the race while also dropping some news that he’ll excitingly be joining the AMA Supercross broadcast team for 2023.

Having qualified second behind teammate Kyle Webster and cruised to third in the heat race, Brayton started the day smoothly as he adjusted to the demanding track and sweltering conditions.

When the gate dropped for the opening race, the popular American got himself a handy start to come through in second behind only Moss. Settling in nicely behind his title rival and navigating the situation smartly, Brayton understood the equation and was riding with composure and clarity.

Staying out of trouble and well aware he didn’t have to do anything silly or produce any heroics, it was a pleasure to observe the technically superb, silky smooth veteran ride, with his whoop speed especially exceptional – like watching poetry in motion.

Clicking off the laps and content just off the rear wheel of Moss while he assessed the best lines on offer and studied what Moss was doing, he then embarked on a push to close down the Aussie. Although he quickly bridged the gap to under a second and was pressuring his foe hard, he couldn’t quite get within striking distance to make the move.

Disaster then struck again, just like it did in Newcastle, with just a couple of laps left to run, as Brayton suffered a flat tire just around the same time a rampaging Josh Hill went by. But to his credit, the ultra experienced pilot successfully nursed the bike home to salvage fourth to set up a grandstand finish.

Getting off to a terrible start in the second race to emerge around sixth after the first turn, this certainly wasn’t what he had in mind.

Remaining calm and alert to the perils around him from other riders and the track, which was extremely dusty by now, he refocused swiftly before breezing by Cory Watts and Dylan Wood to propel himself into fourth.

Riding with assuredness and making it look easy with his distinctive style, the Honda hotshot then set his sights on the impressive Dylan Wills, with Brayton strikingly passing him in the whoops to take third on lap six.

Despite enduring an uncharacteristic moment in the whoops on the following lap and him letting Hill by in the dying embers of the race, wanting to avoid any late drama, Brayton eventually coasted home in fourth, knowing that was enough to be crowned champion with Aaron Tanti winning ahead of Moss.

“Yeah I knew exactly where I needed to finish, I actually let Josh by, cause I knew I could just cruise around in fourth. I felt like I could do that pretty easy and I mean I was just kind of doubling around, moseying around just to clinch it, cause you can get in a battle with guys and push the front, you just never know,” he recalled.

Ending his 2022 with a remarkable fifth consecutive AUSX title, on a day where he had to do it the way but notably held his nerve, there was plenty to admire about how astutely he negotiated the day.

“It feels awesome to get this fifth (title), I mean I had everything thrown at me from DNFs to flat tires. I mean for us to still pull it off is incredible. I honestly don’t know how we did, just experience I guess,” insisted a jubilant Brayton in his post-race interview.

“Came out swinging round one and in the first couple of rounds, but it’s tough to win these championships, especially when it’s this short of a series. And when you have a bike break in a moto and a flat tire in a moto you’re up against the wall. But we were able to pull it off and proud of that. Proud of the whole team, Max (Anstie) rode awesome in the 250 class – so awesome – double champions for Honda.

“To get one of these is hard, it really is, it’s so difficult – let alone to get five in a row so it’s really special. As a racer, I’ve been doing this a long time so I just really knew that if I rode 70% today I could get it done and that’s what we did. Unfortunately the first one I was going for it but got a flat tire with two laps to go otherwise we were right on Mossy. But hats off to him and Aaron, they rode incredible. We raced clean and we had some tremendous battles, it was really, really fun. The guys were riding good this year, tough tracks and it’s hard to get it done so happy to do it.”

Bringing some crucial star power to the series, serving as a brilliant reference point for his competitors and a true fan favourite, it’s always a pleasure for the local scene having Brayton competing in Australia.

While it remains to be seen if he’ll be back next year for the AUSX series, his many supporters in Oz can expect to see him around at some point when he returns to action for the second season of WSX in 2023.

For now, though, a well deserved break is on the cards for the masterful Brayton, who will now venture home to his family with his mission complete of bagging yet another title Down Under.

MX Vice | Editor