CONCORD, North Carolina – The SuperMotocross World Championship hits a reset button on the season. Nearly four months since Chase Sexton survived an injury-marred Monster Energy Supercross season with six overall wins and the 450 championship and two weeks since Jett Lawrence completed his perfect Pro Motocross season as a rookie, 20 riders have a chance to get even. Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen highlight a star-studded field - and they are fresh and hungry.
Round 1 of the SMX playoffs resembles an All-star race. In fact, this may well be the first time Lawrence is seriously challenged for the overall victory since Moto 2 at Fox Raceway in Pala, California at the start of the outdoor season. In that race, his teammate Sexton was the only rider capable of applying pressure in a field that was paper thin because of accidents at the end of the stadium series. Even riders who returned on the cusp of the outdoor season, like Justin Barcia and Jason Anderson, took a few races to heal and get back up to speed.
Slowly the field became more robust. But two Roczen and Webb were missing for much of Pro Motocross, leaving some to speculate what might have been.
Webb did not originally plan to run the outdoor season. His contract with Red Bull KTM was expiring and he was looking to change manufacturers for 2024. In an effort to stay near the top of the combined SuperMotocross points, Webb and KTM cobbled a program together to earn as many points as possible. A practice injury before the RedBud National disbanded the effort.
Earlier this week, Webb announced he would reunite with Star Yamaha Racing for a multi-year deal and first race with them will come this weekend.
"There's always going to be what ifs if you're not out there," Webb said in a pre-race news conference before Round 1. "For me, we 've just been focusing on these three races and dialing in my program for that and give it my best and execute the best I can. Obviously [Jett] is the guy to beat and I think he'll be very strong. We've just got to put ourselves in a good situation and I feel like I'm in a good spot to do well. So just get back to racing and hopefully put it up front."
Ken Roczen chose to race in an international supercross series and become a specialist in that style of racing. He returned for one outdoor race at High Point and led some laps.
"There's a lot of really fast guys," Roczen said. "This is a little bit different than outdoors. It's tighter racing. So, obviously starts are going to be key, and then I think it just kind of resets a little bit. [Jett is] going to be one of the top guys but there's a lot of good guys here, so I think it's important to not really focus on just one."
Lawrence's domination of Motocross and Honda's supremacy among manufacturers has been the primary storyline most weeks. Lawrence wants to keep it that way.
No one knew what lay ahead when the outdoor season opened at Fox Raceway. Lawrence was expected to be good, but there well could have been growing pains. Those injuries to marquee riders gave him a few races to perfect his riding style.
Now the SuperMotocross World Championship creates a little uncertainty once more. Lawrence won his last two 250 Supercross championship, but he was not nearly as dominant as in Motocross.
"It's a different situation," Lawrence said. "A lot of these guys, going into Pala, I'd never really raced. I raced Chase when he was on a 250, but that was only for a year so. Now I've raced all the guys that have been up here. So it's going to be exciting. If it was like Supercross or outdoors I think it'd be a little different, but since it's so such a new thing, you don't fully know what you're going to get.
"So I could, I could be really good in this with the layout or I could just absolutely suck. So we don't know. It's an exciting thing."
It didn't take long to answer that question. Jett Lawrence posted the fastest lap in Free Practice 1 on Friday. He was second in Free Practice 2 to Sexton.