2023 AMA supercross preview – 450 class
The 2023 AMA supercross season is only days away, and with a deep field of talent, it promises to be a season of intense battling right through the field. The anticipation is high, the riders are ready (they hope), and the fans are fervently expecting another blockbuster season with a lot of riders believing this is their year to at least win races, and they will do whatever it takes to make that happen.
Let’s start with last year’s champ, Eli Tomac. He had the perfect season in 2022 and, speaking on the NBC preview show, Eli said he has never been stronger are in a better place mentally. That spellls trouble for the rest and the only question mark might even make him faster! That question mark is around the bike, we saw what happened Cooper Webb last year on the new KTM but, so far, Tomac has been nothing but positive about the new slimmer macine, saying it is easier to turn and manourvre in the air. It should make things easier for Tomac and on the only remaining question mark is can he still get his good starts, because even if your name is Eli Tomac, it will be hard to come through the field, especially early in the season when everyone still believes this is their year. With Eli on a supercross only contract, he will be all in on this one series to go out on a high.
Jason Anderson had the pace last year, but some mechancials and some in-fighting with other riders that left him on the deck meant Eli Tomac took control of the series. This year Anderson needs to not let those individual battles and quests for retribution spoil his title challenge. He has another year on the Kawasaki, he knows how to win a title and he looks like he is really enjoying his racing with the Kawasaki crew. In his early 30s, Anderson knows time in running out for another title shot, but 2023 might be his best chance. He should be a threat all year to Tomac if he can stay off the ground.
Chase Sexton had an exceptional outdoor season and pushed Tomac all the way, so can the momentum from that series hoist him into title contention in supercross? You would think so, but amazingly, despite the speed and the style, Sexton only won one race last year with some mistakes resulting in big crashes and a sore body. If he can cut out the mistakes. Sexton has the stuff to challenge for this title. And even the Honda rider says himself it’s time to get the job done and become a supercross champ. He knows what it takes to go bar to bar with Tomac and he knows he can win, now it’s time to execute.
So where does Cooper Webb fit into all of this? It’s anyone’s guess! Webb didn’t have the greatest pace in Paris and wasn’t amazing in the whoops again, but that was 6 weeks ago and at the beginning of the testing and Baker boot camp to be ready for Janueary 2023. Webb sounds like he has things figured out with the bike and his fitness back on point with Aldon, but we won’t know until we see the gate drop over the first couple of rounds to where Webb really is. If he proves he has the speed and the starts, you can bet Webb will get his teeth into the title battle and not let go but if it goes wrong early, his mind might start thinking about where he will end up in 2024 with his contract up at KTM. It’s a big year for Cooper Webb but you can never, ever write the 2x champ off.
Dylan Ferrandis is coming into 2023 as a bit of an underdog. A below par 2022 ruined by bad starts, injuries and then more injuries, Ferrandis showed the pace he still has at the MXoN and, by all accounts, feels much more comfortable indoors on the new Yamaha. Ferrandis might need a couple of good results early to really believe he is a title contender and to do that he really, really needs some good starts. If the Yamaha can fix that he will be a threat!
Justin Barcia finished fourth last year but was a one ma wrecking ball at times! Will being a new dad calm him down or will he be even more focused and single-minded that before now he has another mouth to feed? Barcia was on the old-frame chassis last year, so this will be his first on the new frame, a year after the KTM and Husky riders – will this help or hinder the aggressive American?
The man who edged Barcia for third in 2022 was Malcolm Stewart but can he really improve on third? He had a very strong season last year but for 2023, you would think his big focus is winning his first supercross, then he might just really believe he can go toe-to-toe with the title contenders.
Then there is the big story of the off-season, kickstart Kenny! After riding a plethora of bikes and winning the WSX and Paris SX on a private Honda, Ken Roczen made the shock decision to ride a Suzuki for the HEP team in 2023! Roczen of course has a big history with Suzuki, making his name in the GPs as a teenage prodigy and then winning a 450 outdoor title in the US.
The bike hasn’t really changed from 2018, but Roczen says he feels comfortable on the bike and at home on the machine, with his talent and the fact that all the bikes can be made really good these days with the right crew around you, Roczen should now be written off. Can he win races? Absolutely. The title? That is more a question mark of his health than the bike. That said, it is a big step up for the team to have an elite rider with high expectations like Ken Roczen, but they have brought the like of Larry Brooks on-board who has won titles with McGrath, Stewart and Reed in what is a smart move as long and the fun-loving Roczena and the intense Brooks get on!
Other names to keep an eye one are the evergreen Marvin Musquin and Aaron Plessinger. Musquin won a race last year yet again showing his still has the pace and technique despite his advancing age. You can never count Marvin out but for Plessinger it’s big year to prove he has what it takes indoors on a 450. Last year he had to deal with the bike a lot of people struggle on and then he got injured, this year the bike should be better and Plessinger should be able to shine. He’s unique character but he is serious and determined when the gate drops and he knows he needs results in 2023. One to keep and eye on!
The rookies are intriguing for 2023. Christian Craig is proven on a 450 indoors and out, but is now on a Husky and maybe more importantly, training with Aldon Baker – can this make the difference for very naturally talented and smooth rider? If Aldon can get Craig believing in himself and fit for 20 minute mains events week after week and the elite pace he’s capable of, Craig could get a 450 main event win. There might be bumps on the road, but Craig could be a spoiler on any given ngiht with a start, he is that good.
Colt Nichols is a bit of an unknown. A classy supercross rider, Nichols suffered some bad injuries las tyear defending his 250 title. Will that affect him this season and how will he adapt to the 450? Big questions but also the chance to ride a factory 450 Honda and ride with Chase Sexton every day has to be great to see the level that’s needed. The biggest question mark on Colt are the injuries, if they aren’t a problem he should be a top ten guy for Honda in his rookie season.
Adam Cianciarulo has been off the bike for nearly a year but his speed in 450 supercross has never been an issue even if staying off the greound has. Cianciarulo is coming abck with a new attitude and a bid to get his career back on track – but will he be on top of his game at A1? It might take a while to see the best of AC, and more that anything, he just needs to get through all 17 rounds healthy. But if he gets the start, expect to see the speed.
Other names to look out for include Shane McElrath on the HEP Suzuki, Kyle Chisholm also on HEP Suzuki and the suepr talented Hill brothers, Justin and Josh, who are back in supercross with team Tedder.
It’s going to be quite the season – as long as everyone stays fit! Don’t forget, fans around the globe can tune in via the SuperMotocross Video Pass.
Article: Jonathan McCready
Images: Octopi media/ Cudby