Supercross is over, and that means one thing: Pro Motocross is on the way.
The 2022 AMA Supercross season will be remembered for a number of reasons: Eli Tomac’s almost instant success with Star Racing Yamaha; Jason Anderson’s revival at Kawasaki; Christian Craig finally winning a Supercross title; and Jett Lawrence taking his first indoor crown.
But, now, it is over, and in the US they are getting ready to take it outdoors.
In the past few weeks there has been much anticipation built about the Pro Motocross championship for 2022. In fact, it could be possible to argue that this is one of the most anticipated seasons of AMA Nationals in history. Certainly, in the recent times of Supercross’ domination of the US motocross scene, 2022 is currently throwing up something of an anomaly.
Eli Tomac won his 450SX title with a round to spare when he did it for the first time in 2020, and he did so again this year. His championship victory was more substantial in 2022, though, as by round 11 the title was pretty much wrapped up for Tomac.
The #3 Star Racing Yamaha rider has always been more of a motocross rider than Supercross. His talents for aggressive riding and pushing the bike hard lend themselves more to an open outdoor track than a tight, twisty stadium circuit. That is why, in Supercross, he has this year become the most successful rider at the most ‘outdoor’ of the indoor races: Daytona.
In AMA Pro Motocross, Tomac has won three titles back-to-back between 2017 and 2019, and his form in the middle of the Supercross season combined with those outdoor statistics meant he was looking almost like a guaranteed 2022 motocross champion two months before the season even started.
However, after he won the Supercross title in his home state of Colorado, Tomac revealed that he had been suffering with a torn medial cruciate ligament (MCL) since his heat race in Atlanta. In that race, Tomac had been battling with Jason Anderson, who passed him in the left-handed sweeper at the top end of the track. Tomac tried to repay the favour a lap later, but dabbed his foot awkwardly, and his slump in form over the next two races was determined in that moment.
It was not enough to cost Tomac that 450SX title, but he decided to miss the Salt Lake City season finale to focus on and prepare for the upcoming motocross season. It is currently unclear how fit Tomac will be for the first race in Pala, or if he will even be operating at 100% at any point in the 2022 outdoors season. Only time will tell whether Tomac will be able to fight for his fourth Pro Motocross title in 2022, but, for sure, a fully operational 2022 Eli Tomac would be a worrying proposition for many of his rivals.
While Tomac was nursing his left knee to the Supercross title, his teammate Dylan Ferrandis had already been all-in on preparing for this year’s 450MX championship since he crashed out of the Detroit race at round 11 of Supercross.
Ferrandis’ Supercross season had not gone to plan at all, with his customary poor starts limiting his potential indoors, and so when his wrist was injured in Detroit, it was a relatively straightforward decision to sacrifice the end of Supercross to focus on Pro Motocross.
Ferrandis did win the premier class outdoor title in 2021, after all, in his rookie year in the 450 class, and after Star Racing Yamaha already won the indoor title in 2022, their interest now lies very much in retaining their #1 outdoor plate for 2023.
Ferrandis’ 2021 title charge was built on his ability to use the extra space of an outdoor motocross track to recover from the poor starts that, indoors, cost him so dearly. Unless Ferrandis has been able to rectify his troubles getting out of the gate since his Detroit crash (unlikely, since it has been a characteristic of Ferrandis even going back to his 250 days, when his Star Yamaha was, by a distance, the fastest bike on the gate), the Frenchman will be requiring the same kind of recoveries to keep him in contention to defend his title in 2022.
While Star Racing Yamaha’s established 450 riders had their respective Supercross seasons interrupted by injury, their 250SX West star, Christian Craig, was able to collect his first Supercross title in 2022.
Craig clinched the title at the season finale in Salt Lake City, which he entered with an 18-point lead over HRC’s Hunter Lawrence. Despite a crash in the middle of the Main Event at the end of the whoops section, Craig rode calmly to take the title after dominating the first part of the season, where he took advantage of Lawrence’s compromised off-season.
For the summer, Craig will once again step up to the 450s for the Pro Motocross season. He has previously made the step mid-year when he rode for Honda, in 2020, when he replaced Ken Roczen, and last year with Yamaha when he took the third YZ450F that Malcolm Stewart had raced in Supercross.
Craig’s 450MX speed in the past couple of years has been strong, with this year’s #28 capable of top four and five finishes. Now in his third year of premier class motocross, Craig will surely be hoping to join his Star Racing teammates, Ferrandis and Tomac, in fighting for the podium – and possibly more – in 2022, before he sets off for a full-time 450 gig in 2023 reportedly with Husqvarna.
The rider with the best ending to their Supercross season was undoubtedly Jason Anderson. His sequence of four successive wins at the end of the season matched his 2018 victory total on its own. Three further wins earlier in the season meant a record season for the 2018 SX champion in terms of wins, and it is arguable that he was riding better in 2022 than he was in that title winning season.
Anderson has never won a 450MX race, but there is little doubt that he was the best rider in the final part of the Supercross season. Missing out on the title will be the frustration for the #21 as AMA Pro Motocross approaches, and surely a maiden outdoor title is not only in Anderson’s thinking heading into the summer, but it might also be a genuine possibility.
Of course, we cannot forget that it was the Kawasaki KX450 with which Eli Tomac won his three straight 450MX titles, and with Anderson’s recent form it is hard to discount him from the preseason title conversation.
Anderson’s Kawasaki teammate, Adam Cianciarulo, will remain on the side lines for the Pro Motocross season after being out of action in Supercross since San Diego. Unlike Supercross, Cianciarulo will be replaced for the Pro Motocross season, as Kawasaki brings Joey Savatgy back.
Savatgy was the rider who Cianciarulo replaced in Kawasaki when he stepped up to 450s in 2020. Savatgy had only done one premier class season at the time, but as Cianciarulo had been part of the Kawasaki development programme for almost his whole career, and Savatgy’s then teammate Eli Tomac was coming off three straight 450MX crowns, Savatgy was left somewhat defenceless after Cianciarulo’s 250MX success in 2019.
For 2022, Savatgy was originally with the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM (BBMX) team. But, when that team folded midway through Supercross (they will be back for the outdoors with Freddy Noren and Benny Bloss), Savatgy was left uncontracted. Injured at the time of the BBMX collapse, anyway, Savatgy’s Supercross season was compromised anyway, and now he has been able to reclaim his old factory KX450 for the summer.
Savatgy was one of three riders to have their year affected by the BBMX closure. The others were Shane McElrath and Max Anstie. Rumours suggested Anstie might end up at KTM for the summer, others that he would be in 250s. However, a week out from the outdoor season, Anstie still has nothing publicly confirmed, and even a return to the Grand Prix scene seems now a possibility for the Brit.
McElrath, though, is heading to Husqvarna. The move was to replace Dean Wilson, who has been out of action since his well-self-documented injury sustained at the St. Louis Supercross earlier this year, and it will be McElrath’s first time on factory equipment in the 450 class, so how he goes will be interesting to watch. The #12 showed good speed at times in Supercross, but lacked endurance, which is an even bigger factor outdoors, of course.
McElrath was due to be alongside Malcolm Stewart in the Rockstar Husqvarna team for the summer, but now it has become apparent that Stewart’s knee injury – also picked up in St. Louis – was aggravated in that collision with Justin Barcia at the Supercross finale in Salt Lake City. Stewart will sit out for at least six weeks of the Pro Motocross season, and there is some possibility that he will be replaced by Husqvarna’s 250SX winner in – you guessed it – St. Louis, RJ Hampshire, who would be making his 450MX debut.
Stewart was denied a chance to retaliate on Barcia for that aforementioned move in Salt Lake, so there was some anticipation for how that dynamic would play out in the Motocross season. But, for Barcia, Stewart’s absence is not a problem for him to be concerned about, and in fact it should allow him to ride slightly more free, not having to half-expect a white front mudguard angled perpendicular at his knee. The #51 made few new fans with that Salt Lake move, but he was fast outdoors on the GasGas in 2021, and will surely be aiming to fight again for moto and even overall wins in the 2022 season.
That will also be the aim of Ryan Dungey. The 9-times Supercross and Motocross champion is back racing professionally in the 2022 Pro Motocross season, six years after he last raced outdoors. Of course, Dungey’s last professional racing appearance was in the 2017 Supercross season, when he won his fourth title indoors, but his last outdoor appearance, in 2016, ended in a broken neck for the career #5. But the only reason a serial winner like Dungey returns to racing is to win, and because they think they can do so.
But, to come back after so long is in some ways a risk for Dungey. For a winner, like he is, to come back, they must feel as though they can win, but to do so against some of the best in the world is not a straightforward task after five years of not racing at all. On the flip side, Dungey’s legacy was secured by the previous part of his career, and that will not be put at risk by this comeback, whether he’s finishing third or twenty-third, and that is guaranteed by the initial announcement that Dungey is currently only confirmed to be competing in the first two races of the season.
Similarly, Antonio Cairoli’s legacy – built over almost two decades of World Championship-level racing and winning, resulting in over 90 Grand Prix victories and nine world titles – is not under threat in his new American adventure with KTM. Where the Italian will finish is unclear, and almost does not matter. That he is racing in the US six-and-a-half months after he retired from the MXGP World Championship is- if nothing else – incredibly (for want of a better word) cool. Cairoli is an undoubted international motocross and racing legend, but let us not forget that winning is a genuine option for him this summer; just last November he was winning Grands Prix.
The track preparation, the ‘production’ bikes, the dirt gates (as opposed to the grates of GPs) are all things for Cairoli to adapt to, but hopefully he will be able to, and his season will be extended beyond the first two rounds that he has been originally announced for by KTM.
Alongside the two KTM legends in orange this summer will be Aaron Plessinger. The bizarre situation KTM finds itself in this year means, of their four 2022 Supercross riders, only Plessinger and 250 rider Max Vohland will line up outdoors, as Marvin Musquin’s 2022 contract was Supercross-only, and Cooper Webb takes the summer off to rebuild for the 2023 Supercross season.
Plessinger’s 2022 Supercross campaign had promise, but it was never fully realised. His podium in Oakland felt at the time like it could have been momentous, but he was not on the podium again after that, and was out through injury by round eight. Having been focused on motocross since he was able to ride again, the #7 should come into the season well-prepared, and in the knowledge that last year, with Yamaha, he was able to challenge for podiums and wins. Still without an overall win either indoors or out in the 450 class, Plessinger will undoubtedly be looking to change that this year as KTM’s only full-time 450 rider for this AMA Pro Motocross season.
Ken Roczen has not competed at an AMA race since the Daytona Supercross earlier this year. Taking time to repair his body and mind after a brutal first half of the indoor season, including its preparation, Roczen sat out the final seven rounds of the Supercross series in the hopes of coming into the motocross season in the best shape possible. Roczen is still without a title with Honda, but his two 450 titles in America have come outdoors: firstly with KTM in his rookie year (2014), and then with Suzuki in 2016. Furthermore,in 2021 he was the closest challenger to Dylan Ferrandis for most of the season. What we get from Ken Roczen this summer will only become clear on a race-by-race basis, but it is difficult to totally discount him before even a single gate has dropped.
Roczen’s teammate, Chase Sexton, picked up his first 450SX win in 2022, but crashes and mistakes killed his title challenge. Sexton has speed outdoors, too, winning even in his first year in the 450 class back in Pala 2020, but the #23 must eliminate the mistakes if he is to become a genuine title threat.
Between Tomac’s knee; the time off for Ferrandis; the time off for Roczen; Anderson’s errors; Sexton’s crashes; the return of Dungey; the appearance of Cairoli; there is almost no possibility to make predictions about the upcoming Pro Motocross season. But, for the same reasons and the same riders, there is a great deal to be excited about between now and September.