The three-round stretch run of the 2023 Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing, got underway on Saturday from the hallowed grounds of Central New York’s iconic Unadilla MX. A championship atmosphere was in the air at the Honda Unadilla National as Australian rising star Jett Lawrence entered with a chance to wrap up the 450 Class title in his first summer of premier class competition. When all was said and done, Lawrence extended his perfect season for his ninth straight 1-1 performance to clinch the Edison Dye Cup with two rounds remaining. In the 250 Class, the elder Lawrence, Hunter, made it the sixth sweep for the family and Team Honda HRC, which extended his championship point lead and moved him one step closer to a maiden title.
With the 450 Class title within reach Jett Lawrence seized the moment to open the first moto of the afternoon with the MotoSport.com Holeshot, edging out Yamaha mounted veteran Estonian racer Harri Kullas, who was making his Pro Motocross debut. Behind them, Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX Yamaha’s Garrett Marchbanks slotted into third, with Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton fourth. Both Marchbanks and Sexton were able to make their way around Kullas in the early portion of the opening lap.
The clear track allowed Lawrence to establish an early lead and manage his advantage over Sexton, who made the move on Marchbanks to take control of second. Just over two seconds separated the teammates through the first 10 minutes of the moto. While the Hondas stepped away from the field Marchbanks was forced to fend off Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Dylan Ferrandis, who was on a hard charge from a start just outside the top five. The Yamaha’s engaged in a brief battle before Ferrandis made the pass.
Back up front, Sexton closed to within a second of Lawrence to initiate a battle for the lead. Eager to make a move, Sexton dove to the inside of Lawrence in a corner, which initiated some contact between the two and allowed Lawrence to slip away after Sexton was forced to collect his balance. The lead briefly ballooned to more than 1.5 seconds, but Sexton started to chip away at the deficit once more.
As they entered the final 10 minutes of the moto the HRC duo ran similar lap times, which stabilized the lead. Lapped riders added another layer to the battle and worked into Lawrence’s favor as he moved out to a near three-second lead. Sexton bided his time and made a final push in the closing minutes of the moto. He dropped the hammer and was able to close the gap to within two seconds but as he looked to make quick work of lappers Sexton lost traction and crashed. Ferrandis assumed second as Sexton remounted in third.
Ferrandis was on a charge of his own and closed within less than two seconds of Lawrence on the final lap. Lawrence managed the margin and wrapped up his 17th moto win by 1.6 seconds over Ferrandis, who enjoyed arguably his best moto of the season in second. Sexton followed in a distant third, with Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo fourth and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Aaron Plessinger in fifth.
The final moto began the same way as Moto 1, with Lawrence at the head of the pack for the MotoSport.com Holeshot ahead of Sexton and Cianciarulo. As has been the case throughout the season the clear track allowed Lawrence to set the tone out front which forced Sexton to settle into second, about two seconds behind.
As the Honda teammates once again established themselves up front a battle for third unfolded between the Monster Energy Kawasaki duo of Cianciarulo and Jason Anderson. Cianciarulo held onto the position for the opening 10 minutes until Anderson made the pass. Not long after Cianciarulo lost fourth to Ferrandis, who was battling his way forward from a start deep in the top 10. The Frenchman wasn’t done as he charged onto the rear fender of Anderson. The two riders made contact, which took Anderson to the ground and allowed Ferrandis to continue on in third.
At the turn of the midway point of the moto Lawrence had added significantly to his advantage, which grew to more than five seconds and continued to increase incrementally heading towards the final 10 minutes of the race. The lead approached nearly eight seconds and stabilized for several laps until Sexton appeared to make a final push with just under five minutes to go and got within less than five seconds. However, Lawrence responded and, combined with one of Sexton’s slowest laps, pushed the lead to its largest margin at nearly 10 seconds.
Lawrence went wire-to-wire once more for moto win 18 to complete a perfect afternoon, taking the championship-winning checkered flag 9.2 seconds ahead of Sexton. Ferrandis finished in a distant third.
Lawrence’s 17th and 18th moto wins of the season, and ninth straight overall victory, move him one step closer to a potential perfect season, with two rounds and four motos remaining. His 18-moto win streak is now only bettered by Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart, the only two riders to amass a perfect season in Pro Motocross history. Lawrence is the fifth different rider to capture the 450 Class crown in his first season in the division and becomes just the second Australian to hoist the Edison Dye Cup, joining Chad Reed.
With identical moto scores Sexton (3-2) and Ferrandis (2-3) finished tied for the runner-up spot, with the second-moto tiebreaker going to Sexton to give Honda HRC its fifth 1-2 finish of the season. It’s the fourth consecutive second-place result for Sexton while Ferrandis’ third-place finish marked his sixth appearance on the overall podium this season.
Lawrence needed a 100-point margin to wrap up the title and now holds a 103-point advantage over Ferrandis, who took another step towards securing the runner-up spot in the final standings. Ferrandis is 35 points ahead of Plessinger in third, following the KTM rider’s fifth-place finish (5-5).
Jett Lawrence, Team Honda HRC
“This is unreal. I never even dreamed of this because we never thought it was possible to be in this position and be where we are today. Even with the undefeated season, it’s unbelievable with all the hard times we’ve faced [as a family]. I’ve done my best to keep it together and stay focused on the task at hand, but when I crossed the finish line, I was finally able to let it all out. Honda took a risk on us [with brother Hunter] after 2020 and I’m grateful for that, and I’m glad I was able to return the favor.”
Chase Sexton, Team Honda HRC
“I feel like in the first moto my bike was handling really well. I didn’t get the result I wanted with the crash, but I was riding well. Overall, I felt more comfortable today and we’re in a better spot than we were before, which is great.”
Dylan Ferrandis, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“In some races when I’m not really feeling great, I’ll get the holeshot and then today when I’m feeling great, I don’t get the starts. I guess it’s just a lack of luck. It is what it is, and I have to come from behind. Still a good day for me. It was the first race of the season where I felt like myself.”
The opening 250 Class moto got underway with the Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing machine of Levi Kitchen leading the way for the MotoSport.com Holeshot ahead of Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Seth Hammaker, followed by the Star Racing duo of Justin Cooper and Haiden Deegan.
A spirited battle on the opening lap saw Kitchen and Hammaker trade the lead, from which Kitchen asserted himself out front. Behind the leaders a multi-rider battle unfolded in pursuit of third as Deegan lost multiple spots to Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Max Vohland, Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Jo Shimoda, and championship leader Hunter Lawrance aboard his Honda. This trio continued their push forward as Vohland led the group around Cooper, putting the KTM rider into third, just ahead of the point leader.
Back up front the battle for the lead renewed between Kitchen and Hammaker approaching the halfway point of the moto, as just over a second separated the pair. Vohland continued to lurk in third but came under fire from Lawrence. The top four then stabilized as the moto entered its final 10 minutes.
A quick surge by Vohland carried the KTM onto the rear fender of Hammaker where he made a quick pass for the position. Lawrence then went on the attack and made an aggressive move for third, which allowed Deegan to close in from fifth and make the pass on Hammaker for fourth. As that unfolded Lawrence made the pass on Vohland for second and set his sights on the lead. Deegan then followed with a pass by Vohland for third. With just a handful of minutes remaining the championship rivals looked to close in on the 3.5 second deficit to Kitchen.
Kitchen’s lead dwindled quickly as Lawrence was on a determined march to the front. Soon the fight for the lead was on as Kitchen and Lawrence battled both each other and lappers. Kitchen withstood the attack and opened up the advantage once more. While running third, Deegan’s motorcycle appeared to expire, which brought the rookie’s moto to an abrupt and heartbreaking conclusion. Kitchen parlayed his holeshot into the third moto win of his career, 3.2 seconds ahead of Lawrence in second, while Shimoda inherited third following Deegan’s misfortune. Vohland was fourth, while Cooper rounded out the top five.
A red flag for a downed rider initiated a restart for the final race of the afternoon as Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s RJ Hampshire needed to be attended to. When the field returned to the starting gate and took off for the second time it was Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Ryder DiFrancesco with the MotoSport.com Holeshot, followed closely by Cooper, Shimoda and Kitchen. Lawrence started just outside the top five while Deegan’s late gate pick left him outside the top 20 initially.
Just after the completion of the opening lap Cooper went on the attack and made the pass on DiFrancesco to take the lead, which left the Kawasaki teammates to battle it out for second as Kitchen rode patiently in fourth. Shimoda was persistent and made the pass happen to drop his rookie teammate down to third. As Kitchen looked to apply pressure on DiFrancesco he bobbled slightly, which allowed an opportunistic Lawrence to make the pass for fourth and then make his way around DiFrancesco for third.
A shot at the overall win was on the line as Shimoda and Lawrence engaged in a battle for second, with the Honda rider able to get the better of his rival to move into second. Behind them, Kitchen kept his winning hopes alive with a pass on DiFrancesco for fourth.
Cooper and Lawrence were separated by 5.4 seconds with just under 20 minutes remaining in the moto, but the distance between them continued to grow through the middle of the race as Cooper pushed his advantage to nearly 10 seconds. Lawrence settled into second, a few seconds ahead of Shimoda in third.
Cooper was consistent through to the finish and secured his third moto win of the season, two seconds ahead of Lawrence, who did what he needed to do in bringing home the runner-up result. Shimoda followed closely in third, with Kitchen a distant fourth.
Lawrence’s consistent 2-2 finishes were the defining element of his ability to finish atop the overall standings as he edged out Kitchen (1-4) by a single point. Cooper’s win in the second moto vaulted him up to the third and final spot on the overall podium (5-1).
Lawrence’s lead in the championship standings grew to 22 points with two rounds and four motos remaining. Cooper’s podium result moved him into second while Shimoda moved into third, 35 points out of the lead. Deegan’s adversity-filled afternoon saw him drop from second, three points behind Lawrence, to fourth, 36 points out of the lead, after a 17th-place finish (38-10).
Hunter Lawrence, Team Honda HRC
“Today was good, but it’s more about my brother [winning the championship]. I’m so proud of him. We were never meant to be here, but we trusted the process and it’s amazing to be in the position we’re in.”
Levi Kitchen Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“I’m glad I finally did [well] in the first moto today. I’ve usually done well in the second moto, so today it was nice to get it done in Moto 1. We got two good starts and made the most of the day, so I’m really happy with that.”
Justin Cooper, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing
“Sometimes you have to take some chances. We need to put ourselves in the best position each moto and do the best we can. We put ourselves out front to start the second moto and then managed the gap from there. I’m stoked on that.”
The Pro Motocross Championship will host its penultimate round of the 2023 season next Saturday, August 19, with its annual visit to the greater Washington D.C. area and Southern Maryland’s famed Budds Creek Motocross Park. The ninth round of the summer at the Yamaha Budds Creek National will stream live in its entirety, with uninterrupted motos on Peacock, kicking off with Race Day Live, presented by MotoSport.com, at 7 a.m. PT / 10 a.m. ET, followed by race coverage beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Align Media