It seems like an annual tradition at this point. Every year, the 450 Class showcases depth of talent the likes of which have never been seen before. Is it possible that every year is the most talented lineup to ever kick off a season? At the very same time that posts begin to circulate about how deep and how epic the upcoming season is going to be, there are just as many naysayers to poke holes in the optimism. The best part is that nobody can be proven right until the gate drops and even when it does, no matter the result you will hear a title wave of “it’s just round one.”
Take a gulp of Hateraid and buckle up because this is the Haters Guide to the off-season.
The Big Red Machine
Never in the history of motocross has Honda HRC’s AMA racing team fielded a premier class team of rookies. Not too many supercross rookies have an undefeated 450 Pro Motocross season on their resume, I will give you that, but like it or not, Jett and Hunter Lawrence are both 450 supercross rookies. For either of them to bring the 450SX championship back to Lars Lindstrom and Factory Honda they would have to match a feat that only two athletes have achieved in the sport’s history. Diehard fans may strongly disagree, but history tells us that winning the premier AMA Supercross title as a newcomer is a very tall task. The Australian sensations have been spectacular to date and have proved doubters wrong from day one, but that does not change the fact that 17 rounds of supercross on a 450 is a grind the likes of which neither young man have experienced before.
Before I repeat this eight times in this article, let us put the “time will tell” caveat to bed because, no kidding, time will tell. In a year’s time we will know if those haters were right or now. What we likely won’t know though, is why?
The Flying Frenchmen
Dylan Ferrandis’ 450 career has been filled with as many ups and downs as some of this world’s most exhilarating roller coasters. His time has ended at Star Racing Yamaha and he will be with a new team for the first time since arriving to the States. A change of scenery may serve him well and Phoenix Honda is plenty capable of building a race winning machine. That said, since capturing the 2021 450 Pro Motocross Championship, Ferrandis hasn’t been able to stay healthy in supercross and seemed to struggle at the races he’s been in. The optimist says “new bike, new team, new year” but there are plenty arguing that the 14’s best years are behind him.
Kwacker Squad AKA Kawasaki
We’ve seen this episode before. Jason Anderson has an incredible season followed by a year of career renaissance. 2023 was a down year for Anderson. Full of frustration compared to the previous year where he seemed rejuvenated on the Kawasaki and even captured his first AMA Pro Motocross overall win. Anderson never seemed to be on his absolute “A Game” in 2023. The reality for the athletes of Monster Energy Kawasaki is that both riders should be 100% healthy at A1 and they’re bringing a brand-new motorcycle. Albeit, a widely praised new motorcycle. Historically a new model typically comes with a few gremlins that often take a year to sort out. Both Adam Cianciarulo and Jason Anderson are looking for an improved season in 2024. The haters would say the hurdles that face the Kawasaki pilots are too tall.
The Blue Boys
Alright, I do not suspect that the 450 squad at Star Racing Yamaha will start calling themselves The Blue Boys. Both Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb are facing considerable adversity going into this coming season. Tomac seems to be fully recovered from his ruptured Achilles tendon but with an increased chance of re-injury, the 31-year-old will have his work cut out for him. Same goes for Webb who will start his first full season back on his old team. No Yamaha team has fielded a pair of two-time 450 supercross champions in their lineup. These two come with a ton of fanfare as well as a fair number of skeptics. Will the championship experience be enough to bring glory back to Star Racing Yamaha?
Nothing Rhymes with Orange
The KTM boys will roll into Anaheim 1 with a red number 1 plate on the front of newly signed Chase Sexton’s. Will they leave Salt Lake City after round 17 with the same? In the history of supercross, not even Jeremy McGrath was able to take the championship plate to another manufacturer and win another title on a new brand. Only Ricky Carmichael in 2002 was able to switch brands in the off-season and remain victorious in a championship battle the following year. The odds are stacked against Sexton who needed a change of scenery. Both he and running-mate Aaron Plessinger will race on a platform that Roger De Coster and Ian Harrison have a boat load of data on. If there is one advantage that the KTM boys can rely on is that their bike should be dialed in all year long.
Ok, I know Slaw Dog is not going to let that title fly but I’m curious to see what he changes it to. If you are reading this and are very confused about this sentence, just know that I have been censored by a guy who eats 50 to 75 hotdogs per day.
When it comes to the white KTMs, this much is true: neither 450 athlete is on a Husqvarna 450 for the first time this January. It can also be said that of all the factory back 450 riders, Malcolm Stewart and Christian Craig are two of only three who have yet to win a premier class event. Last season did not go as planned for the boys in white. Christian Craig sustained serious injuries just as he was catching his stride during his rookie campaign. Can he bounce back to top five potential? For the 100th year in a row, it seems that Christian Craig has been written off. While I do not recommend that, it keeps happening. Malcolm Stewart’s season last year was over before we really got a feel for what he was going to be able to bring. Since moving to a 450 full-time in 2017, he has yet to fulfill his potential as a race winning threat, mostly due to injuries and setbacks. Some may argue that the Floridian’s window to win has closed. Stewart’s camp begs to differ.
For the third year in a row, Justin Barcia will be the lone entry for TLD/Red Bull/GasGas. Like his Husqvarna and KTM brothers, Barcia will be on familiar equipment in 2024. The platform is proven, and it is expected that his early season results will reflect an athlete who is comfortable with his bike and able to focus on fighting his competitors. That being said, Justin is over 30 years old and the list of racers who have won races past year 15 of their pro career is short. Once again, Barcia will have the full attention of Max Lee and the whole team. Can Bam Bam still make his presence felt?
RM Army Soldiers
As of this article’s release, Ken Roczen and Kyle Chisholm are the two contracted riders for Pipes Motorsports Group or HEP Motorsports Suzuki. Both athletes are based in Florida and are remarkably familiar with the RMZ 450. It’s a proven platform. Some will say that lack of development has the RMZ lagging and that’s fair criticism but this much is true, the bike can win. There are also rumors that the Zook could show up to Anaheim with electric start. Consistency is key for a guy like Roczen who has favored the yellow bikes since his days on a supermini. A tired platform perhaps, but counting out the HEP boys is a mistake. There is also word that the team will field a third rider in Shane McElrath who is mostly looking for stability at this point in his career. Those casting stones at the southern gentleman will say he has been a bust in the 450 career to date. I see consistent instability in his program being the main contributor for his sub-par results. Seven teams in three years is a recipe for disaster when it comes to a racer feeling confident about blitzing supercross whoops.
Beta’s Alpha Dogs
For the first time ever, Beta will field a team in AMA supercross. Benny Bloss and Colt Nichols are the inaugural season’s team riders and expectations must be completely up in the air. Colt Nichols is coming off a mostly successful rookie campaign where he rode shotgun with Chase Sexton en route to the first HRC AMA 450 title in nearly two decades. Since then, Colt has experienced instabilities with varied levels of support with both Madd Parts Kawasaki and Rick Ware Racing in WSX. Colt has at the very least shown his ability to adapt to different equipment in recent months. Will that translate into results that meet his potential at Beta? There is a fair bit of skepticism out there that a full year of supercross might be too much to handle for this relatively young manufacturer in this field. Bloss is a total wild card. The long-limbed athlete has the pedigree to threaten the top 10 every single weekend but many argue that he may end up in a few too many LCQs throughout the 2024 season. Flirting with disaster gets old fast but if Benny stays healthy, he will be a huge thorn in the side of anyone contending for top 10s.
Main image: KTM