Motocross

2022 SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP FLASHBACK: THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS

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2022 SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP FLASHBACK: THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS

By Trevor Nelson  Photos By Trevor Nelson & Brian Converse

The 2022 Supercross season was one for the books, as it returned to normal after two hectic years of canceled races, no fans and COVID tests every weekend. Oh, there was still the occasional COVID-19 test, but, for the most part, the stadiums were filled with fans, the riders lined up behind the gate, and the series didn’t visit the same venue three times in a row or have to race in the middle of the week. It was a by-the-book Supercross season—starting in Anaheim and ending in Salt Lake City 17 races later. 

Hopes were high at the start of the 2022 season, and if you told us how it would play out before it began, we would’ve called you crazy. How could anyone predict what would happen during a season of massive change? Before it even started at round one, riders jumped ship, often swapping factory rides. Jason Anderson, Aaron Plessinger, Malcolm Stewart and the most pivotal rider of the 2022 season, Eli Tomac, all changed teams for the 2022 Supercross season. You couldn’t tell the players by the color of their bikes anymore—Tomac from green to blue, Anderson from white to green, Stewart from blue to white, and Plessinger from blue to orange. It was a whole new ballgame. Everything was looking fresh for 2022. 

The premier 450 class was awaited with eager anticipation as some of the old hands, who had been plying the trade for a decade or more, were suddenly under pressure to perform as a handful of younger riders were trying to break through to the big time; one of them was Honda’s Chase Sexton. There was no doubt that the 450 class was getting a little geriatric, and after the first round, the top five in the 450 ranks were filled with 30-plus-year-old athletes. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, because as you went back in the places you could find 14 riders who were or would be 30 years old before the season endedand one who was 38 years old. For a sport built on wild and crazy 16-year-olds, this was a very uncommon rider demographic.

Typically, the young guns can perform exceedingly well because of their age and health. But, in 2022, wisdom and experience dominated throughout the series, while the younger riders found creative ways of getting injured. After the halfway point of the season, the 450 class was looking like the survival of the fittest, or maybe just the oldest.

AT THE FINAL ROUND IN SALT LAKE CITY, THERE WERE ONLY SIX FACTORY RIDERS LEFT TO LINE UP ON THE GATE.

Eli Tomac, a youngster of 30 years old, had ended his 10-year relationship with Team Kawasaki to head to Star Yamaha on a one-year deal in hopes of reviving a career that he seemed to have lost the enthusiasm for in 2021. Skepticism about Tomac’s move swept the industry as the roster at Star Yamaha was stacked, packed and jammed full of riders, most notably Frenchman Dylan Ferrandis, who had manhandled Eli Tomac in the 2021 AMA 450 Nationals. Eli Tomac was gambling on himself, and Star Yamaha was gambling that he had another year in him

ELI TOMAC, A YOUNGSTER OF 29 YEARS OLD HAD ENDED HIS 10-YEAR RELATIONSHIP WITH TEAM KAWASAKI TO HEAD TO STAR YAMAHA ON A ONE-YEAR DEAL IN HOPES OF REVIVING A CAREER THAT HE SEEMED TO HAVE LOST THE ENTHUSIASM FOR IN 2021.

It didn’t take long for Eli Tomac to find his groove in the 2022 season, aided in no small degree by an attrition rate that shocked even the most casual spectator. As his competition dropped out due to injuries, Eli got over a rough start to the season that initially had the pundits gloating. With every lap he put on the Star YZ450F, he got faster and more consistent. After his first win at Anaheim 2, Eli would go on a roll of podiums that eventually added up to seven wins and nine podiums. Eli had the 450-point standings in a chokehold, clinching the championship in the second-to-last round in his home state of Colorado.

The stands were full of true believers, and the hometown crowd erupted when Eli crossed the finish line, winning the first Supercross Championship for Yamaha in 13 years. Eli’s 450 Championship also marked his sixth title in Pro racing and his eighth consecutive season of being top four in the point standings. Eli turned his career around in 2022 by doing the unthinkable of switching to a bike that had seen a veritable merry-go-round of high-paid Pro racers walk away from what they called the “blue pig.” Eli Tomac proved them wrong and, as icing on the cake, his vaulted Star Yamaha teammate, Dylan Ferrandis, stunk up the stadiums and finally took the last seven races off to get ready for his outdoor title defense against the all-new, all-blue Eli Tomac.

But, Tomac was not the biggest comeback story of the 2022 Supercross season. Jason Anderson was another 30-year-old rider who found his magic after swapping teams for the 2022 season. Formerly at Rockstar Husqvarna, Jason jumped into Tomac’s deserted seat at the Monster Energy Kawasaki team. Jason was not hired as Kawasaki’s number-one rider—that would have been his younger teammate Adam Cianciarulo—but by the fifth round in Glendale, Arizona, Jason would be the only rider under the Kawasaki awning after Adam joined the walking wounded. Anderson had solid Supercross credentials, but they weren’t up to date. Anderson had won the AMA 450 Supercross Championship back in 2018 (winning four events), but his last win was back on March 3 of 2018 (and that was his last win indoors or outdoors). Thankfully for the team, Jason made it worth traveling to every round of the 17-race series, as the number 21 only warmed up on the KX450 at round one before he notched a win in the books. Jason would win seven races and secure second in the point standings by the end of the season. If it weren’t for a couple of mishaps that were disastrous in the points, including several run-ins with Malcolm Stewart, we could only imagine that Jason would’ve brought the title fight right down to the final round. Either way, Jason Anderson was on a redemption ride to find the previous groove that he had when he won that first championship back in 2018. Jason revived his career in 2022.

The battle for third place in the championship would be between three of the fastest riders in the entire series: Malcolm Stewart (29 yrs.), Justin Barcia (30 years old) and Marvin Musquin (32 years old). When it came down to the final round in Salt Lake City,  Malcolm Stewart had a slim points lead and would have to finish close to both Justin and Marvin to have the best year of his checkered career. His opponents weren’t going to make it easy for him. When the gate dropped for the final Supercross of the year, Justin Barcia would get a better start than the Rockstar Husqvarna rider, who had moved to Husky to take Jason Anderson’s place. Malcolm caught and flew by Justin Barcia in a rutted banked turn. Most insiders were amazed that Malcolm didn’t take Justin wide, which he has been known to do, because if you pass Justin Barcia you have to expect immediate retaliation.

A half a lap later, Justin cut across the inside on another banked turn and collided into Malcolm’s Husky. Malcolm flew off his bike and was also passed by Marvin Musquin and Cooper Webb. An angry Malcolm got up off the mat to run down and pass Webb and Musquin and pull close to Barcia as the checkered flag flew. The Salt Lake City crowd was incensed, and they started booing Justin Barcia and didn’t let up until no one was left in the stadium. Malcolm got the last laugh, because he ended up securing third in the 2022 Supercross Champion, while Justin got his just deserts and was penalized 10 points, which dropped him back to fifth in the series. He was also fined $10,000 for rough riding.

THE 250 EAST/WEST SERIES RACES IN FRONT OF THE SAME CROWD, ON THE SAME NIGHT, TAKES THE SAME RISKS AND OFTEN PROVIDES THE BIGGEST THRILLS FOR THE PAYING FANS, BUT THEY DO IT FOR A PITTANCE OF THE MONEY THAT THE 450 RIDERS MAKE.

The AMA 250 East/West Supercross series is an odd duck. It is not considered a National Championship, because it is divided into two halves, and no one who has ever been in the top 20 on a 450 is allowed to race against the 250 riders without AMA permission and proof that they aren’t good enough to wax them. It is a very strange situation, as they race in front of the same crowd, on the same night, takes the same risks and often provides the biggest thrills for the paying fans, but they do it for a pittance of the money that the 450 riders make. They are considered a support class, on the program to give the 450 riders a rest between the heat races and the people in the stands something to watch. The good news? They make more money than the KTM Pee-Wee riders, who are also on the program to fill dead air time. The 250 East/West riders will never get respect, equal treatment or big purses until the East and West are combined into one single, unified, AMA 250 Supercross Championship. Don’t hold your breath!

From the moment that the 250 West series started on the West coast, the bodies started to fall in the 250 class, including Star Yamaha’s two big hopes in the 250 class. Colt Nichols was injured at Anaheim 1 and Justin Cooper would fail to start the season with a broken foot leaving only Christian Craig and Nate Thrasher riding on the West coast. The other Star Yamaha riders all moved to the later starting 250 East division. 

Christian Craig, a 31-year-old rider, would take advantage of the opportunity by winning the majority of the West Coast races and finishing on the podium at nearly every round. The possibility of clinching the title in the penultimate race in Denver was ruined by a persistent Hunter Lawrence, who was delaying the inevitable to the final round in Salt Lake City. In the end, Christian Craig played it safe at the finale with an eighth-place finish to win the 250 West Championship, ending his 250 career on a high note before moving permanently to the 450s in 2023 for Husqvarna.

HUNTER LAWRENCE DOESN’T RECEIVE THE HYPE HE DESERVES. IN FACT, HE DOESN’T EVEN GET RAVE REVIEWS IN HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD, AS HIS YOUNGER BROTHER JETT IS ER BOY FOR YOUNG GIRLS (AND NO SMALL NUMBER OF OVER-ENTHUSIASTIC ADULTS).

Hunter Lawrence was one of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season. In the 250 East/West field Hunter doesn’t receive the hype he deserves. In fact, he doesn’t even get rave reviews in his own household, as his younger brother Jett is er boy for young girls in the stands (and no small number of over-enthusiastic adults). Jett clinched the 250 East title, which he had to move to after getting hurt before the season started. Hunter was scheduled for the 250 East, but moved to the 250 West so that his little brother could have more time to heal. Meanwhile, Hunter might have finished on the podium at every round had it not been for a rough 18th place at Anaheim 3. Just before the 250 West series season came to an end, Hunter went on a three-race win streak. He would go on to get a respectable second-place finish in the 250 West Championship being one of the two riders that would be a thorn in Christian Craig’s side. That other rider would be Michael Mosiman.

We could say the 250 East Coast played out very similarly to the West, but that simply was not true. The number of injuries on the East practically doubled as the riders who had healed up in time for racing would fall victim to their own curse again. Roughly 14 riders would sit out on the East Coast leaving only four factory riders to compete against each other. Thankfully, the racing wasn’t all boring as they were plenty of top-tier privateer riders who weren’t going to make it so easy for the 2022 250 champ Jett Lawrence. 

Jett had sustained a rib injury just a week before the 2022 season kicked off, forcing his brother to race on the opposite coast while he recovered for the East. This would benefit Honda as the Lawrence brothers would prove that the hype was real when it came to their talent and popularity. After the first 250 East round, it was clear that Jett was going to be a far stronger competitor than most thought. The only rider to truly compete with Jett for the championship was Cameron McAdoo, until he too would pull out of the season due to injury. Winning four out of the ten rounds and finishing on the podium at the rest, Jett Lawrence clinched the 250 East title at Foxborough, one round before the 250 East Championship wrapped up.

 

AS FOR A COMBINED, TRUE-TO-LIFE, 17-ROUND, 250 SUPERCROSS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, THAT WOULD BE THE EQUIVALENT OF THE AMA 250 OUTDOOR NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, IT IS CRICKETS IN THE BACKWARD THINKING HALLS OF THE AMA AND FELD MOTORPORTS.

Less noticed was R.J. Hampshire. Mounted on the all-new Husqvarna FC250 Rockstar Edition that he got just before the season started, Hampshire had time to discover what he was capable of on the FC250 thanks to half the field wiping out. It wouldn’t be until St. Louis that he would not only win a 250 East main event, but it would be the first 250 Supercross victory of his career. R.J. Hampshire may have only finished on the podium twice, but he stayed healthy, which guided him to finish second overall in the 250 East Championship.

GasGas’ Pierce Brown is another surprise competitor in the 2022 AMA 250 East series. Pierce would have extremely consistent finishes, but those would be offset by bizarre bike malfunctions and opponents confusing him for landing pads. Pierce remained in action to carry a positive attitude throughout the season. Thanks to his healthy mindset, Pierce would also finish third in the 250 East Championship, just like his teammate Michael Mosiman did in the 250 West. 

In a nutshell, the 2022 AMA Supercross Championship was back to normal after two convoluted years, but nothing about the racing in 2022 was normal.

Now head into 2023. Christian Craig has moved up, as have the inured Justin Coper and Colt Nichols, but everyone else is back for another try—and over the off-season the AMA dropped the pointing out rule. Which means that no rider will be forced out of the 250 East/West class ever again, unless he wins the Championship. As for a combined, true-to-life, 17-round, 250 Supercross National Championship, that would be the equivalent of the AMA 250 outdoor National Championship, it is crickets in the backward thinking Halls of the AMA and Feld Motorports.

2022 AMA 450 SUPERCROSS FINAL STANDINGS
(After 17 of 17 rounds)

1. Eli Tomac (Yam)…359
2. Jason Anderson (Kaw)…350
3. Malcolm Stewart (Hus)…314
4. Marvin Musquin  (KTM)…305
5. Justin Barcia (Gas)…302
6. Chase Sexton (Hon)…292
7. Cooper Webb (KTM)…278|
8. Brandon Hartranft (Suz)…178
9. Justin Brayton (Hon)…176
10. Dean Wilson (Hus)…152

2022 AMA 250 WEST SUPERCROSS FINAL STANDINGS
(After 10 of 10 rounds)

1. Christian Craig (Yam)…230
2. Hunter Lawrence (Hon)…220
3. Michael Mosiman (Gas)…197
4. Jo Shimoda (Kaw)…162
5. Nate Thrasher (Yam)…152
6. Vince Friese (Hon)…150
7. Chris Blose (Gas)…120
8. Garrett Marchbanks (Yam)…117
9. Robbie Wageman (Yam)…109
10. Jalek Swoll (Hus)…106

2022 AMA 250 EAST SUPERCROSS FINAL STANDINGS
(After 9 of 9 rounds)

1. Jett Lawrence (Hon)…192
2. R.J. Hampshire (Hus) …158
3. Pierce Brown (Gas)…149
4. Mitchell Oldenburg (Hon)…132
5. Enzo Lopes (Yam)…117
6. Jordon Smith  (Hon)…116
7. Cameron McAdoo (Kaw)…114
8. Jace Owen (Yam)…101
9. Austin Forkner (Kaw)…98
10. Derek Drake (Suz)…88

 

 

 

2022 SUPERCROSS CHAMPIONSHIP FLASHBACK: THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS Motocross Action Magazine.

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