The Vault

2019 Motocross Season

New blood. With four high-profile rookies moving up to the 450 ranks, that was the theme as 2019 approached. Joey Savatgy, Justin Hill, Zach Osborne, and Aaron Plessinger were all set to see what they could do against established superstars like Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Jason Anderson, Marvin Musquin, Justin Barcia, and more, and as the first gate drop of Monster Energy AMA Supercross drew closer, there was no shortage of hype surrounding these rising stars. Of course, racing rarely follows a script, and while there were plenty of highlights in the races to come, most were created by the sport’s established stars.

The first blow to the crop of rookies landed on Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Osborne when he bent a plate on his collarbone that had been there since his amateur days, causing him to miss the first six rounds. He improved steadily after returning, and even scored a second at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, but as soon as he seemed to find his stride, supercross ended. Things weren’t too different for factory Yamaha’s Plessinger. He put in a few solid rides, with a fifth being his best, but broke his heel in Daytona, causing him to miss the rest of the season. JGR Suzuki’s Hill, who had a reputation for summoning incredible, top-shelf speed seemingly out of nowhere, never found his pace on the 450. The best he could muster were a few top-ten finishes. Savatgy ended up being the most solid of the four by far. Riding for Monster Energy Kawasaki, Savatgy never landed on the podium, but he led 13 more laps than all the other rookies combined (Osborne led one), had a host of top-ten finishes, a few top-fives, and finished out the SX season in eighth, despite missing a pair of main events.

By far the biggest news early in the season broke when defending 450SX champ Jason Anderson crashed hard while practicing before Oakland and sustained a laundry list of injuries, including a broken arm, broken ribs, collapsed lung, lacerated liver, and injuries to his back. The crash would keep Anderson out of action for the rest of the season.

The racer who surprised everyone was Cooper Webb. New to the Red Bull KTM squad after two mediocre seasons at Monster Energy Yamaha, Webb started the season with a fifth and tenth at the first two races but took charge at round three by taking the win, his first in the premier 450SX class. He backed it up the following weekend in Oakland, landing him the red plate, which he lost the following week in San Diego—one of the muddiest and wettest supercross races in history. From that point on, Webb found himself in a dogfight between Tomac and Roczen for the lead, and eventually regained it in Arlington. This time it was for good, and by the time it was all over, Webb had racked up seven wins and was the newest Monster Energy AMA Supercross Champion. Few saw it coming—including Webb himself, who stated that his goal at the beginning of the season was “to try to win one race.”

Elsewhere in the class, Eli Tomac had a solid start to the season but in the opening stages seemed to lack the outright, mind-melting speed he’d had in previous years. On the flipside, he wasn’t having the big, costly crashes he’d become somewhat known for either. By the time the SX series reached the halfway point he started consistently putting together wins, but by then Webb was too far gone: on the nights Tomac didn’t win, Webb usually did. One rider who was maneuvering into a position to challenge Webb late in the season was his teammate, Marvin Musquin. The friendly Frenchman won in Indianapolis and Seattle, which would have put him within seven points of Webb with five races remaining. That’s not exactly how it played out, however. Early in the race, Chad Reed and Justin Brayton went down hard, prompting a medical flag. Musquin slowed through the section but failed to keep his wheels on the ground—a requirement when the medical flag is out. The rules allowed Musquin to keep the win, but he was penalized points and purse money equal to two positions in the final results, plus an additional two points. In other words, he earned 19 points (the same as Webb that night) instead of the full 26 usually earned for a win. Musquin never found himself within striking distance of Webb after that.

The action in the 250SX West Region was all over the map. Star Racing Yamaha’s Colt Nichols got things going by winning the opener and ripping off three straight podiums after that, but disaster struck for him in San Diego when the skies opened up, creating what resembled a lake on the floor of Petco Park. While running second, Nichols spun out and lost numerous positions, eventually crossing the line in tenth. Just like that, the points lead was gone; the season quickly morphed into a duel between Dylan Ferrandis and Adam Cianciarulo, and by the time the Las Vegas finale rolled around, the Frenchman and the Floridian were the only riders in the class still in championship contention. Things were looking good for Cianciarulo, who held an eight-point lead on Ferrandis, meaning a fifth or better for Cianciarulo would clinch the title no matter what. That didn’t seem like a tall order, especially considering Cianciarulo hadn’t finished worse than fifth all season. But anything can happen in racing, and it did that night. After working his way into third, Cianciarulo went down with just three minutes remaining and, thanks to a twisted machine, was done for the night, handing the title to Ferrandis.

In the 250SX East Region, Chase Sexton faced a similar situation at the finale, although his season had played out quite differently. The GEICO Honda rider was fast but was a clear second all season to Austin Forkner, who started the season by winning the first three races. In fact, Sexton didn’t beat Forkner all season until Forkner, who’d had big crashes all season during qualifying, hurt his knee in qualifying in Nashville and was unable to race. He tried to race the following week in East Rutherford but wasn’t able to finish the main event. Sexton, who’d been putting up good points in each round, was there to take advantage, winning the race and clinching the title a week later in Las Vegas. Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Forkner would end up third in the series behind Sexton and Justin Cooper, with Martin Davalos, who was racing his last season on the 250, and Alex Martin rounding out the top five.

The turnaround from supercross to Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross was a quick one: the season opener kicked off two weeks after the Las Vegas SX with a pair of feel-good races at Hangtown. HRC Honda’s Ken Roczen, who’d overcome several major injuries and hadn’t won a national since trouncing the field in 2016, finally broke through to get an overall win via 1-2 moto scores on a track that was fairly muddy from rain.

“It’s been a very long time, and overall the whole day was good,” a relieved Roczen said afterward. “It’s difficult to know what to expect at the first race, but every time I went out there, I just did the best I could. I got the overall, and I’m very happy, especially considering how muddy and sloppy it was. It can go the other way too.” In the 250 Class it was Cianciarulo who finally had something to smile about after handing the 250SX West title to Dylan Ferrandis just two weeks prior. The Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider showed everyone his soul-crushing DNF in Las Vegas hadn’t extinguished his fight by going 2-1 for the overall.

As the season wore on it was Tomac who would take control of the 450 Class, although Roczen did his best to complicate matters for the reigning champ. Tomac would take over the points lead the following week at Fox Raceway in Pala with a perfect 1-1 performance, only to see Roczen come storming back one week later at Thunder Valley to win the overall and retake the lead by two points. The two heavyweights continued to slug it out, with Tomac coming back to win at High Point and tie things up at 176 points each. Tomac would stretch out a six-point lead a week later in Florida in what can only be described as one of the most sweltering tests of fitness ever in American motocross. That sauna of a round at WW Ranch became the turning point of the season for both Tomac and Roczen. Neither would win the next round at The Wick 338 in Southwick—that honor went to Musquin—but Roczen simply wasn’t able to produce the same results he’d turned out in the opening stretch of the season. Roczen eventually returned to the winner’s circle by posting perfect 1-1 scores at Unadilla, but the damage had been done. Despite his outstanding ride at Unadilla he sat third in points, one back of Musquin and 41 points behind Tomac with just two rounds remaining. Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Tomac would clinch his third consecutive 450 Class MX title at the penultimate round at Budds Creek, while Musquin would relinquish second in points to Roczen at the finale when Musquin suffered a knee injury in the second moto that would cause him to miss the entire 2020 season of Monster Energy Supercross.

In the 250 Class there would be no games of musical chairs with the red plates. Cianciarulo, who referred to his win at the season opener as a “nice indication,” rode nearly flawlessly at the first four rounds, not missing the podium in any moto and winning every overall to establish a 26-point lead over Justin Cooper.

Early on it seemed as though Star Racing Yamaha’s Justin Cooper might be able to mount some sort of challenge to Cianciarulo if the points leader were to falter. After all, Cooper had won the first moto of the season, won another moto a week later, and even tied for the overall with Cianciarulo at Thunder Valley. There wasn’t much love lost between the two, either, as Cooper and his team filed an unsuccessful protest against Cianciarulo at Thunder Valley after Cianciarulo had a short off-track excursion. When Cooper finally broke through for his first career national win at round five in Florida, where Cianciarulo went 5-3 for third, an already simmering situation appeared as though it might boil over. Cianciarulo held strong, though, responding with a win in Southwick and maintaining great consistency for the remainder the season.

The biggest threat to Cianciarulo’s title run came from Ferrandis. The Yamaha rider didn’t have a bad first half, but he came on especially strong in the second half, winning seven of the final twelve motos and placing no worse than fourth down the stretch. Cianciarulo maintained form, however, taking wins when they were there and avoiding any big, costly mistakes. When the series traveled to the finale at Ironman Raceway, Ferrandis’ title hopes were alive, but he’d need a near miracle to yank yet another title away from Cianciarulo, who led by 30 points. When the gate dropped, Ferrandis brought the heat, going 1-1 on the day, but Cianciarulo battled his way past Cooper to take second, earning him his first career championship.