Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen and current point leader Cooper Webb were highlights this past week in Atlanta, and deservedly so. Each of the three have been the story of the year when it comes to championship talks, each collected 63, 64 and 65 points, all three riders took home two pieces of hardware, and each split the three Atlanta races this past week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Webb holds a 16 point gap on route to his second career Monster Energy AMA Supercross 450 championship.
But while Atlanta proved a fantastic setting for the two rounds at Salt Lake City to declare the 2021 champion, it also showcased the rookie class in that two of this year’s riders truly belong at the top level.
Chase Sexton and Rookie-Year Supercross Expectations
“It’s hard to set real expectations because this is a new class for me,” Chase Sexton said in a preseason press conference earlier this year.
For Sexton, the beginning of the year was a rough start for the Team Honda HRC competitor. While coming off a victory at Fox Raceway in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross championship at Fox Raceway, he finished his first two races outside of the top-10. Houston 2 was a stellar performance for the 21-year old rookie, leading his first six laps in 450 competition. However, a shoulder-injury crash pulled Sexton from six races in the season.
His comeback was nothing short of impressive.
Starting at Daytona International Speedway, he earned his first career top-10 finish, then followed that up in Arlington with back-to-back top-five finishes.
Sexton earned his first career podium with a runner-up finish at Atlanta 1 behind reigning champion Eli Tomac. He proved it was no fluke with another second place on the podium behind his teammate and championship contender, Roczen, and left Atlanta with another top-10 result.
“It was a challenge out there,” Sexton shared after Atlanta 1. “I had this back half dialed in. I felt like I was gapping Eli back here and he was catching me on the front side. Overall, it was a big push for me. Excited to be on the podium.”
After another dominating performance at Atlanta 1, keep an eye on the young Honda rider to sneak a victory in Utah.
Dylan Ferrandis: From the Boos to the Bigs
Ferrandis’ riding style was tense, tight and aggressive when he competed for the Western Regional 250SX Class. His prime example was at Round 6 in San Diego. While battling Austin Forkner for the lead after a few failed pass attempts, Ferrandis hunted him down again with a diving pass that sent the Kawasaki rider off the track and too far back to mount a counter attack. The win extended Ferrandis’ point lead over Forkner, setting him as the championship favorite with two rounds left.
There were more jeers than cheers for that podium presentation.
“I just gotta be a little bit better,” said the Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing competitor. “We were both riding good, we were riding good all day. In qualifying we would’ve been first and third out of everybody, total, 450 guys, everybody, so we’re riding good, It’s déjà vu pretty much of last weekend, just led longer this weekend.”
Fast forward to 2021, his perception was met with mixed optimism when Ferrandis graduated to the 450SX level. But the French rider also proved his name deserved to be in the mix as well. His first podium came in just his second race at Houston 2 and the Yamaha rider has gathered nine top-10 finishes with two races left. But this year, he’s taking it slower and keeping his learning hat on.
“Like I said in the past, it’s the first year at Star Racing team with the 450,” said Ferrandis. “So everybody is just learning the bike, learning the program, learning how a 450 works. It’s hard. So many good guys, just getting a good start is so difficult. Everybody is learning.”
Ferrandis set high and aggressive goals for himself in his rookie season, looking at podiums and even a win in the 450 SX class. While he stays focused on learning how to ride smoother, faster and quicker, he clearly isn’t satisfied when he’s not on a podium.
“Every time I’m not on the podium I’m not really satisfied. For sure, Orlando was good that we could see that I still had the speed, and the bike was working great. (Atlanta 3) was the same. We still see that physically and the speed was there. It’s kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. I ride for wins. Until I’m on the podium, I’m not really happy.”
In fact, when examining all this now, it’s hard to look back and realize that Ferrandis himself shared with the media that he felt like he might not belong to the 450 class quite yet. With his strong rookie performance, he has gained a brand new perspective and is another strong candidate to steal a victory in the Beehive State.
“I start to feel like I’m part of this 450 pack. I really want to try to get one more podium before the end of this season, so I’m really focused on that. There’s so many good riders. You can’t. But I think for the first year, the outdoor season (Motocross) could be a little easier than the Supercross season where you have to learn a lot and to make your bike really good for the 450 main events.”
It’s hard to say how the top two rookies would have truly paired up had it not been for Sexton’s injury earlier this season, but the future is bright for both as they look to wrap up their rookie seasons in Utah.
Photo by Align Media