JOLIET, Ill. — Team Honda HRC’s Jett Lawrence was back on the top step of the podium with a strong overall win at the SuperMotocross World Championship Playoff 2 inside Chicagoland Speedway.
Lawrence’s victory came via 1-2 moto scores in the event’s two-race format.
Progressive Insurance ECSTAR Suzuki’s Ken Roczen earned an emotional second-place finish just days after the birth of his second child; the win moved Roczen into third place in points with a clear path to winning the championship next weekend.
Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton earned third place overall on the high-speed, SuperMotocross track that stretched across the storied auto raceway.
In the 250 Class, Team Honda HRC’s Hunter Lawrence was back on top, winning both motos and recapturing the 250 Class points lead.
Jett Lawrence grabbed the holeshot in the first 450 Class moto with Troy Lee Designs Red Bull GASGAS Factory Racing’s Justin Barcia, Sexton, Muc-Off FXR ClubMX Yamaha’s Phil Nicoletti, and Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Dylan Ferrandis right behind. Sexton, the winner of both motos at Playoff 1, was quickly on the attack to take the lead, but Lawrence held his spot. Just before five minutes had ticked off the race clock Sexton made a tiny mistake exiting one of the sand turns; that was all it took for Lawrence to break free and sprint out of striking distance. The two Honda teammates put in similar lap times, each taking a different bike set-up approach to their race bikes.
Sexton was running a stiff Supercross-style suspension set-up and Lawrence had on his more compliant motocross-style suspension. The difference demonstrated the challenge of all the teams to find an ideal bike set-up for the custom built SMX track.
Just past five minutes into the 20-minute plus one lap moto, Ken Roczen took over third place from Barcia in a thrilling back-and forth that had the riders trade the lead multiple times through several sections.
The lead group looked mostly settled at that point, but Red Bull KTM’s Aaron Plessinger was on the move after a bad start that had him outside the top ten at the beginning of the race. Plessinger reached sixth place with just over six minutes on the clock and charged after Ferrandis. On the final lap Plessinger made the move into fifth.
At the checkered flag it was Lawrence, Sexton, Roczen, Barcia, then Plessinger.
The 450 Class moto two roared off the line and Nicoletti grabbed the holeshot and led Barcia, Lawrence, Sexton and Roczen. Lawrence and Roczen were both on the move on the opening lap. Lawrence took the lead from Nicoletti before a minute and a half was off the race clock.
Roczen was past Nicoletti forty seconds later and then right on Lawrence’s rear fender and pressing for the lead. Sexton eased into third place but the battle was just out of reach as Lawrence’s and Roczen’s pace pushed the front two into a race of their own.
Behind Sexton, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Cooper Webb reached fourth place with Ferrandis right behind. Throughout the race Roczen would fall back two seconds, then make a push and get right back up to Lawrence. With just over eight minutes left on the race clock Plessinger moved into fourth and the front group looked settled.
But in the closing laps Roczen closed the gap again and pressured Lawrence. With just over a minute left on the clock Lawrence waved Roczen past, relinquishing the lead but also eliminating the pressure.
Fans suspected a mechanical issue, but Lawrence explained later it was an attempt to help Roczen finish ahead of Sexton in the overall results; it was a strategy to gain maximum points on series-leader Sexton. Roczen pulled a comfortable gap while Lawrence maintained his lead over Sexton. Lawrence did earn the overall win and Roczen did finish second overall with Chase taking third. However, Lawrence’s unconventional race strategy did not impact the overall finishing order.
Going into the Final next weekend, which pays triple points, Sexton leads Lawrence by just two points and Roczen sits in third only 10 points back from the top spot.
When the gate dropped for moto one of the 250 class Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Haiden Deegan rocketed into the lead ahead of Red Bull KTM’s Tom Vialle, Hunter Lawrence, and Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Jo Shimoda. Shimoda, Playoff 1 winner, looked aggressive going after third but Lawrence held him off.
On the opening lap of the 20-minute plus one lap moto Lawrence made the move on Vialle to take over second at the same time Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing’s RJ Hampshire got around Shimoda to push him back to fourth. For the first half of the race all eyes were on the fluctuating gap between Deegan in the lead and Lawrence in close pursuit; it grew and tightened between 1.3 to 2.2 seconds. Seven minutes into the race Shimoda dialed up his aggression and took back fourth place. Thirteen minutes into the race Lawrence pulled up on Deegan’s wheel in a move for the lead. A minute later Deegan made a mistake in one of the track’s deep-rutted corners and wasn’t able to jump the finish line double. Lawrence flew past and soon after pulled a small gap on Deegan.
With 2:15 remaining on the race clock Shimoda moved past Vialle and set his sights on Deegan. The racer from Japan put in blistering laps and used momentum from an outside line to jump past Deegan. Shimoda set his sights on Lawrence, who had a two second lead at the white flag. Shimoda quickly closed the gap and got right on Lawrence’s rear tire. Then Shimoda took a hard jolt on an outside rut with a sharp hook in it. Shimoda bit his tongue and cut his chin on his handlebar; and so he dialed back his last-lap attack. Lawrence took the moto one win, Shimoda cruised to second and Deegan held on for third.
The second 250 moto provided even more excitement. Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Justin Cooper nabbed the holeshot with Shimoda, Lawrence, Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Ryder DiFrancesco, and Hampshire in tow. In just the opening lap Lawrence bumped past Shimoda in a corner, only to get re-passed by Shimoda in an immediate counterattack.
Shimoda set his sights on Cooper and four and a half minutes into the race Shimoda took over the lead while Lawrence sat third and Deegan had reached fourth. A minute later Lawrence overtook Cooper momentarily, but it took another lap of racing to secure the spot.
Lawrence now sat just one second back; between he and Shimoda, the winner of the moto would take the event overall and the $50,000 race win bonus. Vialle put in a strong push and got up to third place with eight and a half minutes left on the race clock. But Vialle broke his shift lever and, with his bike stuck in second gear, was out of the hunt for the race win.
With less than five minutes left on the clock the battle for the lead took a dramatic turn when Shimoda sensed something wrong with his bike. He later said that he backed down his pace to take the stress off his bike and ensure a finish.
Lawrence rode smooth to the checkered flag, the moto win, and with that the overall victory as well. The win gave Lawrence back the points lead going into the SuperMotocross World Championship Final next weekend.