Features 20 Oct 2022

Countdown: WSX Australian GP storylines

Seven things to watch for leading into 2022 finals in Melbourne.

With gate-drop at the 2022 World Supercross Championship (WSX) Australian Grand Prix right around the corner, there are a number of intriguing developments and storylines entering Melbourne. In this Countdown, MotoOnline highlights seven key points to keep a close eye on as the action unfolds at Marvel Stadium.

Image: Supplied.

7. Off-track entertainment:
Alongside the hard-fought WSX, SX2 and AUSX championships, there will be a host of off-track entertainment happening in an attempt to appeal to the masses. Freestyle motocross shows and pyro-technics, as well as local artists Peking Duk and Bliss n Eso will be performing across the Australian WSX GP weekend to help enhance the atmosphere for those in attendance.

6. New riders in the mix:
Wildcard riders could certainly throw a spanner in the works this weekend, with Australian outdoor front-runner Kyle Webster (Honda Genuine Polyflor Honda Racing) fresh off a stint training in the US. He will be joined on the WSX grid by longtime international Brett Metcalfe (KTM Racing Team), who finished fourth in the national SX1 standings the last time the domestic series was held in 2019 and was runner-up to Justin Brayton the year before. In SX2, former MX2 World Championship regular Nathan Crawford will compete with the KTM Racing Team, who alongside Yamalube Yamaha Racing’s Rhys Budd, will form Australia’s local representation in the 250 division, both recognised as two of the top emerging riders in the category. Also, filling in for the injured Chad Reed and Josh Grant at MDK Motorsports are Jackson Richardson and Joel Wightman. Two-time Australian SX2 champion Richardson – also a former AMA regular – had already made plans to return to racing this year with Empire Kawasaki in the Australian Supercross Championship (AUSX) on a KX450, having competed little since piloting a privateer Honda to 13th in the SX1 standings three years ago. The opportunity comes as a breakthrough of sorts for Wightman, who finished eighth in the Penrite ProMX Championship this year as a privateer Yamaha entry in MX1. He claimed seventh in the 2019 national SX1 standings with a best result of P6 in Adelaide and he took a top 10 at the Melbourne round. In addition, American Alex Ray will also be in Melbourne as a fill-in at PMG Suzuki after Justin Starling was ruled out in Cardiff.

5. International flavour:
Australia previously held the AUS-X Open, which attracted international flavour, but never to the extent of the representation in Melbourne for the WSX finals. This week marks Honda Genuine Fire Power Honda Racing’s Ken Roczen’s first visit to Australia and the German is joined by a host of riders from Europe, America and the UK. In total, riders from eight countries will take to the track and battle it out for the glory of being called world champion, marking the widest range of riders that have competed at an Australian SX event.

4. Friese in the hunt: 
A podium finish alongside Eli Tomac (Yamaha) and Roczen was a valuable reward for the MotoConcepts rider Vince Friese who delivered when it counted to land P3 in Wales. Despite showing solid pace throughout the event, Friese really found his stride at Principality Stadium when gates dropped for racing and charged to P2 in his heat race, able to capitalise on a mistake from Tomac. He continued that form into the opening final with another second-place finish, before leading the opening half of final two and ultimately crossing the line P3. Fifth in the Super Final was enough for Friese to notch a podium finish overall at the British GP courtesy of 2-3-5 scores and he enters Marvel Stadium’s finals just three points from Roczen.

Image: Supplied.

3. AUSX championship crossover:
A unique dynamic about the WSX Australian GP weekend is that it will crossover with the opening round of the 2022 AUSX championship and a range of contenders will race on both nights at Marvel Stadium (AUSX Friday/WSX Saturday). Notably, Justin Brayton will line up with Honda Genuine Polyflor Honda Racing for AUSX in a bid for a fifth-straight Australian Supercross title and compete with MotoConcepts for WSX. Luke Clout (CDR Yamaha Monster Energy), Dean Wilson (Honda Genuine Firepower Honda Racing), Wilson Todd (Honda Genuine Firepower Honda Racing) and Australian wildcards Brett Metcalfe (KTM Racing Team), Kyle Webster (Honda Genuine Polyflor Honda Racing), Rhys Budd (Yamalube Yamaha Racing) and Nathan Crawford (KTM Racing) will compete on both nights. However, an intriguing aspect regarding the crossover is that Aaron Tanti (CDR Yamaha Monster Energy) will have to juggle between a YZ450F for AUSX and a YZ250F for WSX. Likewise Matt Moss, but the number 102 will have even more of a challenge as he competes on a Kawasaki KX250 with Bud Racing for WSX and will ride on the BBR 102 Motorsports Yamaha YZ450F in AUSX. Australian MDK Motorsports fill-in riders Richardson and Wightman will get to use their AUSX bikes in WSX due to MDK not having any direct ties to a manufacturer.

2. All to play for in SX2:
Following an intense yet sporadic three finals in Wales for many of the top contenders, SX2 leading trio Shane McElrath (Rick Ware Racing Yamaha), Chris Blose (Bud Racing Kawasaki) and Mitchell Oldenburg (MotoConcepts Honda) are separated by just three points. Both Oldenburg and Blose have raced at Marvel Stadium previously – back in 2019 for the AUS-X Open, but McElrath leads the 2022 series thanks his consistency. Oldenburg showed electric pace in Cardiff, however, admittedly made a ‘bone-headed’ move in the second final which caused him to fall and lose precious points. Blose used prior experience with the format to help navigate the three races at Principality Stadium and will be looking to do the same in Melbourne in the bid to secure the title. American Carson Brown (GSM Yamaha), home-hero Tanti and Cardiff final two winner Max Anstie (Honda Genuine Firepower Honda Racing) are all within eight points of the lead and cannot be counted out, especially when the intensity and unpredictability of the WSX race format are factored in.

1. Roczen effectively leads:
It was a mix of results for Roczen in his first WSX appearance in Cardiff, notching 3-2-4 finishes in the finals. The number 94 left Principality Stadium second in the WSX standings to Tomac, but with Tomac only a wildcard for Cardiff and not competing at round two in Australia it means the number 94 approaches Marvel Stadium in a strong position to clinch the title. He leads the fast-starting and ever-aggressive Friese by three points ahead of the three finals remaining and showed he means business in Wales just weeks after losing his Team Honda HRC ride in the US.