Features 19 Jan 2023

Top 10: Anticipated events of 2023

The most pivotal races on this year's domestic and international calendar.

To the satisfaction of riders and racing fans alike, last year saw the global motorsport calendar take a major step in returning to its complete state. With exciting developments across a number of series, 2023 is shaping to be even bigger and better, as MotoOnline outlines a mixture of key events on both a domestic and international scale in this Top 10 feature.

Image: Octopi Media.

1. The SMX finals series:
Revolutionising the sport as we know it, a historic SuperMotocross World Championship has been formed by Feld Motor Sports and MX Sports Pro Racing, and commenced at Anaheim 1 this year. Operated in addition to both Supercross and Pro Motocross in the US with full factory involvement and a $10-million (USD) purse, the two companies jointly announced a landmark partnership that will see the series culminate at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, 14 October for the SuperMotocross World Championship finals. In terms of the format, the top 20 riders from combined Supercross and Pro Motocross standings will automatically be seeded into the SMX playoffs, which take place on hybrid SMX track designs. Riders in positions 21-30 overall, in addition to any rider who has won a main event/overall in either series will also be eligible, but will have to qualify for the 22-rider field within the remaining two gate picks. Leading into the playoffs, the points will be reset in both classes. The top 20 will be seeded into the playoffs using one event’s worth of Supercross points – 26 for the regular season points leader, 23 for second, 21 for third, 19 for fourth, then single point denominations to the 20th seed, making performance during the regular season crucial for playoff position. There will be two 20-minute motos in the SMX post-season using olympic scoring, where a tiered points-structure will see a maximum of 26 points awarded to the winner at the first of the playoff events, 52 points at the second and 78 points at the final round that will determine the ‘world champions’ of SMX. In total, the series spans 31 rounds, introducing a new strategy development for riders and teams to consider as anticipation continually builds to see what racing on these new hybrid track designs has to offer, come to the playoffs. Prior to the finals at LA Memorial Coliseum, SMX Playoff 1 will take place at zMAX Dragway in Concord on 9 September, North Carolina, and Playoff 2 will take place on 23 September at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet Illinois.

2. Australian ProMX opener at Wonthaggi:
The national MX1 class is stacked this year, with a vast number of contenders capable of winning races and fighting for the title if things align. Reigning champion Aaron Tanti will be equipped with the all-new YZ450F alongside returning former title winner Luke Clout in the CDR Yamaha Monster Energy camp, while Honda Racing boasts a formidable force in Jed Beaton and Kyle Webster. Furthermore, you can’t discount past champions Todd Waters (Husqvarna Racing Team), Kirk Gibbs (KTM Racing Team) and even a potential shock return out of retirement that has been teased by Dean Ferris on a Yamaha. The list of contenders doesn’t end there, but if that action isn’t enough, the MX2, MX3 and MXW classes surely won’t disappoint with riders vying to start their 2023 campaign in the best possible way. The dark loamy soil at Wonthaggi will once more play host to the opening round of the championship on 5 March, providing the perfect scene to get a first real look at how Australia’s best stack up in 2023. A notable mention regarding the ProMX calendar is that we’re expecting Coolum’s final round to be the venue’s last.

3. MXoN in France:
The Motocross of Nations (MXoN) made a highly-welcome return to normality for the most part last year, with a hungry Team USA taking coveted the Chamberlain Trophy for the first time in 11 years thanks to the efforts of Eli Tomac (MXGP), Justin Cooper (MX2) and Chase Sexton (Open). Notably, a promising Team Australia line-up of Mitch Evans (MXGP), Hunter Lawrence (MX2) and Jett Lawrence (Open) finished third, putting green and gold on the podium at the prestigious event for the second time in the country’s history. For 2023, the event will be held in Ernee, France, and has all of the potential ingredients to be an absolute thriller. While line-ups have not been officially announced, Team France is firmly set on winning and regaining the Chamberlain Trophy on home soil after finishing P2 at RedBud. Team USA will be out to prove they can again win away from home, and the emerging Team Australia line-up has its sights firmly set on making history and standing tall at the famed event for the first ever time. Add in the potential of Jeffrey Herlings making a return with Team Netherlands and a host of hungry nations and riders looking for success, and the racing between 20-22 October is sure to be electric.

4. Anaheim 1 Supercross:
Although it has already taken place, Anaheim 1’s Monster Energy Supercross Championship opener saw plenty of intense action across the 450SX and 250SX West classes. The first event at Angel Stadium represents our first true look at the new year’s bikes, teams and riders, while also providing initial insight into who has brought form into the upcoming season. Ultimately, defending champion Eli Tomac (Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing) debuted the all-new YZ450F in the best possible way, taking his first-ever victory 450SX at A1 ahead of a resurgent Cooper Webb (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Chase Sexton (Team Honda HRC). In 250SX West, Jett Lawrence (Team Honda HRC) didn’t waste any time in making his intentions for another title known, claiming a commanding victory to commence his campaign ahead of RJ Hampshire (Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing) and Cameron McAdoo (Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki).

5. Ironman final Pro Motocross push:
The final round of the Pro Motocross series this year holds extra significance. Not only will both 450MX and 250MX champions likely be crowned at Ironman Raceway on 26 August, but the concluding stop on the Pro Motocross calendar also marks the last round of SMX prior to the finals series commencing. Essentially, it provides riders one last chance to secure or improve their seed ahead of the playoffs. Despite the complete SMX season consisting of 31 rounds, every point counts and a last-minute improved seeding position could prove decisive, especially with the scores reset ahead of the finals series and each rider’s starting points total is dependent on their seed position.

Image: Foremost Media.

6. WSX Championship concludes in Melbourne:
In December 2021, the creators of the successful AUS-X Open were announced by the FIM as the promoters of the World Supercross Championship (WSX), commencing last year. With its two-round ‘pilot’ season complete, the series takes a step for 2023 and expands to six rounds, with the finals held at Marvel Stadium, Melbourne once more. The event last year was entertaining with the unique short back-to-back-to-back finals format providing intense racing. While it is unclear which marquee riders will compete in the series in 2023 due calendar clashes with other championships, having a world-level event again in Australia is exciting and the overall package that promoters SX Global bring to appeal to the masses is sure to entertain come 24-25 November.

7. MXGP season commences at Villa La Angostura:
With marquee contenders such as Jeffrey Herlings (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Romain Febvre (Kawasaki Racing Team) expected to be fighting fit and ready to compete in the complete 2023 MXGP World Championship, the upcoming season is shaping up to be a cracker. Last year saw Team HRC’s Tim Gajser storm to a dominant title victory, however, with his two main rivals from the season prior recovered and hungry for success, the title is sure to be hotly costed. The season-opening MXGP of Argentina acts as the first real form check, and will also see the maiden outing of Australia’s Mitch Evans on the world stage since making the switch to Kawasaki Racing Team. Adding to the list of contenders, you can never count out the fast-starting Jorge Prado (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing), with Monster Energy Yamaha MXGP again boasting a highly-capable line-up of Jeremy Seewer, Glenn Coldenhoff and Maxime Renaux who enters his second season in the class after a highly impressive rookie campaign. Who brings speed into the new season? Will there be a changing of the guard? The answers will begin to take shape when gates drop at Villa La Angostura on 12 March.

8. Supercross Showdown number one:
The 250SX East/West Showdown races always provide intense racing, with quarter-litre contenders vying for outright bragging rights as the fastest 250cc Supercross rider in the series. East Rutherford hosts the first of two Showdowns this year on 23 April, relatively late in the Monster Energy Supercross Championship. It’s always exciting to see how the Lawrence brothers stack up after racing opposite coasts, with Hunter standing tall last year in the first Showdown at Atlanta. There is often talk and criticism surrounding which coast is more competitive, and which coast has the faster riders, but when the gates drop the outcome on track does the talking. Also, factoring in the new SMX structure this year, the Showdown rounds will act as a Supercross measuring stick for all 250 contenders ahead of the finals series taking place on hybrid track layouts later in the year.

9. Australian Supercross:
After two frustrating years of absence due to coronavirus, the Australian Supercross Championship (AUSX) made a welcome return last season, with Justin Brayton (Honda Racing) taking a record fifth-consecutive SX1 title and teammate Max Anstie clinching the SX2 crown at the conclusion of the four-round series. While the calendar for the championship this year has not been confirmed, a partnership with the NSW Government leaves the potential for Newcastle to continue to host a round in 2023 and 2024. Also, with the WSX Championship finals announced over two days, it is expected a round of AUSX this year will again take place at Marvel Stadium alongside the event on 24-25 November, most likely on the Friday night again. With plenty of storylines unfolding in AUSX last year, notably the resurgence of Matt Moss (BBR 102 Motorsports Yamaha), many wait with bated breath to see what the 2023 season has in store.

10. The coveted Dakar Rally:
Despite being run and won for 2023, the coveted event is easily the most high-profile and prestigious in the off-road racing world. This year’s instalment again provided its share of elevating highs and heartbreaking lows, with the title going right down to the wire and Australia’s Toby Price coming agonisingly close to a third Dakar Rally victory, ultimately finishing P2 to teammate Kevin Benavides by just 43 seconds after 44 hours of competition. Fellow Australian Daniel Sanders (Red Bull GasGas Factory Racing) finished the rally in seventh, notably leading the race in week one after winning stage three. Unfortunately, a case of food poisoning and a thorn in his right arm would ultimately hinder the Sanders throughout the middle stages, subsequently seeing him fall down the order heading into the second half of the rally, but he gained strength with a series of stage podiums in the final days. It was a devastating outcome for reigning Dakar champion Sam Sunderland (RedBull GasGas Factory Racing) who crashed out in the opening stage with a broken shoulder, prematurely ending his title defence. 2020 champion Ricky Brabec (Monster Energy Honda) was also forced to withdraw from the event after a crash in the third stage with neck pain.