Features 20 Jun 2024

Top 10: Topics to follow in ProMX

Key points to be aware of at the halfway point of the 2024 season.

The opening half of the 2024 Penrite Australian ProMX Championship has delivered its share of captivating storylines that are unfolding, with each category currently wide-open four races in. As the series heads towards this weekend’s fifth round at Murray Bridge, MotoOnline takes a closer look at the Top 10 topics to follow.

Image: Foremost Media.

1. The Webster vs Beaton battle:
Easily the biggest talking point is the pressure-cooker situation we’re seeing develop in the Thor MX1 class. Just one marker separates the two main title contenders, Kyle Webster and Jed Beaton (CDR Yamaha Monster Energy), and if the second half of the series maintains the same parity, we’re looking at the closest-fought MX1 title in years. Boost Mobile Honda Racing’s Webster caused a more-than-minor stir at the Maitland’s fourth round when he left the venue with the overall win on points countback over Beaton. Hard-pack, rutted circuits typically aren’t Webster’s forte, and Craig Dack’s CDR team had fancied Beaton’s chances of regaining the red plate there. If anything, Maitland proved just how far Webster has developed as an all-rounder, he’s no longer just a soft terrain specialist. That means Beaton is going to have to dig deeper than ever if he wants to regain – and keep – the series lead heading into QMP’s final round.

2. Three new champions will be crowned:
The Maitland round threw up a sudden plot twist when reigning champion Dean Ferris crashed hard in early qualifying and missed the round with concussion and broken metatarsal bones in his hand. CDR Yamaha Monster Energy’s Ferris had been trying to stay in touch with Beaton, Webster and third-placed Nathan Crawford (KTM Racing Team), but his DNF at a crucial three-moto round means he’s now 98 points behind. With last year’s MX3 – Byron Dennis – and MX2 – Wilson Todd – champions jumping up to MX2 and MX1 respectively, the door has now been opened for all three classes to see new champions crowned. Ironically, all of last year’s winners are currently on the injured list, with Todd out with an extensive friction burn to his leg, and Dennis sidelined with a broken arm.

3. Crawford continues to impress:
With two MX1 moto wins against his name already in 2024, Crawford has been one of the big revelations after stepping up to the premier class this year. The KTM Racing Team rider took a memorable first-ever 450 race win at Horsham’s second round, then backed it up again at Maitland when he ended up on top after a dramatic opening moto that saw the race lead change five times. Now sitting comfortably third in the points, Crawford is looking good for a championship podium, provided he can continue to pull good starts and keep the frontrunners of Webster and Beaton honest. Even though he’s got a sizeable 25-point gap to cross to be in contention for the championship, Crawford is one of those racers who’ll never die wondering, especially as he has a handy 28-point buffer over fourth-placed Kirk Gibbs.

Image: Foremost Media.

4. Maitland nightmare for Connolly:
Over the first three rounds of the championship, Brodie Connolly could do no wrong. He’d won five of the opening six motos, stood on top of the box at each stop, and amassed a 38-point lead over his Honda Racing team-mate, Noah Ferguson. But at Maitland, the wheels came off for the New Zealander. In the opening race he tangled with another rider on the start straight and went down, eventually limping home in 19th. Still feeling the effects of the crash, the Polyflor Honda Racing rider wasn’t his usual self for Sunday’s two races, eventually finishing the weekend in seventh overall. Literally overnight, Connolly’s series lead was slashed from 38 points to just 12 over Ferguson, and he’ll have to put in another big shift over the next few rounds to rebuild that buffer. Murray Bridge’s softer surface and harder base should suit his riding style and he’ll be very keen to reassert his authority on the MX2 field this weekend.

5. Ferguson and Kingsford need to capitalise:
Connolly’s misfortune at Maitland came at the benefit of both of his main rivals, Ferguson (Boost Mobile Honda Racing) and Ryder Kingsford (Yamalube Yamaha Racing), the latter of whom claimed the round win at that dramatic fourth round. The pressure is now on both of these guys to strike again while the iron is hot and momentum is on their side. Ferguson in particular has proven multiple times he potentially has better raw speed than Connolly, but he needs to minimise his bad starts so he’s not having to work his way through the order before he can challenge the Kiwi. As for Kingsford, he’s a Wonthaggi regular as part of the Beaton’s Pro Formula training crew, and Murray Bridge probably has the most relatable soil of all the tracks in the second half of the series. Securing another top result on Sunday would give his title hopes a real boost.

6. Hard-pack specialists to finish strongly:
So far the 2024 ProMX Championship has thrown in an equal portion of softer terrain circuits (Wonthaggi and Gillman) and hardpack rounds (Horsham and Maitland), which has played a part in the unpredictable results across all the classes. However, Murray Bridge offers the last chance for the loam specialists before the championship heads to the hard-pack Queensland venues of Toowoomba, MX Farm (Gympie) and QMP. Even then, Murray Bridge isn’t your classic soft track, with an unpredictable hard base lurking just beneath the top layer. For the most part though, the tracks we’ll visit over the second half of the series will benefit the riders who tend to excel more on the harder circuits, such as Luke Clout (Empire Kawasaki) and Crawford in MX1, as well as Ferguson and Rhys Budd (Raceline Husqvarna Racing) in MX2, to name a few.

7. Gibbs vs Clout vs Waters:
The battle for the MX1 minor placings is emerging as a fascinating one, as three former champions, Kirk Gibbs (GasGas Racing Team), Clout, and Todd Waters (Raceline Husqvarna Racing), regularly find each other on the track. Gibbs has been his trademark picture of consistency aboard his new GasGas, and is getting faster as each round passes, while Clout – also on new machinery for 2024 – has shown plenty of promise and raw speed, particularly at Horsham where he led most of the opening MX1 moto. As for Waters, a podium result at Gillman proved he can never be counted out. Entering Murray Bridge, just two points separate Gibbs and Clout, with Waters 14 points further back.

Image: Foremost Media.

8. Larwood to make up ground:
Froth Honda Racing’s new 2024 signing Alex Larwood has bled a lot of MX2 points after missing Wonthaggi’s second moto and all of Horsham’s second round with a broken leg, and sits ninth in the standings. However, he was clearly on a mission at Maitland, finishing the weekend third overall with a 3-3-4 result, indicating that even though he’s realistically out of title contention, he’s happy to play the role of series spoiler. On top of that, Murray Bridge is a home race for the South Australian, and he’ll have plenty of friends and family barking at him from the sidelines on Sunday. If Larwood continues to carry that front-running pace and stays healthy for the second half of the series, there’s a good chance he’ll snatch more podiums and claw his way into the top five by the time we reach Queensland.

9. Opportunities for returning riders:
We probably won’t see any previously injured front-runners line up for Murray Bridge, but it’s likely that reigning champion Ferris will return for the three Queensland rounds. Toowoomba was the turning point for his crown last year as he clean-swept the MX1 class, and after a disappointing championship leading up to his Maitland injury, the four-time champion will be very keen to finish his season strongly. Staying with MX1, there hasn’t been any word on Wilson Todd’s return after his terrible friction burn, but there’s still a possibility he’ll line up for more races this year. In MX2, it’s expected that Dennis should also be back on the gate for Toowoomba next month.

10. Cannon hunting down the MX3 leaders:
While WBR Bulk Nutrients Yamaha riders Koby Hantis, Kayd Kingsford and Kobe Drew are currently enjoying their lockout of the MX3 podium, they’re all looking over their shoulders as Honda Racing’s Jake Cannon looms large behind them. After missing the opening round recovering from a pre-season crash, Cannon has gotten stronger and faster as each round passes, and has won four of the last five motos. With four rounds still to go, Cannon is only 10 points off Drew’s third-placed spot, and just 18 points off Hantis’ position at the top of the ladder. If Cannon can continue his impressive run of form this weekend, there’s a good chance he’ll find himself in the top three, and within striking distance of the red plate.