As we roll into the 2023 Pro Motocross Championship, there are a lot of discussions on who the 'favorites' are. Everyone has an opinion, whether from the media and the preview shows, podcasts, or social media. The reality is we don't know. It's all bench racing, and we love it. We can make predictions, and if they work out, we look as though we know what we're talking about, and if they don't work out, it's racing.
With the defending champion, Eli Tomac, out after his ruptured Achilles, Chase Sexton may be the odds-on choice for winning the championship. Considering in 2022, going into the final round at Fox Raceway, Eli and Chase were separated by a single point where Tomac ultimately prevailed to win his fourth 450 motocross championship there's very little reason to think Chase won't pick right up where he left off. Then there's the 450-rookie sensation Jett Lawrence to consider. He won 250 outdoor titles in 2021 and 2022 and the Open class at last year's Motocross of Nations on a 450, beating Sexton. Jett Lawrence and Chase Sexton very well may be the future of our sport, but the 2021 Pro Motocross champion, Dylan Ferrandis, will have something to say about that.
Is Dylan Ferrandis a bit overlooked due to recency bias? Remember, he came into his rookie 450 season in '21 and won the outdoor championship with 12 podiums, including six wins. Numerous times he came from behind due to bad starts and still won. In 2022 Dylan only raced two nationals due to a thumb injury. He then raced the MXoN in the Open class finishing third behind Jett and Chase with very little seat time.
Since moving to the 450 class, Dylan's win percentage outdoors is 46.2%, and he has been on the podium 92.3% of his 13 starts. In comparison, the defending champ, Eli Tomac, in 24 starts, has a win percentage of 25% and a podium rate of 79.2%. What does this mean? In reality, it means very little. You have to stay healthy to win championships. For bench racing purposes, it means in the last two seasons, the #14 has a higher win percentage in races finished than the champ, which is a fun topic for discussion purposes. It also means Ferrandis, a former champion himself, is a title threat and should be considered a favorite.
As stated, staying healthy is priority one for these riders, and Dylan is coming off of a significant concussion suffered back at round 4 (5?) in February at Houston. Will there be any lingering effects? I talked to Dylan this week to check in with where he's at in his preparations, and he said, "I'm doing everything I can to be fit and ready for the first round of outdoors. My physical condition is not back to 100%. I missed some training and time working out. I need to get back on this, but I'm 100% healthy. My head and eyes are back to normal." Dylan spent three weeks at a center in France that helps with recovering from a brain concussion. What I take away from this is he doesn't believe the trauma has any lingering effects, but his stamina isn't where it needs to be for two 20 min plus a lap motos. This information affects the idea of him being a 'favorite.' How long will it take him to be at 100% with his conditioning? Only time will tell.
Then there is the bike itself. Dylan has admitted the new Yamaha was a work in progress, and they were trying to get it to his liking for Supercross. How much time have they had with outdoor testing, with Tomac focused on a Supercross championship and Ferrandis out with a concussion? Dylan told me, "It's complicated. It's still that new Yamaha, and we rode it in Supercross, but in motocross, we absolutely did not ride it. When I got back on it four weeks ago, that was the first time for the outdoors. We had zero data and testing on this bike. That's what we've been doing the last few weeks."
Is four or five weeks enough time to get a new bike competitive enough to run in the top five, all while racing yourself into shape? Again, only time will tell. Is the motorcycle even close at this point? Dylan said, "You never know what it will do under race conditions. You can make it work at the practice track, but it's difficult to replicate the extreme race conditions. We think for the first few rounds, we're going to learn a bit and have to be patient." I appreciate his honesty, but those things could be said for all the teams, though. `
I asked Dylan how he feels when the media picks another rider as the favorite or hypes up someone in particular. I wanted to know if that motivates him and if he feels like an underdog. He said, "It's difficult for me to answer. I feel I'm still a contender for the win. I see the speed I can go and how I can ride, but it comes down to how the bike will react on race day. If we have to tune things on race day, it's never easy. You can go in one direction in practice, and you don't know if it will work during the race. If the bike is the way I want at the first round, I think I can win." He didn't precisely answer if those things bother him, but from my previous conversations with him, I don't believe he focuses on superficial topics like that. He focuses on riding the best he can and getting the bike as perfect as possible. If he does those things, he believes in himself to be able to compete with anyone. I do as well.
Dylan Ferrandis must be considered a threat to win races throughout the season, but I'm not ready to pick him as a championship contender. He's missed too much competition this year, and having that race mentality the others have been in for the last few months takes some time to get back. The lack of testing time on the bike doesn't help his chances from the bench racing perspective, either. If Dylan were to come out and podium or even win races early, I wouldn't be overly surprised, but it is unlikely for the first month. Come mid-July, though, watch for the 14 to be on the top step of the podium and make a run for his second title.
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