Photo Report | What Happened at the 2023 Atlanta Supercross
By Billy Rainford
2023 was my first trip to Atlanta for the Supercross held at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I’ve been to both of the stadiums before but never the infield of the big NASCAR track southwest of the city. To say traffic was “snarled” in downtown Atlanta would be an understatement. With the 3 right lanes closed on I-75 in one of the busiest sections of city highway in North America, the chaos it created meant I was going to be late to the track and miss free practice.
I rolled in and could hear the bikes on the track. I never like showing up late. Truthfully, I pulled over for a nap in the #DMXVan last night at 2am and as soon as my head hit the pillow I was out before I had a chance to remove my glasses or set an alarm. I was an hour away from the track and free practice was up in 30 minutes. There was no way around it, I was going to be late.
When I finally made it out to the track, I liked what I saw. The track was long, tough, and had more than a few sections that would separate riders: 2 sets of whoops – check. A wall jump – check. An over/under – check… this place had it all.
On a track that somehow looked more Daytona than Daytona, our Canadian hero RRCZ KTM rider #551 Guillaume St Cyr from Quebec was coming out of the pits and lining up to head out onto the track for his first qualifying session in 250 Group B. Unfortunately, he hit the ground hard in a rhythm section and was out for the day.
He ended up on top of the on/off section and was in obvious distress. The session was red flagged and riders headed back to the starting area while Guillaume received the care he needed.
They put him on a back board and loaded him into an ambulance for a trip to the local hospital where he would get further evaluated. Fortunately, nothing was broken but he did receive a pretty bad concussion and will need to be further evaluated before he hits the track again. At this point, he’s hoping to be back on the line to close out the 250 East in Nashville in 2 weeks time.
On a track that looked like it would perfectly suit a throwback to the bar-to-bar racing from the summer of 2022 between #1 Eli Tomac and #23 Chase Sexton, the pair held up their end of the bargain. Eli was quickest in Q1 and then Chase was fastest in Q2 to take the 450 top pick.
In both sessions, #9 Adam Cianciarulo looked to be coming into form and sat atop the board for much of Q1 and then bettered his time to take 2nd spot in Q2 and combined. Was this to be the night the former child prodigy came through in the top class?
For some reason, I always pay attention to who gets the loudest cheer from the crowd during opening ceremonies. The top 3 are usually Eli Tomac, Aaron Plessinger, and #94 Ken Roczen. That was the order as I saw it again here from the mid-afternoon Georgia crowd.
250 Heat 1
Holeshot to the young phenom #238 Haiden Deegan ahead of #128 Tom Vialle, rookie #339 Talon Hawkins and points leader #96 Hunter Lawrence.
Haiden messed up in a rhythm section (he stated at the Press Conference that he scrubbed so hard he put his bike into neutral) and dropped back to 4th place as Lawrence made passes to get to the lead. #30 Jo Shimoda was back in the pack early but was putting in fast laps and worked his way up to 5th and was closing on the group ahead.
In the end, Lawrence looked comfortable in the lead ahead of Vialle and a very impressive 3rd place finish by young Hawkins. Deegan held on for 4th with Shimoda in 5th.
As always, one eye needs to be kept focussed on the battle for the final transfer position in 9th place. This time, that battle included #116 TJ Albright and #86 Josiah Natzke. Natzke made to pass with less than a lap remaining but Albright fought back and took the position to move directly to the Main with Natzke to the LCQ.
250 Heat 2
Holeshot and a wire-to-wire win for #29 Nate Thrasher in this one. Early on it was #6 Alex Martin in 2nd and then #58 Jordon Smith chasing him in 3rd. #63 Max Anstie was next ahead of #57 Chris Blose.
Smith got around Martin to take 2nd with Alex 3rd.
450 Heat 1
Holeshot to Cianciarulo in this one and he looked good until he made a mistake and crashed at the end of the first whoops section, handing the lead to #2 Cooper Webb who had #94 Ken Roczen closing in on him throughout this one.
As these two battled at the front, #751 Josh Hill was very impressive in 3rd place with #45 Colt Nichols behind him followed by #44 Benny Bloss, #47 Freddie Noren and #15 Dean Wilson.
Roczen tried to make a move on Webb on the last lap but they would stay in order with a big gap back to Hill in 3rd.
450 Heat 2
#1 Eli Tomac headed into the first turn with the edge until #51 Justin Barcia made his presence known and took the position from the inside and took off with #21 Jason Anderson in tow.
Behind them, #46 Justin Hill was holding off defending champ Tomac like his life depended it. The two put on a great show until Tomac made the pass stick and moved ahead.
#23 Chase Sexton was the rider on the move and he closed in to join the battle for the win on the final lap. In fact, the 3 riders were in the final corner together and then headed down the final rhythm section to the flag where Anderson held off Barcia and Sexton.
#285 Coty Shock, #67 Cullin Park, #602 Gage Linville, and #330 AJ Catanzaro moved on with #483 Bryton Carroll just 2 seconds out in 5th.
This race is always one to keep an eye on as the battles and energy are always at maximum levels; this one was no different.
#7 Aaron Plessinger ended up in this one after bike issues in his heat race left him needing to line up for a rare LCQ race, much to the disappointment of the rest of the line. He had to make a few passes off the start but then this one was all his as he enjoyed the energy from the crowd.
Behind him, moves were being made that had #68 Cade Clason moving up to 2nd, #519 Josh Cartwright taking 3rd, and #412 Jared Lesher moving up to pass a few riders and move on in 4th. #219 Chace Marquier was up in a qualifying position early and looked good but ended up in 6th place and missing the Main. #90 Tristan Lane is back after a hard crash and moved his way up through the field but came up just short in 5th, 1 second off the rear wheel of Lesher’s 250 2-stroke.
The positive energy of the riders and their mechanics after this one was taken up a notch as arms were waving and fists were bumping everywhere.
Most of the top riders seemed to think the hot gates were now located a little farther to the outside heading down this long start straight into a box left-hand corner. #238 Haiden Deegan held on the gas a little longer from outside of the other top riders and came into turn 1 with the lead and managed to shut it down and hold it with Lawrence behind him and #58 Smith in 3rd. Lawrence would make a pass and takeover the lead early but Deegan would immediately take it back.
Teammates Smith and #29 Thrasher were in a dog fight over 3rd place ahead of #63 Max Anstie and #339 Hawkins, who I have to say may have been the rider who impressed me most on this day. #30 Shimoda and #6 Martin followed them.
Lawrence would make another pass for the lead on lap 3 in the sand section and that was all she wrote in this one. However, Smith pushed hard the entire race and actually made up some time on the Australian out front as the race progressed.
Blose, #66 Henry Miller, and Hawkins ended up in a nice battle at the halfway mark of the 250 Main ahead of Park who was rounding out the top 10 at that point.
Martin had some troubles and was just cruising around late in this one and then #62 Jace Owen pulled into the pits to collect his mechanic and head to the pits.
Watching the action at the front had to make you wonder what the Monster Yamaha Star Racing practice tracks are like during the week because Smith, Deegan and Thrasher weren’t giving each other an inch out there as they fought over 2nd place.
Thrasher would go down hard at the end of the first set of tricky whoops. They wouldn’t red flag this one, but he was taken off in the Alpinestars Medics Mule for further evaluation and everyone who saw the crash said it was a pretty rough one.
At the flag, it was Lawrence 8 seconds ahead of Smith in 2nd who had 6 1/2 seconds on Deegan who came home 3rd. Shimoda had crept up on him and crossed the line just 4 seconds behind the youngster in 4th. Anstie rounded out the top 5 14 seconds back of that.
Ken Roczen grabbed the holeshot in the 450 Main ahead of Sexton but Chase would takeover the lead on lap 1 with Anderson in 3rd behind Roczen. Barcia was sitting 4th, Cianciarulo 5th, then Webb, Josh Hill, Tomac, #15 Dean Wilson and #46 Justin Hill.
At this point early in the race, we had 2 Hills inside the top 10 again.
5 minutes in, it was Sexton, Roczen, and Barcia dropping the field with Webb and Tomac starting to fight over 4th place. Behind them it was Anderson, Cianciarulo, Plessinger, Jo. Hill, Wilson, Nichols, #12 Shane McElrath, and Ju. Hill.
At the half, Plessinger had gotten around both Anderson and Cianciarulo to take 6th and started to look like he may have something for the Webb/Tomac battle.
Anderson started fading off the pace and then we heard Lurch say over the PA system that he had retired from the race.
Sexton was looking solid out front and mentioned in the press conference that they had his bike “pretty stretched out right now,” so it was feeling stable at the high speeds of this outdoor stadium circuit. Of course, everyone standing on the sidelines had the same worry that something could happen and he’d throw away another potential win, but he didn’t buckle under the pressure.
Barcia was all over Roczen and mentioned he had some thoughts of pressing the issue but kept his cool and waited for his chance which came with 6:15 left to go.
The field was little spread out at this point back to the tense battle for 8th between Wilson, Jo. Hill, and Nichols.
At the flag it was Sexton with an exuberant checkered flag celebration 7 seconds ahead of Barcia in 2nd, 4 seconds ahead of Roczen rounding out the podium. The three riders came together on top of the following jump to celebrate together.
Webb and Tomac were wheel-to-wheel at times in this one for 4th but in the end Webb took the points with 2 1/2 seconds to spare.
Plessinger would close in and then drop back and finished 14 seconds behind Tomac in 6th.
Next round is at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ next Saturday and it’s a 250 East/West Showdown.