Boggy San Francisco mudbath causes Supercross chaos

All-day rain in San Francisco last Saturday created a swamp of a race track for the second round of the 2024 AMA Supercross Championship

2024 San Francisco Supercross. - Align Media/KTM

No sooner had the chequered flag fallen in Anaheim for the 2024 AMA Supercross season opener on 6 January than talk of rain forecast for the following week’s race in San Francisco began to swirl. 

By Friday, that talk had been realised, as the usual press day riding was cancelled. The rain continued throughout Friday, and into Saturday, and that caused the morning’s free practice sessions to be cancelled. By the time qualifying rolled around, the track was already in a dire condition, and it was decided that changes needed to be made to the track to give the best chance of good racing come Saturday night, which led to the second qualifying sessions being cancelled.

That was not good for the likes of Justin Hill, who was on the 450SX podium at the Salt Lake City round last year, and comfortably in the Main Event at this year’s Anaheim opener. But, in San Francisco, he didn’t even make the Heat races, because his time from the first - and what turned out to be only - qualifying session wasn’t fast enough to qualify.

The story of the Heats was Jorge Prado. The Spaniard made history in 2023 by becoming the first rider from his country to win the premier class of the Motocross World Championship - MXGP. But his dream has always been to race in the US, so he headed over to California after the 2023 Motocross of Nations to ride and practice supercross, to see if he liked it. Clearly, he did, because he then entered as a wildcard for the first three rounds of the 2024 AMA Supercross season. In Anaheim, Prado was good and finished a respectable 13th on his professional supercross debut. But his Heat race in San Francisco was exceptional, as he led from wire-to-wire to win at what was only his second-ever AMA Supercross race, and even resisted pressure from 2023 450SX Champion Chase Sexton in the closing stages.

But, more tellingly, the track was deteriorating even further, and the whoops section was knocked down and turned into rollers for the Main Events.

In the 250SX Main, Jordon Smith made like Prado’s Heat race by making the holeshot and - almost - never looking back. The ‘almost’ is important there, as he was almost caught by Levi Kitchen on the final lap, but Smith held on regardless to take his first win since 2018 and take the championship leader’s red plate for the first time since the year before that.

Garrett Marchbanks on the non-factory ClubMX Yamaha YZ250F also starred, finishing on the podium in third place. He took that bottom step away from his teammate, fan favourite Phil Nicoletti, who got held up on the crest of what in normal conditions would be a jump in the closing stages as a lapped rider fell. This proved the extent of the conditions, as the rut Nicoletti was sitting in was so deep he couldn’t get around the fallen bike and had to wait for it to be moved.

In the 450s, Chase Sexton led wire-to-wire, taking his first supercross win as champion and as a KTM rider, having switched from Honda over the off-season. Sexton’s win was made possible by one particular bit of luck, as he timed the gate drop to absolute perfection to take the holeshot, after which he managed the conditions perfectly.

Eli Tomac - who finished ninth at round one in Anaheim - and Ken Roczen - who was 10th in Anaheim after crashing on the first lap - completed the podium, meaning Sexton - who finished third at round one - left northern California last Saturday as the only rider to have finished on the podium in both races.

Jett Lawrence, the winner of the season-opener (making history in the process by becoming the first rider ever to win their first premier class AMA Supercross race), finished down in ninth in San Francisco, in what was his first mud race as a full-time 450 rider. This does not mean the #18, who won four titles in the 250cc class and went unbeaten on his way to the 450MX title in AMA Pro Motocross last year, is hopeless in the mud, though: last year’s East Rutherford Supercross saw conditions not much better than those seen last weekend, and Lawrence finished second to Britain’s Max Anstie in the 250SX class that night.

All in all, the 2024 San Francisco Supercross was a wild night of racing, especially for one which saw very little actual racing. The track was so beaten up that, after the first couple of laps, all riders were rolling almost every obstacle, and even the rollers that replaced the whoops for the Main Events were incredibly tricky. 

The 2024 AMA Supercross season continues this Saturday in San Diego.

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