A boisterous roar from the crowd echoed throughout Fox Raceway when Team Honda HRC rider Chase Sexton narrowly missed out on winning the opening moto of the 2021 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship by 0.099s. Yes, the second year 450MX rider who placed fifth in the 2020 natural terrain title fight had deftly guided his works Honda CRF450R through the upper tier of the classification to just miss out on matching Team Yamaha’s Dylan Ferrandis at the finish line. A couple of hours later the 21 year-old from La Moille, Illinois fought his way back fiercely from a first turn crash to slot-in 10th in the all-conclusive second moto.
Fifth on the day in the opening race of what will be the 12-round, 22-moto 450MX outdoor series, Pala, California-based circuit served as a solid start to what Sexton hopes will be a successful summer. As has become a regular talking point for motocross fans the world over, Team Honda HRC has not nailed down an American Motorcyclist Association premiere class title in the premiere 450cc division since Ricky Carmichael raced away with all 24 motos way back in 2004. That’s a long time for any factory racing team and an eternity for the HRC entity, an entity that is quite accustomed to on-track racing success. And it’s why Sexton is at Honda and teamed with German superstar Ken Roczen.
RACER checked in with him ahead of this weekend’s action in the Rocky Mountain State:
Q: OK Chase, heading into the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross National set for Thunder Valley Motocross Park, how are you feeling?
CHASE SEXTON: Yeah, I’m doing good. Fox Raceway, the first round last Saturday, it was up and down for me. I had a really good first moto and then I ended up going down in the first corner of the second moto, so that was kind of a bummer but I made the most of it and came back to 10th. Yeah, I’m looking forward to this second round here in Colorado. We have a lot of racing left and I like the track here. It has a lot of ruts, which I’m used to being from the Midwest. I’m excited to be able to ride up here. I’m just excited to go out there and get two good starts and put the bike up front.
Q: I watched the opening 450MX moto with Johnny O’Mara and was really impressed with how you just motored your way up to the front of the field to nearly zap Dylan Ferrandis at the checkered flag. All things considered, were you happy with the race?
CS: Yeah, I got a good start in the first moto. I was third or something like that and then went backwards to probably fifth or sixth place. From there I found my groove and started making a charge forward and I got past a few good guys. Dylan had a five second lead or so and it kind of stayed there for most of the race and then the last three laps I kind of put in a big charge. It was a little bit too late, obviously, because I didn’t win. The Honda bike is so quiet that people don’t hear you coming up behind them, so that’s kind of a plus in that you can try and get around them without them kind of knowing. That’s kind of what my game plan was. Obviously, I came up a little short, but it was a good moto for me. I had a really good flow.
Q: It was really interesting to watch and listen to differences between the 450cc and 250cc race bikes out at Pala. How do you like riding and racing the 450? You haven’t really been on the 450 all that long.
CS: I like it a lot. It’s taken a little bit to get used to from the 250 just being really light. Also, the 250 never had enough power, really. The 450 is obviously a little bit heavier with a lot more inertia with the motor. It’s harder to setup the bike, in general. Not only do you have more power, but the bike is also a little bit more unpredictable. It’s not dangerous, but it can definitely sneak up on you. That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. Getting connection of the rear wheel to the ground has been the biggest thing. We just want to be connected to the track and I’m glad that we’ve done better this off-season than we have in the past. This is the start of my second season on the bike and I’m excited to keep progressing. I’m still young, so I get to learn something new pretty much every test day and it has been fun so far.
Q: There are certainly a hell of a lot of variables involved in optimizing a factory 450cc race bike, aren’t there? Perhaps a bit more complex than people may think?
CS: Yeah, it’s definitely not easy getting the perfect bike setup. There are so many moving parts and there are so many things you can try and not all of them are going to work, so it’s kind of guessing and testing and trying to run through as many things as possible before we find the right stuff. You can also get lost too in testing in trying too many things. Yeah, it’s always moving and if you do fine that ideal setting, you want to stick with it and buy a lottery ticket because it usually never happens. It’s definitely hard and the 450 class, especially in supercross, is difficult. So we’re trying to find every edge and anything we possibly can to try and be a little better than the next guy because we are all so close. Yeah, we’re always trying to progress and we never settle.
Q: There has been a lot of talk, especially after the two motos at Pala, about just how deep the talent flows in the 450MX division. You just experienced it all firsthand from the seat of your CRF450R. I mean, I was wondering if you guys were even able to catch your breath during the two motos on Saturday?
CS: Yeah, it’s competitive. Really, we have everybody out there right now. No one is really sitting out. It’s going to be intense all summer and I hope it stays like this for the whole season because it just makes racing fun and motos can flip-flop so fast that it really keeps you on your toes to get those good starts and not make mistakes. Whoever comes out champion this year will have definitely earned it. I’m looking forward to that battle.
Q: You basically came from dead last to place 10th in the second moto at Pala. To my way of seeing things, it was a hell of a charge. What did you think of your ride?
CS: Yeah, it was a good moto for me. It was not the circumstance I wanted to be in with falling in the first corner, but you’re going to have motos like that when you have 24 motos and 12 races. Yeah, you’re bound to have one of those times where you do go down. Obviously, you want to minimize those. For me in that second moto, I tried to do as much as I could and going from last to 10th was pretty good. I could have done a little bit better. Maybe I cod have gotten back to eighth but I got stuck behind a few riders. Overall, I feel like I definitely made a good charge back up and was excited with my riding and I’m definitely looking forward to this Thunder Valley race. I just want to get two good starts and to put myself in a good position. I want to let the race come to me. As we said, there are so many good guys out there that there are going to be different times in the races where everyone is doing different things. Some guys will sprint. sprint early, some guys will sprint in the middle and some guys will sprint late, so you just have to keep an eye on all those charges and stay strong through it all.