Packed 450 Supercross Rookie class offers compelling storylines for 2021


Every year freshmen infuse fresh blood into the series, but the 2021 Supercross rookie class may well be the most competitive in recent history. The season kicks off Saturday, Jan. 16 at NRG Stadium.

Featuring the last four 250 SX champions, Chase Sexton and Dylan Ferrandis will provide one of the most compelling races within the race each week. Shane McElrath and Brandon Hartranft believe they also have a chance to be one of the top Cinderella stories several times in 2021.

Sexton enters the 450 SX season as the two-time reigning 250 East champion. Ferrandis has won the last two 250 West titles.

They each enter as 2021 Supercross rookies with a ton of aggression and six career wins apiece.

“It’s hard to set real expectations because this is a new class for me,” Sexton said in the preseason press conference before Sat. 16th’s opening round in Houston.

But the expectations that exist for Sexton, who rides for Team Honda HRC, are massive. “I feel like I have the potential to win races and be on the podium. Being consistent and being in the top five a lot is kind of the goal.”

Ferrandis’ goals are no less lofty, but perhaps more realistic. Coming back from an offseason injury that limited his time on the bike, he climbs aboard the Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha and knows that he needs to assess his goals on an ongoing basis.

“I have spent a lot of time on the bike in the last 15 days in different conditions,” Ferrandis said. “It’s part of the job. It’s going to be a big challenge to be good in Houston, but the season is long and we’ll have to take it race by race.

“New class. New goal, new everything. It’s kind of a big reset. Forget what happened in the past. I am going to be where I always wanted to be.

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McElrath is also recovering from an injury. And it is uncertain if he will even be able to ride in the opening round.

With nine to his credit, McElrath has more 250 SX wins than either of the former champions.

“We’re still doing everything we can,” said McElrath, rider of the Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda. “My doctor told me to let pain be my guide. I can deal with some pain, but without much strength that’s kind of the hard part.

“I’m going to be at the first round. We’re going to wait and see how I feel there and if I can do something. We’re going to be out there as soon as we can, whether that’s the first Houston round or later.”

McElrath does not have a championship to his credit, but he has finished in the runner-up position three times: in 250 West in 2015 and 2017. Last year, he finished second to Sexton in 250 East.

Meanwhile Hartranft is moving up early with only three 250 SX seasons under his belt. While he does not have a top-three finish in the standings, he has gotten progressively stronger every year with an eighth in 250 East in 2018, a sixth in that division in 2016 and a fourth last year in 250 West.

“It’s earlier than I expected, but I gel with the 450s well since I was like 16,” Hartranft said. “I’ve always been a bigger kid. I’ve only had two months on the bike, but after a few days I was right at home.

“This year the whole class is stacked from first to 20th. It takes some weight off my shoulders. I’m going to go in there and do the best I can. After the first round, we figure out where we are and go from there.”

Dylan Ferrandis (Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha)

  • West Champion 2019 and 2020
  • 6 250 SX Wins
  • First Win: Seattle, March 23, 2019
  • Most Recent Win:  San Diego, Feb. 8, 2020

Chase Sexton (Team Honda HRC)

  • East Champion 2019 and 2020
  • Ran the 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season
  • 6 250 SX wins
  • First Win: East Rutherford, April 27, 2019
  • Most Recent: Salt Lake City, June 21, 2020

Shane McElrath (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda)

  • East Runner-up 2020; West Runner-up 2017 and 2015
  • 9 250 SX Wins
  • First Win: Anaheim 1, Jan. 7, 2017
  • Most Recent Win: Salt Lake City, June 7, 2020

Brandon Hartranft (HEP Motorsports Suzuki)

  • Fourth, West 2020
  • Best Finish of third: St. Louis, Jan. 11, 2020 and Anaheim 2, Jan. 18, 2020

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

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“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.