Justin Barcia is the Supercross Round 1 hero for the third straight year after holding off a determined charge by Ken Roczen through the final five minutes. Barcia is happy to have won the season opener in the last two seasons, but he hopes to break another cycle. Two years ago he won the season opener, but failed to stand on the podium again in 2019.
Barcia won the season opener at Anaheim last year, only this time he kept his momentum for a while. He finished second in Saint Louis to get off to a great start for the season, but fell to fifth in the overall standings at the end of the year.
Barcia has a solid reason to believe this year will be different because his circumstances have changed. Making the debut for the GasGas Factory Racing team, Barcia gave them a sweep for the night, winning his heat before taking the Feature race.
POINTS, RESULTS: All the postrace statistics from Saturday in Supercross
“I got a great start and rode my own race,” Barcia said following the race. “Kenny (Roczen) pressured me so hard the whole race, but I held it together.
“I just want to be in the fight all year, not just a one-hit wonder.”
Starting the year with a new team meant Barcia had to navigate a set of unknowns.
“The offseason training went extremely smooth, the transition to the team went really well,” Barcia said in the post-race press conference. “But you just don’t know where you are. I know I can win, but there’s more to it than that.”
.@JustinBarcia gives @GasGasMotos_NA their first 450SX heat race win in 450SX heat 1️⃣ #SupercrossLIVE #DropTheGate pic.twitter.com/Wk9KEh36Yf
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) January 16, 2021
Roczen’s second-place finish was also notable. Battling a physical condition that was eventually diagnosed as shingles, he experienced fatigue in several races. Still, he managed to win races near the end of the season, including Round 15 at Salt Lake City, and finished third in the points behind Eli Tomac and Cooper Webb.
Roczen skipped the outdoor season in order to fully heal.
“It was clean; it was awesome,” Roczen. “The track got rough. It was tacky. It’s good to get the first one out of the way, safe and sound. Second-place, I’m totally fine with it. We did some good racing out there and it’s a long season.”
In fact, the entire night might be characterized as a win for underdogs and drivers battling back from adversity. Marvin Musquin missed the entire 2020 Supercross season with a knee injury. He returned to finish fourth in the overall standings in the outdoor Lucas Oil Motocross season.
It has been 25 years since the Supercross season started some place other than California. Notably, the last time that happened was in 1996 when Jeremy McGrath also won his third consecutive season opener in Orlando, Fla.
Everyone was not happy with their start to the season. After falling twice in the feature, defending champion Eli Tomac finished 13th.
And, in fact it was not a particularly strong night for the last three Supercross champions. The 2019 title-holder Cooper Webb managed only a ninth-place finish. The top rider from 2018, Jason Anderson finished 15th.
This year’s rookie class has been highly anticipated. Winning the last two 250 championships in the West and East divisions respectively, Dylan Ferrandis and Chase Sexton got the opportunity to race head to head in the second heat.
Sexton won the first battle, finishing fourth in his heat to Ferrandis’ ninth.
Ferrandis prevailed in the Supercross Round 1 feature with his first career top-10 in seventh. Sexton finished 14th.
Pure emotion for @_ChristianCraig as he grabs his first 250SX Main Event win since 2016 🏆 #SupercrossLIVE #DropTheGate pic.twitter.com/9VJinXiyFG
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) January 17, 2021
The 250 East got underway first and it set the tone for dark horses.
After Christian Craig scored his second career win and first in five years, he leaned his head on his forearms and absorbed the emotions.
Like Barcia, Craig also got off to a solid start in 2020. He stood on the podium in the first race of the season behind winner Justin Cooper and second-place Dylan Ferrandis.
“If only people knew what I’ve been through in the past two years,” Craig said from the top of the podium. “This is the most weight I’ve lifted off my shoulders I’ve ever had. I never gave up. I’ve been down to the lowest of lows – to the bottom – and I still kept going.”
Austin Forkner kept the theme of overcoming adversity alive.
“I’m the happiest I’ve been for second place,” Forkner said. “The start wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I haven’t had to come through the pack like that for a while, so I was really happy. First race back from my big crash in Salt Lake City. I wanted a podium.”
Colt Nichols rounded out the top three.
“I need to get out of the gate a little better,” Nichols said. “I struggled with that all night.”