2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Season Preview: 250 Class

With the defending champ moving on to the 450 Class, this field is deep and wide-open

jeremy martin race action
A new look for J-Mart this year.Courtesy of Simon Cudby

A year after winning his first 250MX championship, Cooper Webb has graduated to the 450 Class. That leaves a void at the top of the standings, and the question of who will fill it this summer is up for debate.

One obvious candidate in the running is Jeremy Martin, who was the two-time defending champion of the class in 2014 and 2015. But Martin is on a new team this year, and both supercross regions featured a mix of riders contending for victories each week. There were a lot of great riders this year but no truly dominant ones.

Although Webb ended up winning the title by 73 points last year, he was one of seven riders to win a moto and one of six riders to win an overall throughout the 12-round season. Could we see more of that same parity this year?

To illustrate how deep this field is, below are 10 riders to watch when the gate drops on the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season.

Jeremy Martin, #6 GEICO Honda
2016 Ranking: 6th (missed 3 rounds)
2016 Moto Wins: 4
2016 Overall Wins: 1

Having won the 250MX title in two of the past three seasons, Martin tops the list of contenders. He'll be on a different bike this time though, as he moved from Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha to GEICO Honda in the offseason.

Due to injury, Martin only contested four rounds of the 250SX West season this year, failing to crack the top five in any of them. (He did place 2nd in a 450 race at Daytona though.) Since deciding to sit out the final rounds of the supercross season, he has been using his time to focus on getting ready for the outdoors. "With how the supercross season’s gone, I was so upset and disappointed that I got a lot of motivation to go out and win," he recently told Racer X Illustrated.

This could be Martin's last shot at adding to his 250 Class championship collection — his current contract includes an option to move up to the 450s in 2018.

Zach Osborne, #16 Rockstar Energy Husqvarna
2016 Ranking: 7th
2016 Moto Wins: 2
2016 Overall Wins: 1

Osborne etched his name into motocross lore with his performance at the supercross season finale. The Husky rider overcame a first-turn crash that put him dead last, battling his way through the field to make an aggressive — albeit slightly controversial — last-lap pass on Joey Savatgy that put Savatgy on the ground and gave Osborne his first title.

Now we'll see if Osborne carries that momentum into the outdoor season. He finally grabbed his first career Lucas Oil Pro Motocross victory last season and will be hunting for more.

Joey Savatgy, #17 Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki
2016 Ranking: 3rd
2016 Moto Wins: 5
2016 Overall Wins: 3

Speaking of Savatgy, one interesting subplot will be if there's any carryover from his recent incident with Osborne. Savatgy would've had the 250SX East title had that pass not happened — will he want to even the score?

Savatgy was having an excellent, championship-caliber supercross season until the final two rounds. It's not dissimilar to what happened outdoors last summer when he won the overall at three of the first four rounds but failed to reach the overall podium at all in the second half of the season.

Aaron Plessinger, #23 Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha
2016 Ranking: 5th
2016 Moto Wins: 1
2016 Best Overall Finish: 2nd (twice)

The 2015 Rookie of the Year was in the 250SX West title hunt this year, ultimately finishing third in the standings (one point behind Shane McElrath for second place). During outdoors last summer, he earned five top-three moto finishes, including one victory. Plessinger is likely to stay on the rise in 250MX this season.

Austin Forkner, #24 Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki
2016 Ranking: 4th
2016 Moto Wins: 2
2016 Overall Wins: 1

Forkner's rookie season in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross was a success last year. He won a pair of motos, snagged an overall win and finished 4th in the point standings. Even bigger things will be expected of the 18-year-old in Year 2.

Alex Martin, #26 Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM
2016 Ranking: 2nd
2016 Moto Wins: 2
2016 Overall Wins: 2

This will mark Alex Martin's 10th season of racing in the 250MX Class. Here's where he's finished in points the last four seasons: 19th (2013), 12th (2014), 7th (2015), 2nd (2016). How's that for steady improvement?

Martin, who captured the first overall win of his career last summer, rode alongside his younger brother under the Star Yamaha tent in 2016 but has since moved over to the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM squad. After a hard crash at the Detroit Supercross race, he took the rest of the season off to recover and get himself ready for the Nationals.

Adam Cianciarulo, #36 Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki
2016 Ranking: 8th
2016 Best Moto Finish: 2nd (Budds Creek)
2016 Best Overall Finish: 4th (Budds Creek)

After a few tough years with injuries, Cianciarulo completed his first full season of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross in 2016. Although top-ten finishes were hard to come by at the early rounds, his results picked up in the second half of the season.

Cianciarulo won two rounds of supercross, including the coveted East/West Shootout, this year and nearly ended up winning the 250SX East title — he finished just two points behind champion Zach Osborne.

Shane McElrath, #38 Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM
2016 Ranking: 14th (missed 5 rounds)
2016 Best Moto Finish: 2nd (Muddy Creek)
2016 Best Overall Finish: 3rd (Muddy Creek)

McElrath finished on the overall podium outdoors for the first time last year but ended up missing five rounds due to injury. He emerged as a title contender in the 250SX West region this year, winning three races and finishing second in points behind Justin Hill.

Jordon Smith, #44 Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM
2016 Ranking: 16th (missed 3 rounds)
2016 Best Moto Finish: 2nd (Hangtown)
2016 Best Overall Finish: 4th (Muddy Creek)

After finishing 15th and 16th in points his first two seasons in the 250MX Class, Smith is a breakout candidate this year. Following his offseason move from GEICO Honda to Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM, he won two supercross races this year and was in contention for the 250SX East title until he crashed hard at the final round of the season.

In a recent Instagram post, Smith said that his back was still sore from the crash but "we are going to try our best to be 100% healthy heading into Hangtown."

Justin Hill, #46 Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki
2016 Ranking: 17th (missed 6 rounds)
2016 Best Moto Finish: 4th (twice)
2016 Best Overall Finish: 4th (Unadilla)

Hill is reunited with Pro Circuit Kawasaki. He previously rode two seasons for them when he first cracked the pros in 2013 and 2014, then spent two years with Red Bull KTM before returning to Pro Circuit for 2017.

The reunion is paying dividends so far. Hill will enter the outdoor season fresh off his first 250SX East championship. A model of consistency, he never again finished off the podium after the first race of the season. He won four races and was the runner-up on three occasions.

In four seasons of 250MX racing, Hill has yet to crack the top ten in points, though injuries have certainly been a factor in that. Assuming he maintains good health, that streak looks likely to end.

Other notes

France's Dylan Ferrandis (#108) has joined the Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha team after a successful MX2 career overseas. The 22-year-old finished fifth in 250SX East points and is a leading Rookie of the Year contender. … Another rookie of note will be 19-year-old Cameron Mcadoo (#128). He signed with GEICO Honda midway through the supercross season after starting the year with MotoConcepts.

Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM's Mitchell Oldenburg (#28) finished top ten in points in 2016 and had a pair of podium finishes in his limited supercross action this year. … GEICO Honda's RJ Hampshire (#31) is reportedly expected to return from a broken tibia and fibula he suffered in March. … Star Yamaha's Colt Nichols (#39) had a podium finish early in the supercross season before tearing his MCL and fracturing his tibia. He hasn't raced since March but is preparing for a return.

For more information: www.promotocross.com/mx/home