To say that Jett Lawrence had a good season racing dirt bikes would be the understatement of the year. Even great would not do it justice. Phenomenal, or even mind-blowing, might be a little more accurate. Still. After achieving every goal that he and his Honda HRC Team set out to do in the U.S., it should come as no surprise that Jett Lawrence is our 2023 Cycle News Rider of the Year.
This one was indeed a no-brainer. How could we not pick Jett Lawrence as our Rider of the Year? The 20-year-old Australian had a sensational race season, which he dominated from start to finish, successfully conquering every championship he set out to win. He capped off his already astounding 250cc career by winning the 250SX West Coast Championship (while never finishing off the podium) before bumping up to the 450cc factory Honda for the Pro Motocross Championship.
Lawrence proceeded to win every single moto over the summer—22 gate drops, 22 wins. Only two other riders have ever accomplished that feat (Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart), but it’s a feat that’s never been achieved by a rookie. “Jettson” then carried that momentum into the inaugural SuperMotocross playoff rounds, where he won the final two of three races to pocket the million-dollar prize.
He followed that up with a successful “off-season” that saw him take a race win at the Motocross of Nations and the overall victory at the Paris Supercross. It was indeed a season to remember for the 19-year-old who turned 20 in August. Despite other talents across the motorcycle racing world, none stand out like Lawrence’s ’23 season.
We recently sat down for a quick interview with Lawrence to discuss his incredible year.
Looking back at this year, let’s go back to the 250cc Supercross Championship. I think some people forget you even rode a 250 this year. Your worst finish was third in Denver. Can you even remember your Supercross series after the year you’ve had?
I can remember most things, that’s for sure. A few things are a little blurry, but a few races, yes. It was an awesome final Supercross season on a 250. I got to win a few and won my last one, which was a good send-off, you could say. I had some ups and downs, still trying to figure out those Triple Crowns, but luckily, I had two of them to learn. I got my first Triple Crown win, which is always good, and got that curse away finally. I had some good moments on the 250 and that bike was good to me the past few years. It was a bummer to leave it but also exciting to leave to start a new path.
That’s a good transition. What was the game plan for moving to the 450? Was the plan ever to race the 250 outdoors, and what were you guys expecting when you moved up?
The goal was just learning. I’m always learning to try and be better in whatever I’m doing, and I felt like I learned most of what I needed to learn in the 250s, and I needed to learn more, but it wasn’t in the 250 class it was in the 450s. Obviously, looking back now, yeah, it was the right move.
I definitely knew I’d be good; knew I’d get some race wins and some moto wins. Just on my 250 times, I wasn’t that far off Chase [Sexton] and Eli [Tomac] the year before on a lesser-powered bike. So, I knew I’d be good but didn’t know it would be that good of a season. But yeah, it was an easy transition to that bike, and outdoors, that thing worked pretty well.
After round one, you go 1-1 and beat your teammate. You’re the only guy at that point who can achieve a perfect season. What’s that like after Pala and was that the result you were expecting?
My main goal that day was to stay undefeated at Pala because I’d never been beaten there. So that was the main goal. I was like, “Yeah, that’s sick; that’s a cool first debut.” Then, obviously, the perfect season didn’t even cross my mind until getting closer to the end of the season. You think like, “Far out like it’s still going, the streak.” It’s still crazy to think about it now. The mentality is just, “Okay, let’s make sure we do that again next weekend—just get a good start and make sure we do that again.”
You’d always say that on the podium or in the press conferences, “I’ll try to get a start, if I get the start, I’ll try to lead. If I lead, I’ll try to win. If I win, I’ll just do it again.” But which races did you feel were the closest of not winning outdoors?
Budds Creek, when I saw the riders in the first moto when I got the bad start [Dylan Ferrandis and Chase Sexton] I knew I needed to act quickly. I acted quickly, then it was fairly okay; there wasn’t a doubt, you could say. Then, in the second moto, I knew I needed to get the start and get back to what I was doing.
High Point was another close one with Kenny [Roczen] and then me going down. That wasn’t ideal and then the second moto with a bad start. But it was fun to come through. So, we had some “oof moments,” but we always made it back to the lead. I tried to make it as exciting as I can but also make it easy for me.
I read this quote that says, “It’s not about achieving the actual goal; it’s the relief you feel after achieving the goal.” When you crossed the line at Ironman, tell us about the relief you felt after that final moto.
Yes exactly. It’s the biggest release you can get because there’s so much, not just on your body but on your mental. Like mentally, physically, just everything is like, “ahh.” The hard thing after a long season was getting back into it after Ironman with SMX coming up. It was just a big relief to know the job was finally done. Even after Unadilla, my main job was done, you know, winning the championship, but I also had the perfect season going. So, it wasn’t done yet. I could’ve just cruised it in and done whatever, but there are only so many guys who have had the opportunity to go perfect. I think at that point, I’d get looked down on if I didn’t try and go for it.
After the nationals, you get fourth at the first SMX. Did that fourth take some of the pressure off you?
I think it definitely did. It humbled me back down because I had a dream 450 outdoor season. I think I kind of needed that because it switched for me, like, “Okay, what was that? We need to get back to work here.” Then, going back to Chicago, I had that fire again and wanted to win.
At the LA round of SMX, you’re behind Chase, and you see him on the ground over the big sand roller. What’s playing in your head, knowing that now is your chance to win?
It was really, “All right, don’t mess up now, don’t mess up.” Even when I was in second, too, because if I dropped back to third, then Chase would’ve gone 3-1, and he ends up winning. It was a big math thing the whole time. I just wanted to make sure and win the thing, win the night that was the biggest thing. I guess I got lucky with him pushing and crashing. It was a bit of a relief with him crashing, but I knew I still couldn’t relax yet, especially with Kenny right there. I had to keep my head down and focus.
Obviously you win the SMX title, and then you go to Motocross of Nations in France. Not a win there but still a great ride (Team Australia’s highest finish). What was it like being back in Europe?
It was good to be back in Europe. I forgot how crazy the French fans are. It was wild with that. And yeah, it was cool to come back through [the field]. I wanted to demolish the GP class. I wanted to make sure they knew that right now, besides racing Eli [Tomac] and Jeffrey [Herlings], I can almost say I’m the fastest guy in the world. I think if I started up there, I would’ve beat them. But I backed it up in the second moto. The only other guy that was close was Kenny, but he’s over here in America. I think the next GP rider was 30 seconds back, so it was nice to hush them [MXGP racers] a bit so they don’t get too ahead of themselves or get too confident.
And then Paris Supercross, you and your brother race for the first time in the 450s. You obviously won the crown, but take me through the weekend.
Those races are so fun because there’s no real pressure. If you do good, great, but if you do bad, it’s not the end of the world. You just learn what you can improve on. It’s a good testing race. It was fun to race against my brother. It’s been a while since we’ve done that. We definitely made it exciting with some passes, and then taking him out wasn’t ideal, but it made it exciting for everyone. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
With such a great year in 2023, how do you think you can top it in 2024?
I think the only way to top it will be to win all three titles—Supercross, Motocross, and SMX. Even if you don’t go perfect, still try and win as many as you can. That’s a hard one to back up. But yeah, winning all three championships would be the way to do it.