January 30, 2023 (Johnson Valley, CA) – After taking a year off, the 2023 SRT King of the Motos returned as part of the Progressive King of the Hammers Powered by OPTIMA Batteries event in Johnson Valley, CA. This GPS-based hard enduro event launched in 2012, and this year it kicked off the seasons for both the IRC US Hard Enduro Series, Presented by Klim and the AMA West Hard Enduro Series, Presented by Beta. A record 175 riders entered to race this challenging event, which included Youth Lites riders as young as 13 years old and adults in their 60s.
The promoter, Justin Leineweber, has promoted SRT King of the Motos several times and has been working on these courses for years. The 40 miles of course consisted of technical trails with endless rocks of all sizes embedded in sand and steep climbs and descents. In addition to this technical terrain, paying attention to the GPS to stay on course while avoiding constant obstacles seemed to be the most challenging part of the weekend.
On Saturday, a one-lap morning Prologue determined the starting position for Race 1 in the afternoon, which was a 12 mile one-lap race around a mountain range just outside Hammertown, the makeshift village built to support the event. The Prologue was approximately 2 miles and started all racers one at a time out of the Hammertown short course. Will Riordan of RPM KTM Racing Team was the fastest around this course by 9 seconds against a stacked field of the best hard enduro athletes in North America.
On Saturday afternoon, Race 1 kicked off with the crowd-pleasing land-rush start up a rocky hillside, creating instant chaos for the multiple rows leaving 30 seconds apart. The pace of the front pack, led by Trystan Hart of FMF KTM Factory Racing, quickly separated from the rest of the field. Climbing up very steep switchbacks and descending slick rock slabs were some of the most challenging sections of this course. Hart, the 2021 King of the motos winner, kept a 2-3 minute lead over FactoryONE Sherco’s Cody Webb, five-time King of the Motos winner, for most of the race, but towards the end the 2022 USHE Champion pulled away and finished first with 4 minutes over Will Riordan. Webb finished in third place two seconds behind Riordan, while FactoryONE Sherco’s Cooper Abbott and Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Ryder LeBlond finished within ten seconds after Webb. Colton Haaker of Rockstar Energy Husqvarna, the 2017 King of the Motos winner, had a sizable crash that pushed him back to a tenth place finish. In the Pro Women’s class, Kylee Sweeten was the only female to make it to the finish line in the 3 hour time period. Over 70 amateurs made it through the finish in time, whereas the rest were scored based on their checkpoint times.
Sunday’s Race 2 was the final race of the weekend and consisted of two different laps. Rows of 30 racers lined up at the bottom of Chocolate Thunder, with a big crowd of spectators standing above them and a livestream broadcast was watched by thousands of people around the world. Colton Haaker led the first row of racers through Chocolate Thunder, which had changed from previous years and showed no easy line through the rock gardens. The following rows began to clog up at the first rock garden, and became a traffic jam for the next 20 minutes.
Similar to the previous day, the front pack was led by Trystan Hart and Cody Webb, setting a pace that was impossible to match by anyone else. In the first 11 minutes of the race at Checkpoint 1, Hart and Webb already had a 45 second lead over Ryder LeBlond. This course consisted of two very challenging laps around existing King of the Hammers trails and some new trails that Justin marked out. The first lap was shorter, and on the second lap they raced an additional section that increased in difficulty. This race was designed to give everyone the chance to race the final race, so it provided a great hard enduro experience to both the Pros and Amateurs. On their second lap, Webb began to catch up to Hart, staying about a minute behind and picking their way through the lappers. A GPS error led Webb off-course, where he descended Sledgehammer and had backtrack up the infamous trail, losing valuable time.
Hart won Race 2 in 1 hour 44 minutes, with Webb finishing in second about 10 minutes behind. LeBlond finished in third place 5 minutes behind Webb, with Riordan and Haaker not far behind. This was Hart’s second consecutive King of the Motos victory, and he continues his dominance in the United States coming off of a very impressive 2022 season. 59 racers completed both laps within the 6 hour time limit, with many amateurs staying out on the course for the entire duration of the race. In the Pro Women class, Kylee Sweeten won the race over Hallie Marks and Bailey Lerwill, as all three made it to the final checkpoint on the second lap.The 2023 SRT King of the Motos returned as a great success, with a record turnout and courses that were challenging for both Pros and Amateurs. King of the Motos is the opening event in many days of racing that resume on Friday, February 3rd. The format and opener was well-received by the hard enduro athletes, teams, and fans. Hammerking Productions also live streamed each race to their YouTube channel, which garnered tens of thousands of viewers worldwide, giving these racers and the sport of hard enduro a broadcast that is unmatched in the United States. The King of the Motos was a great way to kick off the 10-round AMA US Hard Enduro Championships, and is setting the stage for a very exciting season for all classes. Up next, a limited number of racers will be traveling to the North Shore of Oahu to race the IRC Endurofest-Hawaii in March.
Story by US Hard Enduro Series with updates from Progressive King of the Hammers media.