Tough & Rough first Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season opener Pala day

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Levi Kitchen notched a top-five finish in the first moto, ultimately scoring eighth overall at yesterday’s Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season opener in Pala, California. Justin Cooper ended the day 12th, with his teammate Nate Thrasher finishing right behind in the challenging conditions at Fox Raceway. Rookies Nick Romano and Matthew LeBlanc were 15th and 20th, respectively.

Kitchen qualified eighth in his first race back since Arlington Supercross. Although he didn’t get the start he was hoping for in the first moto, he kept pushing and made his way from ninth to fifth to earn his best moto finish. In the second moto, the Washington rider found himself near the back of the field after the second turn. Undeterred, Kitchen climbed his way into the top 10, crossing the line eighth for eighth overall, equaling his best result from last year’s debut season.

Cooper got off to a good start in his first race of the year, qualifying sixth. The 2021 250SX West Champion grabbed the holeshot, but as the race wore on, he was shuffled to 11th. In the second moto, he was unable to repeat his flying start and found himself 19th after the first lap. Cooper kept fighting and was able to make his way to 13th to finish 12th overall.

It was also a challenging day for Thrasher in the tricky conditions. He qualified just outside of the top 10 and was 13th after the start, but unfortunately crashed early in the first moto. The Tennessee rider put on an impressive charge from 32nd to 17th and then had a better start in the second moto to finish 12th and end the day 13th overall.

Romano enjoyed a good first outing as he made his pro debut in Pala, California. The rookie continued to make improvements throughout the day, qualifying 18th and finishing 16th in the first moto. He then got a flying start in Moto 2 to give the team its second holeshot of the day in the 250 class. Romano kept cool under pressure and led the first lap but ultimately was 14th at the end of the 30-minute-plus-two-lap moto to finish 15th overall.

The team’s youngest rider, LeBlanc, also made his debut at Fox Raceway. He got a great start from the 19th gate pick and was battling up front, but unfortunately went down in the second corner, putting him at the back of the pack. The 16-year-old worked his way forward to 20th, giving him a less than ideal gate pick for the second moto, but he managed a 17th-place finish to score 20th overall.

The Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing team heads north next weekend for Round 2 of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at the Hangtown Motocross Classic in Rancho Cordova, California, on Saturday, June 4.

Jensen Hendler

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing 250 Team Manager

“Overall, the day went well at the season opener. We learned a lot and know what we need to do to run up front and will work hard to make sure that happens. We got both holeshots in the motos, so we are happy with that, but we have a few small things to make the boys more comfortable and will focus on that to get our guys up front.”

Levi Kitchen

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing

“It wasn’t a bad day. The first moto was obviously better, getting fifth, but I still had to work for it in both motos and come from the back, especially in that second one. It was kind of embarrassing; I think I was 38th in the second turn. So I need to work on the starts, but as far as my speed and fitness and everything else, if I can get off the gate with those guys up front, I think I can run with them for sure. I’m looking to do that next weekend and just keep building for the rest of the season.”

Justin Cooper

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing

“It was really good to be back racing, but it was a tough day. It’s been a long time off, and we really had a struggle today. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m positive. We’re going to work hard going into this next round and try to get up front pretty quick.”

Nate Thrasher

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing

“It was a tough day. I struggled with the setup and didn’t ride my best today. Early in that first moto, I fell in the first turn and was dead last. I made a little push through the pack, but I got stuck riding at the other rider’s pace and didn’t ride like myself. We’ll go back and keep working and get ready for next weekend.”

Nick Romano

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing

“The day went pretty well. I got off to a nice holeshot in Moto 2 and led for a bit, which was great. I’m just happy that we made improvements every time we hit the track, which was my main goal coming into my first race this weekend. We really had no expectations, so it was a good first round. We know what we need to work on, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

Matthew LeBlanc

Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing

“It was a tough first day. Qualifying was pretty rough, and then in that first moto, I was about fourth and went down in the second corner, which kind of threw the whole day off. I couldn’t really make any passes, so I was 20th in the first moto, which didn’t give me a good gate pick, and I kind of threw away the start in the second moto. So it was just some bad starts, but my riding was decent. We’re going to keep working and keep building for next weekend.”

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