Max Anstie: ‘You can’t skip steps’ in Supercross
After a successful career in the Motocross World Championship (MXGP), Max Anstie came to America in 2020 to ride in the 450 class of the Lucas Oil Prop Motocross and later, the Monster Energy Supercross championship with uncertain success, until he came to realize “you can’t skip steps.”
Anstie debuted on the American motorcycle racing scene a little more than a decade earlier in 2009, racing in the 250 class. He first climbed onto a Supercross bike in 2013, also on a 250, but after making only four starts that season, it appeared his best option was to head back to Europe and compete in MXGP, where he found a home for three years from 2017 through 2019.
It was there that he was established as a 450 rider, so when the opportunity came to return to America in 2020, he naturally moved into the senior division.
“I’ve been on the 450 for a while now,” Anstie told NBC Sports. “I raced the GPs over in Europe and had a lot of success on the 450, but always wanted to come back to the States.
“With no age limit, that made me eligible race in the 250 class. But when I first came over in 2021 and raced Supercross for my first time back in the States, I was riding a 450 for Suzuki. That was good to get my feet wet and I only got half the year in there because I actually injured at the start of the season, so I just got some laps and tried to figure it out and race supercross.”
The decision to ride a 450 in Supercross was not without reason. Anstie rode seven rounds in the outdoor circuit in 2020 and scored top-10 overall finishes in his last three starts. Supercross proved to be a little more challenging. In 2021, he made 10 Mains with a best result of 12th in Salt Lake City.
“I quickly learned that to be competitive in the 450 class, you can’t skip steps, you can’t cut corners,” Anstie said. “In 2022, I was riding for Rocky Mountain KTM and that team went completely sideways halfway through the year.”
In seven rounds in 2022, he matched his career-best 12th one time, at San Diego in Round 2.
“I was picking it up and was always around that top 10 area, but I never broke the top 10 in the 450 class,” Anstie said. “I was trying to always be competitive, but, like I said, you can’t skip steps in this class. Everyone else that was in front of me has completed the 250 class, won a championship, or been at least very competitive, put on the podium and been up near the front in the 250 class.”
With his 450 ride gone, Anstie was left with a decision. He could return to MXGP, ride in Motocross only, leave the sport entirely or make a radical change.
An invitation from Martin Davalos to come test a 250 was met with skepticism.
“My initial thoughts were, ‘No, I’m a 450 guy; I’ve been on 450 for a while,’ ” Anstie said. “And they said, ‘Look come up, test the bike and see how it is. ... To be honest, at that time, I hadn’t ridden a good 250 in years, so I had no idea. I said to Martin Davalos, ‘I have no idea if this bike is good or if it’s not good,’ but the biggest thing for me is I really like the people they had on board and just the atmosphere and the vibe.
“Being a little older, I’ve been around the pits a fair few times in Europe and been on the best and arguably the worst teams. I’ve been on basically a broad spectrum of teams and all over the world. For me, I know how important it is to have the right group of people around you that feel good and are also hardworking. And I saw the potential.
“It’s easy to say the right things. I’ve also been around a lot of people that are pretty good at telling you what you want to hear, but I could see the work they were putting in.”
Anstie had a chance to take those steps he skipped earlier.
In the first two rounds of the 250 East division, Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in Houston and was third a week later in Tampa. Hunter Lawrence won each of those first two rounds, which has Anstie eight points behind. With 10 rounds remaining, there is still plenty of time remaining to race.
“And now here we are, competitive in this 250 division,” Anstie said. “The team and the guys have given me a package and a platform that competes for podiums and competes for wins. You got to go through the steps. If I can refine my craft and get some wins in the 250 class, if I can be in the hunt for this championship like I am right now, but right until the end ... well, then we’ll see what happens.”
Early success in the 250 class thrust Anstie into the limelight in 2023. More importantly, it has rejuvenated his career.
“This has given me, (not a whole new start to my career because everything in life prepares you for the future), but I feel like I’ve taken all of those things to help me in my racing,” Anstie said. “It’s definitely opened the doors to be able to do that and be competitive, which is something that I’ve dreamed of, so I’m happy with where we are.”
In preparation for the 250 East campaign, Anstie rode three races with his current team in last year’s outdoor season. He finished 5-5 at Southwick on a 450 to score sixth overall. He also raced in the World Supercross Series two-race pilot season with a sweep of the top five. In fact, Anstie finished second in the finale in Australia, which gives him a current streak of three consecutive podiums.
It was in these three races that Anstie fully appreciated the opportunity he’d been given. With an extremely short time to prepare for that handful of races, the Fire Power Parts Honda Racing team put together a competitive bike,
“It’s fantastic,” Anstie said. “Just to be able to be on the box, to taste the champagne. Being under those lights is something that I’ve wanted for a long time and just to be competitive. I’m enjoying it.
“I’ve realized you have a lot more bad days than you do good days, so I always try to stay pretty level. You got to take the good with the bad. There’s no point in being miserable. You might as well be happy with what you’re doing.”