Many were surprised to learn that 2017 AMA West Coast Supercross 250 champ Justin Hill was leaving Pro Circuit Monster Energy Kawasaki for 2018, to go to the JGR Suzuki 250 team. After all, Mitch Payton’s effort is generally regarded as the lead 250 team. But Justin saw the big picture, and recognized all the efforts that the JGR team put into racing. JGR has also now become the Factory Suzuki effort in America. While maybe the stock Suzuki 250 is not the fastest bike in the class, I, along with many others including Justin, believe that he has a great platform with JGR to defend his championship. 2018 truly can be the year that JGR earns their first National title. We caught up with a disappointed Justin after his debut race with the team at anaheim 1.
BY JIM KIMBALL
JUSTIN, I’M SURE YOUR 7TH PLACE FINISH AT ANAHEIM 1 WAS NOT YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL, BUT AS A POSITIVE, YOU DID SET THE FASTEST TIME IN QUALIFYING. Yes, I surprised myself with actually how ready I was for the most part, but I need to make some adjustments with what I am doing day to day. The finish was most definitely not what I wanted, but for the most part, I would have to say that with being healthy, and ready to make progress would be more so what I want. My theory always is to get out of Anaheim with a clean bill of health, and a mental state of fire. That is where I am at right now, and I am ready to go to work. I almost seem to put myself in a bad situation, I don’t know if I do it on purpose or whatever, and I would not do it if I could! But sometimes it seems like I put myself in a situation where it is like sink or swim. I have to do this thing! And that is where I am right now. I have a championship to uphold, to defend – and I just got 7th; so I was like “man what are you doing out there”? I have no fear of going and hurting for my sport right now, and that is the positive right now.
My theory always is to get out of Anaheim with a clean bill of health, and a mental state of fire.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS FIRST RACE? I would actually say it is more physical than equipment. You know the bike was great. I have a couple of things that we want to work on, but the bike was better than I would have assumed. You know, I did take a small risk based on the fact that the bike had not been truly raced in a while, especially on factory level. It is better than I thought it would be. What I would say that about my physical status, is that I need to loosen up, I need to go, and do some almost throwback stuff. I need to go do some of that gritty stuff that got me here in the first place, because I maybe have been trying to over think it a little bit. So I am going back to the drawing board, and saying, “hey, let’s simplify this and get to work.” That is going to be my best move. The most intel I gathered from tonight was actually from my physical status, where I was getting tight, and riding like a dude that has never rode before. That is not what I am out here to do.
OF COURSE YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP EARLY LAST YEAR, BUT ITS NOT LIKE THE TITLE FELL INTO YOUR HANDS! Absolutely, there were times that I was definitely down on points and I had to sink or swim. I thought to myself “ I got to make it happen.” It was at those times where I often think I can pull the best out of myself. Right now, I am further behind the points lead than I would have liked to be. I would have loved nothing more than to just put this JGR Suzuki in the number 1 spot, just for the JGR guys. It is not the most important thing for me, because I like to make sure that I am just healthy and doing what is necessary. But man I am just way more disappointed for these guys than myself, because they deserve me to be up on the top spot, no doubt. I could not get that done tonight, but still I have the time to work back and get that number 1 to be red again. I don’t see any reason to worry at this point, because we have an extra race. I won by 35 points last year, which is well over an entire event, and that was with a mediocre start right like now. So with an extra race, more time to grow, and doing the homework I have to do, I think I will for sure be able to make that jump and get back. With that being said, we have some serious guys. We have some players in this class this year. We have guys that have lost the title before, and they don’t want to lose again. We got some guys who are here that for whatever reasons have made the coast jump, and now they mean business on this west coast side. It is going to be harder, but I am more optimistic than ever because I don’t feel any real reasons to get all stirred up, and spin myself out. I got the best team, and I have an amazing bike. I can do it; I just have to fix myself.
I have a couple of things that we want to work on, but the bike was better than I would have assumed.
IN SPITE OF ALL THE PRE-SEASON TESTING AND TRAINING, YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW A LOT UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST RACE. Oh absolutely, you learn so much from racing that it is unreal. That is why I say that I don’t necessarily count this as the best indicator of the season. I personally have never done well with the opener, whether it is here, or the East Coast opener; you learn so much. The debut race it is not the best indicator of the whole season. I have the time to build up, and do it. I am just immensely more motivated to do that now than I was before. Not to say that I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing, but you know there is always that thing in the back of your head like making it to A1, and having no pre-season injury. I have had injuries preseason quite often to the point where I was just like “man, I just want to stay healthy this year, have a good start, and have no ailments”. So I succeeded at that, but I failed at winning. Still, I don’t think it is going to be long before I am up on that top step, and really reeling them off like I did last time.
YOUR CLASS IS STACKED, AND YOU UNFORUNATLEY SUFFERED SOME POOR STARTS. Yeah, tonight especially with starting the series with a very easy Supercross track. This was a track that everybody had wired, and was running very similar lap times. If you start back there, the chances are you are going to end up back there. That is the truth, so I needed to really burst out of there, and get out front. I failed to do that, and also from my heat race I did not necessarily attack that as hard as I needed to, and get that position to be able to park that Suzuki where it needed to be off the start. So there are multiple things that I need to adjust for the next weekend. But the start is huge, no doubt about that. I need to work on that, but I gathered a lot of Intel on how to make that better, and I learned a lot about the start. I learned a lot about that metal grate and what it is like to race on it, so I suspect that will come around quick.
This was a track that everybody had wired, and was running very similar lap times. If you start back there, the chances are you are going to end up back there.
ONE LAST QUICK QUESTION, I KNOW YOU HAVE BEEN PRETTY TIGHT WITH YOUR FORMER TEAMMATE SHANE MCELRATH. HOW WAS IT TO SEE HIM WIN? Oh man, I am always happy when Shane lights the candles, as he is a great guy. Honestly, it is bitter sweet, because I know by him winning and me being in 7th, it is going to be really hard to catch him because he is so solid. But he is a great friend, and he deserves it. When I feel those (finish line) flames on a whole different side of the track where I should be, I can only hope that it is one of my buddies! I have been doing this sport my entire life as have they, and we all know how it feels to win. If it’s not you, but a friend winning, is easier to swallow that loss if you can enjoy someone else’s achievement.