MXA INTERVIEW: JUSTIN BARCIA TALKS ABOUT THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF HIS 2019 SEASON
BY JIM KIMBALL
After winning the final round of the 2018 Pro Motocross season and winning the opening round of the 2019 AMA Supercross season, things were looking good for Monster Energy Yamaha rider Justin Barcia. Unfortunately, the success was short lived. Justin crashed at round three which resulted in a bruised tailbone. Although he was back at the races the next weekend, his results dwindled, and more injuries occurred when he crashed while practicing before the Atlanta Supercross. Finally, Justin and his team decided to skip the final three rounds to prepare for the Outdoor season where he would struggle again to reach his full potential. At the final three rounds of the season Barcia would score two sixths and a fifth overall. We caught up with Justin after the final round to get the back story on his season and hear his thoughts about it all.
JUSTIN, TALK BRIEFLY ABOUT YOUR SEASON. I won the last race of the 2018 season at Ironman, and then I won at the 2019 Anaheim 1 Supercross. But after I had a big crash, and never got quite going again in Supercross. I kept crashing, dinged myself up, and then came into motocross with unfortunately two broken wrists. So, I really did not have any time to test, and not a ton of time to train. I just struggled finding my flow and comfort on the bike later. I searched a lot and never found it. Then I spent about two weeks after Washougal with some of the guys from the team. We stayed at Washougal the day after the race and did some testing. Travis Preston and one of our other test riders stayed and found a pretty good setting. Then I flew to California after that and took it even further. The last two weekends of the season I had a lot better speed, and all that is just comfort on the motorcycle. This racing stuff is always up and down unfortunately, but yeah, it has been a tough year. But I definitely had my best speed of the year towards the end. Obviously, I am searching for more, but it is good to finally have some speed to run up near the front. Unfortunately, it has come at the end of the racing year, and that is how it has played out. It is somewhat of out of my hands and nothing I can really do.
HOW HARD WAS IT TO COME INTO MOTOCROSS WITH LITTLE TESTING TIME? MOST PEOPLE DON’T REALIZE HOW DIFFERENT IT IS FROM SUPERCROSS. Yes, it is a completely different animal. Supercross and motocross bike set-ups are completely different. It’s different engines, gearing, suspension, and things like that, it is a night and day difference. And as you know, there is only about a week or so in between seasons to get outdoor testing in, and when you miss that window, it is very difficult. People will say, “why don’t you go with your last year setting for outdoors? You did pretty good then.” But it just changes so much, with updated parts and things like that. It is not really realistic. You can try to backtrack a little, but you never really want to backtrack. You want to always move forward. It just took us a while to find the setting that we were looking for, but I have proven to anyone that knows me, I never give up, so you just have to work hard to find the setting. The last few weekends of the season I got better each weekend and I feel like I am close to winning again. I am definitely capable of it. There is no issue there, just need to nail two good starts and ride smooth, consistent laps.
HOW DIFFERENT IS YOUR YAMAHA YZ450F COMPARED TO AARON PLESSINGER’S? Aaron and I have a completely different riding style. He is very big, and he rides on the rear-end a lot. For me, I used to ride a lot of rear-end style back in the day, and I still do move around a lot, but I rely on my front-end more now and Aaron doesn’t. So, his front-end is really stiff and his rear shock is low — I like a balanced bike. If I had to race his bike tomorrow, I don’t think it would be so good and vice versa. My suspension is a lot softer than his. It is a totally different set-up. When I was riding a 250 at Geico Honda , a lot my teammates and I rode very, very similar settings but the 450 is a different animal and nothing alike.
HOW HARD IS IT TO CONTROL THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF PRO RACING? It is hard, but for me it is not that bad anymore because I have been in a position where I did not even have a job. I had to get my stuff together and buy parts to go racing. So, for me, it is not fun when you are not doing what you want to be doing. Mentally, I have learned to be positive, and know that I will get through it. At the end of the day, it has always proved to work, no matter what, because if I would have gotten negative, put myself in a situation where I was not comfortable with the motorcycle, and not happy with the way I was feeling physically, I could really have gone downhill. But I have gotten better throughout the season, never gave up, and kept fighting.
BEING POSITIVE SEEMS TO HAVE PAID OFF FOR YOU. I see people get in the situation I’m in right now and it is not good, but I have been in a lot of worse situations. If I did not have a ride for next year, this would have been a tough season, but luckily, I have another year on my Yamaha contract. This year I won my first Supercross race, and I don’t think anyone would say that I do not have the speed or capabilities, I just need to find that happy place. Unfortunately, this year, I never found that spot. I am starting to find it now, but it’s the season is over. So, now it’s time to start working on the next season for 2020.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A ONE-YEAR CONTRACT? HOW STRESSFUL IS THAT? When I first came over here to Yamaha, I had a one-year contract, so I had to prove myself. Thankfully, I did not have any injuries, proved myself, and got a job. But if I had an injury or was not able to prove myself, I would have been out of luck. A one-year deal is not ideal. This is probably one of the most difficult industries to be in if you have an injury or are not getting good results, because there are like zero jobs for 450 racers. And with the economy right now, I don’t think it is getting any better. It is difficult for teams to put three guys on the track. It is not like it was back in the day when you could have a 450 team of three or more riders. We have a very tight budget with two riders. This year, for both Aaron and I, if we had a one-year contracts, we would be in a little bit of a situation because truthfully we have not put in the results.
BUT IT’S NOT YOUR OR AARON’S FAULT. We could say, “it was not our fault,” but at the end of the day, That doesn’t matter. It is up to the team. The team makes the decision, but the good thing is, Aaron and I are hard workers and the team sees that. I don’t think the team could get any better riders right now and going into next year, our goal is to be in the title hunt. Last year, unfortunately, in Supercross I won the first race, then I had a big crash, and it put me back. So, the biggest thing for me moving into next year is that I know I will have a ride. For 2020 I have to stay healthy and not make any stupid mistakes.
AARON WAS GONE FOR A LARGE PORTION OF THE SEASON, DID THAT HAVE ANY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON YOU? I wouldn’t say it was negative, but we do feed off each other a little bit. We both like to have fun and are very competitive. Aaron moved down to Florida this year and we were training together. Then I got injured and was not riding, and he was riding. Then I come back and he got injured, and I was riding. Our goal was to push each other and build our speed, and we were really not able to do that this year. At the end of the day, if I am here or not or if Aaron is here or not, it does not matter. But it is nice having a teammate where you feed off each other and you want to beat your teammate. I am happy that I have a good teammate, because I have not always gotten along with my teammates in the past — that is kind of known.
WHAT DID YOU CHANGE TO THE BIKE AFTER WASHOUGAL? Well, unfortunately, it was a little bit of everything. I was not thrilled with my engine’s power delivery,. I won’t go into crazy details, but we worked on clutch set-up, power delivery and other engine stuff . We made it hugely better after Washougal. The we made some chassis changes which we were searching all season. Yamaha brought in Travis Preston and he rode with my suspension settings at Washougal and he felt the same things that I said I was feeling. We were able to correct that and when I went to California, I took it a little further and found that comfort setting I was looking for. It is not like we weren’t trying to find that sooner. It just took time to find that happy place. It was frustrating because Yamaha is a world-wide brand, and we see the guys in MXGPs doing quite well, and we are like, “I don’t get it”! (Laughing). Unfortunately, we did not get the time to do a lot testing. The MXGP guys are great riders, but they do not race Supercross, so they have a lot of time to test their motorcycle,s 24/7 for the outdoors. For us, we did not have time to test for outdoors this year and it showed.
HAVING TRAVIS PRESTON COME FROM THE MEDIA DEPARTMENT TO HELP WITH BIKE SET UP SEEMED TO BE A MAJOR STEP UP. I agree, it was good that Travis was at Washougal because after the race we all sat down and talked. Sometimes the rider’s lingo whene talking about the bike does not always get transferred over into the right words for the race team. So, when Travis was there, he understood what I was saying. Not that my guys don’t understand me, but rider-to-rider, our communication was a little bit easier. Travis really got what I was saying. The next day he went out there, rode the bike, felt the things we were talking about, we were able to fix those things and it was great.
TRAVIS PRESTON HAS DONE A LOT OF DEVELOPMENT WORK ON THE YZ450F, RIGHT? Yes. He has a lot of insight on the bike. He was able to find the issues quickly. We would have had to run through 50 things, and he only had to run through a couple of things because he knew what was going on. As a rider, I don’t really know what is going on at times. I just know that, “it is off in the front, it is kicking me in the rear.” There are some riders that really get into detail like, “Oh, I need to take out some compression and this and that,” but at the end of the day, most riders just have to go by feel, and need a technicians to figure it out. Travis was able to find what we needed quickly, and we were able to take it a few steps further. Travis has never really helped the race team previously because hewas really busy with product development and media testing. I think it was cool that the race team realized that we were stuck and needed to have Travis come over and help us out. We were grateful because it is not his job.
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO MOVING TO THE 2020 YAMAHA YZ450F. DOES A BETTER PRODUCTION BIKE TRANSLATE TO A BETTER RACE BIKE? Of course it does, but you have to be very careful. Sometimes you can get lost when you throw a lot of new parts on a motorcycle, so we are starting very early with testing the 2020 model. We need to start near a stock production setting, throw things at it slowly, and not necessarily throw the whole book at the motorcycle at once.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TTO START WITH A REALLY GOOD PRODUCTION BIKE? I do believe that the Yamaha is an awesome bike. It is extremely durable. They don’t break very often. The engine is bulletproof but at the same time, for us, we try to find that crazy power, while still keeping it controllable. With the new bike, we need to take our time, and fortunately we do have a little time before the Monster Cup. I believe the 2020 season is looking super bright because I am healthy, Aaron is getting more comfortable each day and we are starting with a new bike. It is not crazy different than last year’s bike, but there are some new changes that I am excited to try.
WILL YOU RACE ANY OTHER OFF-SEASON RACES BESIDES MONSTER CUP? We will begin the off-season with a little testing, then the Monster Cup, and my plan is to race the Geneva and Paris Supercrossesthis year. I love those races.t I have not been to Paris in quite a few years. They have an new stadium there, so that will be really fun. I have been to Geneva the past few years and I enjoy that place. That is where I met my wife Amber, so it is always cool to go back to Geneva. I know a lot of people don’t like racing in the off-season, but those are fun races. And with the new bike, I feel like putting some starts under the belt, getting track time, and battling guys is a good thing. Our careers are short, so race it up while we can. (Laughing)