INDUSTRY SCUTTLEBUTT: MOTO SPECULATIONS AND BUZZ
This could be the Glen Helen National next year. Ken Roczen on red and Trey Canard on orange.
With the AMA Nationals and Motocross GP’s ongoing, fans and pundits alike are already looking beyond this season. Eager to find out what is on the palette for next year, the MXA wrecking crew is always keeping our ears open for the latest buzz and changes. With much of the current talent up for contract renewals at the end of this season, we expect to see some brand switching. Here are some of the biggest rumors and confirmed changes happening within the next year. Telling rumors and sharing industry gossip always requires a caveat about how there is a Fudge Factor 10 to every mechanic, sponsor, rider or hanger-on who tells you what they think they know. That said, some of what follows will come to pass and some of it won’t—either way we’ll crow about the things that are right and forget about what is wrong.
This National season Ken Roczen is sporting a red plate. Next year he will be on a red bike. It is no secret that Ken Roczen will be leaving RCH to join HRC Honda come 2017. While the German looks both confident and comfortable on his Suzuki this season, don’t forget that Eli Tomac looked like he loved his Honda in 2015—but he couldn’t get to Kawasaki fast enough. As for Roczen, it’s hard to forget last year’s turmoil at RCH. Between bike setup issues, his family clashing with the team and his mechanic announcing early on that he was going back to KTM, it is almost surprising to see how well everything is working this outdoor series. Everyone is waiting for the official Honda press release, but this is a sure-fire deal. Most likely it will be a five-year contract giving Honda a shot at some big bike Championships before the contract is up. The certainty of this rumor is 100%.
Not only will German Ken Roczen ride for HRC Honda but a current GP Honda rider Tim Gajser is rumored to want to come to America next year. The 19 year old Slovenian has been dominating in the MXGP circuit and when he signed with Honda he had a clause put in his contract that allows him to come to the USA in 2017 if he wants to. The rookie made no delays in edging his way into the front of the 450 GP series after winning the opening race in Qatar. Since then, his performance has been nothing short of stellar. Tim has made the overall podium in every round up to now. Out of the ten races, five have been overall wins, three have been second place finishes and two are thirds. The stipulation for Gajser to come over to the USA is simply that he must win the 450 World title. A total of 24 points ahead of defending champion Romain Febvre does not give the rookie much room for error. If Gajser wins the title and this rumor is true then HRC Honda will be housing three riders with Cole Seely as the remaining racer. However, we don’t see Honda rolling over and letting the number one plate in the World Championships leave right after winning it.
It is odd to imagine Oklahoman Trey Canard riding anything but a Honda. His history with the brand started at the end of his amateur career in 2007 . After collecting a few championships on the 250 Geico Honda team, Canard moved up to HRC Honda and has been there for the entirety of his 450 career. Next year however may be the pro’s first venture to a different brand. Multiple sources say that Trey is signing with RedBull KTM for 2017. The change would be dramatic and could help Canard get out of the slump he’s found himself in this year. Hopefully he can adjust to the bike quicker than his old teammate Eli Tomac is adjusting to the Kawasaki. Like Roczen’s move, this one is very likely and if what we are hearing is true, the papers have already been signed.
One of the more obscure rumors was hinged on Ryan Dungey clinching the AMA National 450 championship this year. While an injury at Thunder Valley has hampered that from happening, the rumor center on what he would do when he won the 2016 AMA National crown. The big money was on him announcing his retirement at the end of the 2017 season and fading into the Minnesota sunset. Dungey’s injury could extend his racing career past 2017, but he is already assured of a place in the record books and his tax accountant ledger. There isn’t much substance to this rumor, but if it has a kernel of truth it begs the question of what team manager Roger DeCoster would do if Dungey retired. We hope he would stay on to guide another generation of stars, but who knows? We have been surprised before.
Only one thing is certain with the BTO KTM team, Andrew Short will not be riding for them in 2017. After a long career (he started in 2000) Short announced at the beginning of this year that it would be his last. So Short is gone, but what is BTO doing? The team could change bikes, but they get factory-level bikes from KTM and that might not happen with another bike manufacturer. Additionally, what will Justin Brayton do in 2017? Could it be Supercross only? And what about the Supercross-only deal of Davi Millsaps? If BTO sticks with KTM they could inherit Dean Wilson as part of the deal. Wilson has had a tough two years with season ending injuries in both of them, but KTM still believes enough in him to find him a spot.
Why doesn’t KTM just keep him on their inhouse factory team with Dungey and Musquin? Because it is rumored that Trey Canard will take Dean’s spot (after all, Roczen is taking his Honda ride). Marvin Musquin will stay put because he is only in his first year in the 450 class and has shown promise and, of course, Dungey is a given, if he wants to do it. Thus, Canard could come to KTM, which might be the change he needs after all those years on the Honda team. If the Canard rumor is true then Dean Wilson moving over to BTO makes sense. He’s the young blood that BTO needs for the future.
As recenlyt as a year ago, Alex Martin was not on anybody’s radar for a factory ride. Star Yamaha surprised everyone when they moved him up from the Cycletrader Rock River team to race alongside his brother Jeremy. Alex hadn’t shown much improvement in the 2016 Supercross West, mainly because he was overshadowed by teammate Cooper Webb. However the fans were pleasantly surprised when he started making big waves in the first three rounds of the AMA 250 Nationals. At Glen Helen he earned his first career overall win and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. While it wouldn’t make much sense for a rider that just got a factory ride to switch brands after only one season, there is a rumor that A-Mart may be moving to the Troy Lee Designs KTM team next year. While TLD KTM has a fairly strong lineup, many of their riders had been repeatedly injured, taking them out for significant parts of the last few seasons. Nonetheless Star Yamaha is losing at least one Martin and perhaps two Martins.
Unlike brother Alex Martin, Jeremy Martin is definitely moving up to the 450 class. While initially he was going to be picked up by RCH Suzuki to fill the hole left by Ken Roczen in 2017, sources have stated that RCH had a deadline to find manufacturer support by a certain date in order for Jeremy to race for RCH. They didn’t find a new bike sponsor (and we know that they talked to both KTM and Honda about deals) and J-Mart was free to look for a new offer. Some speculated he would go to Kawasaki to take Wil Hahn’s position, but the smart money is that he will get a spot on the Factory Yamaha backed team that was set-up for Chad Reed this year. Jeremy would join current Star Yamaha teammate Cooper Webb in the 450 class (with Chad Reed joining them in Supercross). This rumor is new, which means it will spread like wildfire, but we’ll all have to wait to see how this pans out. There are a lot of questions here.
While many teams have had a tough 2016, none has had it worse than Yoshimura Suzuki. Both of their riders, James Stewart and Blake Baggett, have been plagued with injuries. While Blake Baggett’s injuries are identifiable as physical, James Stewart seem to be primarily be mental. While he had shown promise in spurts, the big blow came at round one in Anaheim. While Bubba’s contract runs through next year, there is a minor stipulation. Insiders claim that James Stewart must get a fifth place or better in the overall AMA 450 National Championships to automatically seal the contract deal. Three races into the AMA Nationals and Bubba hasn’t earned a single AMA series point. While you may wonder what team in its right mind would give James Stewart up, there is a second rumor that might have the team moved out from under him. It is rumored that Yoshimura will take over as Suzuki’s official 250 team in 2017. Lord knows that their hodge-podge of 250 teams this year didn’t deliver any results. That would leave Suzuki’s 450 efforts in the hands of RCH. Which can’t be a very good feeling for Suzuki’s management, given that RCH is shopping for a new bike sponsor.
As for Baggett and Broc Tickle, they have to plan for what could happen. In lots of ways Suzuki isn’t in the drivers seat. They are losing Roczen, lost Martin before he got on a yellow bike, have one partner (RCH) who has been brand shopping and might end up with the number one plate going to a red bike. If you’re thinking they should have given Roger DeCoster what he wanted a few years ago, you are thinking exactly what everyone else is thinking.
Is Zach Osborne moving up.
Zach Osborne hasn’t had a conventional career. While a series of events led him to rebuild his reputation in Europe many years ago, Zach has still never won a race on US soil. Upon joining Husqvarna’s factory effort Zach has shown promise by making the top five for the last two years. Rockstar Husqvarna seems pretty satisfied with their current roster, although we don’t know why—given that Martin Davalos was out most of the season and Christophe Pourcel isn’t showing what he is capable of. Thus, Zach could be a solid partner for Jason Anderson on the big white bikes. And Zach probably needs to get out of the 250 class and see what he’s capable of with real horsepower. We’ll wait and see how this one pans out.