Coming into the 2016 Rockstar Energy Drink MX Nationals, the one rider that everyone was talking about was the newest member of the KTM Thor Racing Team, Davi Millsaps. The talk about Mr. Millsaps was mostly surrounding his past (both good and bad), and whether or not he’d be able to travel North to Canada and find the success that KTM wanted him to find. Riders like Millsaps are hired by Canadian manufacturers for one reason and one reason only, to win Championships. In KTM Canada’s case, they have witnessed in the past two seasons the orange brand winning titles all over the world. Although Kaven Benoit certainly isn’t ruled out as an MX1 Championship contender, 2016 is Benoit’s first year in this class and no one wants to put undo pressure on the two-time MX2 Champion. So it was decided that Millsaps would come to Canada this summer as their hired gun with one thing in mind, to win KTM Canada’s very first Canadian MX1 Championship.
When this news first broke back in early April, I was on assignment in California taking part in the West Coast Orange Brigade Camp. On the day after this camp we were taken up to the test track for the official KTM Thor Racing photoshoot with Kaven Benoit and Cole Thompson. To add validity to the rumours, Davi Millsaps also showed up to the photoshoot to meet who would soon become his new teammates, as well as his new Team Manager, JSR. At the time Millsaps was still recovering from his nasty crash in Daytona and hadn’t been cleared to ride. In talking to him that day, it was difficult to gauge whether he was excited to head to Canada or if he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to spend his summer at Lake Havasu I would find out later that Millsaps laid back talk is just his southern personality and it’s just on the surface. Deep down he is an extremely intense and goal orientated individual, and when he puts his stubborn mind to something, it gets done.
Fast forward to the opening round a few weeks ago in Kamloops, BC and if there were still any doubts about how Millsaps would handle his first day on the job in Canada, it was certainly answered. In the searing heat that engulfed Whispering Pines Raceway that day, Millsaps was almost flawless. His second place in Moto 1 was backed up with a dominant win in Moto 2 and the red plate on his bright orange KTM. When I asked him how he dealt with the heat so well in both motos, he replied confidently, “It wasn’t that hot today.” As I left Kamloops that night, my thoughts were that despite all of the conjecture about how Millsaps would do this summer, this guy had come to Canada echoing his employer’s brand promise “Ready to Race.”
With wins in Nanaimo and again this past weekend in Calgary, Millsaps is currently in the driver’s seat of the MX1 Series. His speed has been superb and his fitness is as good as anyone in the class. In talking with his mechanic on Saturday, he told me that Millsaps has been working incredibly hard during the week. This includes long hours of testing and countless motos with fellow KTM USA riders Dean Wilson and the TLD crew. If history is any guide, when Millsaps is in this motivated state of mind, he’s as good as any rider in the world.
In watching him firsthand during the first six motos of this young season, two things have stood out to me. First, his lack of mistakes during the long 35 minute races. Lap after lap his times don’t vary and he appears to hit his marks at will. We all knew that he’d be good, I mean, let’s face it, all of the riders are good at this level, but I didn’t know he’d be this good. The second and most important thing that has surprised me, and evidently his competition as well, is his unwavering aggression, especially in the first three corners of each moto. Millsaps has not holeshotted any of the motos thus far, however by turn two or three, he’s muscled his way to the lead and never looked back. While riders like Metcalfe, Alessi, Goerke and Facciotti have kept him close, Millsaps’ biggest hurdle has come from a guy holding a red cross flag. By now the other riders must know the #118’s game plan; it’s very reminiscent of Brett Metcalfe’s in 2013: get to the front as soon as possible and make everyone else chase. Millsaps’ fellow MX1 riders need to make adjustments to this tactic and keep him behind them at all costs on lap one. Obviously, this is easier said than done, and it will be very interesting to see how Millsaps handles a few of the upcoming eastern tracks. Gopher Dunes will be an obvious test for him with it’s deep sand, Deschambault also has similar conditions, however, all of the other tracks are too far off what we’ve seen in the first three rounds.
Whatever happens moving forward, it is all great news for Canadian motocross. The depth of speed and talent has never been greater than it is this year at the pro level. To watch these guys battle in the first three rounds has been amazing, and itís only going to get better. If you have the chance to come out and watch these riders live, you must do it this summer. It’s just too good to miss! So far, Davi Millsaps has set the pace, now it’s up to his competition to respond, and they must respond with vigour! That folks is what a National series is all about.