Northern Notes: What’s your stroke?

NN_v1

Ryan Villopoto on the new 2015 Kawasaki KX450F


Words by Danny Brault

Which bike are you going to race next summer?

That’s the question rolling through most Canadian riders’ heads this time of year. Racing doesn’t begin until April, but now is when eager contenders carefully analyze their options before deciding on their favourite colour and/or brand and laying down a cool $10K, which is the price when all said and done with most full size bikes. With all of the manufacturers building such competitive equipment these days, as a consumer you really can’t make a bad choice. For most, I think it comes down to dealer support, parts availability and of course, a good price. Or consult your favourite energy drink brand.

With the CMRC modifying rules to allow 250 two-strokes into the MX2 class against 250 four-strokes, it seems now the question isn’t so much which brand but which stroke a rider will choose to ride. That was certainly the question for KTM and Kaven Benoit last winter when they were flipping back and forth on which bike they should race, a 250 SX-F or 250 SX. The final consensus was to race both, a four-stroke on hard packed western tracks, and a two-stroke on sandier eastern tracks. Good call, as Benoit walked off with wins on both bikes and eventually the MX2 championship over his four-stroke mounted colleagues.

I feel that it always comes to man over machine, ultimately, but some folks see it differently. Not everyone was pumped to see Benoit barking his way to his first championship aboard a 250 two-stroke; some disagree with mixing the ‘strokes’ and feel that it’s an unfair advantage, since not every manufacturer offers a two-stroke 250 option. Valid point and it’s one that is shared at the corporate level as well. Would be a bummer to discontinue that novelty of hearing two-stroke versus four-stroke on the track….

 

Two vs Four: Jeremy Medaglia and his KX250F four-stroke chase down Liam O'Farrell and his zingy KTM 250 SX two-stroke in a moto at Deschambault, Quebec this summer.

Two vs Four: Jeremy Medaglia and his KX250F four-stroke chase down Liam O’Farrell and his zingy KTM 250 SX two-stroke in a moto at Deschambault, Quebec this summer. Photo by James Lissimore

Could we see the rules changed, and the CMRC not allowing 250 two-strokes to race in the MX2 class? “I don’t think that’s going to happen, but we are talking with the manufacturers very soon and this is one topic that is on the table,” says Mark Stallybrass, CMRC President and Rockstar Energy Drink Motocross Nationals series promoter. “It’s understandable from a corporate standpoint but it’s proven to be good for racing because it’s more affordable. A lot of riders wouldn’t like it if we changed it back.”

Maybe if the 250 two-stroke didn’t make such a successful splash this summer (last year was the first year of the new rule but not as many riders took advantage of it), with Benoit taking wins, Liam O’Farrell and Jeremy Provonost getting their first podiums and quite a few riders choosing a KTM or YZ 250, nobody would have said anything. As it is however, the two-stroke proves a strong option but I would hate to see them go away.

Privateers say it’s a great way to stay competitive without spending as much money, it makes things interesting and at the end of the day, you still need a rider to ride the bike, buuuuttttttt …not every manufacturer offers a 250 two-stroke so it’s not totally fair. I agree there. Although, now with Husqvarna stepping back into racing, we now have three brands with smokers—KTM, Yamaha and Husky. Now there’s equal pull on each end of the rope, with Honda, Kawi and Suzuki not offering two-stroke options. Who breaks the vote?

What’s your take on this? Should 250 two-strokes be allowed to race against 250 four-strokes in the MX2 class? Feel free to send your thoughts to dannybro224@gmail.com and we’ll share them in next week’s Northern Notes.

 

Yamaha's all-new off-road YZ250FX. Features a rearward slanted engine design, electric start and 18-inch rear wheel.

Yamaha’s all-new off-road YZ250FX. Features a rearward slanted engine design, electric start and 18-inch rear wheel.

So … which bike are you picking next year? Even without riding the new bikes, I’m going with a KTM 350 SX-F, CRF250R or YZ250F. In that order, although, I feel the last one would be my most reliable choice. What do I know though? If you are looking for some ‘expert’ advice on which 2015 motocross bike to purchase, MXP’s editor Chris ‘Palms’ Pomeroy offers an in-depth analysis on the KX450F and CRF450R in the next issue.

Speaking of new bikes, this week Yamaha released some 2015 motorcycles, including an all-new model, the YZ250FX. An off-road, enduro focused bike, the 250FX features the new rearward slanted engine design typical to the 250 and 250F motocross models, electric start (too bad this wasn’t on the MX version…), and an 18-inch rear wheel. No, it’s not a WR; the 250FX is a different model based off the YZ. There is still a WR250F available, which also has the rearward cylinder and enduro package. Both come in under $9,000, which is not too bad considering the price of things these days.

“We expect the new YZ250FX to be on dealer floors in early 2015,” says Yamaha Motor Canada’s Motorsports Marketing Coordinator, Matt Fletcher.

The 250FX looks cool. The Japanese are in need of more competition-type options to take on KTM’s XC/ XCF/ EXC line, which feature all kinds of goodies to suit off-road riding but without sacrificing ‘punch.’ Kudos to Yamaha for offering this new off-road model for serious racers.

Maybe we see Yamaha’s top off-road rider, Brian “Wojo” Wojarowski, becoming the poster child for the new 250FX? I doubt it. He’s tried four-strokes before and a YZ450F in 2010, but Wojo prefers the light and nimble 250 two-stroke and seems to go much better on one. I caught up with the two-time Corduroy Enduro winner this week to discuss his recent win at the Cord and his season in Ontario. The 35-year-old likes to joke around for the most part, but has this real serious tone and approach to racing (and life), but at the heart of it, really just likes riding and is thankful for the support he has to do what he loves.

He’s not afraid to admit he not’s the fastest guy on a motocross track, but to his credit, Wojo qualified for the MX1 class at the Gopher Dunes National in 2012 and just missed out on qualifying the next year in MX2 on a YZ250. Plus, he can ride a trials bike quite well and pretty much anything with a throttle and two wheels. If you know Wojo, you know he’s a nut for training and getting his heart rate up, so I had to laugh when he talked about his experience racing a pro motocross national. “Hey, if nothing else, it was a good work out. What else would I have been doing? Probably drinking beer on the side of the track .”

 

2014 Corduroy Enduro Pro class results

2014 Corduroy Enduro Pro class results

To see what else Wojo has to say, read Part I and II and his interview here. Winning a Corduroy Enduro is no easy task; it’s three days of hell riding across some of the most disgusting trails in Ontario. It’s been going on since 1953 and Wojo became the 60th champion of the The Cord!

On the topic of off-road and challenging, Kamloops, BC’s Bobby Prochnau and his longtime riding partner, teammate and girlfriend, Chantelle Bykerk, have been once again chasing stardom on the US Endurocross circuit. The two Canucks were top-10 in Salt Lake City last weekend, with Bykerk taking second place in the Women’s Pro class. See full results here.

Mike Alessi’s preparation for ‘round two’ with Colton Facciotti began last weekend with the Smartop MotoConcepts rider taking second behind Jason Anderson at the Stockholm Supercross in Sweden. Behind Alessi was Phil Nicoletti, so there was some speed on the line and not just a bunch of no name Russian guys or something. To be clear, Alessi is not 100 percent on returning to Canada next summer, but it’s on the table, says his team manager and father, Tony Alessi.

Young Canadian Nathan Bles is talking with some teams about support for the 2015 nationals. After his breakout season in the MX1 class, the 21-year-old earned attention and at the moment he’s got interest from a few teams. One is orange, one is red and the other is Leading Edge. No matter where Bles lands, it would most likely be on a 450 considering his results and preference on the big bike.

The Monster Energy Cup kicks off tomorrow night. Had GDR Honda Team Manager, Derek Schuster, and his number one rider, Colton Facciotti, gotten more sleep, we could have seen Canada on the line in the premiere class.

“If I wasn’t so tired from the year and Motocross of Nations, I would have liked to have gone to Monster Cup,” said Schuster this week. “We talked about, but I needed a rest and so does Colton. After Utah, he didn’t ride have much time to heal up for Latvia and now he needs time to relax and regroup.”

 

 

thompson

Cole Thompson is racing East Coast Supercross in the Lites class. Photo by James Lissimore

I tried hunting around with Schuster about Kyle Keast riding for him, but he wouldn’t crack. I was hanging out with Keast on the weekend, mooching his girlfriend’s bike and laying down laps with ‘team loser.’ “It’s definitely happening.” Keast says about riding a Honda next year, but he won’t say for who and or anything else.

The Machine Racing rider is doing a great job of healing up from his cracked vertebrae, still wearing the chest brace but going to work every day like normal and banging around with hammers, drills and welders. The 29-year-old is bound and bent on doing the full tour again next summer, even investing in a big new fifth-wheel trailer to house his ‘Keast Metal Works’ factory racing team.

“I read some crap on the internet about guys saying how I know how it is, how I’m a guy with no talent but work hard and that’s how I get results,” said Keast on part of his motivation to go national racing more seriously again. “I don’t work that hard at it; I’ve always worked a full-time job since I turned pro, except for 2012 and then I got hurt. If I had no talent, how come I can get away with not training, going south or riding full time and still come out and be strong? I wish I could spend all my time working at racing but I can’t. Next summer, though, I am going to take time off and race all of the nationals.”

And the MX1 class keeps getting stronger! With Keast committed to all 10 rounds that only adds to the depth of talent in the Canadian Nationals for 2015.

In my talk with Schuster, I did manage to get him to spill some beans on who he’s talking with on supporting Colton in 2015. One name being thrown around is that of Cole Thompson, who is currently a KTM rider and by all accounts is expected to be back on their team next summer. It’s a small business as we know and everybody is talking to everybody, before, during and after the racing season, and GDR thinks Thompson could be a good asset to their team. Most would agree. The interesting thing is that if Thompson rode for GDR, it would be in MX2, not MX1.

“I think a year or two in the MX2 class could be good for him,” noted Schuster. “He’s comfortable on both bikes and he’s still young, so there’s no rush to go right to MX1.”

Let’s say MotoConcepts comes back, and Thompson does go to GDR Honda … then it’s Vince Friese vs Cole Thompson vs Kaven Benoit—shaping up to be a goody!

Before I hung up with Schuster, I had to ask for his thoughts on teams who hire fast Americans, instead of giving guys like a Bles or Kaelin a shot with more resources and tools to contend for podiums.

“It’s hard for me because I have the good Canadian guy,” he says. “I don’t want to say much because we’ve had Americans in the past and it could happen again. It is different from a team’s perspective and with sponsors involved; they want to win and finish on the podium. My goal is to keep things Canadian for the most part, but I can’t promise we won’t hire an American if that’s what has to happen. I do think it adds to the series to have guys like Goerke and we’re at a time right now where there aren’t many Canadians available who can finish on the podium.”

Sam Boyd Stadium - home of Monster Energy Cup tomorrow night!

Sam Boyd Stadium – home of Monster Energy Cup tomorrow night!

I tried probing Thompson on where he may end up in 2015, but as it stands, his home is KTM. “I’m back on the bike in December and then the plan is getting ready to race East Coast Supercross on a KTM,” he says. “It will be my own deal since I’m racing the Canadian Nationals next summer.”

He adds that it’s been difficult watching everyone racing this summer from the sidelines, and he’s ready to ride again. “It was my first big injury,” Thompson says. “Other than this, the most I’ve been off a bike is a month. Time went by fast at first, with schools and camps, but since Walton, things are dragging on.”

If we did see Thompson racing MX2 next summer, instead of MX1, that would certainly stir the pot!

Can we expect any changes to the National schedule next year? Not likely, although I think we could see one change in the west, but Stallybrass won’t say anything. “I can tell you that the eastern rounds won’t change,” he said.

Could I get my wish and we see all nationals being run on Saturdays? “Not a chance, we’re going back to Sundays,” states Stallybrass.

We’ve got some racing going on this weekend, big money racing, to keep us entertained and an excuse to drink beer and eat chicken wings. Tomorrow night is the million dollar Monster Energy Cup with the top riders competing for $1 million dollars, if they can win all three main event motos. The event is being broadcast live on FOX Sports (details here) and they’ve got an assortment of live online content for fans to soak in, from lap times to video footage of practice and qualifying. It all begins at 4pm EST tomorrow, with the main events going off at 9pm EST.

No Canadians to cheer for in the Supercross class but we do have some in the amateur support classes. Mini-cycle sensations Casey Keast, Tanner Ward and Christopher Fourtier (and semi Canadian Joey Crown) are signed up for Super Mini, and Preston Masciangelo is taking on the best 50cc racers in the KTM Junior SX Challenge (Preston won the Toronto SX Challenge this past March).

Get all details on the Monster Cup here.

Monster Energy Cup TV times:

October 18, live on FOX Sports 2 – 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT
October 19, re-air on FOX Sports 1 – 1:00 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. PT
October 26, FOX broadcast debut (check local listings)

Who is racing the Monster Cup? Here’s the short list.

Okay, before we leave you, tet’s finish things off with Canadian hockey legend, Darryl Sutter!