In a year filled with parity, one brand is sticking out for not joining in the party. The first four Monster Energy 450 SX races this year were captured by riders on a Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki, and although KTM isn’t where they’re hoping to be yet with Ryan Dungey, he does have two podiums in four races—plus Ken Roczen is now leading the 250SX West Region.
But Yamaha hasn’t sniffed the podium in either class. Their best shot so far came in Oakland when Justin Brayton grabbed a good start in the 450 main and avoided some huge carnage in a second-turn crash. But Brayton admitted to me that he didn’t ride as well as he should have, and Dungey eventually caught him. Then Brayton hit the ground when Dungey was executing a pass, and he ultimately finished tenth.
Justin Brayton was looking at a seasons-best finish in Oakland, but collided with Ryan Dungey and eventually finished tenth.
Simon Cudby photo
Seems like Yamaha has been in a funk for awhile, but it was actually just a year ago when James Stewart won Oakland on a JGR/Toyota Yamaha. It seemed possible that all was right in their world at that point, as Stewart certainly possessed the ability to get on a streak, and, he was only 12 points down on the leaders despite a couple of rough races to open the year. The next week in San Diego, though, he crashed in the whoops and got caught on a cable attached to a television camera. It took forever for him to get untangled, and from then, it was pretty clear the title wasn’t coming his way.
Beyond that, JGR enjoyed a fantastic 1-2 finish in Daytona via Stewart and Davi Millsaps. And Millsaps began to rally, ultimately finishing a career-best second in the final supercross standings. But even that stat has now become a dubious one for the blue crew, because since moving to Rockstar Energy Racing, Millsaps has only gotten stronger, and he’s leading the points this time around.
Yamaha has yet to find a savior. In Brayton and Grant, there’s certainly some potential—each has battled Millsaps before, so they would surely believe they could replicate what he has done this year. The rest of Yamaha’s myriad of support teams are putting YZ450Fs in the main events, which is the intended job. But when you consider Yamaha grabbed Jeremy McGrath and the AMA Supercross title in 1998, and then transitioned to Chad Reed and Stewart to deliver more titles, this year marks the first in 15 seasons where they don't have an established champion on board.
Josh Grant has been up and down through four races this season.
Simon Cudby photo
I recently talked to Bobby Reagan, who owns Star Racing, Yamaha’s factory 250 effort, and he explained that, “We’re very fortunate Yamaha is letting us have a rebuilding year.” Indeed, with neither of Yamaha’s 450 or 250 bikes getting a major overhaul lately, and without a bonafide, guaranteed title contender in either class, it appears to very much be a rebuilding season for the brand. Yamaha has been there before, including lean years of racing production bikes against works equipment, and watching talented riders like Rick Johnson and Jeff Stanton leave for other brands and then reach their true potential. Yamaha has also recovered from such scenarios to win again, too. How long will it take this time?