Considering he won a race a few days ago, it’s clear that James Stewart’s relationship with Yoshimura Suzuki is working. Today, the team announced James has extended his deal with the team through the 2015 season. We spoke with a source inside the team (Jake Klingensmith, who wrote the press release) today to get a better idea of what this means.
First, we all know there’s a free-agent frenzy coming for 2015 with multi-year deals expiring for riders like Justin Barcia, Ken Roczen, Trey Canard, Broc Tickle and Justin Brayton, and also 250 riders like Dean Wilson, Marvin Musquin, Blake Baggett, Jason Anderson and Cole Seely up for grabs. Yoshimura Suzuki now has a star rider locked up before the suitors of these riders will—which gives them an early jump on the sponsorship hunt. Free agent deals often require a complicated dance of “to get the rider we need the sponsor, but to get the sponsor we need the rider.” Yosh can now go to the negotiation table with the ever-marketable Stewart already in hand, while other teams can only pitch what-ifs. The Suzuki team has been without an outside title sponsor since its big reorganization a few years ago. With such concrete plans in place, the scales could tip in its favor.
Second, the Yoshimura Suzuki structure works very well on and off the track for James. He has business ventures like his Seven gear brand, backing the James Stewart Spring Classic amateur race in Freestone, Texas, and his personal deal with Red Bull. Since the Yosh Suzuki team no longer operates as a typical factory outfit, they can provide more flexibility than most teams. Did you know Seven also provides the casual gear for the team crew members? That would be a hard sell on a factory team, which would have long-standing deals in place for things like that. At the races, you’ll see a very seamless integration of “Team Stewart” and “Team Suzuki” personnel. Trust us, these situations don’t always work so smoothly.
James gets on with these folks, too. Some of his previous teams have indicated that James doesn’t always enjoy staying in California for testing, or testing in general. This time around, he’s spent nearly the entire off-season in California, and, he’s still there now even as many riders are moving back to Florida. He’ll be back at home shortly, but five months of direct work with the team folks on the West Coast indicate there’s a great vibe. He’s spoken about this ad nauseam, the team doesn’t point fingers when things go wrong—they just move forward collectively.
Finally, results-wise, while the Stewart/Suzuki relationship hasn’t resulted in a title, the group feels like they’re closer than it might look. We can throw out examples like the Lakewood, Colorado crash while leading the 2012 450 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, a torn ACL early last year, and the crash while gunning for the lead at Anaheim 1 this year as proof—just a few small moments have separated this team from greater success. They feel like they’re still in the hunt, and now they’ve got two more seasons to deliver.
A massive corporate restructuring a few years back essentially ended the factory Suzuki team as we knew it, but resulted in a rebirth as a Yoshimira-operated, Suzuki-supported operation. While the rebuild process has been rocky at times, the new Stewart deal indicates the team has found firm footing for the future.