Poorly held secrets are now out. Next year you’re going to see Davi Millsaps on green, Ken Roczen on yellow, and Justin Barcia on blue. Don’t expect official PRs about it from the teams for a month or so, because they’re still under contract from their existing teams, sans Millsaps, who already got released from his deal. Point is, we know where they’re going. But, why? We tried to answer those questions.
1. What's up with Davi Millsaps going to Kawasaki?
Jason Thomas: Well, as most of us knew; this deal has been in the works for a long time. Millsaps had been battling a few different issues with his recent team, struggles to get comfortable with the bike, and of course injuries, too. He never did line up for a race on the KTM, and that's a shame. He had such an incredible 2013 SX season and simply hasn't been around since. After having his leg corrected that summer, everyone hoped he would come out swinging again in 2014, but that just hasn't happened. I will say that the way this all went down was a bit ridiculous and transparent. Everyone was fed bits and pieces of misinformation along the way this summer, but he was never planning to race all along, in my opinion. Hopefully, this new deal with Kawi will put all of that drama to rest and he can get back to being the Millsaps we saw just over a year ago.
Jason Weigandt: Technically, Millsaps is taking Jake Weimer's spot on the team, but with Ryan Villopoto's future uncertain, the 18 could become Kawi's best hope for wins. This is a curious move to me, because Dean Wilson could have had this slot, but Kawi went elsewhere. I know Dean hasn't been Mr. Reliable lately, but hey, Millsaps will have missed eighteen months of racing by the time Anaheim rolls around, and he's been injury-prone throughout his career.
One potential silver lining is that Millsaps seems to enjoy proving people wrong, so he could be all fired up in comeback mode. Still, this is a long time off, with several major injuries stacked up. I don't think you can just expect an automatic repeat of his magical 2013 season. For now, though, Davi has pulled the greatest “You’re only as good as your last race” performance of all time.
Steve Matthes: Millsaps has done it. He’s now completed the ultimate hit-for-the-cycle in our sport. He’s ridden for Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, KTM, and now Kawasaki. Every single brand has had the Duke for a spell or two. Of course he never actually RACED the KTM, but I’m not going to let that fact ruin the theme of this column. But I’m with Weege here: we all talked about Christophe Pourcel’s return to racing after being off a year and a half from racing, and while he’s done well, CP377 isn’t what he used to be. So I think asking the #18 to come all the way back to his old level (back-to-back runner-ups in supercross points) is a tough ask. And not to mention it sounds like his foot was a pretty big injury. Or maybe it wasn’t. Who really knows if he was healthy and able to ride, or what he really had done to his foot and or knee? Seriously, sponsors and the media have been lied to in regards to this entire Millsaps story so much that I don’t know what to believe.
But, risky move for the Kawi guys for sure. With Villopoto’s status up in the air, I think I would want a more reliable guy than one who’s been off for eighteen months alongside my wild card rider (RV), but what do I know?
2. What's up with Ken Roczen going to Suzuki?
JT: This move was one I knew had happened long ago, but many people refused to believe until recently. Opinions are mixed on whether this is a smart decision, and I myself am torn. On one hand, I can understand his desire to be the clear #1 rider on a team and to also reunite with his Suzuki roots. The draw of Ricky Carmichael, Carey Hart, and wife Pink surely sweetened the deal on some level, but to me, this was more of Roczen’s desire to leave KTM. I heard rumors of a falling out last year between the two, and that has carried over into this decision. I truly believe that Roczen made his mind up last year to make a switch and has stuck to it. Whether or not this pans out, that's anyone's guess. I do know that the KTM 450 looks awfully good at the moment, so I don't anticipate an equipment improvement. Of all of the moves this off-season, I think this is the most intriguing (besides the ongoing RV debacle). The rider most would pin as "next" is making a move from the current dominant team on a global scale (never thought I would say that about KTM). Everyone will be watching... And judging.
Weege: This was the biggest shocker to me. We heard for quite some time that Millsaps and Barcia weren't getting on with their current bikes, but Roczen's time with KTM has been phenomenal, and it's hard to imagine him doing any better, no matter what bike he's on. I, like JT, have heard of a personal rift deep over in Europe that might have spawned Roczen's move, but I just figured Red Bull and KTM would show up at his house with a blank check and mend all fences.
RCH hasn't gone this big yet, but I have faith in the team and the support they have assembled. While most don't consider them "factory Suzuki" they're closer to that status than most realize, so they'll deliver the goods. Roczen grew up as a Suzuki rider, too. But I still don't think it will be vastly superior to the already-proven Red Bull KTM effort. So why change?
Matthes: Kenny Roczen to RCH Suzuki is an interesting move. Don’t listen to what the big bosses say in interviews or whatever about not being able to pay him. KTM and Red Bull had the money to match any offer. This move boils down to Roczen not liking the KTM and thinking that the Suzuki would work better for him. I know, I know, it’s weird to me also, because he’s winning on the KTM! He’s setting fast laps, winning supercross main events, and winning motocross motos on the orange bike. Yet, somehow, he’s not happy with the bike. Huge risk for Roczen here, but he grew up on Suzukis, and he knows they’re good.
The RCH team has some big names behind it and big title sponsors, and off the top of my head, the team has one podium in its history (Josh Hill at NYC SX this year). I do think this move was a bit agency driven as well. Wasserman Media Group (WMG) represents Carey Hart and his RCH team as well as Roczen. Roczen’s deal was up, and he’s on a team with another rider (Ryan Dungey) basically as good as him. All of these top riders have egos, and you never see teams with two 1-A guys because, well, it’s just not done. RCH needs an “A” guy and bingo, bango, I’m thinking that WMG had a lot to do with influencing Roczen to jump ship, just short of having them say, "We can get Pink to sing to you over the phone!"
In the end, I think it will work out, RCH guys are solid, and Roczen’s an incredible rider. This should produce wins and titles for Roczen and the team. At least Roczen and RCH better hope so, or it’s really going to be a mess for both of them.
3. What’s up with Justin Barcia going to Yamaha?
JT: The Barcia move is also old news to an extent. Sure, nothing is ever officially released when details leak, but this was not a well-guarded secret. I feel that Barcia just needed a change from Honda and wasn't particularly elated with the new generation model. He has been with Honda since he was on 85s, so this change could freshen up things for him. He was clearly unhappy with something, so I think the change will be a positive overall. The Toyota/JGR Yamaha team has shown to be more than capable of building a winning bike, so he should adapt quickly. One of the biggest results I anticipate from this will be Barcia's starts. His starts really suffered lately and if there is one thing that Yamaha can do, it's rip a holeshot. Look for the 51 to be up front early a lot next year and beyond.
Weege: Listen, all three of these deals have been done for a while now; it's just taken this long for them to leak into the public. So, this Barcia news is no secret; he's going to JGR, and I think it will be a good switch. Whereas the Roczen/KTM relationship over here seemed solid, I think Barcia was looking for, and needed, a change. Justin's also an East Coast guy, and this is the most East Coast based of all the major teams. The new Yamaha 450 has proven itself, and Justin will pull a TON of holeshots on that bike next year. I think you're looking at a rider, brand, and team that all have chips on their shoulders, so this should go well. Of course, in the case of all of these deals, everything seems great right now. We'll see how much greener the grass really is one the races begin.
Matthes: When it comes to Barcia’s move to JGR, JT, and I touched on it over HERE as well, and really, with Barcia leaving the only brand he’s ever known and had some success on, it’s got to come down to two things:
Bike or money.
That’s it—bike or money. At Barcia’s level the teams he rides for are the best of the best. It’s factory Honda, bro; they know what they’re doing. Obviously, there have been rumblings all year that Barcia wasn’t getting along with the bike (shades of Chad Reed last year), but the bike isn’t all that much different from the one he won supercrosses on last year. But riders are weird, and I think Barcia’s entire season—yes, I said entire season—would have been different had he been able to get into the lead at the Phoenix Supercross, which was the SECOND RACE OF THE YEAR. Justin Brayton held him off and Barcia started to inexplicably fall apart and went to the back. It was super weird and sent Barcia into a tailspin, where he would try harder and harder every week to win and usually auger into the ground, or get a bad start. Soon enough, as almost every rider does when they’re under pressure and not having the success they think they should, they start to look around and question the bike and or team.
So Brayton, the JGR Yamaha rider, holding Barcia back in Phoenix, started the ball rolling to where Barcia would end up on Toyota/JGR Yamaha, and Brayton would be left without a ride on JGR Yamaha. As far as the JGR Yamaha guys, they got a bit of a bad rap with the James Stewart thing, and this is their chance to prove that they can indeed work with an “A” level guy … all apologies to Davi Millsaps who put in some great rides there. Another question I have is: what does Jeff Stanton (Barcia’s coach/trainer) do now? Stanton bleeds Honda red. Does he go with Justin to the blue side, or does he just stay up in Michigan doing manlier things than you or I could do while he sleeps under a blanket covered in AMA championship plaques?