By Davey Coombs, Jason Thomas, and Jason Weigandt
So it’s official: Christophe Pourcel will be racing this year.
Here’s what our staffers think of the Pourcel to Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna signing. Be sure to leave your thoughts below.
Davey Coombs: One of the biggest mysteries to me over the past five years has been the inability for Christophe Pourcel to be given a factory-level chance as a 450 Class rider. Though, admittedly, I was usually thinking about him racing Monster Energy Supercross, because with his great technique and lightning holeshots, he seemed like a great candidate for the shorter, less taxing rigors of indoor racing, as compared to outdoors. Even last year, when he was showing a rebirth in the 250 Class with Valli Motorsports Yamaha, his one weakness was his fitness, the result of a few brutal and costly crashes over the years.
Yet the factories all saw it differently, either the result of budget cuts making teams smaller, or Pourcel driving a hard bargain for his services, or making things hard for himself with the perceptions some have of his attitude. What can’t be denied is that he is still really fast, as well as somewhat puzzling. And when Davi Millsaps parted ways with Kawasaki two weeks ago, I was sure—sure—that they were going to CP377 for the summer.
So, while the news that Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna decided to add him to their line-up was not a total surprise, it was a much different situation than I had imagined—and it might just be a better one for Christophe too. Bobby Hewitt’s team has made huge strides in the past few seasons, and the bike is proving in Europe under Max Nagl that it can run with anything in this KTM-supported rebirth. Hewitt’s team will have much less pressure than, say, trying to do what Ryan Villopoto did with Kawasaki.
Right now Red Bull KTM’s Ryan Dungey and GEICO Honda’s Eli Tomac have to be the heavy favorites in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, given their health and their speed in the home stretch of supercross. And of course defending champion Ken Roczen, who is returning from an ankle injury. But beyond that, with guys like Trey Canard and Justin Barcia (and now Andrew Short) battling injuries, and James Stewart being in limbo, now might be a good time to throw a wild card out on the table, and Christophe Pourcel is definitely that right now going into the outdoors. Here’s hoping he makes the best of this opportunity and then gets to keep the gig in the 2016 supercross tour and finally settle that mystery too.
Jason Thomas: I heard of this move happening a couple of weeks ago, and it was a bit of a surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. Husqvarna is looking to expand their efforts long-term, and that would of course include the addition of elite level riders. Christophe Pourcel was looking for an opportunity on good equipment after talks failed with a couple of other 250 teams. He has been unsuccessfully dabbling in the 450 negotiation waters the past couple of seasons, but it’s finally going to happen this summer. Husky was willing to take a chance on Pourcel because they know he has the potential to be up front. Pourcel seems to be a perfect fit for the Husky brand, as well. His demeanor is decidedly European and Husqvarna’s roots are exactly that.
The real question is how it will play out. If Pourcel can get up to speed quickly and find the fitness needed, he can be a threat. He’ll be working with new mechanics, technicians, and team personnel, and for Christophe, that can be a big variable. It seems that his results are in direct correlation to his level of happiness and contentment with his environment. If he likes the Husky and his Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna team, he will make noise all summer long. If he doesn’t gel with neither team nor bike, things will go sideways very, very quickly. History has shown us that time and time again with the talented Frenchman.
The addition of Pourcel is a win for the fans more than anything else. In a field currently riddled with injuries, adding riders is a big plus. His racing style is so unorthodox and, in a word, different than what we currently see in American motocross. His last lap qualifying heroics are high drama to watch and flawlessly executed. Hopefully he has been quietly working behind the scenes in an effort to be the best Christophe Pourcel we have seen. The series is better with him in it.
Jason Weigandt: First, I'm pumped something worked out for Pourcel because he's one of my favorite riders to cover. This is a cookie cutter field, and he has his own mold. I'm routinely shocked that every single other good rider goes about racing one way, and Pourcel can pretty much do the exact opposite and still be effective. Everything he does on the track is different, and real personality shows through even when he's not showing personality and hiding. Now we get another twelve weekends of "What is this guy doing?" with the answer shrouded in mystery.
At least, I hope it's twelve weekends. I'm not just speaking for myself here when I say there's some worry about this working out long term. A few years ago a Pourcel/MotoConcepts Yamaha signing was announced while we were at the Seattle Supercross, and we took bets in the press box as to how many races it would last. Whoever took the under won it, because it lasted all of two races. Last year CP was pretty good on the Valli Yamaha YZ250F, but in the end he said he didn't like the bike. Now he's on a 450, which in general is harder to set up right, and it's a Husqvarna. Yeah, okay, it's a KTM at heart, but many riders have struggled in the switch to a European brand (Um, how about Davi Millsaps on this same team last year?) and it doesn't seem good to mix anything odd into Pourcel's bike program. I mean, outside of a Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki KX250F, what bike are we sure he will feel comfortable on?
And, this is the 450 Class. CP could play with the kids last year and still nail holeshots and the fastest qualifying laps. I don't think you can do that stuff against Dungey, Tomac, Roczen, etc. I really like that the head of Husqvarna motorsports said CP is "known as a very talented rider who requires specific treatment" in today's PR. So maybe they have a plan. I want this to work, but I'm not sure it will. At the least, I'll settle for him at least making it to Unadilla in August. Christophe is truly something special to watch at that track.