Now ten years into Joe Gibbs Racing’s existence on the pro motocross and supercross scene, it would appear the grand plan has come to fruition. The team has full factory support and it works out of the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. The riders ride and train together in North Carolina, too.
That was Coy Gibb’s original goal for the team. However, it’s taken a long and winding road to get there. Years ago, most of the riders begged off from the “team training” concept and some didn’t even want to live in North Carolina. The original JGRMX idea died and the team let the riders go their own way—only to see, ironically, other teams find gold with the same concept. Aldon Baker handles the KTM and Husqvarna 450 guys, Tyla Rattray handles the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM guys, and Gareth Swanepoel has a good deal going with the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha guys.
Team building is here, and now JGR—named Autotrader.com/Yoshimura Suzuki these days—is feeling the love. We talked to team manager Jeremy Albrecht last week before the semi trucks shipped out to California.
Racer X: This has been a big change over year for you guys. You’re still with Suzuki, but now it’s a full-factory deal and a lot of people have moved from California to North Carolina. That’s a big change.
Jeremy Albrecht: Yeah, definitely. Obviously it’s better that we have a three-year deal, so we’re doing it on a bike that we know we’ll be on a long time. We were on Suzuki already and the 250 bike didn’t change, so that helped a little bit, but our goal is to improve it. The 450 is a whole new bike, motor. Some of the motor parts are similar, so that was okay. But, again, trying to make it better is always our goal, not to stay where we’re at. We worked hard on the 450. Chassis is good. We’re working with the Japanese trying to line it all up, and that’s all new for us because last year we met them, but we didn’t really communicate with them. So, now being the factory team, things have to get approved. We’re trying to get on the same page, trying to figure out how we communicate and who we communicate with. That’s been the biggest thing. That’s what’ll get better with time.
Same thing with trying to keep Suzuki America up to speed on everything that’s going on. We ordered a new truck that just got here. Getting two trucks wrapped, getting all-new tents, riders. Now we have six riders, so trying to get all their gear, all the logos on them correctly. Then I had Buddy [Antunez] helping, so he got to sign the guys up for the race for the first time. That was nice for me to not do that for their first time in ten years! Buddy’s been here in North Carolina three times working with the riders for a week at a time. That’s been good to have him working on technique and just trying to do some things differently than what we’ve done in the past. Hopefully we’re fixing some things where I want to be better. We haven’t really been where people expect us to be or where we want to be. We added Buddy and we have lots of new people on staff, so I’m hoping it’s all changes that make a difference.
We’ve seen these private/factory tie-ups like RCH was doing, but that was based in California. Suzuki has gone all-in on North Carolina. You’re from California. You worked for factory teams in California. JGR worked for Yamaha, which was based in California before. Did you ever expect that a factory would finally get to the point where they would work with North Carolina?
It’s definitely big. When we started, it was funny. I told Coy that it would be ten years before anybody would give us the factory team. We did actually get it earlier, but not because we earned it. We got it because the economy kind of turned. So, I would say we got it at a default. We did it and it was fine, but I would say we probably weren’t as good at sharing as we should have been. This time around, we felt like we learned maybe how to be a better partner. So, we’re working really hard on that. Suzuki came out here and saw what we have to offer.
When we started ten years ago, we didn’t have all the things we have now. We didn’t have a shop. We didn’t have a track with a building that we could test out of. All the things were new over the last few years. So, when we got Suzuki to come out and do this intro [for the 2018 RM-Z450], they got to see what we have. Most people don’t get to come here, so no one knows. Even the riders are surprised when they come here. So, everyone from Suzuki came here, the president of Suzuki and all the top people from Japan. That’s when it kind of became more real, and that’s when I think they were all-in. This is the biggest motorcycle market, America, so that’s why they’re all-in. We want to do the best we can and show them that they made the right decision.
A lot of people had to move here. I originally thought half the people will be in California working with Suzuki, half the people will be here working for the team. But that’s not the way it actually turned out.
It kept changing, but to do it right, we felt like we had to go all-in on being in North Carolina. Last year, Yoshimura did the 250 team and we really tried hard to be on the same page, but you really can’t be. That’s the thing. I have to talk to Chris Wheeler from Suzuki every day. That’s the only way he knows what we’re doing—we have to tell him what happened each day, otherwise you forget what you told him. A good example: last year we set up a magazine test ride, and I thought I told the guys in Chino [Suzuki in California], but I guess I didn’t. So, they were bummed because they didn’t know. So, just little things like that. And it’s easier if we’re all in the same spot and we all work together.
It’s already started out a lot better for the riders. They’ve hung out a lot together and that helped them bond. All the mechanics are here, so there’s not favoritism toward one guy that gets to be in a different shop. Now we know what everybody’s doing. It’s a lot better team atmosphere to have everybody together. That’s why I’m glad that they allowed us to do everything here. Some Yoshimura employees moved here—Renee moved here, and Brad. The only ones that didn’t move here is Rob’s [Henrickson, with RG3 suspension] and Yuzo [Takara]. Yuzo helps Dean Baker on the engine side, and he does mapping and things where he doesn’t probably need to be here full-time, so we’ll just see kind of at the end how that works.
Lee McCollum [mechanic] moved?
Lee moved. Lee’s been with Suzuki probably the longest out of anybody I know. He’s a longtime Suzuki guy. We’re happy he came. He seems really happy. He’s working with Phil [Nicoletti], so that’s actually going really, really well.
Even some RCH staff ended up here.
We hired Mikey Germaine as a mechanic. We hired Brian, who everyone knows as Rabbit; he was the truck driver at RCH and we hired him. Then we also have Travis Soules who was at RCH the first part of the year and then he left, went to work for Tedders, and then we hired him here. If you’re on the team, I like to hear what other people have to say. In the end, we still have to make a decision, but it’s good to hear everyone’s input and if they’ve done something different or better in the past, I’m open to it. If we’re able to do it, I’ll do it. If I can’t, I’ll tell you straight-up I can’t. We try to learn from other teams.
Give us some rider updates. How is each guy coming along?
Justin Hill has been riding really great. [Phil] Nicoletti is riding better than I’ve ever seen. We switched Nicoletti to the West Region because he’s actually been riding the bike the longest. He tested in September and has been riding really, really good. [Kyle] Peters fell and hurt his shoulder a little bit, so he had to take three weeks off and to get therapy at the NASCAR shop. That’s why we decided to switch him, just because Phil really is ready. Jimmy D [Decotis] will be East Coast as well. He’s been riding great. He’s been in California most of the time training with Swanny [Gareth Swanepoel] and those guys. He’s been here a couple times. He’ll be spending more time here probably after Houston. [Weston] Peick has been out here quite a bit. He’s riding great, better than I’ve ever seen him. Even in September, I was really surprised how good he was riding supercross already. I feel like he’s definitely improved. He loves the bike. Thinks it’s way better than where we were last year, so I’m excited to see what he can do. If he didn’t get hurt last year, he was way better than I would have thought.
I think people forget that Peick had a fifth the week before he was hurt. He was on the verge of breaking into that lead group.
We thought there was a shot at a podium, and then he ended up getting hurt because he was actually too confident, I think. We rode press day at Glendale and he did these big jumps nobody was doing. Came in a little confident, which is good. You want that, but he jumped something before the track was dry and just came up short, broke his wrist. You learn from things like that. He’s great to work with. That’s why we kept him. I feel like we try to improve every year. I feel like Weston does the same. He tries to work with us better. That’s really what I’m realizing. I’m trying to work more with the riders to believe in the team and help us all be better together. It seems like we have more problems when we’re all trying to do our own thing. That’s why I feel like Buddy will be important in trying to get us all to work together. I feel like we’ll get better results that way. I want the riders to bond. Weston was actually the guy who wanted to come back here and do full race situations with everybody.
You weren’t necessarily doing that before?
We didn’t do that before, no. We kind of let the guys do what they want. When we first started this team, we had a trainer and we tried to have every rider live here and be like a football team. That was the idea. The idea probably would work now, but ten years ago when we tried to do it, everyone told us it was stupid and you can’t tell people how to train. You can’t make them live there. So, we gave up on it and now that’s what everyone else is doing now. So, I’m not forcing them. I want them to do it if they feel like what we’re trying to do helps them. If they want to do it, we’re here and we’ll help. If they don’t want it, they can do it their own way because in the end, they’re the ones that have to perform to have a job, so I’m not going to make them do something they don’t believe in. But if you want the help and you believe in it and you think it’s a benefit, then do it.
You’ve kind of found as soon as you’re making them do it, it’s not the same as having them make the decision themselves.
It makes me laugh. When we first started, the guys were like, “I can’t believe you’re making me live here.” Now all these years later, Hill, I didn’t even tell him anything. He shows up here early and hangs out, then he buys a house super fast! He never bought a house anywhere. Buys a house, loves it here. He’s got a great attitude. He’s been helping Phil, helping Peters. They get out there and clap for each other while they’re doing laps, which I’ve never had that ever. Usually they talk to each other, but they’re not going to root each other on or try to work on technique with the other guy. It’s pretty cool. I don’t know why it’s happening right now, why it’s any different, but they definitely all get along good. I’m hoping it stays like this. So far, it’s the best it’s ever been.
What’s the latest on Bogle?
Bogle’s been riding a lot down in Florida at Ricky’s [Carmichael’s]. That really turned his season around last year, so that’s fine that he wants to do that, and Ricky really likes working with him and he likes working there. He was riding really good. He had that crash at Monster Cup, he was back and riding really good, but then he crashed again, so he’s trying to get ready for Anaheim but we’ll see. He’s banged up a little bit again, but we’ll see where that’s at. I don’t feel like it’s anything bad enough to say he’s not going to race Anaheim. That’s kind of our sport there. It changes daily. He’s riding super good. He’s happy with his bike. When he was up here riding with Weston, he looks like he’s up to speed. I don’t see him as much, but we’re definitely excited to see what he can do. He won a race last year, so he can’t be too bad! We’ll just have to see—we’re really excited about the way everything is going right now.