Safe to say 2023 was not what Dylan Ferrandis wanted, from a big concussion early in Monster Energy AMA Supercross to an AMA Pro Motocross Championship campaign where he could not get comfortable on his bike. His old team, Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing, offered him a deal to return for 2024, but Dylan did not take it, because he simply wanted to try a different bike. In fact, he was considering retirement unless he could find a bike he really wanted to ride. For a while, we heard rumors he’d end up with Twisted Tea/HEP Suzuki, but he now says, “I think one rider just didn't want me to join the team.” Dylan also wanted to ride at the Moto Sand Box facility in Florida, but a rider who was already there shut him out of that, too.
That’s okay with Dylan, because he really wanted to race a Honda, anyway. When the HEP Suzuki deal didn’t materialize, he ended up with Phoenix Racing Honda, with help from Factory Connection. He’s doing his riding and training at the Lawrence’s Dog Pound track in Florida.
Last week, as the Phoenix Honda deal was announced, Jason Weigandt called Dylan and checked in after a day of training.
Racer X: I kind of heard that you really, regardless of what team it is, you just really wanted to be on a Honda one way or another. This [Phoenix Racing Honda] is where it ended up being, but is that true? Like you were kind of looking at the Honda saying like, "That'd be nice if I could get on one of those somehow."
Dylan Ferrandis: Yes, for sure. Of course, like nobody knew before that because when you ride for a different brand, it's not something you speak about. But yeah, I was. I mean, since I moved to the 450 class, I always wanted to ride the Honda because I raced these guys and I see how good the bike is and I figured it would fit my riding style. I've been trying to get a ride on a Honda for a long time. When I moved to the 450 class, I was speaking a lot with Honda and it was possible then, then before I resigned my Yamaha contract, same, I was speaking with Honda. I really wanted to join them, but yeah, unfortunately there was no room for me. So yes, it was definitely something that I was looking for, and especially now at this point of my career, if I wanted to go back racing and give my best, it would be on the bike that I always wanted to ride.
Oh, wow. And is this just, you can see the results, or are you literally as a racer watching them when you're battling them and seeing something about those bikes?
Yeah, for me, it's exactly that. When I ride behind this guy, I see the bike, I see the potential of the bike, and what the bike does in any situation and me, I'm coming in the same situation, and I see what my bike does. I was like, "I need to ride this bike so bad," and especially like the summer 2021, when I won the Motocross Championship. I was behind [Ken] Roczen all summer pretty much and his bike was so good. I was winning but I was, working and pushing hard and I was seeing him doing stuff so easily with the bike. Yeah, I wanted to get a chance one day to ride this bike.
Even when you were at your peak, on the podium every weekend, you still thought there was another level?
Oh, yeah, for sure.
You had quite a run there with Yamaha. You were there for a long time. Did you even have the chance to go back? Like, did you just not want to go back? Was that even an option to stay where you were?
Yeah, they offered me another contract for the next season. But yeah, I was just, I've been struggling in supercross a lot with the bike. Motocross was fine until this season. It was a brand-new chassis and motocross, I don't know, I just never felt good on the bike. I think it was time for me to change. Like my feeling on the bike was just not there anymore.
Still though in supercross, it was probably going to be a better season, but we didn't get to see it? You got hurt pretty early there in Houston. Do you feel like you got shortchanged a little bit in supercross?
Yeah, I was feeling a little better but yeah, supercross, it was a different problem. I think I just lacked testing, we had this situation in the team that the suspension guy, we had only one and he's the main friend of Eli [Tomac], and so obviously they spent a lot of time together and like he was very dedicated to Eli. So, I suffered a little bit. I had the lack of testing and that was more the problem in supercross because I feel right away the bike was, the new Yamaha had more potential in supercross. And then, yeah, I got hurt.
Well, I think for you, the uphill battle here is you're a two time, 250 supercross champ and you were dominant at times. And I think now you're getting that tag of being just an outdoor guy. That's gotta burn you a little bit, I'm sure.
Yeah, it's more me, though. Like, it’s not about what people say. It's about me, like mentally, it's super hard…I did three seasons in supercross already and I feel like there was not a single race where I felt comfortable on the bike where I could push to my max, like what I used to do on the 250. I used to push all the time to the max. I felt good on the bike [in the 250 class] and yeah, sometimes I got beat, but I was giving 100 percent. The problem in 450 is, I was really riding at like 85 percent and for sure I got beat but I was not even trying. So, it was super hard, mentally, to accept that because every time I wanted to push more, I made a mistake or crashed. And yeah, obviously I ended up getting injured because I probably went over what I was capable of doing with the bike.
But you think if you're on a Honda now, you might be able to finally be able to get to that point where you can push? Is that the goal?
I mean, yeah, that's for sure the goal and from the riding I’ve already done in supercross with the Honda, yeah, I feel back to like my 250 days where I can push hard and take risks and the bike is willing me to push to my max. So, it's good to have this feeling back again.
So, take me through this process. Yamaha, you could go back to Star, but you don't want to do that. So, then you’re kind of like a free agent and you're shopping around, so to speak. So, what is that process like? Is it stressful or is it actually nice to have some freedom?
So the situation was more that I was kind of depressed a little bit to ride this bike and to not be able to push and to not be able to feel good when I ride this bike, practice or race. And so, I was mentally too much affected. I just want that to be finished, and regardless of what would be in my future. So, I was hoping to get a deal with the [Honda] factory, right, for sure. But at the same time I was like, ‘Yeah, if I don't get it, it's fine.’ I would just like, recover and try to rebuild myself and try to stop this depression. I just wanted to be back to normal. That was more my goal because yeah, after motocross I was just in a bad place.
Hey, that reminds me. Yes. You scared everybody. You went on Matthes’ show and said, "Hey, maybe I'll just retire." What was the thought process? You threw that out there. And everybody was like, "Whoa, hold on." Was that actually where you felt at one point? Was it that level?
Yeah, for sure. And it was two things. Yeah, I was accepting to retire if I cannot be happy riding anymore. I've been riding my whole life and it was always what drives me, what wakes me up in the morning, is to ride your bike. And if I'm not happy riding again, I'm not gonna race. That’s a problem. So, for sure that was in my head. But also, it was also to tell everyone like, "Hey, I don't have a contract," even Yamaha did not have a contract for me at that time. It was like, just to say to Yamaha, like, "Okay, I don't have a contract. So, if you want me to ride again for you, you have to give me a contract.” [That was] for Yamaha or any other brand.
Oh, okay. So, their offer came in and you said you didn’t want to go back. After that you didn't have anything else lined up at that time?
Whoa. So, this is one of the great things about guys at your level. This is not a money thing. This is not about job security. This is, "If I'm not happy with the motorcycle and I'm not competitive, nothing else really matters."
Yeah, I mean, I don't think it's the same case for every rider, but for me, I've been lucky to gain a lot of money in my career with Yamaha with my championships. I'm lucky to be in a situation where I can afford that. But I mean, I also don't want to be at 29 and retire. I think I can still show something, especially in supercross. I still want to give a shot. But yeah, I mean, at the end if you don't get a contract and you don't get a decent bike and a decent team to ride, it isn’t worth it.
So, this could be a financial hit but you don't care, you just want to ride the bike that you like.
Okay, so I'd heard Factory Connection, they might bring a team back and then I know they are working now with Phoenix. How does this mash up of Factory Connection and Phoenix get on your radar? And then how did it go from there?
So it's funny because I never rode a Factory Connection bike or suspension in my life before. All I knew was from the father of Tom Vialle. One day we spoke, and I was telling him, I struggle with my bike and stuff and he told me that he bought a Factory Connection kit for his son, the younger brother of Tom. I think he rides a 350 or whatever. He bought a kit for him and he said that the bike was just insane, like the suspension was insane. And then I had another friend, Steve Boniface, I don't know if you remember him [former pro with Factory Connection Honda team]. He told me one day like, "If you struggle with your suspension, you should try Factory Connection. They're the best." But I kind of didn't take it seriously because, I mean, with Yamaha, we are KYB we can’t try anything else. I mean, that's what I was thinking. And then after this year of motocross, we kept testing every week and we kept trying and every race was just getting worse and worse. I just couldn't ride the bike. Like, it was bad. And so, after the race, I had a big meeting with the team and I said, "I don't wanna ride this bike anymore. We have to find a solution. I wanna try any other kit on the market. I can buy with my own money if I need to and we’ll put it on the bike and we’ll see what happens, if the problem is the bike or the suspension." They told me, "Okay, no problem.’"I was surprised they did that! They asked, "Which suspension do you want?" I said, "I don't really know." I know there is, Enzo KYB, he does a suspension for the team. I know the 250 guy at Star, who did that the suspension. And I said, "Oh, and I know there is Factory Connection that can maybe just send us a kit and we can try it." So, it was just random. And then we tried all of them during the week, that's when we had this break in the summer. And so, we tried all of them. And when I rode the Factory Connection, I was like, "Wow, that's insane." Like, it was way better. I ended up finishing the last few motocross races with Factory Connection and then I met Ziggy. He's the suspension guy at the race and, yeah, we just had such a good time, and we were really matching up good together. And he told me, "I really enjoy going to the races with you. I think I would like to get back to the races." I told him, "Yeah, I also really would like to race again with your suspension." So, we've been working on his deal for a long time. It obviously was difficult to get the support and get the money. And then we ended up finding this opportunity with Honda Phoenix and David Eller. They are also good friends for a long time. Everybody was happy with the project and everybody was like super, super motivated and on the same level. We were all on the same page and looking for the same thing. So yeah, it ended up doing this deal together and yeah, I think it's gonna be great.
So, after Washougal, you raced Unadilla on Factory Connection stuff anyone could have bought?
I mean, yes and no. They had to make the setting for the pro rider, but I think yes, it's a setting that everybody could get because obviously we paid for the setting.
So yeah, they didn't say, "Oh we have to call Japan and get some special stuff that no one could get." Like this is just something they built.
It was just like we had to send the stock Yamaha suspension to them, then they made their setting inside and sent it back.
And this is that first moto at Unadilla where all of a sudden you were way better, and you almost got to Jett there at the end. Like that had to be a breakthrough moment.
Well, I mean, I was happy to ride again! For me mentally, just a step in the right direction.
And you did not know Ziggy until Unadilla that day.
It was funny because I kind of have to look up a little bit what he looked like because I never met him before. I just remember one thing, when we had the race in Loretta’s in 2020 for the motocross on the second round. During the lunch break, I went on the gate and I kind of cleaned one gate. I just drained the water, to get that gate with less mud than any other gate. And I remember I saw Ziggy was looking at me. I saw this guy look at me and then suddenly I showed up for race one and they penalized me 20 places on the gate because I touched the gate and I'm not allowed to. And it was Ziggy who reported that because back at this time he was working with GEICO and was like my main rival, with JMart [Jeremy Martin]. So, they penalized me because of Ziggy!
Did you laugh about that?
Oh, on the Saturday morning, when he showed up, the first thing he said was, "You remember when you did that?" He was like, "Yeah, yeah I remember for sure."
But as a competitor, you probably respect that?
I would for sure. I would have done the same. When you're fighting for the championship, everything matters.
So Phoenix, they have not raced at this level before, a full 450 season and a guy that can win races in that class like you. What have you seen from their resources and what they can bring to the table? What gave you the confidence to say, "I believe they can pull this off."
I didn't know the boss, David Eller. I didn't know anyone but what gave me the confidence was when Ziggy told me, "Yes, you can go with your eyes closed to this deal, to this team." I mean, if a guy like Ziggy, with so much experience and so much business in the industry told me, "Yes, you can," I was like, "Okay." I trust him.
So, Honda's rolling a factory bike underneath the Phoenix tent, right? Do you guys get to build the program here?
So at first, they kind of told me we could get some parts and some support a little bit from the HRC. But now I know more the people in the team and I feel like they really want to do everything inhouse, not HRC. So, I guess they're gonna do everything by themselves, and yeah, we will see if we need help. I think we will ask but for now we're doing our own stuff with Factory Connection and then Ziggy and all of his technicians. They’re great people and they're really working hard. So far, it's been really good.
So, what is your program now beyond that? Because obviously when you're with Star, you're all in, everybody rides at their track, and you live in Tallahassee. Where are you living and riding now?
We always wanted to live in the Clermont area in Florida and ride at Sandbox. That was a longtime dream and goal for me to ride there. So, after the season, regardless of what was the plan, we moved there. We really took the time to find a good house and try to find a way to be more happy and, yeah, rebuild myself, like I said before. The goal was to train at Sandbox and then the deal with Honda Phoenix showed up. We asked them, "Hey, can we, is that okay? Like, can we ride there?" Like I asked everyone before, like during the season and everybody told me yes. And he ends up like, they told me, "No," they don't want me to ride there because some rider there just don't want me to be there. Probably because I'm competition or something, I don't know. But, yeah, ends up not being possible for me to ride there. But, lucky for me, I had the Lawrence brothers, who live one hour away. I asked them if I could ride their place with them and they said yes. So that's where I'm gonna train now. I always wanted also to ride with the Lawrence’s because we've been good friends for more than ten years. We used to be on the same team in Kawasaki in Europe and they used to come to my house training. I really have known them for a long time now, I just didn't want to be on the private Honda team next to the Honda Factory team. I didn't want to create this vibe where I’m maybe there try to pick up anything from them. So that's why I didn’t ask them first. After one training [day] with the Lawrences I really understand. I think they are grateful for the help I gave them back in the day. They are very happy to give me back this help today. It’s very nice. The vibe is really good and we have a really good time already. I think it's a really good choice for me and it's gonna be good for my mental health and everything around.
Where are the expectations though? This is so new for you and for Phoenix. Is this like, "Well, he's looking to prove himself, so watch out at Anaheim?” Or do you think this is gonna be a bit of a process to get at the very highest level?
It's a tough question for sure. It would be great to show up at A1 and get the holeshot and win. But at the same time, it's gonna be a new bike, a new team. It's completely different. We all know that on race day the tracks are so gnarly and who can manage the track the most can win. So, we will see, but I already ride some rough tracks at the Lawrence’s and I feel better than what I’ve felt before. So, yeah, I'm gonna train on the same track as the Lawrence brothers and I think right now they are maybe the top riders in the world. I'm doing everything to get back on the box and try to be on the top step.
You're saying a lot of this was just for you own mentally, what you had to overcome. But is there also part of you that's like, "I wanna show people that I still got it." Is there a little bit of that in you too with this deal?
No, honestly, no. I do everything for me because I don't wanna hang up the boots one day and have regrets. I think if I retired before the season, I would have never known what I can do in supercross at my best. Maybe I won't be top three or maybe I will never win, but I just want to try to be surrounded by great people with all the same goal and see what I can do when I feel great, when I feel comfortable. See if I can do better than what I did before already.
For a long time, we heard rumors like, "He's just gonna end up at Suzuki, he's gonna end up with HEP." Was that an option at one point?
I tried the bike during the outdoors. I tried the bike in supercross in California. I was surprised, it was good, especially in the whoops. I skimmed the whoops better with the Suzuki one day than in my whole career on the 450 Yamaha. I was surprised and everybody was very happy, but it ends up that maybe I think one rider just didn't want me to join the team.
If this Phoenix thing doesn't come together, was there anything else you could have done?
No, we were speaking with, Team Tedder, the team Justin Hill rides for. I know him, not really on the track, but off the track. I told him ‘Hey, if you can give me the support, I'm looking for the bike. I have no problems signing with you.’ So yeah, we were speaking a little bit together.
Okay. And with the amount of time you have left before the season, do you think you have enough time to be ready?
I mean, it's never enough. [Laughs] If we could have one year of preparation that would be better. I'm on my way back from training and I already did motos and lap time and I feel good on the bike and that's what matters. Can we be better in the next week, and we can we improve the bike? Yes, for sure. But right now, it's already like I feel better already. That's what mattered the most. Ziggy just told me I'm still in a honeymoon, but we’ll see when the results come.
We all know it doesn't really matter how happy you are, the results are gonna tell the story, right?
Yeah, but like I say also, if you get beat by any rider, but you give everything, you sleep good at night. If you get beaten but you didn't show what you can do? That's terrible. You can't sleep like that.