“To be honest with you, I never wanted to leave the dance floor,” said Bobby Hewitt, now team principal for the Triumph race team that will debut this weekend in Detroit. Hewitt brought his old squad, which started as an amateur Kawasaki team but morphed into a pro team, all the way to the pinnacle. Under the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna banner, his team won every major professional AMA championship there is to win, with 250 and 450 titles in the AMA Pro Motocross Championship and Monster Energy AMA Supercross. Then, he and Husqvarna parted. That wasn’t Hewitt’s idea, though, because he didn’t want out of the business of racing. So he sat back and looked for another opportunity. We heard rumors of him coming in with another privately-owned team, but he ultimately won, over multiple suitors, the right to manage Triumph’s new effort.
“This [Triumph project] started in May of 2019,” Bobby says. “I was first contacted by Ricky [Carmichael] and JH [Leale] in May of 2021. I believe at the time there were six [different race teams] that they were looking at. I've officially been with them since January of 2022. So I've been a little over two years now, and from where we started to where we're at, it's a significant difference. Like, I really wish I could go into some of the details and the changes that have been made.”
Zach Laurie, of Triumph, helps cover some of the details of how much development the company has done to get to this moment.
“I'm actually midnight here in the UK at the moment,” says Laurie. “So as everything else, we have some long nights here at the office to get everything prepared and get going. The idea of this started back in 2019. We have 1,000 plus on-track test hours that we put into this motorcycle on tracks anywhere from the UK and European tracks all the way over in the USA as well. We've worked with 20 plus test riders, all the way from a professional down to an intermediate amateur athlete. We've had over 45 engineers focused on this off-road platform, which is huge to think about the time and effort that went into this. There are 981 new parts that were created just for this off-road platform and 708 of those parts actually made it through to production. So it tells you the time that went into each moving part for this product.”
Laurie adds that this motocross/supercross project is the number-one focus for the 102-year-old Triumph brand right now. This four-year journey culminates in Detroit, but Hewitt is clear they would have been ready for Anaheim 1.
“Obviously we've made some gains over the last four weeks, but we were fully prepared to be at A1,” says Hewitt. “My plan all along was to have Joey Savatgy on the West Coast. He's the most seasoned rider, he's been there, he's done that. He looked very good on the supercross track.”
Savatgy, and Triumph, were hoping a revision to the AMA’s 250SX point out rules that would allow Savatgy to regain his eligibility for the class. From now on, riders can’t point out of the 250SX Class, they can only be forced up if they win titles. That rule starts now, though, and it doesn’t let Savatgy rejoin the class. He’ll start racing for Triumph for Pro Motocross.
“Obviously the ruling didn't go in our favor,” says Hewitt. “So I wasn't gonna go with Jalek [Swoll] on one coast and have Evan [Ferry] as a rookie on another coast. It just made more sense to have everybody on the east coast. But the extra month has been very helpful, we've made gains on the bike.”
Triumph has worked hard on the due diligence of this motocross project, and while the heavy secrecy has been criticized, the brand knows it only have one chance to make a good impression. The slow roll out made sure to show the bike was indeed unique and not a copy of another brand—note the first part shown was the aluminum frame, which quickly separated it from anything KTM is producing. Also, the brand hired and relied on many experienced motocross hands to help steer.
“When you're not looking for a job and you have a opportunity that's presented in front of you, you can be very open and blunt about it,” Hewitt explains. “Like, if I wasn't chosen, it wasn't the end of the world. At some point, I was probably teetering around being rude because I really didn't think that I'd be the guy that they pick at the end of the day. I hope they don’t regret the decision! It was a blank piece of paper. I could put the personnel that I wanted to put together. In every program, success starts and ends with the foundation, and as long as you have a solid foundation in which everyone works really well together, you can do some great things. Triumph’s giving me the freedom and the ability to be able to put together for me a once in a lifetime program.”
There’s Carmichael, then Hewitt and his right-hand-man from the Rockstar days, “Scuba” Steve Westfall, there’s Dave Arnold, team manager of Honda back in the 1980’s glory days, on the chassis side, and Dudley Cramond in the engine department. The highest-profile test riders include Ivan Tedesco, Clement Desalle and Ivan Cervantes.
The rider lineup consists of three riders who have ridden for Hewitt before, in Savatgy, Swoll and Ferry. Swoll probably carries the most pressure, because Ferry is a pure rookie in supercross and Savatgy won’t race until Pro Motocross in May.
“Yeah, I mean, it's been pretty good,” says Swoll. “It’s been new to me but it's fun to be around a bunch of familiar faces. It would be more of a culture shock if I came somewhere where I didn't know anyone. I'm pretty pumped with the bike. I feel like the chassis was something that I gel with pretty quick. And as soon as we started getting on to supercross and doing some suspension stuff and all that kind of stuff, I got comfortable really quick. I feel this off season has probably been one of my better off seasons that I've had and I feel the most comfortable and supercross that I think I've felt in my life.”
“I am really excited to get behind the gate in my first ever supercross race,” says Ferry. “It will become a dream come true to line up with the best in the world, and with a brand like Triumph it will be the cherry on top knowing that I was one of the first people to drop the gate on the bike.
“The preparation has gone well,” Ferry continues. “I think as a rookie on a new bike in a new team you always wish you could have had more time, but we have left no stone unturned and no minute unused. There isn’t a whole lot of expectation for me, just doing all the laps and staying healthy. We plan on getting just a little better at each race and hopefully be there by the end of the year.”
Yes, Ferry mentions expectations. It’s going to be hard to understand what those are this season, because no one really knows the state of this machine. Is it ready or is this a work in progress?
“That seems to be the number one question I get asked by everyone,” says Hewitt. “As I told everybody at last night's team dinner, what I expect is everybody to do their best. It’s a new bike, it's new brand. We've done all that we can to be there. It's a little different race for Triumph compared to a team that been there doing this for 20 years. February 3, 2024 will be a historical moment for Triumph in the history of a brand that's been around since 1902. As I've told everyone, the expectation is for everybody to do their best, and then come Monday, we work our asses off to be better the next round. As long as we do that week in and week out, we'll let the numbers fall where they fall.”