It's early October and not much is going on right now, outside of some prep for the upcoming Monster Energy Cup, so let's empty the brain of some random thoughts about random things, yeah?
– The Red Bull Straight Rhythm just concluded and although I wasn't there this year, did it seem to you dear readers that this year's event had more hype/interest/care level than ever before? Maybe it was the inclusion of Ken Roczen or the way that just about everyone bought into the retro vibe, but it seemed that this race moved the needle in terms of interest like it never had before. I have to admit that although I'm not one of those two-stroke kooks that are out there with the tin-foil hats, the decision by the folks at Red Bull to make the event two-stroke has helped.
Getting Travis Pastrana and Tyler Bowers there to race each other on 500s was great, Honda's effort with Roczen was huge, the track seemed to flow a bit better than before and all in all this race works. The stars are just hanging out in the pits also – there are no semi trucks allowed by the way – and I think the fans want to revel in nostalgia and the riders/teams don't take this thing as seriously. There's just a vibe to it that no other event has. Not sure how much truth there is to this but I had heard a couple of years ago that the event was close to going away but seems to me its just growing. I told Jeremy Mallot at Red Bull many times that I see this thing getting set up in or close to a downtown core. Watch the exposure it gets then!
– Just as I mentioned, the Monster Energy Cup is coming up here in a couple of weeks and is it just me or has this event been lacking a bit the last few years? The dichotomy between the RBSR and the MEC is striking in that when this race rose out of the ashes of the old US Open, the hype was real and it was always supposed to be different from the regular Monster Energy Supercross series. The hopes were to get some European racers here, build a track that won't be carting anyone away in ambulances and open it up for technology that isn't allowed in the regular series.
We have the three main-event format in the regular series now though – that's nothing unique – and it hasn’t attracted the European racers like they had hoped (Tim Gajser is coming to try again though). The track – while indeed keeping the riders upright – lacks innovation and challenges, the buzz is pretty low amongst the teams and riders and it just seems to be a bit blasé if I'm being honest. Maybe a move to the new football stadium in a couple of years would help? I think a complete re-think of this race, including moving it way closer to the start of the season (that would also help out the Team USA MXDN effort) is needed.
-What the heck is going on with JGR Suzuki has been one of the biggest questions in the industry. This podcast I did with Chad Reed about his 2020 plans with JGR didn't sound good nor was the fact they have one rider under contract for 2020 (Alex Martin) and haven't signed anyone else. From what I understood things were moving in a positive direction for JGR to have a title sponsor next year in a casino but one would think that would be done by now, right? The team was on a hold from testing or riding the last little while, because of Suzuki's inability to move forward with their end of the deal, but slowly JGR is coming back to life.
Reed's moved on by getting a Honda and racing the MEC, then maybe Anaheim 1 as a privateer. JGR guys have been cleared to ride now and Joey Savatgy is heading out there this week or next to ride the bike. It's expected that Savatgy and the team will be able to work out a deal and it may just be him and Martin in a really small-scale operation in 2020. From what I've been told 2020 is the last year of Suzuki’s deal with JGR and they will honor it at the most basic level and then be done with racing at a high level in 2021.
You have got to feel for JGR who have tried to do everything right in the sport but cannot get a title sponsor, cannot hit home runs on the big money riders they have signed, had one solid guy suffer a career-ending injury [Weston Peick] and have Suzuki cutting back or pulling out of just about everything. Yet owner Coy Gibbs is there employing people and trying to go racing. I'd look for JGR to be on a different OEM in 2021 and go with two riders for 2020 (Savatgy and Martin), but there is still a chance I'd say that they just cease operations totally. Yikes.
– In my opinion, one of the more intriguing riders in the 250 class for 2020 is RJ Hampshire. RJ's a good dude and seems like he has worked very hard but also, I would say, has underperformed for a rider that had a GEICO Honda deal. Four podiums indoors and out (with a win at Budds Creek MX last year) is okay but, again, he should have more. A typical RJ race is a crash or bad start but then some impressive lap times in the same race that leaves you with a feeling of, "If only…" That's just it.
There are mistakes and inconsistency more times than there should be with Hampshire. However, those moments of speed do point to something being in there. I know he, like other riders on that team, has not been happy with the new CRF250 platform the last couple of years but the bike has won races with Hunter Lawrence and Chase Sexton, so we are not talking mid-80s Suzuki 125s here you know? For 2020 he's taking his talents over to Rockstar Husqvarna and we have seen that bike do very well with Zach Osborne and others.
He is jumping into the Aldon Baker programme as well, which should give him a jolt of something new and exciting. It's time for Hampshire to be what he's going to be. Will this be something that propels him to new heights or more of the same very fast but inconsistent rider we have seen? Sometimes change is good for people and wakes them up from something that maybe they have taken for granted. I'm not sure which direction RJ will go – I'm leaning towards him busting out this year and maybe being more of a podium guy than ever before.
Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Red Bull Content Pool/Chris Tedesco