Matthes Report: The Unsigned

Matthes on Barcia and Stewart.

Matthes on Barcia and Stewart.

One major race left this year and that’s the upcoming Motocross of Nations in England of which I’ll have a preview next week but, for now, I’ll clean out the department of random thoughts about odd things going on in the brain.

– Right off the hop, I think it’s interesting that the news of Justin Barcia racing the Monster Energy Cup on a privateer Honda came out. Barcia, as predicted, lost his ride at JGR and didn’t have any suitors for his services. He’s been a bit lost the last few years, but it wasn’t that long ago he was giving Ryan Dungey a run for his money in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series. Injury after injury has struck the #51, although those mostly arose in supercross, and he’s proven to not be the easiest guy to work with over the years. Now the rebuild programme of Justin Barcia begins both on and off the track and we’ll see if he can get back to not being a race winner, but just a top five guy.

Justin Barcia took his last 450SX win aboard a Honda in 2013 (Monster Energy/Ryne Swanberg)

Barcia couldn’t get out of Honda fast enough the first time, as he didn’t like his motorcycle and didn’t gel with a few members of the team. The team’s defence was that it was the same bike he had won main events on the year before and the last thing they wanted to do was make him unhappy. So, why a Honda for Barcia now? A couple of different reasons in my mind.

Firstly, the 2018 Honda CRF450 is radically different from the bike he didn’t like; any differences were out the window. Secondly, he’s ridden for Honda for most of his career going back to the amateur days. Thirdly, and finally, it was recently announced that Dan Betley, the factory Honda manger and one of those guys he didn’t "gel" with back in the day, has moved to the GEICO Honda programme to work on the all-new 2018 CRF250RW.

The new manager is the old manager, Erik Kehoe, who was there the first year that Barcia rode red in the 450F class. So, the bike and manager at the factory level is acceptable for Justin and, besides, he couldn’t go to Red Bull KTM after being turned down in favor of Broc Tickle and he’s not been a fan of the Yamaha or Suzuki that he’s ridden recently. The options were red and green in my eyes.

Barcia could be eyeing up a spot alongside Cole Seely on the factory team IF Kenny Roczen isn’t ready to go and him announcing that he’s riding a Honda at the MEC is the first step to just being there for Honda if the #94 isn’t ready to go. [Ed. Note: HRC released an interview with Ken Roczen earlier, in which he confirmed that he expects to be at his best by the time that Anaheim 1 rolls around.]

Justin Barcia has experienced limited experience indoors (Monster Energy/Ryne Swanberg)

Either way, Barcia is to be applauded for going out on his own as a privateer. It’s not easy to swallow the ego and put together your own programme for a rider like Barcia, who’s had everything handed to him since he was ten. I like the move and, like Dean Wilson last year (and a bunch of other dudes over the years), he could just bide his time until injury strikes someone and then get back into a factory spot. Like always, results are the bottom line in this sport. If Justin Barcia shows up ready to go and puts in good results, you’ll see some factory parts work their way onto his Honda and people will open up their minds to the fact that ‘51’ would look good under their awning.

Staying away from injury, plus reworking the attitude a bit and his talent would equal some good results. This will be interesting.

– I spoke to someone close to Malcolm Stewart the other day and it doesn’t seem like much is cooking for the new #27. Stewart missed the start of 450SX last year whilst he got his programme going with the RIDE365 Suzuki guys and then showed some promise as he flashed those Stewart skills now and again. A return to the team he was on last year is a possibility, but it still cost Stewart a lot of money and he’s not sure if he wants to go that route again. It appears that he’ll be out of the MEC, the Red Bull Straight Rhythm and all of the European off-season SX races.

There may be a chance that James Stewart still returns (Red Bull Content Pool/Garth Milan)

Like Barcia, the option for Malcolm to stay riding and hope for a fill-in spot on a team is looking nearly as good or maybe better than some of the team options out there. Team Stewart basically consisted of a truck, driver and a helper so, although they looked good in the pits, it’s not ideal. I know Suzuki liked working with Malcolm and having him on yellow, so maybe there’s something he can keep riding on in the off-season. If there’s any desire to go privateer route, he would be on yellow. That’s just a guess; I know Suzuki is in deep with the JGR guys now, so maybe there’s nothing there. I know from the past Suzuki was happy with Malcolm.

What about the James question? I know you’re waiting for it. Could Malcolm be doing something with his brother at some point? We know James has a Honda, some suspension and some wheels but no one has said anything about James Stewart riding a motorcycle. All you get is he’s "being a dad and golfing" so it would SEEM that he’s basically retired at this point. Who knows? Stranger things have happened and maybe we would see a Stewart brothers team out there at some point. It’s a long shot, but Stewart was allowed to keep his #7 after he expressed a desire to race in 2018. So, you’re saying there’s a chance?

Words: Steve Matthes | Lead Image: Monster Energy/Ryne Swanberg

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