The Japanese are gradually returning GP racing.
The biggest Japanese manufacturer, Honda, was the company that stepped away most from direct involvement in world championship motocross most but now it seems they are slowly but surely coming back to the sport they once dominated.
In the 80s Honda dominated in the World championship and the American championships similar to KTM now and maybe even more so. Through the 90s Honda continued to pump money into the American series (due to high bike sales and the exposure from supercross) but HRC interest and investment began to wane in the GPs. They began supporting private teams instead of running full factory bikes themselves.
By 2001 when Gordon Crockard was challenging Pichon for the 250cc world title on Honda, the machine was essentially a privateer effort run by CAS with help from Honda Europe. Honda Japan just kept a watching brief.
Ten years later and Honda dipped their toe back into GP racing and began in the less expensive but more prestigious MX1 class (now MXGP). The Martin Honda team began a much closer working relationship with the Japanese and they hired the proven GP winner German Max Nagl and the rising potential of Russian Evgeny Bobreyshev.
The ideal plan of challenging KTM for World titles have not exactly materialised and Bobby, despite a very promising first year, has been ravaged by injuries as has latest recruit Max Nagl. But both riders on their day are capable of pushing for podiums, even wins and have begun (albeit slowly) to put Honda back on the world motocross map.
However MX2 has been a different story, their last small bike world title came way back in 1995 and was won by Alex Puzar but he wasn’t on an in house full factory 125 even then.
While the US Honda teams have went from strength to strength with championship winning team Geico Honda and support act TLD Honda, the MX2 GP teams have received no support whatsoever and against KTM have not even had a chance of hiring top riders, never mind get top results.
And even when their riders have had success (like Musquin in 2009 or Tonkov this year) they have got snapped up by factory teams.
But in 2014, things might be about to change.
For the first time in 25 years, Honda Japan are having direct involvement in MX2 GPs.
Tim Gasjer, the ultra talented Slovenian teenage talent, has been hired to be Gariboldi Honda’s main factory rider and will have Japan’s MX2 national champion Kei Yamamoto as his teammate. Yamamoto may not be on the level of Gasjer but he will undoubtedly have experience of testing the bikes and the combination could be a good duo for HRC’s initial foray in MX2.
Gasjer has the talent to be in the top five and eventually Honda will be hoping that he can land the team on the podium. It will be a big step for Gasjer to come off KTMs and develop a new factory bike but if Honda can provide him with the right package and a competitive engine, the kid could be a revelation in the next year or two.
Gasjer can produce the results Honda wants but it is up to the Garidboldi team and HRC to gel and provide him with the machine to go with his talent. If Honda can prove their machine is competitive with Gasjer then it will open the door to get more riders in their stable and ultimately give more riders competitive machinery.
It is in everyone’s interest to see Honda back in MX2. Hopefully they get some success and that will encourage HRC to invest even more in the GP series which only mean more competitive racing for the fans and put more riders on an equal playing field, especially in MX2.
Encouragingly Suzuki are also actively seeking more MX2 success after Sylvain Geboers recently announced he is bringing the Suzuki MX2 team back in house. Geboers hopes to make the bike more competitive in 2014 for their three riders; Glenn Coldenhoff, Jeremy Seewer and Julian Lieber.
With Kawasaki also having a strong line up with Arnaud Tonus, Dylan Ferrandis and Alex Lupino, Yamaha having Max Anstie and Christophe Charlier, the Japanese seem to be trying to mount a challenge to KTM dominance.
Now Honda has finally joined the party with a top rider and, with HRC investment, the rest of the teams might start looking over their shoulders in a couple of years as the old dominator seeks to be KTM’ newest challenger.
It’s exciting times in MX2!
Article by Jonathan McCready