Can JWR Save JGR from Themselves?
I’d hate for it to come across like I am piling on the JGR crew and I can see where it would appear that way. I have a lot of respect for the JGR crew, they are clearly passionate about the sport and despite making what look like great moves to give themselves the best shot at yearly success, they’ve often been left licking their wounds at years end.
Stick with me here, I’ve got to setup my frame of reference before tying it all in at the end.
In year one, 2008, Charles Summey was their “triple” selection to backup their home-run prospect, a young Josh Hansen who turned out dreadfully when compared to what was hoped for from him. Year two brought in Josh Grant who shocked the Supercross world with his Anaheim-One win and put in a wholly solid 2009 SX effort to lock down 4th in the series points. Josh’s 2009 outdoor series was stellar for the most part as well, though injury reared its head with four rounds remaining and thus began a mind-boggling string of injury riddled seasons for Josh.
The 2009 X-Games left Josh with broken feet which kept him out of the 2010 Supercross series. When outdoors rolled around, Josh started off strong before injury left him out of the final rounds and 7th in final points. Everyone knows Josh is a compact, physical and aggressive, over the front-end rider. The exact traits that have many thinking is the exact wrong thing to do when piloting the 10-12 YZ450(a bike Josh has yet to race indoors).
Josh Grant has built a solid head of steam with JWR.
After joining the JWR Kawasaki team, Josh managed to navigate his way through an abbreviated 2012 Supercross season (scoring a podium at New Orleans) with a few injuries and make it to the outdoors where he has done a great job of riding himself back into race shape, with improving results to boot. It’s not often that a rider actually does ride back into shape during the saturdays that count. They usually end up getting worked and just surviving the series when they start anew during the off-months. Josh has the best feel-good story going right now on his JWR Kawasaki, with a solid team behind him.
And it’s no wonder that JGR is interested in Josh again. He’s the healthiest he has been since the 2009 Supercross series where he brought JGR the highlight of their existence as a race team thus far. But there’s a problem Houston. There’s a reason that the team with resources second (MAYBE) only to the Factories have riders looking in other directions, for less money. Yup, it’s that bike. Matthes, Ping and anyone else voicing an opinion on the subject are correct, in that it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be. The mythology is much more exciting than the reality but the mumblings, questioning and theory’s are wide-spread enough that many riders are spooked. The bottom line is the perception of the bike being bad is out there. That's not rumored or speculated on, that's an unfortunate fact.
From Josh’s side, it seems like a dangerously risky a gamble to put all the progress made with JWR this year up as collateral with a bike that has been known to create very real struggles for so many. Maybe it’s all about the “Benjamin’s” as they say, or maybe Josh just feels like there are holes in the JWR program he’s unhappy with? Or perhaps the JWR team is looking to go in a different direction.
It's happened to JGR a few times (Hansen, Stewart, Cooper) where they see their top signing come up short for one reason or another and with the 2013 YZ450 not being radically different from the ’10-’12, it makes more sense in my mind to go with guys who know the bike and honestly like it. They’ve already signed Brayton who rode there for two years and knows what he gets with the bike and likewise, JGR knows what to expect with Justin. That’s a sensible, solid move that's going to pay dividends for the team and Brayton next year.
Kyle Chisholm has shown he's fully capable on the YZ450.
The word is that JWR has first right of refusal on any offer presented to Josh. For JWR to exercise this option on Josh to keep him in the JWR family for 2013, would set off a chain of events that I see benefitting many parties. Firstly, Josh would maintain his consistent track of progress through the off-season and into 2013, coming in stronger, healthier, more prepared and comfortable than he has since 2009. And Kyle Chisholm, who looks to be on the outs from the JWR team was the first rider to voice his acceptance and approval of the ’10 YZ450 after racing it in both 2010 and 2011 with the MotoConcepts team. For JGR to come into 2013 with two riders who are familiar with the bike, accept and it and are honestly comfortable on it, sets them up for more success than any other scenario on the horizon. Kyle won the King of Bercy title aboard a nearly stock YZ450 before the 2012 Supercross season. Chisholm has actually called factory Yamaha and mentioned to them he loves the bike, has no issues with it and if they want to place him on a team, then he'd be more than happy to go there.
JGR has shown from year to year since their inception that they can’t help but go after a high dollar, elite rider who has the capacity to possibly win and each year it has bitten them in one form or another. It’s widely speculated, at this point almost a necessity, that Yamaha will go back to the drawing board with the 2014 YZ450, so why not just attack 2013 as a year to get two riders through both series with solid results and a few surprise shining moments?
Get a couple of guys (Brayton, Chisholm, Bobby Kiniry are some of the examples) who love the bike and won't complain or use it as the first excuse for poor results and go racing.
Perhaps JWR’s exercising the option to keep Josh Grant on lockdown is the only way that JGR can be saved from themselves?