Factory HRC Honda’s Colt Nichols had his first 450 Supercross Main Event at A1 recently. We called him up on The MotoXpod Show to hear his thoughts on the event, testing and developing the Honda, and more.
For the full interview, check out Ep 254 of the MotoXPod Show | ft. Colt Nichols and Aaron Plessinger. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Colt, let’s get right into the Main event. You got the holeshot and then dropped to eighth place on the first lap. Then dropped back to 10th on lap three, I think. A lot was happening in your first 450 Main right off the bat. Where was the heart rate? Were you taking all this in? Walk us through those first few laps.
Colt Nichols: Yeah. Like you said, I got off to a really, really good start. That was just where all my focus was all day. I didn't have the greatest practice session. I felt it was kind of weird. It was in reverse. I felt decent in pre-practice, which is not where you want to feel decent. And then I just got a little more uncomfortable as the day went, but obviously the track broke down pretty gnarly. I felt not quite like myself all day, so I just really wanted to get a good start. I came out of the gate, and I could tell I hadn't raced in a year. The intensity wasn't quite there. And, you know, those guys kind of swallowed me up pretty quick and I got shuffled back. I think they credited me with the holeshot and I literally came out of the turn and exit, I think, at like six or something. So, that was a little unfortunate. I have to clean that up just a little bit, but I kind of expected that to be honest. It’s a little bit of not having any race craft and just not racing in so long. It kind of does that to you. I just hadn't been there in a while, you know. I hadn't raced an actual main event since; I think Salt Lake 2021. It's just been a long time. It came at me a little fast for sure. Then once I calmed down and realized I still know how to ride a dirt bike and I'm okay, I settled in a little bit. I said in one of the interviews, I was maybe not the sixth fastest guy, but circumstances and racing, you know, it always happens and puts you in some weird spots. I was able to capitalize on some other guy's mistakes and ended up P6. So, yeah, we definitely have to improve the first five to 10 minutes of the race and I think that'll come just with more gate drops as I get more used to that.
Jamie: It sounds like you feel the lack of race time is a bigger factor than just moving to the 450 class and the field of talent.
Colt: I think so. I mean, no doubt, these guys are the best. You know, I'm racing against the best guys in the world at what they do. And I consider myself one of those guys. I didn't really have this aura of, “Oh, I'm racing against Eli (Tomac) or whatever. I've raced against most of those guys since I was little. I battled with Coop (Webb) at Loretta's, and I would battle with (Jason) Anderson or whoever, every now and then at local races like Cooperland or something like that. But it wasn't really that. It's more or less I just hadn't raced, period. Getting thrown into that scenario with the new bike and everything like that, it was a big, big learning curve to see how it would react in a race scenario because we haven't got to replicate that. I respect these dudes a lot. They're obviously really, really good. And, you know, I look up to a lot of these guys. So, for me the respect is definitely there racing these dudes, but I want to beat these guys and I want to prove that I can race this 450 and race it good against anybody. So definitely just a lack of gate drops and intensity. The focus being 100% on moving through the pack and doing everything you can maybe was a little lost from not doing that in so long, to be honest with you. So, yeah, some stuff we need to work on and try and clean up.
Michael Lindsay – Vital MX: Hey Colt, I think I saw an interview or a caption with somebody talking about your mental state a at the race. Of course, A1 last year did you very dirty and kind of led to a difficult rest of your year bouncing around between where you were going to go. Did any of that creep in your mind? Does it weigh on you much? Did you fight it throughout the day or were you able to get it out of your head early? Were you having little flashback moments?
Colt: Not too bad, really. The only thing we were battling a little bit was more or less the racing. Again, it wasn't necessarily Anaheim or anything like that. It was just being put in a race scenario. You know, anything can happen when you're racing, you know, the unexpected always seems to happen. So, for me, I was actually better than I thought I would be. I didn't think about 2022 at all throughout the day leading up to it. I got asked that question quite a bit and I think I’m mentally pretty good. If I don't want to think about something, I don't. I'm kind of an out of sight, out of mind type of guy. I feel like I handled that better than I thought I was going to, to be honest with you. I was pumped on that, you know, just to look at it for what it was. Now, if the track was identical as 2022 maybe it would have felt a little different. But for me, it was just due to new bike, new circumstances, new year, new everything. So, it didn't feel the same to me. I never had this weird aura of being at Anaheim because I have good memories from there too. I won the opener in ‘19 and have a love hate relationship with that place.
ML: Throughout the day, I was curious with bike setup if you had to chase or look for anything. I know you got a later start with the program and were tasked with a lot more testing because of Trey (Canard) being injured. But on top of that, when the Honda guys are in California, we typically only really see them at the HRC track or occasionally rent something. But I saw you here, there, everywhere, especially working with Wilbur (Hahn). You're at the TLD track, you're at HRC, you're at Pala, the whole nine yards. Did that give you enough range of situations to deal with so that you understood the bike fully enough getting into race situation that you knew what you wanted to change and why? Did that all pay off or were you still missing a little bit when you got to the first race from the overall lack of time because of getting the deal put together a little on the later side?
Colt: Yes and no. The only thing that I feel we got a little late on was the initial setup we have. Once we found this setup, which was a little over a month now, we didn't touch it. It just took a while to get to that point. So, for me, coming from a Yamaha and an air fork and all this stuff, that was a pretty drastic feeling. When I first got on the Honda in Supercross, I was not used to riding like that, whereas someone like Chase (Sexton), Trey, the Lawrence brothers, or Kenny (Roczen), they've been on Hondas for five, six plus years. So, the characteristic of the Honda, they're pretty used to it by now. For me that was going to take either a lot of adjustment or we were going to have to go a completely different direction with the bike. And, you know, I'm 28 years old and it's kind of late to be trying to reinvent the wheel as far as how I ride and what I think is good and comfortable. So, I was like, “Hey, we need to go drastic on the bike. Let's try and do some stuff that maybe you guys haven't done before. And even if you have touched on it, maybe we need to retouch on it to get me a little more comfortable”. And that's what we did. But we didn't find that until a little later. Once I did find that, just like you said, I wanted to test it everywhere. So, each week they were like, “Hey, we want to test, and we want to do this. Or if you're comfortable, maybe we can leave it”. And I'm like, “Hey, just leave it, you know”? I think we're at a point now where we were just doing some clicks here and there, so I really wanted to ride this setup at every track that I possibly could. I went to Elsinore, I went to Pala TLD, Honda. I just tried to go everywhere. We had a lot of success with that preseason going into ’21 when I raced for Star. We kind of rode everywhere and I liked that. It was better for me as a rider. It doesn't get so monotonous, and you can change it up and then you really see where the bike shines, where it doesn't shine on different dirt. Because we actually have a lot of different dirt at all these tracks. They are quite a bit different. We honestly are in a good spot. I didn't touch the bike all day, we didn't even do a click on Saturday. During practice they were saying, “Hey, we can do this and that and maybe we can change this and get you a little more comfortable”. And I'm like, “Dude, it's not the bike. It's just I'm not riding it very good”. So, I didn't want to do anything crazy. Like I said, we didn't touch it at all. And I really feel like we're in a good spot. The area that I feel we can be a little better in is the same area from a month ago. It's just one of those things we've taken a few swings at it. It wasn't exactly what I wanted or what I thought would be better. So, then we went back to the drawing board, but it wasn't huge, it wasn't this crazy night or day difference. It was just somewhere where I feel like I could be a little more comfortable and trust the bike a little more. And we haven't quite found that yet. But like I said, I don't think that's a huge change. We're definitely really close and really ballpark, so I'm glad we had that approach. That was something that I don't know if they were too keen on; me going to a bunch of different tracks, but I kind of told them that was something I really wanted to do and was hoping they would be okay with that because like I said, I thought we had a lot of success with that going into ‘21.
ML: When I spoke to Chase at the team intro, he seemed very excited to have you on the team from a feedback standpoint because I think he had felt like he was kind of rolling the ball uphill by himself for a little while, at least when comparing himself and Kenny. I've talked Chase a lot and I understand how really different the two of them were. He's got a direction he wanted to go, and it seems you're a little farther down that direction. You're kind of helping him roll the ball uphill now. It seems the morale between the two of you at the race, being able to work together, it seems like a positive that you guys can lean on each other. Even though you're newer to the 450 class, you have more time, more experience under you overall.
Colt: Yeah, I think so. The morale honestly is way better than I anticipated between everybody. To be honest, having Jett in the semi this weekend with Chase, and Lars (Lindstrom), the mechanics, everyone's just awesome. I can't really say anything bad about any part of the situation I'm in currently. You're kind of spot on. He was polar opposite to Kenny, and obviously for a long time Kenny was the guy they were trying to put all this attention on, to go win a championship. Whatever direction he wanted to go, I think had a lot of pull, which obviously makes sense. It's like that at every team. For Chase, I think that he liked a different feel. But he's also young and hasn't had as much experience as even somebody like me as far as testing and doing all of the different things that you can do to a motorcycle. The kid just straight up has so much talent that he just rides the damn thing and makes it work. Once I came on board, I was like, “Hey, this is the way I like the bike”. And talking with Chase when I met up with him at the Honda track, way before I even signed the deal, I said, “This is the way I set up the Yamaha. This is what I like about a bike, the direction I feel like it needs to go. Watching you on TV last year, this is what I feel like you guys can work on. And where I feel like this bike struggled a little bit at times”. And he was like, “Yeah, that’s spot on. Everything you said was exactly the way I feel”. So, I was like, “Okay, perfect. We're on the same page at least”. Once it came to testing, like you said, a lot more was put on my shoulders and I just embraced that and was like, “Okay, this is going to help me learn the bike that much quicker”. And it certainly did that. Everything that we tried, I was like, “Hey, this was the best out of these”. We would try five or six different setups, whether it be engine suspension, chassis, whatever. “This is what I like the best. Now, Chase, go try it. See what you think”. It ended up working really well and we're on a pretty similar setup now with everything. There's not a whole lot of difference between our bikes, you know, obviously spring rate and a few other things because he's a little heavier than I am. But overall, we're on a pretty similar setup. So yeah, everything's been pretty kosher for both of us. And yeah, a lot more similarities I think, than what they've had in the past there for sure.
Lewis Phillips – Vital MX: Going back to what you just said about watching Honda last year and noticing little things, do you generally watch races that analytically? Or did you go back, watch the old races to see what a Honda was doing before jumping into testing with a team this off-season?
Colt: I actually did both. Watching the races just like a fan does every weekend on Saturday last year, I was able to pick up on a few things, just my opinion watching, “oh, this looks this, or this looks that”. Then after I realized, I was going to get this deal, I did actually go back and do some more watching so I could really try to focus on that one dirt bike in particular. There were a few things that I thought looked a little opposite of what I felt it should be, or the direction I feel they could have gone. But also, I don't know that, you know, I don't know this team or this bike. I haven't ridden a Honda 450 ever. Then talking to Trey a lot, he was huge because he's like, “This is how Honda works as far as testing and what they want to do and how they want to go about it”. That was good for me to know, just so that I can go in there with an open mind. I kind of know how this system works. After I went back and watched it, it looks pretty obvious what I feel the issue is with this bike. From day one I kind of knew where I wanted to go with it. Especially because I rode it outdoors first for about two weeks before we jumped to Supercross so I can get my feet wet with being on a 450 and being on a Honda. It was the same exact thing outdoors that went straight into Supercross. So, I'm like, “Okay, I know what we just did outdoors because we actually did do a little bit of testing outdoors. “I know this is going to be this similar or same thing for Supercross”. It just took us a while, I think, to get to that point because Honda has a certain way they wanted to do things, an order almost that they wanted to try things. For me, it's one of those things. Even over the weekend I was like, “I don't want to touch the bike, I just want to ride it and get used to it first”. I was at a point during the first part of Supercross where I was like, “I feel like I can't ride it the way I want to. We need to make those big drastic changes now”. Luckily, we were able to do that and still have some good time and do the motos before the season. I was able to feel fit and like I'd actually done the laps instead of floundering around a little silly out there. So yeah, it was a good off season. It was productive. But yeah, I tried to get analytical with it. I felt like I did it as best as I could. And I think that helped me coming into it for sure.
Lewis: You keep mentioning this thing you noticed on TV and then this thing you felt outdoors and then this thing that was the same thing in Supercross. What is it? What? As much as you can tell us, obviously.
Colt: I’m a fairly an open book with this kind of stuff. I don't know if it's a really big deal or something that you can notice, but even in every bike shootout, everything that they do, they say the Honda is sometimes a little twitchy. That's been the remark on the Honda for a few years. Some people feel it, some people don't. It just depends on what bike you're used to. For me, the Yamaha is such a stable chassis, it doesn't go left to right, it doesn't twitch in the front. It's a very planted feel. With the way that bike’s design is, the engine and everything the way it is, it just makes it feel really stable. I'm coming from something really stable to something where I saw a few of Chase’s crashes in Supercross where the front end looked way too low. Like it was too soft, it was getting too low, and then it would kind of pitch him off the bike. And it looked like it was out of nowhere, you know, the past two seasons. So, I'm like, “Dude, stiffen the front up and maybe that won't happen if the front is a little stiffer”. But also, they’re on a spring fork, I'm coming from an air fork which has a very, very rigid feel. In the spring, you just can't make it that rigid, like with that much hold up without feeling like you can't even hang on to the thing. From the get-go, I was like, “I think the front end is too soft and I think the wheel is maybe a little bit too far underneath us. We need to break it out a little bit, stiffen up the front, lower the rear a little”. I think this bike needed more rear end traction. It had way too much front end traction, it turned way too tight. It felt like you could turn around a pop can. It turned too good, you know? Which is kind of funny because I rode the new, I guess it would have been the ‘23 KTM during that time period when I was going to ride for that KTM team. It was the same exact thing, it just turned really, really tight and almost too good. I did that same kind of experience with that, where I was trying to rake the front end out. We pulled the forks down to flush. I tried to stiffen it as much as I could, just doing clicks on my own. I was just riding a stock bike at the time. I don't know if that's just a direction a lot of these manufacturers and bikes are trying to go. But it was a little too much for me. A lot of people like that kind of feel. But for me, I don't want it to turn too tight. I want it to follow the rut without trying to jump out of it too early and some little stuff like that. So, that was our biggest focus kind of from day one since, since I got on the Honda.
ML: It's so funny to hear you say that because we just had Aaron Plessinger on and Aaron had the same comments being on the on the ‘23 KTM, being an ex-Star rider, being an air fork guy and I had spoken to Aaron a little more in detail at the bike intro and he just kept saying the same thing. There's so much weight on the front and he's like, it just turns out from under me all the time. He was looking for more, not even a sagged out feel, but I think that topped out feel in the fork and not having it settle. Chase, last year in the summer, went to the BFRC shock. He mentioned that helped his balance a decent amount from where they were before that. When you got in Honda, how early into the Supercross testing did you end up trying the BFRC? In your opinion, was that one of the items that helped move you towards that balance you were looking for similar to Chase? Was that a good step?
Colt: Actually, yeah, I think it really was. I guess it was fairly early. The issue with the BFRC at first was they just straight up didn't have a Supercross setting for it. They were working on one, but they didn't quite have one that they felt confident enough for us to try yet. And obviously Chase was on a break at this time. He wasn't riding. I think he'd gone on vacation. So, they didn't know if they were going to have another guy. When they found out they were hiring me, “okay, let's try and get one put together here pretty quick so that we can get Colt on it and kind of see what he thinks”. I want to say we were about maybe 3 to 4 weeks in to riding whenever I got the option to try that. And it definitely did it kind of because we'd gone back and forth on the shop quite a bit because I told him my complaint was was rear end traction and I wanted the rear to kind of sit a little lower than a lot of the other guys that were currently riding the bike. So we went from a shock that I tried to develop, a standard shock, but it was really kind of stiff and rigid. It had the hold up that I wanted, but it was a little too rigid and it kind had more of a dead feel. Then the original shock that I had on the bike was just extremely springy, it just moved way too much. I hadn't found that happy medium. We were one extreme to the other and we got to try the BFR shock and once they put that on, I was like, “This is kind of the best of both worlds”. It moves like the first shock that I tried when I was on the bike, which I think pretty much Chase was racing last year. It moved like that, but it still was able to sit where I wanted it to sit without coming back up too high or with staying planted too low and having that dead kind of feel. It had the plushness that I wanted, but it had the hold up in the right spots where I needed it. That really helped our balance quite a bit. And then once we got drastically stiffer on the fork and we raked it out a little bit more, then I was like, “Now I feel a little more at home here”. Yeah, it's kind of funny hearing Aaron say that. He was more to the extreme of a lower, kind of choppered out bike a little bit in my experience with being teammates with him at Star. He really liked the rear end to sit low in the front to, I don't want to say sit high, but he liked the front being pretty stiff and he always ran a pretty low rear. I like it a little bit more of a balanced feel to where the front is complementing the rear and vice versa. I even noticed in him riding, his bike looks a little lower in the rear than I think the other guys. But like I said, once you go through all the testing and you do all the stuff, Honda has just a ridiculous amount of parts. So, I knew we were going to find it. It just was getting them to more or less go a different direction that they hadn't really gone in the past.
ML: The BFR has been ran in GP's for years. They never really went away from it once it was originally introduced. Based off the experience I have playing around with one, they have an active feel, they track well. There's a lot of rear end traction feel from them. But some of the older stuff, particularly the production ones, they didn't have a ton really high-speed hold ups. I think that's why we've seen guys in Supercross in the US try them for just a race or two and then gone. But yourself, Chase, and (Jason) Anderson are all on them. When you first got on this new setting they've come up with, whatever technology they've increased and changed on that shock, did it have enough hold up in the big situations or did you guys have to chase that a little?
Colt: Honestly, pretty good right off the bat as far as a base setting. We played a little bit with spring rate stuff, just to see whether it be a little more holed up in a certain area or to hold it down a little more. But always with the big hits and the progression of the shock, it was right where I wanted it to be. I didn't think that it struggled in that area like a big hit scenario or the small little breaking bumps, the little chatter when the rear is a little high and there's not a whole lot of weight there. To me, it felt like it handled those really well. We did an insane amount of standard shock testing before we went to the BFR. I had two settings that I really like that we went back-to-back with for a while. Once we had the BFR, we actually took it to different tracks, and I went back-to-back again between standard and BFR. I never really found a scenario where I was like, “This was horrible in this area”. But there were a few times where the standard shock doesn't quite do what the BFR does. And I want it to do that, but I just can't get that feeling out of it. I feel like it helped the rear end traction a little bit as opposed to some of the other ones we had tried on the standard shock side. I thought it handled it really well. And I think it's a little different too, for those big hits and that gnarly stuff. Chase is a pretty finesse kind of rider. He doesn't ride the bike heavy. He rides it very light, places it where he needs to. For him outdoors, I don't know if he ever got in those situations where it was a crazy big kind of hit just because he has so much finesse when he rides. So, for him, whether they were chasing that or not, I'm not sure.
Jamie: I talked to Ken (Roczen) over in Paris. From his point of view, Honda was not very open to trying the things he wanted to try. Have you run into that, or have they been pretty open with your thoughts?
Colt: Honestly, it's been pretty awesome. When we had this whole discussion at first, they said, “We want to throw this test load on you. We have a lot of cool parts we want to try”. I was always, “I'm game. I'll do whatever you guys want to do. But at the end of the day, I want to be comfortable, and I want to go try and do well. I'm not hired just to go be a test horse. I want to do good and prove to you guys that I deserve a spot here regardless”. So, from the get-go, they were very open to stuff just because they had struggled a little bit in years past with being consistent with the bike setup. One round it felt great. The next one, it was all over the place. So, they just like the consistency. I feel like that wasn't quite there. I think they knew they had a little bit of work to do, but at the same time I never got that feeling of any pushback towards anything. It was more or less, “Hey, we've tried this, and we've gone this direction before”. And I'm like, “Yeah, but we need to revisit it. Let's do it again. I feel like this is a direction the bike needs to go”. Once we got to that point, it was easy. It also helped that the feedback I was giving them, they felt was productive. Whenever they have a new guy and you're working with a guy and they're like, does this guy even know what the hell he's talking about? Maybe he's leading us down a completely horrible path. But luckily enough, all the testing I've done and all the things that I had tried, once they saw the improvements, even just by the stopwatch, then Chase tried them, and Chase liked it too. It was dramatically better for him. Then the trust started to come, and it was snowballing after that. They're like, “Hey, whatever you want to do and whatever you think that we need to work on, let's try and tackle it”. So, these dudes were awesome. I can't really say anything negative about any of them or any situation. We took the right steps and just handled it the way it should be handled.
Jamie: Your contract is through Supercross only. Has there been any talk of you possibly staying on?
Colt: We haven't even talked about any of that. I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. Just because from the get-go, whenever I first started getting on this bike, the only thing that I wanted as a rider, you're always chasing that feeling that you want, that comfortability and feeling like you can handle any situation that's thrown at you on the bike. I was searching for that for so long that that was mentally all I was zoned into. So, all preseason I was just like, “Man, if I can get this thing where I want it, I feel like I could do really well on it. My mind was racing 24/7, like, “I wonder if we can do this or if we can do that, or maybe tomorrow when we test this, it'll be a big help”. Now that we're racing, I'm pretty focused on the day to day and the present. If I go focus on that and do the best I can, the rest of that stuff takes care of itself. It wouldn't be a new territory for me to be wondering what the future holds. I've been in that situation a few times, so the best I can do is go do my job the best I can. And like I said, the rest usually always takes care of itself. Every time I've worried about it and got all stressed it just makes it worse. I'm sick of doing that. I just want to go do what I can. At the moment, I'm having such a good time riding the bike and being around the team and really good dudes that want to see me prosper. If something happens and I can stay on this team, I would be pumped. But you just never know with what's going to happen and what the future holds. So, we're definitely day to day.