There’s no arguing that Star Yamaha Racing has become one of the biggest threats to winning championships in our sport. The 250 program grew into a dominating force over the years winning numerous Supercross and outdoor championships. In 2021, when they took over the Yamaha 450 program, we all wondered if they could turn it around. Previously the Factory Yamaha team with rider’s including Justin Barcia, Cooper Webb, and Aaron Plessinger, struggled on the bike. In 2021, Aaron Plessinger and Dylan Ferrandis, led the new Star Racing Yamaha 450 team to a very successful season capped with a 450 Pro Motocross Championship. Jeremy Coker, 450 Team Manager, took some time on a recent MotoXpod Show to talk about the current team and how things are looking going into 2023.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Since Star Racing Yamaha took over the 450 effort in 2021 the team has won two Pro Motocross championships and a Supercross championship. Not bad, Jeremy.
Jeremy Coker: Yeah. Not bad at all. Obviously, we set our goals out for that to happen. But I would say it was a little more than our expectations, and it just sets the bar a lot higher for us in the future.
Vital MX: That's true. It's a long way from the top. It's a longer way to fall. But I don't think you guys are going to have that problem any time soon.
Jeremy: Luckily, we surround ourselves with good riders that make my job a lot easier and a good team and crew members behind me. So that definitely helps the scenario.
Vital MX: Let's start with Eli Tomac and bringing him over. I believe you had a big involvement in that, and his new attitude. He seems like a different guy. Although his determination is no different than it ever was. Talk about the process of getting Eli over at Star and what it took.
Jeremy: I've talked about it quite a bit and a lot of it was that Eli was at a point in his career where he was kind of getting flat, kind of stale, and not enjoying the sport anymore, which you could see in some things. And I knew there was still the fire in him. When he wants to win, he can win. And that's what he showed even at the end of his last team (Monster Energy Kawasaki). And so that's what had me going, “Eli still wants it. Eli still can win. What can I do to help him? And what can we do as a team to help him get back to what made him the powerhouse that he used to be”? I think that was the biggest thing that we could do, we came in there and we said, “Eli, let's get you to enjoy this sport again. Let's get you to have fun and get you back to your grassroots”. We brought John Tomac on board with the team; he has a headset at every race. He's able to communicate with us. Lets get them back in this as a family like they used to be in the amateur days, and when they first came into the pros and what made Eli Tomac so strong in his career. That's what we as a team went out to do. And bring people into his circle that he enjoys in his circle and makes the sport fun. His chassis guy, his dad, and his practice bike mechanic. Letting him have a little bit of control over his program. And I think we succeeded with that.
Vital MX: That's definitely something he's mentioned numerous times. You guys did a good job with that. Eli has always kind of been a guy that likes to keep his training to himself, doesn't really like to show what he has, but he'll come to Florida once in a while. He was there last week. Do you try to get him out there more so he can ride with the guys? Do you see a difference in what he's doing, how he's riding when he's around the other guys?
Jeremy: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously, his program is a solid program. There's nothing wrong with his program. He's proved that with multiple championships. But I think it's no secret that in the past, Eli Tomac is stronger towards the middle to the end of the season and not so strong at the beginning of the season. I think that's because it takes him a while to get the train moving and get going, back used to riding next to people in rhythm lanes, riding with people in the starting gate. When you train by yourself all the time, it's hard to remember how to do that. And I think he would agree with me that us having him come here at the beginning of last year and having him now come here at the beginning of this year gets him back into that rhythm a lot faster. So that when we go to Anaheim, it's not so much of a surprise when you're jumping a rhythm lane next to two guys or coming into a corner with five or six guys. I think that’s one downfall to training by yourself. But if we can get him going at an earlier time with more people, then mid to the end of season when he's back training by himself, it's not a big deal because we've been racing this whole time. And not only that, I think this year we’re even in a better position than we were because Eli really hasn't stopped racing. We raced Supercross, we raced motocross, we raced Motocross of Nations. He went to Wales, he went to Paris, and now we're bam, right back in Anaheim. So, I think this year you're going to see even a stronger Tomac than you've ever seen because we really haven't stopped.
Vital MX: His teammate, Dylan Ferrnandis, won the championship outdoors before Eli came over. He’s a very capable guy. I expect more out of him in Supercross this year. So, in my mind, they're major competitors. It's not like he’s a second level guy. How is their relationship? How do you manage that? Both those guys are interesting on a personal level, just how intense they are.
Jeremy: I'm around Dylan every day, day in and day out. He and I have a really good relationship over the multiple years we've been working together. And, you know, when we were talking about hiring Eli, and then when we did hire Eli, that year in motocross Dylan and Eli were battling for wins each moto. And I literally would tell the team within that knew the deal was done, “I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle this next year come motocross. This is going to be a lot on my heart and my brain”. Having two top level championship contenders is a big deal. You know, like you said, you usually have a championship contender and a second-tier rider. Well, I think we truly have two championship contender riders, and I think that's indoors and outdoors. Yeah, last year it didn't show with Dylan indoors. He wasn't that comfortable on supercross on that bike. But it's a whole different Dylan Ferrandis this year coming up. He loves the new motorcycle. He's absolutely railing the supercross track. So, I think you're going to have two championship contenders in Supercross and hopefully two championship contenders outdoors if we can get Eli to race outdoors. It's going to be a strain on me for sure to manage it, but I think we'll be able to handle it. We've been used to it on the 250 side with multiple championship contenders. It’s a whole different ballgame, of course, in the 450 class. But we go out and set our goals to win no matter who wins. As long as Star Racing's doing the best and both my riders are given 100%. That's all I care about.
Vital MX: Their contracts both got renewed recently through ‘23. I heard talking to Kyle Chisholm, who helped develop the ’23 Yamaha 450, that it was sort of up in the air until Eli decided if he liked the ‘23 or not. Kind of, “If I don't like the bike, I may not resign”. Is there any truth to that that you can speak of?
Jeremy: I mean, of course, I tell people this all the time, when you win everything there is to win on your current motorcycle; Supercross, motocross, Motocross of Nations, a World Supercross round. In your brain you go,” I just won everything there is to win. And now you guys are going to present me with a new motorcycle. I love this old motorcycle. There's no possible way you guys can build a better motorcycle than what I just raced”. So, when I look at it from his standpoint, I understand. It's a big risk. “I know I can do it on this motorcycle. I don't know much about this motorcycle. Before I resign, I need to ride that motorcycle”. So, yes, absolutely there is truth behind that. And we did everything we could to get them to get a new bike over here. And Kyle had a lot to do with getting it ready for Eli. And Eli jumped on it, and within two laps he pulled in and he literally sent me a text message. He said, “Let's go win a championship again”. So yeah, that was pretty comforting.
Vital MX: That's interesting because again, I just talked to Chiz Friday night. And of course, he's at HEP Suzuki now. One of your biggest competitors, Ken Roczen, signed and it sounds like Ken basically had the same reaction to the Suzuki after Kyle set it up. Does that put any concern into you that Kenny was that happy with the Suzuki?
Jeremy: Yeah, of course. You know Ken Roczen's an amazing rider. We had our hands full in Paris with him when he was a happy camper on a motorcycle. I think it's very similar to Eli, if you put Ken Roczen in a happy environment just like you do with Eli Tomac, they're both going to be just as dangerous. So, yeah, of course he's a very strong competitor. And do I look at him like a threat? Of course. There's multiple threats and I think this 450 class is such a tough class that there's a handful of guys that I look at like, “can we beat them".
Vital MX: And the positive on your side of that in talking to Eli, he loved the ‘22. Then he tells me the ‘23 is better in a lot of places. It turns better, it feels more stable. I said, “With as good as you were on the ‘22, how much better are you going to be on the ‘23”? And he says, “Oh, it has a potential to be really good”. So, you have to be really excited again. Also, with Dylan riding so much better, this could be an amazing 450 year.
Jeremy: Yeah, it's going to be really good. We had a solid two weeks of testing and training out here in Florida with Eli and Dylan, and I know Eli was able to go home and set some New Valley records, or whatever he may call his track. He set track records there. I think they're both going to be a very strong threat. They're both beyond happy with the new motorcycle. And like you said, Eli is very happy with certain things that it does better than the ‘22, which is dangerous. Yeah, I think it's definitely dangerous for the rest of the field.
Vital MX: I have a technical question here. Hopefully this isn’t one of those questions that might get me banned from the tent. Haha. This is a Michael Lindsay question. He texted me a little while ago and I said, “Is this going to get me in trouble”? He did not respond, but he wants to know why Eli’s on the X Trig clamps and not the Neken clamps?
Jeremy: I think it's just a personal preference. The Neken are a little more rigid than the X Trig, and Eli prefers a little less rigid triple clamp. It's a personal preference and I think that's one thing we've made clear in the past. We have no restrictions and whatever the rider prefers and chooses that is the best for our performance, that's what we're going to put on our motorcycle.
Vital MX: It seems you guys are doing it in a way that's more rider friendly.
Jeremy: One thing is not going to work for every rider. And that's one thing we've learned, obviously within a parameter. We're not going to just leave open reins to do whatever you want. If we see it not going good, or if we think it's not going to go, we're obviously going to pull the reigns back. But if we don't see a negative in it, then of course we're going to do what we can to support our riders.
Vital MX: You announced Justin Cooper will race four races, as of now, on the 450. I know he's sort of the big hope for the 250 championship. So, it's a little risky letting him ride a 450. Why was that decision made and how do you feel about it?
Jeremy: Our big goal for him is to go win this 250 motocross championship, and that's his big goal. But I think the biggest thing is, like I just said earlier, with racing, if we take this whole winter off from him racing and gate drops and just try to go race the summer, he's going to be behind the eight ball no matter how much he trains. So, gate drops are so important and obviously he can't race 250 Supercross. That's no secret. So, what can he do to race? That's why we might as well put him on a 450. And also, if we have him training this off season on a 450 ready to go, God forbid, this is a dangerous sport. If something happened to one of the 450 riders, he's ready to jump in there. I think that's one big thing that we have the advantage of with as many riders as we have. And in the position that he's in where he can't race 250 Supercross lets go ahead and have him train on this 450 in Supercross. We can see what he can do, gain some experience because of course in the future he's going to need a 450 ride. If he's riding good, racing good, it's only positive for both of us. Positive for him to gain experience. It's positive for us to see if he's got it for us to sign him on our 450 team. That's why we decided let's go ahead and have him train, get ready for 450 Supercross. And if and when he's ready to go, we'll throw him in some races.
Vital MX: On the 250 side, the team has some new riders including Jordan Smith and Stylez Robertson. And of course, Nate Thrasher, Levi Kitchen, Nick Romano coming back. Who do you feel is the guy right now? Is there anybody that's standing out?
Jeremy: I think currently we have three guys that can win any time. I think Jordan, Levi, and Nate are the three big threats for this coming year. Levi's really sprung to the front in these last few weeks. He's been riding tremendously, and hopefully can keep it going. And Jordan, with his experience and once again, he's in a happy home now. He's in a good training program, on a good motorcycle. I think he's back to the year where he almost won his championship. And I would say personally, he’s even better. I think if he stays on the straight and narrow path, this is his year to win.
Vital MX: Wow. I think people forget there were two years there where he was within a few points of winning a championship and some things happened and it just didn't go his way. And then it was injury, injury, injury, injury, injury. And he needs to do well. This may be his last opportunity at that high level of team. I really believe he's got potential to be a winner.
Jeremy: The funny part is when you texted me about coming on the show, I was actually at, he puts on a weekly cornhole tournament. It just got moved to the new local pizza joint. So, this was the first time at the local pizza joint that we had his cornhole tournament. There's 40 people there at the cornhole tournament. I think the biggest thing right now is, once again, this goes back to what I've been kind of hitting on the head here. He's at home, and when I say that, he's literally at home. He lives here in Cairo. His team is now in Cairo, where before he lived in Cairo and trained in Cairo and his team was in California. Everything he needs is now here. He's never separated from his family. He gets to do the things he loves. I think he's in a better place than he's ever been before.