Features 26 Sep 2015

Moto 360

An all-access Australian view of dirt bikes, presented by Alpinestars.

The news that Suzuki Australia is closing at the end of this season its championship-winning Team Motul Suzuki outfit came as a major shock yesterday, for a variety of reasons. After winning both the MX Nationals and Australian Supercross titles for the past two years running (2013 and 2014) with Matt Moss, the team won’t exist in 2016.

There’s no denying that this year’s motocross series was a tough one for Moss and the team, but their success in the past with both the RM-Z450 and RM-Z250 speaks for itself. He started the year under an injury cloud, then further injury in a first turn crash at Appin’s second round promptly put him out of title contention.

Moss’ return at Coolum’s fifth round was underwhelming, but following the mid-season break at Raymond Terrace he was back on top with the Super Pole win, a moto victory and podium overall. It was clear he was still at the top of his game, more than capable of winning here on a domestic level.

But then the well-documented bobcat incident at Shepparton happened and, just like that, his MX season was done altogether. It didn’t go the team’s way at all, and aside from developing the youthful talent of Kale Makeham and Egan Mastin with mixed results, it was Suzuki’s toughest campaign in years. And we won’t see them in the MX Nationals again in the current state.

Moss has been hard at work preparing for supercross as he does, entering the 2015 series as title favourite after sweeping the championship one year ago. He wants to give the team a successful send-off, before moving on to new, undisclosed, pastures in 2016 – he’s already signed a fresh new deal.

Image: Jeff Crow.

Image: Jeff Crow.

Right now it’s not clear who Moss has in fact signed for, however previous speculation that he would be riding for CDR Yamaha have simmered since the team has reportedly signed Dean Ferris. There is a second (possibly a third) seat at CDR still remaining from what we understand, but it remains a mystery who that will be and it won’t be firmed until after supercross.

KTM Motocross Racing Team will return with new MX1 national champion Kirk Gibbs alongside Luke Styke (as well as Caleb Ward in MX2), but that’s the only factory team we have confirmed. There have been plans to add an in-house Husqvarna team next year, which could mean we won’t be less a factory team altogether considering Suzuki’s exit, but it’s not in concrete.

One of the more surprising rumours rising to the surface this week is also that Yarrive Konsky’s Full Throttle Sports (FTS) will no longer operate the factory Honda team in 2016. It’s in no way official, however we’re hearing the high profile Motologic-run Team Honda Racing superbike squad is in line to take charge. Neither side is ready to confirm as we speak.

What that means for FTS or Honda’s involvement moving forward, we’re not entirely sure. It could be in a bid to streamline resources between the motocross/supercross and superbike efforts (not too dissimilar to what CDR Yamaha does with its off-road involvement), but it would be a major task considering the differences between disciplines. Watch this space.

So, in terms of a factory ride if he’s not on Yamaha’s agenda anymore, that leaves Moss either headed to NPS Monster Energy Kawasaki, the new-look Honda or Husqvarna operations if they go ahead. He has signed already though as we reported yesterday, so unless Honda and Husqvarna are already signing riders (which we don’t believe they are), Kawasaki looks to be the strongest official option. Or it could be something different altogether – we have no true indication apart from putting two and two together.

With so many riders off contract following supercross and Suzuki making its team closure official, it appears that team structures need to be finalised before all the dominoes fall into place, plus the results of the ever-important SX series will also help in the decision-making process. And that’s not a bad thing, because if there are as many seat swaps locally as we’re hearing, 2016 will have one of the most intriguing MX Nationals pre-seasons on record.

The effects of Suzuki’s exit are massive though, because at a time of the year where we’d usually be well and truly in the build-up to this weekend’s Motocross of Nations, our attention has been cast back to the local scene since news broke at lunchtime on Friday.

So with that, I wish Team Australia and each of the participating countries well at Ernee, France, this weekend and have all the confidence in the world that Todd Waters, late inclusion Luke Clout and the aforementioned Ferris will do our country proud. I’ll hand this over to Simon Makker for his take on the Suzuki saga…

For as long as I’ve been involved in the motorcycle industry, manufacturers and companies have regularly spouted the old saying ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’. It’s an adage that has been the backbone of motorsports, but yesterday’s announcement that Team Motul Suzuki won’t be fielding a factory team next year has suddenly shot holes through the theory.

It seems preposterous that a motorcycle brand that won four consecutive national titles until less than a year ago would suddenly pull the pin on their highly successful factory outfit.

Jay Foreman ran an incredibly tight ship and knows how to get the best out of his riders and mechanics. The team itself has always been one of the smallest in terms of pit presence, but that certainly didn’t stop them from shining brightly on the track where it mattered. You could argue that the Suzuki team probably had the best value-for-money set-up in Australian motocross.

While I’d heard the odd rumour here and there over the past couple of years that Suzuki was considering pulling out of motocross I put it down to a bad case of Chinese whispers. After all, why would they pull out while they were making hay and the sun was shining?

Image: Alex Gobert.

Image: Alex Gobert.

However, when you look at things from another angle – the manufacturer’s point of view where bike sales are the highest priority – the FCAI bike sales over the past couple of years tell a different story – Suzuki’s RM-Z range has largely knocked around on the cusp of the top 10 for some reason.

Despite Matt Moss racking up two titles in 2013, the RM-Z450 ranked 10th in bike sales for the year with 458 units, down 4.7 percent from 2012. On the back of Mossy’s second year of consecutive titles in 2014 Suzuki’s MX1 machine fared similar, ranking ninth with 460 sales.

At the mid-point of this year, the RM-Z450 was again ranked ninth with 193 sales, one unit ahead of its little brother, the RM-Z250. In stark contrast, Honda, who has barely made the podium in motocross this year, is screaming along in bike sales, outselling Suzuki nearly 3-1.

So what does all this mean? I think it means the old win on Sunday sell on Monday saying doesn’t ring true any more. It means the landscape of marketing and advertising your machines has somehow changed and race-track results don’t necessarily translate to moving bikes off floors like they used to, even though it surely helps the cause in multiple instances.

What Suzuki’s departure from the pits means for the national racing scene is anyone’s guess, but I’m hoping it’ll act more as a fire under the bum for the remaining manufacturers (and the promoters) to put their bikes and riders front and centre in front of the crowds. The last thing our sport needs is to lose the support and backing from the companies that it completely hinges on.

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