Team manager of Yamaha's factory off-road effort on 2020.
Manager of the Yamaha Active8 Yamalube Racing team, AJ Roberts has been a mainstay in the Yamaha Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC) for well over a decade. Currently leading E1 with defending champion Luke Styke and also sitting second in E2 with Josh Green, hear from Roberts during the unscheduled break in the 2020 season courtesy of Yamaha Motor Australia.
There’s no races on for the moment, so its just feet up on the desk and watching replays, right?
No, we still have a lot to do and plenty of work to carry us forward. We recently had bikes return from the 2019 ISDE and we must now prepare them for sale. So, that often means stripping them back to a frame, rebuilding the motors, service and returning suspension to stock, replacing parts and a good detail of the bike. It is all time-consuming, but a necessary part of the job. On top of that we have a range of bikes to maintain for our riders as well as re-prepare the bikes used at the last round of the AORC. Then once that is complete, we can look at any of the workshop or truck jobs that are required and there is plenty of things we generally struggle for time as we are on the go week-to-week, so we can catch up on those.
In off-road you have so many versions of the same bike. The bike for AORC is different to the bike needed for Hattah, the ISDE or even the A4DE. Keeping track of them must be a job in itself?
Yes, but we have a pretty good system in place now. Riders can often have three or four bikes at a different spec for whatever event they are competing at. For example, the bike we build for Hattah would be considerably different in motor and suspension settings than what would be used at an AORC round and then the bikes we use for a six-day can be away for nearly six months, so we sacrifice a lot of parts there. Keeping track of them is vitally important. We use a system where we document everything done to the bike via the VIN number as its so easy to forget what has been done to a bike if its via memory. Our paperwork per bike must be neat and up to date, so we have a good record of where things are at and what needs to be done to each bike in terms of building it, maintaining it or selling it.
Expand a bit on your role within Yamaha’s off-road organisation as you don’t just look after Luke and Josh, do you?
I look after a fair chunk of Yamaha’s off-road, but not all of it. Obviously there is Luke and Josh, but also the bLU cRU involvement of Michael Driscoll and Blake Hollis, Kyron Bacon, some junior things, as well as offering advice and mentoring as its required. We even assisted Riley Graham build a bike he was planning on using at the A4DE.
Australian off road has produced some world-class riders of late and our results at the ISDE have been sensational. What do you attribute this success to?
In years gone by, the A4DE has been the prestigious event in Australia, but I think the introduction of the multi-round AORC with a range of different formats has been what’s really progressed Australia’s level. In the AORC, riders race each other more often in a consistent, worthy championship and the introduction of something like the Sprint format has enabled our riders to get faster, quicker. The UK and the USA have now adopted the Sprint format into their racing and you will find that we are the strongest three nations in off-road at the moment.
Yamaha has recently introduced a new WR250F into the market. How have you found the new bike?
The bike is super-impressive and will change many people’s idea of what a 250cc off-road bike is capable of. It produces impressive power, but still remains as light and agile as a 250cc bike should. It is also extremely versatile and the feedback we get from the riders and the punters in general is that they are extremely happy with the bike and believe it is a massive step forward in that category.