Features 14 Jun 2022

Conversation: Jay Wilson

Longtime Yamaha racer details new life in Japan and development role.

Former Australian MX2 champion Jay Wilson and his young family packed their bags and left to begin a new life in Japan for 2022, with Wilson becoming a development rider, pro racer and mentor for Yamaha Motor Co. MotoOnline caught up with him to find out what he’s been up to and how he’s finding his new role in this Conversation.

Image: Supplied.

Jay, it’s been a couple of months since you guys moved to Japan. How are you settling in?

It’s been pretty hectic and it’s one of those things where you can approach it one of two ways – you can get all beat up about the fact you can’t understand things or you can enjoy the experience of being in another world and learn as much as you can. We’re definitely taking the second approach. I flew in before my wife Misty and daughter Poppy did, and as soon as they cleared quarantine we got straight into setting up a house while still trying to test bikes and get ready for the All-Japan nationals. It was quite intense leading up to Golden Week here (which is a big holiday in Japan) but after that it feels like we’re getting on top of things now. I’ve been to Japan for a couple of two-month stints in the past, so I knew what to expect from a cultural point of view. Honestly though, I was ready for a change and I was super-excited to take this opportunity. It’s actually okay not being able to understand all of the language, I can just focus on doing my best at my job and focus on my family. It’s all about the necessities… If I’m not racing or working we really try and get out and see things and really make the most of being here – we’re just absorbing it all.

The first two rounds of the All-Japan Motocross Championship are in the books and you’re on a five-race win streak in the MX2 class. How have you found learning the different tracks and racing guys you’ve never raced before?

It’s been quite refreshing to have a change of scenery, learn new tracks and meet new people. Japanese fans are so cool, as soon as you’re at the track they want a photo or something signed, but they’re so respectful and thankful for the small things, like a sticker. I want to be level-headed and ride a bike for a living, but it’s still quite humbling and exciting to experience the way the fans appreciate the racers. The racing has been a lot of fun and it’s nice to start the season strongly and show what you can do with a standard motorcycle and the EPS device I’m working with. I really enjoyed the first round, but the second round was a narrow, tight track and we had a lot of rain leading up to it. Saturday qualifying was a complete mudder, but I was surprised how quickly it dried out for Sunday. I won both races again, but I crashed three times in the first race as it was so slippery. I was still able to push for the full 30 minutes to take both wins. Me racing in Japan has encouraged all of the riders in my class to step up, and we’ve even noticed an improvement between the first and second round. My role here isn’t just a racer – the development of the EPS device is my main focus right now, then there’s racing, and supporting and mentoring the other factory team riders and all bLUcRU riders.

Tell us a bit about this EPS device you’re testing. What is it and how did you get the opportunity to get involved?

About two years ago I reached out to YMC saying I was keen to get involved in Japan and it’s been a process since then to make it happen, especially with covid in the mix. I made the trip over to race the Sugo round of the motocross and got a great result, did a bit of testing with the EPS device then. EPS stands for Electronic Power Steering. All four of the riders, including myself, on Yamaha’s factory team are using the device at the All-Japan Motocross Championship and putting the device through race simulations. I’m very impressed with how it feels and the benefits it offers. The stability of the motorcycle and the way it improves the overall package is unreal. I’m really big on the whole safety aspect and making racing and riding safer for riders. This device really improves that.

Image: Supplied.

How do you communicate about such highly detailed stuff when there’s a pretty obvious language barrier? I’m guessing there’s a lot of hand signals.

Yeah, there’s a bit of that! I’m fortunate that my mechanic and the main guys at Yamaha can all speak basic English, but motocross kinda has its own sign language anyway, so I can cheat the system a bit [laughs]. Misty and Poppy are picking up the language a lot quicker than I am, as they’re more immersed in day-to-day life and schooling.

Being so immersed in the technology development side of things must also give you a real appreciation for the huge hours that go into production bikes…

Absolutely. The amount of work that goes into production is unbelievable and that’s been the biggest eye-opener. From Yamaha there are definitely some cool things coming up that I’m excited to see make production in the future. For me, I leave home at 7:30am and I’m back at 6:30pm every day, and I’m just one of thousands working for Yamaha. I love learning and technology and I’m so passionate about motocross, so to be in this position, I don’t want to take it for granted.

How long are you in Japan for? Is it just for a year or is this a permanent move?

I’m currently on a 12-month contract, but I’d love to stay here long-term. I’ve invested myself in Yamaha and I love the company and the brand. I want to stay with them and continue working for them into the future, but we’ll take things as they come. In the meantime, we’ll just continue enjoying our time in Japan. We’re documenting our journey with a vlog on my YouTube channel, so people can check that out if they want to see an inside look at what our life is like here.