Offseason Update On Team Honda HRC
Although much of the outward appearance remains the same as ever, with the same two riders returning for another year on a well-developed motorcycle, Team Honda HRC have had a very busy offseason with injuries, various events, and management changes. Despite the non-stop action, the red riders have plenty to look forward to through 2018 with Ken Roczen and Cole Seely at the controls of the Honda CRF450R.
By far the biggest storyline pertaining to the team, if not the sport entirely, is Ken Roczen's recovery from what could have been a career-ending arm injury. Things between Roczen and Team Honda HRC started off incredibly well in 2017, as Roczen nabbed the first two main event wins of the Monster Energy Supercross Series aboard the then all-new Honda CRF450R. Just when it seemed like things were going perfectly, disaster struck at the 2017 Anaheim Two SX when a mistake in a tricky section sent Roczen over the bars and into the ground with bone-shattering results. The months since January were filled with reconstructive surgeries and "what if" conversations, but in the last few months, Roczen has stunned the industry with the movement in his badly damaged arm and his near-instant speed. The last few weeks have been rather light on information, as Roczen retreated to Santa Barbra and Castillo Ranch for his customary preseason boot camp, but we (along with many others) have heard that he's found his form and will be considered a contender come the first gate drop at Anaheim One, some eleven months after the accident. Roczen's longtime contracts with FOX-Shift and Red Bull will remain intact for 2018.
Cole Seely, meanwhile, has maintained a balance between staying on the radar and dropping off of the radar. Shortly after the conclusion of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, Seely made the trek overseas to represent Team USA at the 2017 Motocross of Nations but suffered two very strange and never before experienced mechanical issues with his KYB shock in the heavy mud of Matterley Basin. This led to a double DNF score. Shortly after his return stateside, Seely went under the knife to have hardware from a past injury removed from his hand and sat out the 2017 Monster Energy Cup. Seely was back on the bike and in Supercross mode in time for the 2017 Paris SX offseason race, where he battled for the top spot against Marvin Musquin over two days of racing. Seely will continue his close relationship with Troy Lee Designs apparel and helmets in 2018. All in all, it's been busy few months for Cole Seely.
Seely's woes at the MXON lead us to the topic of suspension testing for the CRF450R. In the very few social media clips we've seen of Roczen at Castillo Ranch, it's clear that his bike has been outfitted with Showa goods on the front and rear, a massive change from the KYB parts he's used since his days on a Suzuki at RCH Racing. Seely has remained with KYB sticks and shocks on his bike, even in spite of the part malfunction. Honda's global presence has managed to maintain a solid relationship with both suspension brands in recent years (the CRF450R comes stock with Showa parts and the MXGP branch of Team Honda HRC runs works Showa parts), so if Roczen does decide that Showa parts suit his personal style more (it's highly unlikely that Seely's broken shock collar is why Roczen would switch) he will have plenty of support at the races each round.
As we've mentioned multiple times in this write-up, the Honda CRF450R is now in its second year of competition, so aside from further refinement, don't expect to see the bike to receive a massive overhaul for a few more years. A corporate decision to unify Team Honda HRC’s global program has helped the entire program out, including the branching out to SmarTop/MotoConcepts/Honda in the US.
This management talk turns us to the next topic, which pertains to the management of Team Honda HRC in the US. At the close of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, it was announced that former team manager Erik Kehoe would return to his old spot and that Dan Betley would be reassigned as team manager of GEICO Honda to assist in the development of the all-new Honda CRF250R. Kehoe's presence in the pit area will come as no real surprise, as the racer turned manager knows the ins and outs of Honda's structure. We'll touch on Betley's new role in a few days with another post, but for now, you can read an interview we conducted a few months prior.
So although it looks like all is the same on the outside, due to a solidified roster and no stunning new sponsors, Team Honda HRC has dealt with plenty in the last few months. But since this is an iconic team with an experienced roster, it should not be considered a topic of concern come January.