We rarely see a pro rider move from the 450 class to 250 class, but as we approach the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross season, it has certainly been a trend. Both Kyle Chisholm and Phil Nicoletti successfully appealed their eligibility for the small-bore division to the AMA over the offseason and because of this, the two veterans will have guaranteed rides with well-funded teams for the 250 regional championships. Nicoletti’s approval came in October from the AMA and will allow the New York native to fill one of the newly created spots at the AutoTrader.com/Monster Energy/Toyota/Suzuki squad, a move from “fill-in” to full-time that Nicoletti has worked for years to attain. As it stands, Nicoletti will race the 250 East Coast swing aboard the yellow bike and will jump to the 450 for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship during the summer.
You've known this was going to happen for a while, since your eligibility was approved in October. When did racing the 250 even become an option?
We talked about it in mid-September. We had a thought of what we wanted to do and were in the process of appealing it, and Jeremy Albrecht and David Evans helped with that. The rule states that if you self-advance and voluntarily move up, you can appeal it. So we gave them all of my results and the AMA looked at it, and I think they made the right decision. I got approved the Friday night before the Monster Energy Cup, so we knew it was a go. I have a for-sure date of when I'm racing, which is the East Coast, and I'm excited because it's been a really good journey.
How was your 250 career? You had only a handful of races in short time.
It's pretty pathetic, to be honest with you. I was put through the wringer with some stuff and sometimes I don't think I was ready or that the bikes allowed me to be as good as I should have been. Through the four years of riding Supercross, I had a total of fifteen races and combined points of one-hundred [Laughs]. It was pathetic. Eighty of the points came from 2010, so people don't understand that when I did move up to the 450 class in 2013, I was getting my ass handed to me. I didn't make the first eight main events, so it was a really big learning curve. For where I'm at now compared to where I was, I'm thankful that I kept my nose to the grindstone and met awesome people along the way that have helped me grow as a rider. That's all ultimately led me to here and I'll ride a factory Suzuki for the first round of the East Coast.
You normally work directly with the JGR staff in North Carolina, but this seems to be strictly with Yoshimura. How has the transition been?
It's been good, but to be honest I mostly rode a stock motor back east for a couple of weeks. They are waiting on some stuff from Japan still, but it's been good. I've been with the JGR guys for the last three years and I'm still with them, but now we have two separate companies under the same rig. It's cool and everyone is working together, so it's not strictly with Yoshimura or JGR. I work with Johnny, our suspension guy, and it's a big package that everyone is working together on.
After riding the Yamaha 450, which is a monster of a bike, and then dropping to the Suzuki 250, which is nimble but a little slow, how was the transition?
I was able to manhandle it better, but I won't lie, when I had to seat-bounce a Supercross triple out of a corner I was a little skeptical because I was on the stock bike. To go from what's basically a fire-breathing dragon to something that's much lower in horsepower, it was a big difference. I thought the transition would go worse than it did, so I'm happy about that. I always expect the worst out of things [Laughs]. It's been really fun and over the years of testing with JGR, I feel like I've learned a lot about what to change on a bike and where it needs to change, instead of just sending the guys through the wringer or in different directions. It's weird how the path ended up going and this is where I would have liked to be at the start of my career. But things come full circle and it's a different path for everyone.
You'll be doing the East Coast, which is good because you're an East Coast guy and will get to stay in North Carolina. For your size and weight, that's arguably a difficult coast for a 250.
Yeah, with the ruts and the tacky dirt that sucks up the bike a little more. The guys here at Yoshimura and Suzuki know that, so they have been working hard. We have tried to find things out and there have been little gains here and there, and it always seems to improve on a 250 and is noticeable. On a 450 they have so much power already that it's hard to fine-tune what you want. I'm enjoying the journey and making the bike as good as possible. I'll be here because I need to be somewhat ready like if something does happen to Matt (Bisceglia, other JGRMX 250 rider) or one of the 450 guys, I will technically start racing. So I have to be in the range of being ready to race come Anaheim One.
I talked to Matt a few weeks ago and it was during one of his early days of testing with the team. Have you shared comments or are you both more concerned about your personal setup?
Every rider is different. When I was on Yamaha, Weston and Justin were different. So for the most part, everything was mostly the same but there were little things to tweak. On the 250 there are some many avenues for where you want the power because every piece you change makes a big difference. As of right now, it seems like the direction I'm going is different than Matt, but every rider is different. Suzuki is cool with it and as long as they have parts to change it, then it makes everyone happy.You'll do the East Coast, the Vegas Shootout, and then jump to the 450 for the Nationals.
So somewhere in there I'll have to ride a 450 and do some outdoor testing, which will be weird. It's always easy to go to a more powerful bike, but it's more difficult to go the other way. I'll have to be careful, especially if I do good in the East Coast because I'll want to stay on the 250 as much as possible. Who knows, though, because that's so far away from now. I'm making changes while I'm out here and then will come back at the first of January to spend the month testing with the guys.
Last year you were at the mercy of the team and when they needed you. Have you changed your training because you have a definite date of when you'll start racing?
Last year I was on my own training and after the Glen Helen National I hired Seiji Ishii, who was Shorty's trainer for a long time and I worked with him back in the day. He is one of the most qualified trainers in our sport and he doesn't get the recognition that he should. I'm having him outline my programs now and he's showing me what to do with proper training plans, which is amazing. I want to do good in Supercross and really want to kill it during the outdoors on the 450. I'm looking forward to an exciting year.
You can't really lose weight, but did you and Seiji change anything?
Yeah, just ways with training. I was big into cycling and stuff like that, but we're riding dirt bikes and not training to be cyclists. It took me a little while to get used to that. I'm a naturally strong person so I don't like to be in the gym but now I sort of do like it. But it sucks because I hate being inside [Laughs]. I'm one hundred seventy-five pounds, which is hard on a 250. I'd like to be one hundred seventy pounds come race time, but five pounds won't make or break me out there.
The 250 class is full of younger kids and a lot of them are inexperienced at this level. While your veteran instincts kick in or will you have to turn your brain off and go for it?
For the first laps I've always been a brain-off type of guy because the first laps are always my best. No matter what coast you race, there are five key guys and I'm not going to discredit them one bit. I've been racing the premier guys and they are super talented and strong through the years, so it'll be a different type of racing. I'll need to pace myself and take the opportunities when I can.
Going to the 250 isn't punishment from JGR, this is something that you wanted to do.
I've always wanted to ride full-time for JGR, but the fill-in deal has played its part in the last three years. In 2014 I did ten races, in 2015 I did eleven, and last year I did twelve. So I have gotten a lot of racing in, but the rounds that I was racing were uncertain and that was really hard. I've told people that when you're in the stands or at home having a beer and then something happens, along with all of your training, getting that call to race next week changes your whole mindset. You have to ride the race bike, which although our practice bikes are similar, there are things that are different and the race bikes weren't mine. They were either Justin's or Weston's with my settings, and then I worked with different mechanics like Glenn or Ben. It was really hard. Now it's cool because I have my mechanic, Isaiah Murph, and I had Spencer Bloomer for a long time but now he's busy building special parts for the team at the shop. I have Murph full-time at that makes a difference.
You've been with the team for a while and know how much they had invested into Yamaha development. Has this switch to Suzuki been difficult for them?
It has been difficult. Eight hour days have turned into twelve hour days, and they've made a lot of progress in a short amount of time. It's hard for a team to go from a manufacturer for nine years and then all of a sudden switch. When you first change there are no sprockets or bars or whatever, but every team stresses in December and by A1 everything has fallen into place. It was a big transition but the guys worked overtime, and they have done a spectacular job.