Round one of the All Japan National MX Championship Series got underway this weekend at Kyushu Raceway in Kumamoto, Japan. As usual, there was plenty to see both in the pits and on the track. Akira Narita's factory Honda CRF450R was the biggest attraction of the weekend, as it is all-new from the ground up.
For seven-time National Champion Akira Narita, this weekend's race at Kyushu not only marked his first ride aboard his new works bike, but also with Monster Energy as a personal sponsor. The popular US-based energy drink is just now beginning to be sold in Japan, as it required some ingredient changes to be approved for import. Narita is the sport's first Japanese rider and he is very excited about the new venture. "I am so happy to be a part of the Monster family!" he wrote on his Instagram account @n982
Before the weekend's racing got underway, Narira told us that he was nervous about his first race of the season, but it didn't keep him from clowning around for our cameras! Though it this is actually his second stint as a factory Honda rider, he has spent the last few years competing as a Yamaha-backed privateer. "There is more pressure now," he said. "If you are on Honda, you are expected to win." And win he did. Narita swept both motos on Sunday.
Narita's works bike looks to be based on a pre-production 2013 platform, and is much different than the factory Honda being raced by Russian Bob in the MX1 World Championship Series. We were told that the GP bike is not a prelude of what's to come in the near future, which leaves this machine as the best sneak peek at 2013.
Narita's machine was equipped with a dual muffler system, which was made by the Mugen Power company. After debuting the patented design on the production CRF250Rs in 2006 as an innovation that offered better chassis balance and handling, it was dropped when the CRF250R got a revamp in 2010. We heard rumors about the twin pipes making a return on the '13 Honda several months ago, so we weren't too surprised when we saw them on the number-one machine. We were surprised, however, to see an aftermarket system on the Honda works bike, as the team usually builds its own systems. MFJ sound limits are the most strict in motocross, and machines go through the two-meter max test in tech inspection, and again after each moto. And yes, Narita's bike had a distinctly different sound than the rest: throaty and low, yet nice and quiet.
Unlike the AMA series where the red number plate is used to designate the series points leader, all riders in the premier International A 1 (450) class run red backgrounds on their machines.
The champ's bike was outfitted with two identical buttons on his handlebars; the extra one no doubt activates an ignition retard feature for better traction during starts.
Will a hydraulic clutch come standard in 2013? From the looks of Narita's machine, we'd say that it looks like it. Unlike the parts that grace the AMA factory Honda's, the system on the Japanese factory bike look more like production components.
See what we mean? This hdraulic clutch master cylinder is cast in the same fasion as the front brake's.
An all-new chassis surrounds the engine, which is said to be updated as well. Notice the relocated cylinder head stay mounts...
Here's the rear view of the new bike; the same thing that Narita showed the rest of the field in both motos. From this angle, the width of the sidepanels is somewhat exaggerated. We didn't sit on the machine, but the dual exhausts don't hinder the bike's slim figure where the rider's legs come into contact with it.
Works Showa suspension graced both ends of Narita's works bike, but that's no indication that Showa compenents will be spec'd in 2013...
Beneath the decal, we noticed that the swingarm on the factory bike had a weld that ran the entire length, front to back. Will the new production swingarm utilize multi-piece swingarm spars, rather than single extrusions?
Though the AMA Hondas are outfitted with the same factory hubs, they seem cooler when they are mounted on a more-exotic machine. In this photo, you can also catch a better look at the weld on the swingarm spars.
A closer look at the fork lugs of the factory Showas, as well as the massive factory front brake rotor. Oftentimes, teams will experiment with fork lug offset, rather than changing the angle of the triple clamps.
Both the rear brake clevis and the hydraulic clutch slave featured the same milky white finish. Magnesium parts traditionally have a matte white finish, so we're left to assume that it is simply an odd color of anodizing. Narita's footpegs mean serious business!
Here's a closer look at the new sidepanel/rear fender junction. Like the 2009-12 models, the rear fender was beefed up where you grab it to lift the bike onto a stand. The ribbed seat cover on Narita's bike features plenty of traction!
Honda technicians plugged into all of the team race bikes thoughout the day. All of the Japanese team bikes were outfitted with extensive data acquisition.
There were three machines under the factory Honda tent, but Narita's was the only full works machine. This is Yu Hirata's bike, which is based on the 2012 platform. Still, there was plenty of special stuff to be found on it.
The fuel tank on Hirata's machine was a larger-capacity aluminum unit that featured a countersunk fill cap. Several of the AMA Honda racers ran these in last year's MX Nationals. A special took is required to add fuel.
Hirata uses a factory front brake caliper, machined from billet aluminum. The part was both massive, and beautiful. It was mated to an oversized rotor, which we would estimate to be 270mm.
Yu Hirata has ridden for the Japanese factory Honda squad for many years. He was the rider who debuted the dual-exhaust CRF250R works bike in 2005, before the system went into production in 2006. Hirata is one of the only Japanese racers to wear the new Fox V4 helmet, as the domestically made Shoei and Arai helmets seem to dominate the field. "I love it!" he said of his new Fox lid.
Hirata was also stoked on his Chad Reed edition Fox goggles!
Hirata's bike was outfitted with works Kayaba forks.
The seat cover on Hirata's bike was not nearly as aggressive as Narita's, and it featured small traction pads towards the rear. Dare we say it? It looked similar to the cover that comes stock on the KTM 450SX-F Factory Edition machine.
Hirata's race bike also used an aftermarket exhaust, manufactured by Mugen. Though it's been years since we've seen motocross products from the legendary powerhouse, we're told that Mugen has recommitted itself to MX.
When Akira Narita raced as a privateer with support from Yamaha, he created N.R.T.: Narita Race Team. Though he has signed on with the factory Honda team for 2012 and beyond, he has kept N.R.T. alive and sponsors two IA2 riders (250 pro), two IB2 riders (250 intermediate), and one Ladies class rider. "I want to help bring some new riders up in the sport," said Narita. "But it is expensive!" Contrary to what one would assume, the team does not receive support from Honda, and it is privately funded by the champ.
Did we mention that Narita is a seven-time champ? Fox Racing made him this cool butt patch to remind everyone who the goat of Japanese MX is...
The Kyushu track is the least favorite of all the riders on the MFJ circuit. Prep at this weekend's event was marginal at best, and the dusty conditions were terrible. In fact, the IA1 riders banded together on Saturday and refused to run a qualifying race due to the lack of water. Hirata and mechanic, "Sushi" watch the early morning IB2 practice session.
Though Narita had some fun for our cameras during Saturday's practice session, it was all business when the gate dropped on Sunday and he raced off with to convincing moto wins, giving the exciting new works bike a win in its competition debut.
Hirata, meanwhile, went 4-4 for fourth.
Team Moto Roman Honda is a private team, but rider Yuui Hoshino earned the win in the IA2 class via 1-2 moto finishes. Check out the tire covers used to keep the tread free of mud en route to the starting line. In the often-muddy Japanese conditions, these can be a huge advantage. Needless to say, they were not neccessary at Kyushu.
Remember we mentioned Mugen Power reinvesting in motocross? Check out this Mugen kit cylinder.
The Mugen header on this CRF250R was a work of art. Check out the individual cones that make up the curve of the extra-long header pipe!
The Mugen muffler is long by US aftermarket standards, but they are required to meet MFJ sound limits. Toshiki Tomiota finished third in the IA2 class aboard his Mugen-powered Honda.
Dual sport bikes traditionally look kind of goofy, but this Honda is pretty sweet...
This display bike features CRF graphics, but it looks a lot more like an old XR650 with new plastic.
Who needs a team energy drink sponsor, when you can make your own?
We were holding our breath as we approached this Yamaha YZ250F in the factory Yamaha pits, but we were greeted with the familiar Keihin carburetor on what looked to be a production 2012 YZ250F.
Initially, we believed that the factory Yamaha YZ450F featured new body panels when we spotted the team going through tech inspection. As they do in the States, teams have multiple mufflers sound tested and approved, so that they have not only spares in the event of a crash, but tuning options for the riders, as well.
Upon closer inspection, we recognized the Cycra Powerflow Shrouds on Takase Tanaka's factory Yamaha, and a phone call to Glen Lavins at Cycra confirmed that the team did, in fact, but a season's supply of the parts from the American aftermarket company. That's not to say that the team bikes were not cool, however. Rinaldi Racing parts, like this ignition cover, and works Kayaba suspension were worth drooling over.
While the top Yamaha rider in the AMA - James Stewart - chooses Showa suspension, Takase Tanaka's bike is outfitted with a factory Kayaba fork and shock.
We wonder when toolbox manufacturers are going to start including a laptop computer drawer. All kidding aside, every team could be spotted "plugging in" throughout the day. GET ignitions and data acquisition systems were everywhere.
This starting device hook had no visible mate on the fork guard, leading us to assume that an "old school" hole was cut into the fork guard, but covered by the sponsor decal.
Here's a look at the YSP Yamaha YZ250F, which was not actually raced at Kyushu, because its rider was injured.
If Takase Tanaka's bike is any indication, the 2013 Yamaha YZ450F may be quite similar to the 2012 bike. Word we get from Yamaha insiders is that both models will feature limited updates for '13.
Tanaka's factory Yamaha uses Rinaldi Racing clutch components and Xtrig triple clamps.
Takase Tanaka was hampered by a first-moto crash on Sunday, but a solid second behind Narita in the second moto helped him finish fifth overall in the IA1 class.
Factory Kawasaki rider Hiroaki Arai is a former IA2 Champion, and he is now the number-one IA1 class rider for the green team. Arai finished second overall at Kyushu with steady 3-3 scores.
As expected, Arai's factory KX450F was based on a standard 2012 model, which already recieved a major update. Arai's machine was outfitted with the factory Showa SFF Air Fork, as well as a handful of special parts. Note his dual starting devices, which give him an option for a more- or less-aggressive setting, depending on traction behind the starting line. Kyushu has a concrete launch pad, so we doubt he used either, though.
Save for the works Showa suspension, triple clamps and hubs, much of Arai's factory bike appeared to be standard.
The most interesting bike in the Kawasaki pits was the KX250F, which recieved all-new bodywork that closely resembles the current KX450F's.
Takuya Mihara is the defending IA2 Champion, and he piloted the factory KX250F.
The 2013 Kawasaki KX250F recieved the same chassis updates that the '12 KX450F did, and the race bike appeared much slimmer than the standard versions that other racers had. Furthermore, the dual EFI nozzles on the other side of the bike looked to be repositioned, with a better design that offered more protection to the electronics and a straighter overall intake tract.
Zeta is an in-house brand to Dirt Freak, a Japanese distrubutor that imports Fox Racing and other American brands to Japan. Zeta is best known for its folding levers, but have recently added carbon fiber components to its line. This skid plate/engine guard was on the factory KX250F.
The new Kawasaki KX250F shrouds are slightly different than those found on the '12 KX450F.
Like Arai's KX450F, Mihara's factory KX250F was outfitted with works Showa suspension, including a set of SFF Air Forks up front. The 2013 KX250F will come with revised "non-air" SFF forks, rumored to be bumped up in size to 48mm.
Takuya Mihara dominated qualifying on Saturday, but a bad start in moto one one Sunday held him to third. Even though he won moto two, he was secodn overall.
Mihara runs an Ohlins steering stabilizer on the front of his KX250F.
Photojournalist Kiyoshi Kida was a familiar face at Kyushu. We've often seen him Stateside, shooting photos at AMA races for his pair of publications, including MXing Motocrossing, a free magazine that he distributes at races and tracks.
As they are in the States, the factory Suzuki RM-Zs were some of the coolest bikes in the pits. This is former IA1 champion Yoshitaka Atsuta's factory bike.
Atsuta had a bad day at Kyushu, as crashes in both motos held him to a very uncharacteristic ninth overall in the AI1 class.
Atsuta's factory RM-Z450 is very much the same works bike he raced in last year's championship. "I asked my bosses, 'I have been on Suzuki for four years now and I have raced the same bike,'" he joked. "And they said, 'What, is your bike not good enough?'" Atsuta said that his bike is amazing, and that he feels it is the best on the track. As the old American adage goes, "If it's not broken, don't fix it."
The works Showa SFF Air Forks on the factory Suzukis were works of art. We know it's an aesthetic feature, but the flo yellow anodizing made the RM-Z forks seem cooler than the rest.
Here's a closer look at the nitrogen charging valves on the SFF Air Forks.
Before Atsuta took to the track, we spotted a team suspension tech monitoring the gas pressure in the SFF Air forks.
Yoshitaka Atsuta is the lead rider on the Suzuki team. He may be familiar to some American race fans, as he has contested several AMA Nationals in the past.
Yohei Kojima also rides for the factory Suzuki team.
Kojima was third overall in Kyushu, with a solid second in moto one and a sixth in race two.
Initially, we thought that the radiator shrouds on Atsuta's bike featured a new shape...
...but upon closer inspection, learned that an extension was riveted on to keep his boot from getting caught on the shroud.
The subframe and airbox on the factory Suzuki's were a single, carbon fiber part. When we asked Atsuta if the part altered the bike's feel at all, he said, "No, it is just for light weight and it makes me feel faster. If they made me an entire bike from carbon fiber, I would feel even faster!"
Kei Yamamoto is the factory Suzuki IA2 rider, and this is his RM-Z250. His bike featured a ton of special parts, but we spotted no significant differences that would indicate big changes for 2013. Yamamoto was fourth in the IA2 National.
A Hinson clutch assembly and a Yoshimura exhaust are complimented by factory motor mounts and a carbon skid plate.
It was good to see our friend Yoshiki Inagaki in Kumamoto. Inagaki finished third overall in the IA2 championship as a privateer in 2011, and made his IA1 debut at Kyushu. We met Inagaki at the Milestone round of the Muscle Milk TWMX Race Series Winter Cup.
Inagaki had some first-race jitters that held him to 13th overall, but he hopes to improve as the series wears on.
Inagaki's team, Blue Eagles Suzuki, is sponsored by a company that makes both a mud release agent for plastic (Mud Off), and fish snacks (square logo). Inagaki is also sponsored by Akrapovic, which is a rarity in the sea of Yoshimura, Mugen and OEM systems on the MFJ circuit.
One of the coolest things we spotted on Inagaki's bike was this Zeta starting device, which includes a right-side fork guard with the button already built in!
Know what else the MFJ series that no racer in the AMA has? Works Bridgestone tires...
Beleive it or not, there are KTM racers in the All Japan Series. Yoshiki Kitai finished ninth aboard his privateer KTM 350SX-F.
Kitai's KTM was outfitted with KYB suspension on both ends, while other KTM's under his team's tent only had KYB forks, mated with WP shocks.
That's it for this year's TWMX Japan pilgrimage! Until next year, sayonara!
If you didn’t catch swap’s Japan Travel Diary, CLICK HERE.