The last few months have been filled with news for Factory Yamaha’s team in the AMA series. First was the thumb injury Cooper Webb suffered during day one of the 2017 MXGP of USA in Florida, which was an unfortunate ending to a very challenging rookie year in the 450 ranks. The ligament damage required Webb to have surgery and miss months of riding, which was not ideal considering how different the all-new 2018 Yamaha YZ450F is compared to the bike Webb raced through 2017.
Shortly after Webb’s injury came the announcement of Davi Millsaps being signed to a Supercross-only contract for 2018, a deal that he stated will likely be his last before retiring from professional racing. Millsaps was set to use the 2017 Monster Energy Cup as his debut with the team until he had a hard practice crash just before the event. The crash happened on a Supercross practice track and left Millsaps with a severe concussion and fractured left elbow, which required a short stay in the hospital. Millsaps underwent surgery to repair the damage to his elbow (it was handled by Dr. Viola in Colorado, the same surgeon that worked on Ken Roczen following his severe arm injury earlier this year) and is currently going through the necessary recovery period.
With both intended riders injured, Yamaha reached out to Justin Barcia for a short-term fill-in ride, news we first learned around the Monster Energy Cup. Barcia raced the offseason event aboard a privateer Honda and finished sixth overall. After a period of quiet, the team announced that they had inked Barcia to a six-race deal for the first portion of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series. This will give Barcia a full-factory ride to reaffirm his place in the minds of the industry and will give Millsaps an extended period to fully recover.
Amid all of the rider news, Yamaha announced a new title sponsor for the team in Knich, a new action sports lifestyle brand. Details of what Knich actually is are still unclear, as their website and social media outlets don’t show much more than a few items of clothing and plans for surfboards, but Millsaps is a co-owner in the company. The new official team name is Monster Energy/Knich/Yamaha Factory Racing.
All of this leads to the current, with Webb and Barcia now both on the bike and riding in Southern California. We spotted Webb at Pala Raceway last week, as he spun laps on the former National layout in an effort to get back into the swing of things. Barcia, meanwhile, has already started riding the team’s private Supercross test track and has reportedly wasted no time learning the new bike. Webb is expected to switch to Supercross very soon (UPDATE: it appears Webb has now started to ride Supercross).
In addition to the rider roster changes, we’ve heard that the team’s staff of mechanics has shuffled for 2018. Webb’s longtime mechanic Eric Gass, who won multiple championships with Webb at Star Racing, has decided to pursue new career opportunities outside of the motocross industry. With this, Grant Hutcheson has been hired to handle to maintenance on Webb’s bike for the full season. “Hutch” was formerly Justin Bogle’s wrench at GEICO Honda and RCH/Yoshimura/Suzuki but did not follow Bogle to JGRMX this offseason. Shawn Bell, formerly of Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki, has been hired by Yamaha as well and will work with Barcia through the first six race and then Millsaps when the time comes.