Jeremy Albrecht has been with JGRMX from the very start. After a lengthy career as a factory mechanic, Albrecht helped Coy Gibbs develop the privately owned team into a competitive effort that is now the full-factory operation for Suzuki’s MX program in the United States. The increase in support from Suzuki comes at a key time in the Japanese brand’s history, as they have launched an all-new RM-Z450 and are in the process of building a 250 team but shut down their MX racing divisions in other parts of the world. During the 2017 Monster Energy Cup, we spent a few moments discussing the many changes with Albrecht, including the extensive test with the engineers that developed the bike and how this changes things for JGR in the immediate future.
There has been a lot of news for the team in the last few months, especially now that you have the new bike and a few new riders. How was the process from the last National until the Monster Energy Cup?
Super busy but all for the good. We had a two-week test with all of the engineers, Yoshimura's staff, and Suzuki's staff. They all came to North Carolina and we are super busy getting ready for the Supercross season. We had never done a test like that or that early. On signing Bogle early, I signed him to start September 1st so that we could start testing. The Monster Energy Cup was a test with the new bike to see where we are at, to get to know him, and the team. Weston was at the test, Nicoletti rode the 250, and then Hill came after we were allowed to announce him. We have gotten all of the staff situated and there are a lot of things going on like with the new truck that we ordered, so we are expanding.
How many weeks of development went into the new bike before you lined up to race?
We tested in North Carolina for eight days and then Bogle went to Florida to train at Ricky's, so he rode down there for about a week and a half before the race.
So, it was enough.
Yeah, it was enough time to know where we are. We still have a little bit to do but we're further ahead than normal and really happy with the bike. It's nice to come to the race, get starts, and see where we can be at the holeshot.
Has there been one particular thing you've learned about the new bike, maybe something it excels at compared to the old bike?
It's always been a good turning bike, but it definitely turns better and the handling is improved. With the motor for us, it is similar so we already have a good direction. We came up with a lot of good chassis parts when we were at the test and a little more for the motor, but really the engine we had at the end of the year was solid and I think the guys were really happy with the way the bike ran. I don't feel like we are in a bad spot but it was good that Suzuki has a new bike. It was needed. The bike has been a great bike forever, but it needed some updating and they did it. Hopefully, they sell a bunch of them.
There are additions that come from being a full-factory team compared to when it was Yamaha and built a lot of the parts. Did Suzuki take a lot of that pressure away from you? The idea is that you don't have to search on your own because they built the bike and know what will work.
Yeah, that was the good thing about the test. We had never actually done one like that, ever, since we started the team. When I worked with other teams it did happen but we've never been able to do that since we started the JGR team. It was good for our staff to be part of this, to work with the engineers and have them tell us more about why they did something or what they've tried. Normally we've guessed on our own…
Which would be a lot of time and effort.
Yeah, we would try things that weren't necessarily a waste of time but that you had to try. This helped because there was a chassis engineer, an engine engineer, the guy in charge of racing, Chris Wheeler from Suzuki, Don from Yoshimura, people from Showa, just lots of people. It was nice to have everyone that knows the production bike at the shop and we had a lot of meetings, and they knew from testing the bike early on and through production about things that wouldn't work for the average guy but might be something they'd want to try with a pro level guy. Supercross sometimes is different than outdoors and the needs are different at the pro level. It was cool to try a bunch of things that we didn't have to come up with. They helped us in that direction.
There is news coming from Europe on the shutdown of the teams there and in Japan, but from everything I have gathered, there will be no concerns here and all of Suzuki's attention now comes to the US. Is that correct and do you have more resources that were in Europe?
Well, there have been tons of emails with information and attention on us, for sure. From what I get out of it, the US is their biggest market and they will focus on the US first. We did a three-year contract with Suzuki, so we are good and plan to build this thing up together. They aren't spending any less money, they're actually spending the same money that they've always spent and we're adding our money to it to make the program better. When we did this deal, it wasn't to save money. It was to make both of us stronger and to win championships. That's the goal that we have always wanted and that's what they want to do again. They did it not too long ago with RCH, so we know that they can do it again. For us, we just needed the help and are happy to be with Suzuki. They are willing to invest in us and we are excited about that.
The other big topic is the 250 team. You have one spot confirmed with Justin and three more to be filled for Supercross and two for outdoors. Anything you can share? (Editorial note: shortly after this interview, Jimmy Decotis and Kyle Peters announced one-year contracts with the team.)
Yeah, we're close.
I was waiting for this Europe thing, to figure out what was happening there. We're trying to make sure that everything and every guy that is on a Suzuki has it worked out. We were waiting on some things but now we have the go-ahead to finish. We're getting there and excited to do the 250 thing. It was kind of an accident last year and it worked out. We're going to be solid with two trucks and a bunch of riders, and I'm excited about the future. Hill is really cool and fast, so we're pumped.
What will Ricky Carmichael's role be? Is he a part of JGR or still through Suzuki and used when needed?
He is a Suzuki ambassador, so he is contracted through them and nothing changes on that side. He wants to help as much as he can and with the riders, so we talk about riders with him. He is the one that tried to get Bogle here. We talked to him about the 250 guys that we are getting and he definitely works with Bogle a lot down in Florida. Technically, he is part of the team and we like Ricky, so there is no problem there. How he fits in long-term is what we're trying to figure out. He will be a Suzuki guy for a while so we are trying to work together and help each other. I don't know if he will help with testing, we aren't to that point because we're in the building process, but he will figure out where his role is. We've all been busy and he will come up when we do testing the next time. We need to figure out if he is going to ride or if he is just going to help us. We want him involved.
2018 will be the eleventh year of the team?
Actually, the first year we went racing was in 2008.
So this will be ten years.
You have been a part of the team from the start. Is this process what you first expected or has it been more challenging?
What's funny is that I told Coy (Gibbs, team owner) that it would take ten years. We thought we got it before because we got the factory team earlier than we thought, but it wasn't to this level. This is really what we always wanted and I feel like we are the factory team now. Before it was that on paper, but we weren't really. Now we really are and they are supporting us. We all get along really good and they are all-in behind us. We want to make it better for Suzuki to sell a lot of bikes and get people excited, even at the amateur level. People are happy about Suzuki right now and it's a bummer that they maybe aren't racing in Europe.
To watch from the outside from 2008 to now, the team has tried a lot of things. There has been trial and error, like everyone moving to North Carolina or making your own parts and suspension, but it's all led to this.
It made us better. We tried a lot of things we didn't know we could do, so we learned. The best way to learn anything is to try and do it. We had a team trainer and that didn't work really. It's funny because what we wanted to do, Coy's first vision, everyone said that it couldn't work and now that's pretty much what KTM is doing. It's just the timing of it. Back then, they said you couldn't do anything from the East Coast and now Aldon is proving that you can. People will do whatever the person winning is doing. One day we are going to win and people are going to want to move to North Carolina and they'll tell you how great it is. Everything we have is super good. We started out leasing property and renting equipment, but now we own property and all of the equipment. We built it up over ten years and while everything doesn't go perfectly every year, we always improve. The Suzuki thing just adds to it and makes it that much better.
Getting Hill, I wouldn't say that was a gamble because he proved that he is a great rider in Supercross, but this summer there were a lot of red flags. You are all-in with him through a 250 deal and the move to the 450 in 2019. What do you see in him?
I see that the talent is there. If you saw him ride on the Supercross track, it made me feel really good because I know why I did it. After I signed him and watched him race outdoors, I was a little nervous but not bad, because I know that he has the skill and that he learned a lot from struggling. And he doesn't want to struggle outdoors. With the right preparation and mindset, he can do it. They all can do it at this level, it just depends on how much effort they put in. And I believe he can do it. For me, I signed him for Supercross and that's the main focus for our team and sponsors because they care about it a lot from the exposure. If anything, Supercross is where I need our guys to do better because we've done well outdoors. We've won races outdoors and won I think three Supercross races, but that's not enough. We need to win more because that's where all of the fans are and where the sport is growing. I feel like if he wins Supercross but struggles a little bit outdoors, I'll take it. But I want him to win outdoors to prove it to everyone and himself that he can do it.