Justin Hill Moving On Up
When 2017 Western Regional 250 Supercross Champion Justin Hill signed with JGR Suzuki for the ’18 and ’19 seasons, many wondered why he would leave the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team and the proven KX250F for a fledgling 250cc-class effort and the outdated and underpowered RM250. “It was an attractive deal because it takes me into my first year in the 450cc class,” Hill told us when we interviewed him for his cover feature last year. Though we got a preview of things to come when Hill was bumped up to the 450 class for a few rounds this year, January’s Anaheim 1 will be start of Justin’s official rookie 450 season. We caught up with Hill at last weekend’s Paris Supercross in the La Defense Arena, where he set the fastest qualifying times and won the Superpole competition.
Sadly, bad starts and crashes kept Hill from turning his quick lap times into a top finish, but he is looking forward to his debut 450 season, nonetheless.
When you first made the switch to JGR, a lot of people were confused about the switch, but you told us that it was all about the second year when you’d move up to the 450 class. Now that the transition to the big class is here, how excited are you?
I'm ecstatic, to say the least. I loved the bike from the second I jumped on it. The speed is there for me, and I just feel that the bike fits me so much better. This is hands down everything that I wanted, and it hasn’t disappointed me yet. Not to mention how much I love the whole JGR team, they have been really understanding through thick and thin. The team knows that this isn’t just ping pong and that we go through some stuff in this sport. I've enjoyed my time with them, even on the little bike. Being on the Suzuki RM-Z450 with the JGR team is where I belong.
We got a little taste of you on the 450cc last year when you were able to do some races here and there. And that first one was amazing! Why do you think some guys have great first races on the 450?
I think if you feel like it’s your bike, then you want to show people that it's the bike. I think I'm in a position where, if I work on my starts and continue to work on my fitness, I'll have the speed to battle with the top guys. If I have all my ducks in a row, I can challenge for wins and actually maintain that idea that I can be the guy.I know everybody always asks about goals and expectations going into the next year, but I think you already know where you stand. So what is your strategy going to be going into Anaheim One?
I think that it's race specific, track specific, and night specific. If I get to Anaheim and I'm feeling it, then there is no reason for me not to go for the top spot. I need to approach things smarter and use my head more as I have in the past. This last year, I was more frustrated and I wasn’t using my head as much. I was so focused on finding that extra little bit to get me going and it didn’t always help me. Now, I'm here and comfy, so I'll just let the days come to me and I think that you’ll see me on top when they do.
Looking back at it now, how was the Suzuki RM-Z250 last year?
It was just a growing operation, we made so much progress from day one to the last day. Then I jumped on the 450 for a few races, and then they provided me with new 250 engine specs that were even better. They just keep making the bikes better. It started out how any bike/engine would start out, if it was your first year on it. It was a struggle for me because I'm a heavier guy, which hindered me throughout my 250 career. I had a season in 2017 where I had lost a lot of weight and won the title. I'm stoked we got a win on the Suzuki, though! With it being our first year together, I didn’t know if we would. I love this team and these people, so I was just going to give it my all and I wasn’t worried about anything else. I know we proved that the bike could win, and now with an all-new engine and chassis for 2019 we have an even better 250cc platform. I just rode the 2019 Suzuki RM-Z250 and I'm telling you… the bike is really good.
So, you got to ride the bike that Alex Martin will race?
Exactly, I rode Alex's bike no longer than two weeks ago. Obviously, I'm on a big bike now, so a 250 is going to feel slow, but this thing doesn’t feel that slow in comparison. They've made big strides in just a few months, and I think that thing is going to come around to be a very respected bike. We're going to have a couple guys on that little bike that are going to make it shine and hopefully, they’re a little lighter than me (laughs). It was a good bike then, but it's even better now.
You made several references to size, is it that important in the 450cc class?
No, I think we can get away with it in the 450 class. I'm a whole new man thanks to training differently and harder. I've also been eating much better than I ever have, so I'm probably lighter now than I was last year on the little bike. I'm training with Seth Rarick, and things are just working. I'm on a much better program now, but we're still having fun while burning calories and getting shredded. I love it, I'm jazzed to show up to the gym all over again, it's like I'm 15 years old. Over time, you lose the motivation to stick to the program. I've always been a man, but now I'm going into the big-boy class and I feel like I'm maturing more and becoming more self-aware at what I need to do.
What role does big brother Josh play in your program? It's cool to see you guys hang out and such…
He's basically a supplier of booze and laughs, honestly (laughs). No, he knows what to say and what to do to help me out. He's definitely cool to have around. I'm in France right now, obviously, and he's been here before so it's cool to have a family member over here with me. Weston had a big crash, so his family had to fly in the following day. It's comforting to already have a family member here because that's a tough one.