The hype coming into the next race season is at a fevered pitch, with much of the talk focusing on the front runners and newcomers to the very stacked 450 field. Factory-backed stars are again garnering much of the focus, but each year it seems like an independent racer comes through and makes their mark on the results sheet. Vince Friese might be that guy in 2016. His 2015 season was impressive, thanks consistent finishes in the 250 East Coast Championship, improvements in his speed, and the victory at our own SLAM race. All of this has helped Friese find out what works best for his racing program and in 2016, he’ll take on the 450 class with backing from the SmarTop/MotoConcepts squad.
One thing that I've been wondering, especially in the last part of the year, is it seems like you've gotten so much quicker lately. Where'd that come from?
I've been working really hard with my team, my girlfriend, my trainer. We've been giving it everything we have. I'm getting older and it's time to go full-time on the 450, so I need to have that speed for a solid twenty laps like these guys do and to hit the big jumps if I want to be a contender and continue on. Everyone is super fast so I have to step up to that level.
So it hasn't been just one thing.
Absolutely not. My team has been a huge part of it, my bike is great with Race Tech suspension, and Mike Genova and Tony Alessi have given me a great program with my mechanic Robby, along with my trainer and girlfriend. It's a building process and slowly but surely we are getting there. I'm not where I want to be yet but I'm working that way. We're in the right direction and hopefully will keep moving forward.
Another thing that could help is that your program hasn't changed much in the last few years. It's the same bike with most of the same parts, so it's not like your reinventing everything each season.
Definitely. We're only getting better each year because I don't have to make huge changes all of the time. That's a big part of it. My Race Tech suspension is great and we won't make a change unless it's for the better, so it's only moved forward. With the rest of the bike, the chassis and the engine, we've only made forward progress.
Does the confidence boost that comes from going to Canada and doing well there, make the work easier to do?
It helped my confidence a lot, getting wins and battling each weekend. But it also improved my intensity. It's different when you're at an AMA National, racing for tenth or fifteenth place at twenty minutes in. You're not at a cruise speed, but you're not giving it everything you have at that point. When you're battling for wins, you're giving it all you have every weekend. I think it brings out the best in you, when you're racing for wins and it definitely helped me. We're going back there this summer and I look forward to riding the big bike. It'll be good for me.
2016 will be pretty unique since you'll start on MotoConcepts bikes and then switch to Kawasaki midway through the year. How will that be and have you even ridden the bike yet?
I actually did a test with Vital MX for the Kawasaki KX450F, a first impression thing, and I really liked the bike. It'll need work and part of me is bummed that I won't be with the SmarTop/MotoConcepts team, Tony, and all of my people from the last few years. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to new stuff and making it fresh. I like it a lot in Canada and I think it'll be a good summer.
Every year guys come in and say, "I'm the fastest I've ever been." And it seems like that is very true for you coming into 2016.
I definitely am the fastest, the most fit, and prepared that I've ever been. I've actually thought about that over the last few weeks; if you're not making a step forward each year with the way everyone is improving, you're actually getting worse. If you're equal to the last year, you'll do worse because the everyone is getting better with the programs they are on, when they know what to do and how to train. If you're not improving you're moving backwards, so I hope I've improved enough to move forward. I feel like I've made a substantial leap in my fitness and speed, so hopefully it shows.
You're twenty-five years old and making the first full-time run at the 450 class.
Yeah, this is my first time making a run at the 450 class. I tried in 2011 a little bit, but didn't really complete the whole deal. This is my first shot at it that I feel is legit, with a good program behind me. I know that it'll be tough and a little part of me is bummed not to be on the 250, because I got my first podium in 2014 and got top-three in the series. I was building a lot in the class, so part of me is bummed not to continue in the class. I think I'm bigger and the 450 suits me good, so I'll have more time and races to progress in the class. It's just six or seven all-out sprint races in the 250 class, and I'll like to continually build.
How has testing been on the new bike?
It's been really good. Chassis wise, my bikes haven't changed much. We've made a few suspension tweaks here and there, made it better in spots, and did some stuff with the engine. All around, my bike is similar to last year but just improved in a few spots. I couldn't be happier with the bike and I think we have a really competitive program. The team has done a great job getting us good bikes early in the season, like at the SLAM and Monster Cup. We've been dialed in for a long time.
They weren't full-on Supercross races, but how did events like the SLAM, Straight Rhythm, and Monster Cup feed into the offseason?
They are good warm-ups and good gate drops. The SLAM was cool for me and getting the win at that was awesome, getting the cover of the magazine was unreal. It was kind of a last-minute decision and I'm really happy that I did. To walk through the store and see my cover up there, it was pretty unreal. For the team to have that exposure was cool. Straight Rhythm was cool, had a little incident there when I over-jumped that one jump and smashed my face up, and the Monster Cup was three good gate drops. It was good to go out, get loose, and work some of the bugs out and find things to work on. It gave us just enough time to work with the crunch time before the racing.
The Straight Rhythm race, granted it came to a pretty abrupt end, but that you were staying with Andrew Short in the race even in the runs after the crash, it showed how much faster you are going.
That was going good for me. To run his pace, I qualified better than he did in practice and we happened to be ninth and tenth in the score, so it was an even match. I know he is such a tough competitor and I've raced against him quite a bit, he wasn't going to get beat by me. He wasn't going to let it happen. I was giving everything I had and was focused, going into the races like it was a Supercross main event because it is good to have that speed. Short is just gnarly and we were neck and neck going into the whoops, which we both hit pretty fast all day. He just took it to another level and went right by. The guy is older and has been doing it a long time, so just moving to the next level in that race probably doesn't mean the world to him, but it shows how competitive he is and that he'll say, "I'm going to go faster than this kid no matter what it takes." It impressed me.
I got a little huckabuck in the whoops and went for a crazy ride, but I was going for it. It really helped my speed in straight lines, where I struggle. I'm more of a corner guy and it all helped when we came back to the track. I was staying lower in the rhythms and doing stuff better. I'm looking forward to the race again next year.
How do you keep from getting bored doing so many practice laps?
It is tough riding the same tracks, but we have a few different ones to go to. It's good to have buddies and my teammate to do motos with, that always helps. When you look at the big picture, it's pretty exciting what we get to do every day and it's crazy to think that you get bored of doing laps on a Supercross track. It does get monotonous, but we switch it up and ride with each other and push to get better.
You've changed a lot in the last few years. Four years ago you had a reputation as being an aggressive guy and that came with lots of criticism, but now there are a lot of people that enjoy watching you and cheer for you. What do you think has changed the public's perception?
I've always had the same mindset and that hasn't changed. I know where I can be and where I want to be, and I'm not going to back off of that. I think in years past I haven't had the speed to be where I want to be; I've always been a good starter and have strong points, but not the clear-cut speed to run up front. I can get a good start and be up there, and when guys start going by I start shutting guys down. That might not be the best way to do it, but in years past when I didn't have the speed, I did whatever it took to stay up there. Over time I have developed a better technique and speed, have gotten a better bike and program, so now when I get a start I can legitimately run up front with those guys and not have to be as aggressive. I can just ride my own race at the fastest pace I can go, and that keeps me right where I want to be. It's just a difference in speed, because I have the same mindset and will still do whatever it takes to get the results I'm out to get.