Kawi Off-road Rant, GNCC Action, Campbell Does Dakar! – Welcome To The Weekly Dirt: October 10, 2012

Welcome to The Weekly Dirt, the place to go each Wednesday to catch up on the latest happenings in the realm of off-road motorcycling.

Kawasaki Pulls The Plug

Did Ryan Villopoto’s new contract drain Kawasaki’s off-road budget? Photo by Shan Moore

By now, you’ve surely heard about the “unplugging” of Kawasaki’s Team Green off-road effort – a program that’s been around since the mid-80s. Kawasaki announced last week that after the 2012 season it will no longer continue its off-road program, although it’s continuing its very popular Team Green amateur motocross program. This is troubling news and hopefully it’s not the start of a trend with the rest of the OEMs, although it comes on the heals off last year’s dismantling of the Suzuki off-road program. Sure, Supercross sells motorcycles, but the majority of buyers are off-roaders and the importers would be wise to stick to budgets that support both Supercross/motocross and off-road. As an off-roader myself, I know we all like to buy what Ryan Villopoto and James Stewart are racing (and winning on), but most of us ride them in the woods or in the desert, and not on a Supercross track. A big part of having an off-road team is not just to win races, but also to have a presence at the races – the national enduros, the GNCCs, the hare and hounds, the WORCS races. To have representation at the track to answer questions, show off the latest product and to support the sport. And that’s the key here: TO SUPPORT THE SPORT! For sure, this decision has a greater affect on west coast off-road racing, since Kawasaki was giving virtually no support whatsoever to the national enduro series and to the GNCC series back east. But in the grand scheme of things it affects us all. Part of what brings spectators to the races is the chance to see the factory riders; a chance to sneak a peak at a factory bike up close; and the allure of the big factory rig and neatly dressed mechanics. To a certain degree, factory involvement brings people to the races and it puts butts in the stands. I don’t think this will have a major affect on off-road racing in the long run, but for sure, it doesn’t help.

Russell Closes The Gap In GNCC Title Race

Kailub Russell climbed back into title contention with a win at the Powerline GNCC. Photo by Shan Moore

Kailub Russell climbed back into title contention with a hard-fought win at this weekend’s Powerline GNCC in St. Clairsville, Ohio, rebounding from a disappointing finish at the previous round at Unadilla where the FMF/KTM rider finished off the podium. Current points leader Paul Whibley led the early going in Ohio, but a crash on lap two left the Am Pro Yamaha rider somewhat dazed and off the pace. Whibley went on to finish third behind Russell and defending series champ Charlie Mullins. With two rounds remaining on the schedule, Whibley holds a slim, four-point lead over Russell in the standings.

Maria Forsberg won the overall in the amateur race at the Powerline GNCC. Photo by Shan Moore

Factory FMF/KTM's Maria Forsberg made history when she claimed her first-ever overall win in GNCC competition during the amatuer race at the Powerline GNCC. Forsberg, the recently crowned 2012 Women's class champion, topped Super Senior A (45+) winner Eric Gill by one minute on the adjusted time clock, to become the first woman to claim the overall win. —Shan Moore

Johnny Campbell Talks Dakar Plans

By now, most of you have seen the photos of Honda’s new factory-built CRF450 Rally bike, the centerpiece of a new commitment to the most famous rally raid in the world. Three of them will make their competition debut at the upcoming OiLibya Morocco Rallye on October 14-20 ridden by Helder Rodrigues, Sam Sunderland and Felipe Zanol.

But America will also have a presence on the factory-backed effort in the person of 11-time Baja 1000 winner Johnny Campbell.

Honda’s official return to Dakar began, of course, a while ago. We caught up with Campbell, who finished eighth overall in his only previous Dakar start on two wheels back in 2001 (the top rookie that year), just before he left for the airport for his trip to Morocco. He reveals, “HGA is Honda R&D; in Japan. They talked to me earlier this year, maybe in the spring, and said they were going to have a Dakar effort. So they asked me to help them out with conducting a test here in the States.

“Things got put together and by the end of summer, I was helping them with the test. At the test, they requested Eric and myself to help them with their Dakar effort.

“So, we made an agreement and it included the Morocco Rallye as a race test.

“My position there is to be Helder Rodrigues’ chase rider. We’re going to have a five-man team. (Javier Pizzolito will be the other support rider, often called the water carrier by Europeans.) My priority is to make sure that the main riders can do their very best and win the race. That means if breaks a wheel, I give him my wheel so he can continue, as an example.”

Does this signal a new direction for the Johnny Campbell Racing Honda team which heretofore has focused primarily on SCORE’s Baja races?

“I just have to adjust my schedule and everything,” Campbell insists. “But basically, I’ve been working on Baja for two months really solidly.

“When I return from Morocco on the 22nd, we’ll finalize all our Baja prep and we’ll go down and do our job down there.

“American Honda has very little interest in Dakar so the whole effort is more of a global Honda effort. The support’s coming from South America, Japan and Europe.

“JCR’s Baja agreement with American Honda will still stand and be the same and follow the same heritage we always have been. The Dakar effort will probably be a multi-year deal, multi-year program; it was just fitting for me to be involved because of my experience with the 450X and my experience with Dakar and my experience with Honda and bike development.”

Though he’s still a competitive racer, Campbell accepts his supporting role. “Myself, I’m definitely not chasing . Realistically, looking at my age (40) and my responsibilities here with the team--for me to say, Yeah, I’m going after the win at Dakar and stuff is really unlikely.

“But as we know, things change during races. Sometimes there’s injuries; sometimes there’s certain situations that happen. You never know when you might be put in the lead role.”

As there are only three of the new CRF450 Rally bikes available, the three primary riders will employ those in Morocco while Campbell and Pizzolito will use modified CRF450Xs similar to what JCR Honda developed for Quinn Cody’s 2012 Dakar. “It’s just the lack of time and manpower to get five bikes ready,” Campbell says.

“My goal, personally for myself, is to help the team and finish and hopefully we can learn and shake any bugs out we need shaking out of the bikes. Then we can regroup and go to Dakar that much stronger.”

Campbell expects to receive one of the new factory bikes to practice on some time between Morocco and Dakar, but he didn’t know when.

What he does know is this: "I think it's going to be a really exciting adventure and cause a lot of excitement and media. I'm just looking forward to doing a good job and participating and hopefully make everybody proud back here." —Mark Kariya

That’s it for this week, be sure to check back this time next week for more from the world of off-road.