Ask any privateer racer how difficult his job is, and you'll get the same answer every time: Competing without high-level support is like rowing upstream without an oar. The cards are certainly stacked against the underdogs in our sport, but this is what makes it so cool when a privateer beats the odds and gets his name near the top of the results sheet. At this year's Parts Canada Montreal Supercross, one such journeyman racer who broke into the next level was Ohio's Michael Willard. He bagged an impressive second overall in the 450cc class behind retiring Canadian sensation Jean-Sebastien Roy. Against a full field and on a notably tricky course, Willard not only claimed the second spot on the podium, he earned the title of Top American aboard a modestly backed YZ450F. Was this Yamaha the key to Willard's near-victory in Canada, or was something else driving him to succeed that night? We jumped aboard the cleaned-up 450F to find out!Anyone with a lick of supercross experience will tell you that a smooth motor is key to being a consistent rider, and Willard's engine is a prime example of flowing power delivery. We tested this machine around Cycra Racing's private in-house test track, and the various rhythm sections and poppy double jumps made it easy to feel how smoothly the motor accelerated-the manageable low-end simply rolls through a strong but gentle pull straight through to the rev-limiter. According to Willard, this "vet rider-styled" curve is what makes it possible to do 20 near-mistake-free laps in a row, but that doesn't mean the bike isn't a ripper. The combination of Michael's R-series works-level Wiseco piston, forged clutch components and FMF exhaust definitely make for a straight-up stronger package than stock, but they also deliver it with such finesse that you can really get the power to the ground. Whereas an unmodified YZ450F will pull out of a turn and down a straightaway with consistent acceleration, Willard's bike will do so just a tad more smoothly-and with the front wheel off the ground the entire way.You never know what you're going to get when you ride a pro's supercross suspension. Some racers like their machines to be plush and supple, while others will feel as if they're riding an enduro bike if anything less than three people can engage their holeshot holder. Willard's preferences sit with a workable middle ground where the setup is solid enough to take hard hits but soft enough to actually move. The Fox Factory RC3 shock on this 450F could almost be described as plush if it weren't for one noticeable fact: It doesn't wallow one bit. A combination of the patented, externally adjustable bottom-out control system and a quick rebound setting keep the shock active in the stroke, allowing Willard's Yamaha to survive harsh landings and not blow through on jump faces. Set up low in the rear end, the bike naturally feels raked out and stable, which is an absolute blessing in big whoops.As far as the rest of the package, Willard's bike is tight, light and refreshingly simple. The various Cycra components on the YZ-F add protection and a touch of factory trickery to the privateer package, and the style of the bike is much cleaner than other nonfactory rigs. The cockpit and handlebar setup are both fairly standard, and there are no super-weird movements or quirks to speak of on the track. In truth, any YZ450F owner with a knack for setup and a decent parts budget could replicate Willard's bike on their own. The smooth yet strong delivery, active suspension setup and comfortable overall package are all obtainable from the stock platform. But as far as racing with the big boys and getting second place at a major international supercross race, that part is up to you!