Cypress, CA - January 14, 2014 – Following the AMA Supercross Series Opener at Anaheim a week ago, the racers and teams are starting to settle in to their roles in the racing series and for Toyota Yamaha JGRMX’s Justin Brayton, that’s looking more and more like the role of “contender”.
Brayton grabbed the lead in the second corner in Phoenix and led the first 13 laps around the rough and grueling racecourse before getting passed by three-time defending champ Ryan Villopoto. Never one to give up, Brayton hung tough behind Villopoto and reeled the champ back in through the final few laps. On the final lap, Brayton was within striking distance of Villopoto as the two exited the treacherous whoop section Brayton played it smart to grab second place, one second behind Villopoto.
It was Brayton’s first podium finish since March of 2012, and Brayton now sits solidly fourth in points as the series heads back to Angel Stadium in Anaheim for round three this Saturday night.
We caught up with Brayton on Monday to get his take on the weekend, his 2014 Yamaha YZ450F, and his role as a contender from here on out:
You made a few changes this off-season in regard to your preparation for race day. What did you change, exactly?
Justin Brayton: every year, you go back to the previous season and look at it to see what your strengths and weaknesses are, and I just knew from 2013 that I needed to hire a full-time riding coach to work on my techniques with me, just because there are so many small things that matter. I’m trying to find 10ths, and even a half a second in a lap is pretty small, but it takes a lot to find it at this level. Going to the track and just putting in laps, over and over, can kind of get monotonous and boring and you can get stuck in a rut doing that. So, I hired Nathan Ramsey, and it’s been really, really awesome. It’s been a really, really good match on and off the track, just with the way he lives his life and the way we think... And even his career, it’s amazing how similar his story is to mine from when he raced. It’s been really fun, and it’s been a huge help to go in the right direction.
What were the immediate differences you noticed when you first got going on the new 2014 Yamaha YZ450F?
Justin Brayton: In 2013, I make no bones about it; I struggled. I struggled really bad with the motorcycle, I struggled with my fitness, I struggled with motivation, and I think it all stemmed from being at the race, giving 100 percent, and just not having the speed, and not having the comfort to run up front. The motivation just starts to go down. So, when Yamaha came out with the new bike, and I rode it, I was pumped, because one thing that we did struggle with a lot was turning. When you’re racing, you maneuver, and you’re trying to turn down, trying to pass people, so you have to be able to change lines. At the test track, sometimes you get stuck in one line, so sometimes I’d feel good at the test track, but then we’d take it to the races, and you just really couldn’t cut down in the turns. With the new bike, that was a tremendous leap forward. And bigger than that, my comfort level has just gone up. I can’t pinpoint one thing exactly, but they changed so much stuff on it that the whole package is just so much better, and once we started getting in deeper on it and really working on it, I just got more and more comfortable, and I can’t thank Yamaha and Team JGR enough for just going to work, and Yamaha coming up with a better bike – a better platform for us to start with – is a huge, huge help. I think I’ve got it going in the right direction for myself, in my career, and for Yamaha.
You were up front all night in Phoenix right off the start. Talk about those starts.
Justin Brayton: Once again, coming into the year, you look at the list of riders, and there’s just no way you can start in the back and still come to the front. Well, maybe you can, but I certainly don’t think it’s that possible for me to come from the back and go all the way to the front in this field of guys to win the race. So, to race at this level, with as fast as everyone’s going, and with as deep as the field is, you’ve got to be a good starter. You’ve got to work on your technique and do a lot of starts. It doesn’t happen overnight. It happens by repetitive practicing. It all started in November with having a better bike, then working on starts, with the team helping, and with Yamaha being more involved with JGR, and I feel like it’s all really coming together for everybody right now.
How did it feel leading for 13 or 14 laps in Phoenix?
Justin Brayton: I felt totally fine leading. I was totally comfortable, and once again, that’s the preparation. I didn’t have that good of preparation last year, and I may have gotten a start and went back to fifth or sixth, but this year, I feel like I prepared so much better, and I’ve got a better bike underneath me. After you get that comfort that you feel like you can do anything on the motorcycle, you’re confident. And we all know what confidence does in this game. I felt comfortable up front, and hopefully we can get some more of those starts and run up front for the rest of the series, too.
When you lost the lead to the defending champ, Ryan Villopoto, you lost a little bit of time, but then you started reeling him back in. Your fastest lap of the race was on lap 16. Talk about chasing Villopoto down.
Justin Brayton: You know what? It’s funny... I was talking to my mom about this on Sunday: There’s just something about me that’s different this year, whether it has to do with me getting married or me having a kid on the way or whatever it is outside of racing, I’m so much more calm and confident, and me reeling him back in was just because I want it. I don’t have 10 more years to be racing in this sport, so time’s ticking, and you never know how many opportunities you’re going to get. In Indy of 2012, he passed me with a few laps to go, and I had a chance to run it in on him and I didn’t. I’ve always said that if I ever had that to do over again, I’d run it in on him. I had a chance this weekend, but it would’ve been really dirty, and I don’t want to race like that with RV, because he raced me clean all night, and I’ll race people clean if they race me clean. Plus, I wasn’t all that close to make the move... It’s just about wanting it and believing in yourself, and I feel like I believe in myself more than I ever have.
You made a name for yourself as an Arenacross racer, and hard passes are the only way to pass in Arenacross, so a lot of us expected you to take a chance in that turn after the whoops on the final lap, but it could’ve resulted in both of you going down. Did it go through your head to give it a shot anyway?
Justin Brayton: You know, I saw that he kind of spun a little bit going into the whoops, and that had been a fairly strong point for me all night, so right when he did that, I started to go a little left to try and set up the pass, but right when I did that, I caught an edge on the face of one of the whoops and it robbed my momentum. Right then, I knew... I wasn’t going to settle for second, but I knew in the triple-triple-triple section before the finish that it was possible that I could pressure him into making a mistake there if he knew I was that close, but what can you say? The guy’s got number-one on his bike for a reason, so he’s done a lot of winning. It’s not that I settled for second at all, but I think I’d rather take second and keep building on this season, rather than possibly take us both down and we get seventh and eighth or something. I think it’s a step in the right direction, but if it’s round 15 or 16... There are a lot of different scenarios, but I’ll never go in and clean him out, for sure. I don’t like to ride like that. Arenacross guys ride like that, but even in Arenacross, I’d try to be more calculated and set up passes rather than just go in there and clean a guy out.
You were really strong through the whoops. That was a treacherous section, and you shined there, so what was the difference between you and everyone else in those whoops?
Justin Brayton: The whoops were really gnarly, but throughout my whole career, for some reason, I’ve always been really good at whoops. I feel like my bike setup is awesome right now, and once again, it comes down to comfort: If you’re not comfortable, you won’t come into the whoops as fast as you need to, and especially when they’re that slick, you need a lot of entry speed to carry your speed through them – especially when they’re that big, too. So it comes back to comfort, and once you’re comfortable, you can enter them faster and faster and faster. Also, you need to get the drive through the whoops, which means good tires, and a good setup with the KYB guys for our suspension. There are so many things that go into it, but it’s all helping, and I proved that on Saturday night.
Where do you go from here?
Justin Brayton: I think the old me would’ve said nothing’s good enough now except for a win, but that’s where it’s good to have a guy like Nathan Ramsey The goals have changed a little, because I’m not going to go to Anaheim 2 only expecting a win. If it presents itself, I’ll go for it, but if it’s not there, then you don’t ride over your head, and I’m not going to go for it and crash out. I just want to be in the race. I want to be battling with the guys I raced with on Saturday. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.