Photo by: Doc Weedon
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional motocross and Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. The privateer is the lifeblood of SX and MX and the true MotoXAddicts. We tell their stories.
The 2018 Monster Energy Supercross season is two races deep, and thus far, H.E.P. Motorsports / FXR / Suzuki’s Kyle Cunningham has been the standout privateer of the 450SX class in 2018 in just his rookie 450SX campaign. The #39 was a ten year veteran of the 250 class before deciding 2018 was time to move up to the 450 class, and Kyle has put the newly formed H.E.P. Motorsports team into the main event at both of the first two rounds. Kyle has shown in the past he can ride the big bike with one-off rides like his fourth place finish on the 450 way back at the 2010 Las Vegas SX, but 2018 will be his first full time push to become a 450 regular at all 17 rounds.
At the opening round in Anaheim, Kyle was the only rider on the four man H.E.P. Motorsports squad—three 450’s and one 250—to put their bike into the main event, and he walked away with 16th place points to start the season. In Houston, both Cunningham and his teammate Henry Miller put their 450’s in the main, and Kyle moved up two spots to finish 14th at round two. With that, Kyle now heads to round three sitting 14th in the points and ready to try to make a run at putting it into the top 10 at the first of three Triple Crown Monster Energy Cup-style events schedule for 2018.
After the Houston SX, we saw Kyle was the top privateer in the standings and decided to give him a call to find out how his freshman 450 campaign was going and how the new team is working for him.
Kyle, how have you been? Getting an early work out in today?
I’m doing pretty good. Yeah, I’m trying to get all my stuff together to head to the track, which besides the race would be the only second time I’ve ridden in two weeks. The rain we had in California kept us from riding. We’re up in the Fresno area. Everything was way too muddy to ride.
What are you doing in Fresno? (laughs)
That’s where the HEP Motorsports team is based out of. The shop is here and we have a track that Shane Schaefer [Schaefer Tracks] built for us to ride about five minutes from there.
How exactly did that deal come about for you? It seems like a good deal for you.
Well, obviously I rode for the JGR guys last year, and when that stuff was going on, I waited around to see what was going to happen. I’ve known Aaron and Dustin Pipes for a while now. They gave me a call and Suzuki had talked to me a little bit. Suzuki told me there was going to be a new 450 program over here and it ended up working out. I’ve been on the Lites bike for a while and wanted to get my feet wet on the 450. I finally have that opportunity.
How’s that new ’18 Suzuki been for you?
The bike’s good. It’s honestly different compared to the older Suzukis. It’s just something new with being on a 450. 17 rounds and the bike’s been awesome. The track up here is a little more open than the race tracks have been on the weekends. For me, I feel like, setting-wise, we still have to work on it a little more. It’s my first year on the 450 and the most time I’ve spent on one so I’m still learning the bike.
What did you think about the Houston track?
The dirt was pretty tacky and soft. It was crazy. I think all the moisture down there made the track probably one of the most difficult I have ridden. It was pretty technical. It got torn up and rutted up. I felt like last weekend was a better weekend, but I think we’re going to have that learning curve going to all the different rounds and getting that 450 set up where I’m more comfortable on it for each track. Last weekend, we had no testing but we still got a step closer. Hopefully, this week we’ll get some testing in, as long as the rain doesn’t come again. I’m feeling pretty good.
Yeah, you’ve shown improvements over the first two rounds, and at both rounds, you seem to find yourself battling around Chad Reed. Does it feel good finally be in the 450 class full time and battling with guys like Reedy week in and week out, like you’re finally where you need to be?
I think in the past, I didn’t get to race it a lot. Back in 2010, I raced Las Vegas on the 450.
And you got 4th in the main event. Pretty solid. (laughs)
Yeah, I got 4th that year. I got to battle with Reedy, k’dub [Kevin Windham] and those guys, so I don’t think it’s so much about who’s on the track with you. I think the crazy thing about the 450 class is all those guys from 1st to 20th are bad dudes on a motorcycle. I know Chad is battling an injury, but you’re always battling with somebody. I think we still have more in us, but I didn’t ride the greatest in the last five laps. I just want to come out every weekend and be more comfortable and put myself up there. I know I’m capable of more. I have to constantly be working and trying to get better every weekend.
I know you’ve had some privateer years where you’ve had to do a lot on your own and even drive to races. How’s your deal this year? Are you flying to all the rounds and getting expenses paid?
We’re flying, but being up here in Madera makes it difficult at times, having to drive either way to San Francisco or drive down to LAX. But yeah, we’re flying to all the races, hotels and all that. It’s been pretty good. We booked test days at A1 and at Houston, which was good and makes for a little shorter weeks. It was good with all the rain we had last week. We couldn’t do any riding here.
Any outdoor plans with H.E.P. Motorsports?
Right now it’s just the 17 rounds of SX. As of right now, that’s the plan. Who knows. One way or another I plan on racing. If it means me grabbing some bikes or if something changes with the team and they decide to do more, great. I plan on riding 450’s the whole year of SX and chasing the outdoors on my own if that’s what I gotta do.
We have the first of the “Triple Crown” Monster Cup style three-race format coming up this weekend at A2. When you hit the test track this week, do you change up the way you prep for it or is it business as usual?
I think riding-wise I have a great program going and I’m feeling good, so I think we’ll stick with keep the intensity up and the speed there. I think that’s something that I gotta get a little better on: those sprints at the beginning of the race, especially when I don’t get the great start. I think it’s going to be fun; it’s a change. Qualifying lap times are going to be a lot more important having to be inside that top 18. I believe it’s going to be the top 18 lap times like at Monster Cup and then they’ll run an LCQ, correct?
Yeah, that’s what I was told as well. I didn’t even think about that part. You’re right, though, that is big for you guys, especially guys that are way better at racing than saying laying down a fast lap. No night show if not inside the top 22 after timed qualifiers and the LCQ.
I don’t want to be in that LCQ or deal with anything like that. Racing the Monster Cup in the past, I thought the format was cool. The field’s deep, so qualifying times are important, which is tough sometimes. I know that lap time wise I’m sometimes not the greatest, but my sprint speed is something I’ve been working on. At A1, I felt super tight and didn’t feel like I was riding that great. In Houston, I actually felt better in practice. The track, with the ruts, it was so important just to get a clear lap. If you didn’t get your lap in at the right time, it was super difficult. Especially with people rolling around in the main line. I’m not really worried about getting into the top 18, though. I know I’m capable of that.