John Tomac explains Eli Tomac’s move from Kawasaki to Yamaha
Villopoto has been here a bunch. Jake Weimer has been here a bunch. There is a window that they [Kawasaki] feel their bike working and they don’t want to get out of that window. I think a lot of guys have talked about it and I think you sort of get there. And it’s good. It worked. You have won five championships. I don’t take that as you being negative towards Kawasaki, but the chance that we wanted to go to Star and have more control, you’ve knocked it out of the park so far.
If you look at these guys, these supercross athletes, it’s a terrible sport. This is a high level of risk. When you’re at the top, you say to yourself, I spend my whole fucking life taking risks. I want to take a risk on this bike setting. Let’s do it. Let’s try to move this program forward. Do you want to take this risk? I felt like Eli felt like they weren’t going to do it.
Why Star guys? Ricki Gilmour [Tomac’s former suspension man, now working with Star] and KYB led you to Star and the Yamaha. Was this the kind of place where things came together?
It was very important. We worked with Ricki at GEICO with Honda, and we had Dave Arnold with us there. We were GEICO. We weren’t Factory Honda when Eli was on the 450. We got some Factory Honda support, especially on the engine and electronics side and things, and lots of data and help from Japanese engineers . We did a lot of work on this bike to get it to where it was in 15 in motocross. It was originally a Dave-led project, and Gilly was deeply involved with Dave and with the engineers at Honda. I’ll walk you through this and it might take a minute, but this will be an abbreviated version of it. We did a lot of testing, a lot of work, and we got this thing in a really, really good place. That being said, we haven’t had much success in supercross. We wanted to race the next-gen frame that we had been working on on the Honda a bit, but we couldn’t race it because of the rules. We wanted a factory edition bike so he could ride this new frame in 16 and Honda is like, we can’t do that. Eli’s like, I’m not running on that other frame another year.
So that’s how he ended up on Kawi. We took Gilmour with us to Kawi and then a few months later the results weren’t great so Kawi let Gilly go and it was a blow to us. We could have jumped up and down and had a fit, but at that point we kind of felt like we had to take it on the chin for the team and see if it would work. The thing about Gilmour and Eli is that they have special communication. When Eli says something about the motorcycle, Gilly knows what Eli is talking about. If Eli tells him that’s what he’s doing, Gilmour knows what he needs to do to the forks, shock, or bike to fix that particular problem. So we lost that. So, then we kind of went the route with Kawi with the way they wanted to do it. Then, when that last contract ended, we wanted to try and work with Gilmour again if we could. He was working with Yamaha. I think the progress he was making with the Yamaha was pretty obvious. So I think he proved his worth there. But we already knew he had it in him. He simply hadn’t participated in the program that had allowed him to have this success.