2015 has been a dramatic year for Britain’s longest-running Grand Prix team. Bike it Yamaha Cosworth have gone from leading the opening round of the season in Qatar to podium results to barely scoring point after switching from established 2013 to 2014 machinery.
Rider Max Anstie has suffered with wavering confidence through spearheading development with the YZ250F but hit a highpoint several weeks ago by giving the bike its first Grand Prix victory in the toughest conditions; the sand of Lommel in Belgium. Anstie, who also suffered a sudden family bereavement early in the campaign, was then overlooked for the British Motocross of Nations team MX2 slot and the topsy-turvy term of incident continues.
The England based squad have worked intensely on their version of a race-spec 2014 YZ250F that adopts the same fuel injected rear-facing engine technology as Yamaha’s YZ450F and was a much needed update for the MX2 motorcycle. Their process of testing and development has meant a degree of experimentation during the Grand Prix motos themselves and this explains the sudden disappearance of Anstie’s form and results after the first three meetings in which he posted two podium finishes on the renowned 2013 YZ250F (a motorcycle that 2012 EMX250 Champion Mel Pocock described as the fastest 250 ever built) but then switched to the 2014 model.
Team Owner and leader Steve Dixon – a Yamaha stalwart of more than 20-years – claims that the newer motorcycle is a clear improvement on the ’13 version both in speed (he claims 5-6hp more) and handling (Anstie rode and trained the entire winter with the production YZ) but the delay in refining the performance and reliability of the ’14’ means its full potential has yet to be seen; Lommel apart where Anstie also had issues with the electronics and the throttle setting in the second moto.
“We had a plan with Cosworth and everything is subject to a weakest link,” explains Dixon. “You have two issues. The first is that it has to be something that it cost effective and low maintenance for the customer but still gives great performance and this is what Yamaha achieved with the 2014 250. However if you want to push a standard bike to Grand Prix level then you are finding boundaries that a normal rider would never see. This is the second issue. We are discovering the life range of components of things like cam chains and valve seats and we’ve had to make those changes. In the past it can be done gradually but this year it has been dramatic because everything has run so late.”
So where have the glitches been coming from? “We’ve had no problems with gearboxes or Cosworth parts, it is purely power issues with stuff like the clutch or cam chains,” he continues. “You fix an issue but then you find another and because we use prototype stuff we struggle with lead time to get things ready. We can go testing for two days without a problem and then come to a race and something lasts for fifty-five minutes! So the only way is test at the race and it is not what we wanted.”
“A few years ago KTM were going through engine after engine at the GPs and were the laughing stock of the paddock but they had to go through that process and look at them now…they are the kings of the paddock.”
For Dixon and his band of young and hard-working mechanics it has often meant an around-the-clock job throughout the summer. “I spent a lot of money and time on this year’s bike and we’ve had to take it on the chin in pushing it back; which is not really our style but we are trying to achieve something – and we will – that is better than our 2013 Yamaha which was recognised as the fastest and best 250,” he says. “It is a different path than other teams might take but I have broad shoulders.”
Lommel saw a resurgence for the team largely thanks to Anstie’s skill in the sand, but the consequences of an indifferent season have been felt with Dixon apparently having to review his sponsorship outlook for 2015; rumours surround a downscale by Bike it. At least Anstie has committed to the second of his two year agreement and pledged his support to the team even before the success in Belgium.
“We had a two-year plan from 2014 and it shows the faith I had in Max and that he has in me,” Dixon says. “I don’t think there is one rider out there who has shown the professionalism that he has. He has never kicked out against the bike. He has been focussed on the long goal of looking at the championship for 2015. We are finding out the limits of the bike like we did in the step towards the 2013 model, even though that was just an evolution of an engine that was thirteen years old. We haven’t gone from a technically good to a technically bad team, it is just that we are finding out some issues; none of which hamper the standard bike because the one we used through the winter was fantastic and perhaps one of the best production 250s that has been made, definitely by Yamaha.”
“I can read the internet and I see comments about our team going downhill but we have still had podiums this year and that win in Belgium,” he adds. “We will continue our goal and method that has been successful in the last few years and we see light at the end of the tunnel. This is the main thing.”
There has been talk that Yamaha will spread their support through the MX2 Grand Prix class further for 2015 with yet another team joining the Bike it squad and also Kemea Yamaha in blue. Nothing has been made official and it has led to speculation that Dixon could take the large and unlikely step of changing brand. “To give it up and go to another manufacturer is not desirable because I am likely to be able to do more with Yamaha independently than I can with more support from another brand,” he intimates. “Ultimately there is a market out there of growing Yamaha riders which hasn’t been the case in the last few years because the old model wasn’t deemed modern enough. We make so many of our own parts and that would mean changing our programmes when you’d think that Yamaha would have the base of a bike for a good few years now.”
Whatever the colour, Dixon will almost certainly focus on the MX2 class next year and that means his 450 project – run with Rui Goncalves this season – will end.