Kawasaki NZ brought their [then] favourite racer along to put the new KX450 through its paces with a view to racing one later in the year. So, in-between motos we got hold of Bay of Plenty’s Rhys Carter and chatted about the new bike, where he’s currently up to and his racing plans for the future.
Words: Paul Pics: Paul, Chris Ritchie, Andy McGechan
He’s currently sitting eighth in the Pirelli MX Nationals in Australia after five rounds, riding for the Complete Parts Kawasaki Racing Team. In what is a fully-stacked field and with the disadvantage of flying in and out between meets, that’s a bloody impressive result. He’s run his own race team (3twenty3 Racing), coaches other racers and has been at the pointy end of the NZ MX scene for over a decade. All set to represent NZ in the MX of Nations in 2017, a practice crash led to a decent break in his collarbone, putting him out of the team and off the bike for a few months. But he came back stronger than ever, and with his continued support from Kawasaki NZ you can expect Rhys to be fighting at the front of the pack come the beginning of the NZMX Nats later this year.
DRD: What are your thoughts on the new 2019 bike as a Kawasaki rider?
Rhys: Straight out of the box I like it. It’s more powerful than last year’s, feels a lot more stable which made me feel more comfortable straight away. I love the hydraulic clutch – although the feel for me is going to take a little bit to get used to with not having much free play. The electric start is unreal, and the suspension for me, especially the forks, is a big thing. We changed a couple clickers here and there which made a massive change to how I could turn, and gave me a lot more confidence in entering turns.
The power itself, it picks up a bit faster and a bit more aggressive than last year and pulls way, way more. The initial punch for me – I like it a lot down the bottom so we tried the aggressive map. When you roll the throttle on with the aggressive plugin, it snaps really good. If you go to whack it straight on, it’s better than the stock coupling but not quite as much as what I like. But in saying that, it’s a lot better than the previous year as well. All in all, it’s a massive step forward. The changes they’ve done is awesome. I actually like the footpegs, they are a lot wider and I feel a lot more balanced and I have a lot more movement in my body with them. The front brake is a lot sharper on last year’s which is a massive, massive, improvement I believe. So, the test has been really positive.
DRD: Does that mean less work for you to transform it into a race bike?
Rhys: Yeah, I think so. The power delivery is great, and once I do what I did with my bike last year with gearing and stuff, I reckon it’ll be even better. Then, when I put a pipe on it, like a Pro Circuit, it will give me more bark and the torque that I like. So yeah definitely. And with the forks and shock being so good straight out of the box and my suspension guys knowing what I like, there’s an easy fix as well. Yeah, definitely a lot less work. But then in saying that, you’re always wanting more, so it depends on how hard you want to go about it.
You can end up with too much. Like when I raced in Aussie a few years ago, I got my bike de-tuned cause there was just too much power. When you have too much, you pump up and the benefit is all gone. So, it’s good with this new bike ’cause you can change the couplings and they make a massive difference, where I thought last year’s ones weren’t huge benefits when you swapped them. With this year’s model, there are big changes between in each one, and that’s going to change how the bike feels which will help a lot people out.
DRD: You’re home from Aussie during the break in their season. How’s it going over there?
Rhys: Aussie is going really good, it’s getting better and better. My results have seen me running in top five within the last three rounds, so that’s really positive. And I got a Super Pole, which is really good for me as I’m not a strong qualifier. We’ve been in a 5-week break, so it’s a massive opportunity for me to gain more out of my riding, and what I’ve worked on in the last five weeks is already a massive benefit for me. You know, a stopwatch doesn’t lie. And when that’s getting better on the track, and the days you go riding with it, it’s really good for my confidence. So, I’m excited for our last five rounds.
DRD: The next round back is Canondale, just out of Brisbane. How do you usually go racing there?
Rhys: Yeah, I like it. It’s got a good flow to it whereas you find a lot of tracks in Aussie are quite tight which I struggle with. I like the nice flowing tracks much like here at Pirini. A few tight sections are okay but not as tight as some of the other ones in Aussie. Thankfully, from now to the end of the season the tracks are very flowy and really my type of tracks. So, I’m excited for those.
DRD: How are you doing the racing in Aussie? Are you part of a team?
Rhys: I ride for the Complete Parts and Equipment Kawasaki Team, so it’s a supported Kawasaki team but at the same time it’s the main Kawasaki team in Australia. There’s myself and a kid called Aaron Tanti – he’s on a 250 and obviously, I’m on a 450. So I just fly in on a Friday, turn up to the track and my bike and everything is there. And I’ve got an awesome team over there, so everything is sorted for me. The team owner is unreal. Everything is enjoyable you know, and I don’t have to stress. All I have to worry about is my flight being on time. So, it’s like a dream, like you go and the bike is immaculate, it’s unreal how it’s built, looks, and you’ve got a big semi truck and everything is there. It’s been really enjoyable and don’t really want it to end!
DRD: What’s the plan for the rest of the year? You’ll finish Aussie and then back here into the team and everything?
Rhys: The plan this year is to finish Aussie and then hopefully go to des Nations in America. Then it will be time to come back and the NZ MX Nats start. So, I guess the next couple months after Australia and des Nations we will work on this bike, getting it sorted and then go onto next year
DRD: Are you running the 3twenty3 team the same this year?
R: No, this year the team will be run out of Head Office, so Kawasaki will run the team. It means myself and Derek will be able to step away from those things, which is good in some ways, you know, Even though I enjoyed working on the team with Derek, now I just get to focus on myself and my riding and go do what I wanna do. So, yeah, it’ll be good.
DRD: Do you think that will make a difference, as you would have always had one eye on your racing and the other on the team side of things and your supported rider? Did that take your eye off the ball when it came to racing?
Rhys: I don’t think so, because I enjoyed it so much. Getting to work with Josh [Tredinnick] last year, like, I really enjoyed working with him. He was a great kid to work with. I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference, the only thing is I won’t have to worry about the kind of budget we have. I’ve just got a straight contract that I’ve got to go with and that’s it. So, just less paperwork and that. And as long as I get to work with all the sponsors I’ve had for years, I’ll be happy.
DRD: And, by the sounds of it they’re all staying the same?
Rhys: I think so. Gear-wise, I won’t change, Shayne [King] has been awesome. He looks after me really well, so gear-wise head-to-toe won’t change. Bike stuff I don’t think there will much of a change, maybe the odd one or two things. But, as I say, I’m not in control of those things anymore, so I just have to go with whatever’s going.
DRD: When do you get your hands on the 2019 model?
Rhys: Umm, that’s supposed to be my one. But for me, it’s not a major because I’m racing an ‘18 all the way through Aussie, so there’s not much point me having one. If someone else needs to ride one or it needs to be tested by someone, that’s fine. I think they’re here mid-July so that gives me plenty of time. If they go and say they want to race one in the last two rounds in Australia, then it might change a little bit. But right now, I’ll stick with what I have. I like the bike, I’m in a comfy position, so there’s not much point in changing aye.