Red Bull KTM’s Justin Hill Exclusive Interview

Justin Hill went pro in 2013, garnering a factory ride with Kawasaki in the 250 SX and MX classes. In 2014, the Oregon native amassed five podium finishes, including his first pro win at San Diego SX. For 2015, he joins the Red Bull KTM 250 team and will contest aboard the SX-F250 in the 250 Supercross and Motocross championships.

Ultimate MotorCycling’s Andrew Oldar: You spent the first two years of your professional career on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. How has the transition to the Red Bull KTM team been going for you and how have you been adjusting to the new bike?

Red Bull KTM’s Justin Hill: In my opinion, it’s a pretty easy transition. I have switched manufacturers many times before. When I was an amateur, I rode just about every manufacturer there was. I rode KTMs when I was on 65s, then Yamaha 85s, then moved to Suzukis, then Hondas, back to Yamaha on big bikes, and then to the Kawasaki for a long time. I stuck with the Kawasaki for awhile because I always liked it.

However, I always felt that I struggled with front end traction and would lose the front end a lot. So when I moved to KTM, that’s what I was really looking for in the bike. I wanted more front end traction, particularly in corners. When they were able to give me so much front end traction, I could not believe that a bike could have that much stability in the front end. I was really excited about it.

For me, that translates to confidence in knowing that I can push the front end and push the bike. I tend to put myself in situations where I can wash the front end. For example, during the third main event at the Monster Energy Cup, I did wash the front end. However, I feel that it was due to an excessive amount of water put down on the track. Plus, we didn’t have any site laps, so that did not help. But it’s a learning curve for me. I had only been on the 450 for a couple of weeks and broke it up with a couple of days on the 250 for the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event.

The 450 was very new for me. I didn’t know the limits, but I knew that they were further than what I had previously been on. Overall, the switch from the Japanese bike to the Austrian bike, I am really impressed with the amount of technology. They really blew me away regarding what I thought the KTM could do. Now, with the new 2015 Factory Edition bike, it’s even better than that. When I first rode the bike, I rode the 2014 250, 350, and 450. Now, I am on the new 2015 Factory Edition 250.

So I’ve ridden every bike and every time I realize that there is something great about each machine. There is not really one bike that I don’t like. They’re all great. That makes it easy for me to go racing. I realize that we have good stuff and that it’s all on me. I like that pressure because if the bike’s doing it’s job, I have nothing to worry about but doing my job.

If there is something with the bike that you have to think about or compensate for in some way, you are not going to do what you should. I am excited because they have given me everything that I need. That is all I can think about going into next season. So actually, the question I rambled on about and didn’t answer directly, yes, the switch went really good. (laughs)

UMC: It sounds like front end traction is playing a huge part in how you are adjusting to the KTM so well. Do you feel that the more positive front end feel is due to the WP suspension that KTMs run? Or is is the chassis? A combination of both perhaps?

JH: You know, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s a completely different set up. When I was at Pro Circuit, it was a Showa fork with a Triple Air Chamber and a separate function fork in which one fork has the spring and the other has the air. For me, going to the conventional spring forks was what I was really searching for.

I tested the bike when I first signed with the team and realized that it is everything that I am looking for. The bike has so much front end traction. The KTM more or less feels like a tractor. It just goes where you want it to go with no struggle on your part. It’s really easy to ride, which is what I was looking for. I always thought that the front end of the Kawasaki was a little bit twitchy. That was the only thing that I struggled with. The power was not an issue.

It had a lot of power, handled great in the whoops, and everywhere else. The front end was the only thing we ever chased. Now going to the KTM, it has so much of what I wanted. It really fits my style. Every bike is different for everybody though. For example, my brother Josh loves the Kawasaki because he may not use the front end like I do. Maybe he clutches a little more or revs the bike higher than I do.

However he does it, the Kawasaki works for him. It’s all about what you want and I believe a lot of it is mental as well. When you’re at the races, you see people make team decisions and you think, “wow that’s interesting.” But it’s all in your head and what you think works for you.

UMC: You looked right at home on the KTM at the Monster Energy Cup. In the first two main events, you scored two second place finishes.

JH: It doesn’t hurt to show that you like the product. In my opinion, KTM took a little bit of a gamble signing me because they wanted to shift their 250 Lites program towards the Troy Lee team. Even though they had Marvin (Musquin), they were going to shift their 250 Lites efforts towards the Troy Lee Designs team and focus on the 450s.

From there, they would launch this new Factory Edition 250 with the Troy Lee team. Then there was a big question mark regarding me. Would I ride for the Troy Lee team or the factory team? When they decided to put me on the factory team, I think it was a little bit of a gamble.

For me to go out and say this bike is really good and perform the way that I did at the Monster Energy Cup, I think it reassured KTM that they made the right decision in putting me on the factory team. I am happy with the way that the Monster Cup went, even though I didn’t pull off the win like I wanted to. But that’s Supercross and we need a lot more time on the bike to get completely dialed in. In my opinion, that was a good race to show the guys that I’m glad they gave me this chance and I am going to take advantage of it.

UMC: It sounds like a great way to start off with a new team. You qualified out of the “B” qualifying group during timed practice. Is that correct?

JH: Yeah, somebody wasn’t paying attention. It was funny, I wanted to do press day because this was going to be my first ever 450 race as a pro. So I thought they would want me to do press day. But apparently, they had way too many people. They didn’t want Dean (Wilson) or myself to do it. Then when they sent me to “B” qualifying practice, I was thinking that somebody was really underestimating me.

After the first practice, I ended up qualifying third out of everyone combined in the A, B, and C groups. During the second practice, I was the fastest. So they interviewed me on the big screen for being the fastest qualifier off all of the combined times in the second practice. which was weird.

I feel like nobody really understood because so few people stick around to watch the “B” qualifying group until the race. At this point, I told myself, let’s get this done and show everybody. I feel that my fast times were all just a product of me liking the bike. I just molded with it. During the weeks prior to the event, I didn’t have a whole lot of time on the bike. But when you ride and race with your teammates at the test track, you obviously always judge yourself in comparison to everyone around you. I was always looking good and faster than everyone else on most days. At this point, I think the team realized that I was going to do well.

I didn’t want to let that slip by. I didn’t want to be known as the practice guy. I wanted to just do it and believe that I’m fast because I’m fast. Not because I’m good at this or that. I want to be able to do good under any circumstance. It’s all a product of the team and the environment. Everything is good and I am molding well with it.

UMC: In addition to your impressive result at the Monster Energy Cup, you achieved your first 250 Supercross victory last year and finished 4th overall in the 250 West Region Championship behind Jason Anderson, Cole Seely, and Dean Wilson, all of whom are moving up to the 450 class this year. Do you feel that you are the title favorite in the 250 class?

JH: If you do the math, I come in with wins, unlike anyone else from last year. That speaks for itself a little bit. I won on, let’s just say something that I wasn’t as comfortable on. I won on a day that wasn’t the best of me. If you do the math, I am in line to do it.

But I can’t sit there and rely on that fact. It definitely doesn’t hurt my confidence by having done well though. What really boosted my confidence was the Red Bull Straight Rhythm. Prior to the event, I had ridden the 250 for one day, which was the Monday before the event. After that, I got strep throat and couldn’t ride until Friday. I still had strep throat at that time and had lost about 10 pounds.

I showed up on Friday for practice. However, I was extremely weak because I hadn’t eaten anything for about 48 hours. Despite that, I ended up doing well even though I had only been on the bike for one day. The gearing was totally different than the 450 I had been on too. In my opinion, it was not the best circumstances, but I still liked the bike enough to where we did good.

To accomplish all that in spite of the circumstances, that was a huge confidence booster. I realized I can do good on the KTM because that was the first official race for me on the new bike.

UMC: Have you been training with your brother, Josh, in the off season at all?

JH: As much as I can. We both live down here and as funny as it sounds, we live about five miles from each other. It’s kinda weird. You would think either we would live far away from each other or live together, but it just happened that way I guess.

We try to ride together as much as possible, but it is difficult, especially right now. Until this launch, we could not ride the new bike. We were just continuing to develop it. We couldn’t show it to anybody, which is touchy. I’m hoping that he gets his deal sewed up and we can ride together, that would be good.