Cooper Webb Interview

Cooper Webb Yamaha Supercross
Yamaha’s Cooper Webb (photo by Don Williams)

2016 was certainly a monumental year for Cooper Webb. After winning the Monster Energy AMA Supercross 250SX West Championship and the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross 250MX National Championship, Webb went on to win the MX2 round at the Charlotte MXGP in his final 250cc race, and then put in an epic ride on a 450 at the Motocross of Nations.

For 2017, things get truly serious for the 21-year-old from Newport, NC. Webb will be riding a #2 plated Yamaha YZ450F for the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Chaparral/Yamaha Financial Services/Yamaha Factory Racing Team in the premier 450SX class as a teammate to two-time Supercross champion Chad Reed. Ultimate Motorcycling Editor Don Williams sat down one-on-one with Webb at Yamaha’s USA headquarters in Cypress, Calif. for an exclusive interview.

Ultimate Motorcycling: So, quite a year in 2016. What do you think was the best race that you had?

Cooper Webb: [long pause] 2016, the best race for Supercross was probably Anaheim 1. I had never won Anaheim 1 and I came from behind and won that race and it was cool. In motocross, I would say Muddy Creek. That was a track I grew up racing and riding as a kid to win there. I came from behind and the first one of the year was very special. So, I’d say those two were probably my favorites.

UM: I was thinking Charlotte [MX2 round].

Cooper Webb: Oh, sure. I totally forgot about that. Yeah, Charlotte was the best, for sure. I was thinking AMA, but yeah, Charlotte was by far the best the way it happened—getting beat the first moto, being right there, but still getting second. Then coming from pretty much dead last to reel those guys in and beat the World Champ [Jeffrey Herlings] and win in front of a lot of the home state fans—it was definitely special. I could just feel that atmosphere, and every lap it just kept getting louder and louder, and how excited everybody was. We were fully pinned for 30-plus minutes—there was no resting. So, that was definitely the best race, I think. So, I totally forgot about that one.

UM: Kind of the flip side of that was an also incredibly impressive race—the third moto at the Motocross of Nations. I think you gained a lot of fans with that ride.

Cooper Webb: Yeah.

Cooper Webb Yamaha SX Team
Cooper Webb

UM: Obviously, it was disappointing for you at the end, but how did you feel when you went back to the pits?

Cooper Webb: I was definitely heartbroken. I was really upset, actually. Looking back now, a few months later, I’m content with it—having that much pressure, the whole country and everyone watching, and to even be in the hunt. I knew I had to beat so many guys, just to be able to win. Going in, I kept telling myself, “You know there’s one person that can pull this off. It’s me.”

That was pretty cool to be in that position, and to hold off [2015 MXGP Champion Romain] Febvre that whole race as well as he was riding. He had won, I think, every moto up until that point. So, to be battling with him and have that little fall with two [laps] to go, it was such a bummer. To be that close—it definitely ate at me for a long time. Like I said after the race, I was really upset. I felt like I really let everyone down. But, I think looking back and getting the response from the fans and everybody, I think I gained a lot of respect and a lot of fans, like you said, out of that. Ultimately, I wanted to win, but at the same time you know it was a lesson learned and it definitely added motivation.

UM: The common theme when you ran down the best races is “come from behind.”

Cooper Webb: [laughs] Yeah.

UM: What’s your plan for 2017 for not coming from behind?

Cooper Webb: I feel like I’m a much better starter on the 450. I feel like I can control the power a little better than I could on the 250. I’ve started really well in the 450 des Nations—both years I’ve gotten great starts. So, I feel for 2017 that’s the big difference. They’ve really been working with the hydraulic clutch and the GET system to really get the best performance out of the start—I think that’s the biggest difference. We’ve been working on some technique stuff. That was one of the things that I really wanted to fix. I think it’s one of those things that is going to make my life a lot easier, in supercross especially. Winning will be a lot more reasonable than if I start from 10th, but at least I know I have the ability to come from behind.

UM: Going into the 450s for the first time for an entire season, what do you see as your biggest challenges from within you?

Cooper Webb: I think the biggest challenge for me is just accepting stuff, as weird as that is. I’ve been the guy to beat the past two years I feel like in the 250 class, so now I’m kind of back—not to the bottom of the totem pole—I’m back to, I guess you could say, reality to where now I have to earn my spot. There are some really great riders, so I think if I have a bad night and I get 10th or 7th or whatever the case may be, that I’m not going to let that ruin the next couple weeks.

As long as I’m improving and learning and going from there and getting better, then that’s what I’m going to do. So, I think that the theme for this year is learning. I want to be up there racing and racing for wins and that’s what the goal is, to win, but knowing that winning every weekend is going to be very difficult.

UM: In the 250 class it seemed like you rarely settled. You always would push for the win and sometimes you would fall or have a problem. Are you going to back off from that at all in Supercross?

Cooper Webb: It’s hard to say. I want to definitely learn from those mistakes, like I said, and know when to really go for it and know when to back off. I think that’s part of the learning curve that comes with the 450s—knowing what’s too much and what’s not enough. I think with it not being such a short series, as well, I have the ability to actually back off a little bit, maybe when there are necessary times.

With it [250SX] being such a short series and only 15 laps, you’ve got to make everything count. Every pass you make, every three-point difference is so much bigger in the Lites class because of fewer races and the circumstances I’ve been in the past two years. I started the first year at Anaheim and crashed and was behind, and I had to make up points. The next year, I won the first three and then had the DNF, so now I’m back to making up points. Hopefully, that’s not going to be the case this year and I have those 18 races to bank on.

UM: You mentioned that you like starting on the 450. Are there any other aspects of the 450 that you prefer compared to riding 250s?

Cooper Webb: Yes and no. Our 250 was so dialed in and I gelled with it so well, so it definitely made the transition to the 450 a lot easier because I was pretty familiar with the Yamaha, and the Yamaha 450 because I’ve raced it. I do like all the factory parts, and stuff like that. There’s so much that they can change. I really do like the hydraulic clutch. I feel like the 450 suits my style; I think I have the technique for it. So, it’s just getting stronger and learning the bike. The biggest thing is just learning what parts are doing to the bike, and what exactly I’m looking for in the bike. So, it’s all been part of the learning process, but I really enjoy riding it.

Cooper Webb Yamaha YZ250F
Cooper Webb and the Yamaha Y250F

UM: So, set-up may be one of the bigger challenges moving from the 250 to 450?

Cooper Webb: Yeah, absolutely. I think on the 250, pretty much everything was just suspension—once we got our clamps dialed, we just did suspension. Now, there are so many things. With the 250, you want all the power you can get. With the 450, you don’t want that. You want to manageable power, but not too slow. You know you have that aspect and, just because they’re so much heavier, they bring a certain harshness. So, I’m learning that, and then suspension. We have so many options with the spring and we have a new fork coming along, that’s pretty cool, and then air forks—the different triple clamps and this and that. There’s so much that they have, just being on a factory team, you have so many options. Just trying to go through the good and the bad, and still trying to ride and do my program and do the training. That’s been a difficult part, but I think the set-up on the 450 is much more important than the 250. I think that’s enough.

UM: How’s your health going into January.

Cooper Webb: I’m 100 percent—training, riding and testing. I had a pinkie injury in Charlotte in that second moto. I shattered my pinky, which was a really random injury, but I was able to ride through it. After des Nations I let that heal up, and I just kind of needed a break. It’s been a long year, so I missed the Monster Cup. I’ve been training pretty much since mid-October.

UM: You talked about trying to win races in this upcoming Supercross series. Are you more interested in winning races, or showing consistency through the series?

Cooper Webb: I think both. For me, I think if I can win a race, that’s going to give me all the confidence I need to bring the consistency and have that winning attitude. I feel like I already have the winning attitude. I’m already a very confident person. But, say I can win a race. That would be like, okay, I can beat every single one of these guys. I think that that will bring the consistency.

Overall, I want to be consistent, but I don’t want to be consistently not battling with the top guys. For me, the goal is to go out there and, at the end of the day, win races. I think that winning the races will bring the consistency—being on the podium consistently or in the top five will bring that just in my attitude.

UM: It seems like the podium is going to be very crowded this year.

Cooper Webb: [laughs] Yeah.

UM: The fight for that is going to be maybe harder than it has been in decades.

Cooper Webb: Yeah, absolutely. It’s going to be really tough; I mean, there are so many good guys—that’s why it’s the premier class. I think every weekend, in theory, should be a mix up, but you never know. Hopefully, I’m up there in the mix.

UM: There have been rookie champions before in the 450 class. Do you see that as a possibility or an unreasonable expectation?

Cooper Webb: I think it’s a possibility. That’s what I’m working for—every championship series I enter, that’s the goal, to win the championship. I don’t think it’s out of hand. I think it will be very difficult to do. I’d really have to be on top of my A-game.

For me, I think that 18 races is going to be the biggest thing—being they are every weekend. I’m used to just six races, and then a break. I’ve always trained for the six races—being at 100 percent for those six races. Now, I have to be at my best for 18 races. So, I think coming into the season a little bit under 100 percent is our goal, and then building. Then once it goes to the East Coast, that’s when I’m at 100 percent and hopefully continue in those ten races strong. I don’t want to come in and do really good the first six, seven, eight races, and then just kind of fizzle out. I want to there the whole year. It’s going to be a learning year, for sure, but I definitely want to be up there in the mix.