INTERVIEW: COOPER WEBB
Already a two-time Monster Energy Supercross Series champion, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Cooper Webb was in a titanic fight for what just might have been his third premier class title when he hit the ground in heat number one at Nissan Stadium during the Nashville Supercross. Accidentally pegged by Adam Cianciarulo in the shunt, Webb was immediately sent to the local emergency room with a gnarly concussion. So pronounced was the injury that Webb called time on his stadium season that very next morning from a hospital bed. Back for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship outdoor series, that title chase also went up in smoke for the 27-year-old when a midweek practice crash immediately took him out of action for the entire summer.
But that was then, and this is now.
As the fast-spinning motocross world is already keenly aware, over the summer month, Webb quietly struck a deal to join Star Racing Yamaha for the 2024 racing season. An outfit for which he pulled down three 250cc championships during the opening phase of his professional career, it’s a place Webb has always called home and, as you’re about to find out from the man himself, a place which will serve as headquarters in his quest to gain 450SX title number three. Now based back in Tallahassee, Florida and about to enter his own special preseason boot camp, Webb means championship business and he spoke with us about it all.
“Yeah, we are in the off-season, man,” nodded Cooper Webb from his new home outside of Tallahassee, Florida. “I’ve been chilling a little the last two weeks. Ever since we did the last SMX round in Los Angeles, we took a little bit of time off. Yesterday, though, we started back training for the upcoming season. We actually did a fitness test today and we did some blood work yesterday. We are just kind of getting our season started and boot camp started. We’ll get back to training this week and then hop back on the dirt bike next week, so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m super-excited for the challenge that lies ahead with Star Racing Yamaha,” Webb continued. “I think I’ve had a great run in the 450 class so far, and last year was a great supercross season. Yes, obviously the ending wasn’t what I was hoping for, but we put ourselves in the fight and continued all year and had the red plate at a few rounds. I had that concussion at the end of the year, and that kind of put our title chances out of the picture, but I’m excited for 2024. This is a new start for me and a new challenge. I’m back with a familiar team that I had a lot of success with in the 250 class. Yeah, I know it’s a big year coming up with all of the headlines and everything, but I know for myself the goal is to go out there and win a supercross championship and that’s what we’re going to try to achieve.”
About to enter his twelfth year of professional competition, Webb comes off a five-year run with the KTM organization for which he won the 2019 and 2021 supercross titles. Now he will dispatch himself back to the Star Racing Yamaha enterprise for which he won three 250cc championships. For Webb, it has been quite nice to return home to the Yamaha-backed works effort.
“It has been really nice, man. You know I had a great run with my former team, and we achieved a lot. I think it was just time for me to make a little bit of a change and this was something that I was really excited about doing and kind of wanted to do. Like you said, I wanted to get back with the guys that I started my career with, and we had so much success as a group of individuals together, and I feel like the success that they have had in the 450 class during the last two or three years really speaks for itself. I’m excited to be back with a lot of guys I’ve worked with in the past and I’m excited to work with some new guys, as well. It just definitely feels like home for me.
“I think for me once I knew I was making the switch to Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha, it was one of those things where I feel like a kid again,” explained Webb, certainly a grizzled veteran in the sport who felt like he needed a new ray of light in his racing career. “I feel like I’ve now got those butterflies. We also moved to Tallahassee where the facility and the team is based. For us that was quite a big change, but it’s nice for us to adjust as a family and to have a different lifestyle from what we had. Also, going to a new track and a new facility and a new bike, there are just so many new challenges and a lot of new goals that we now have. I think just simple things like driving down a different road and figuring out a new city at this point in my career was just something that I was ready for. I felt like I really achieved everything that I wanted to with the team I was at. I was in a spot where I needed a change or maybe retirement would have maybe come sooner. As an athlete and as we do get injured and stuff, you definitely have thought of retirement, but for me, this time that thought went away quick.”
In an effort to get a jump on everything as well as get a read on what Webb and the Star Racing Yamaha team will need to focus on research and develop during the off-season, the effort competed in the three-round 2023 SuperMotocross World Championship. Webb placed eighth at zMAX Dragway, seventh at Chicagoland Speedway, and landed on the podium in third at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum round while getting his head wrapped around the Yamaha YZ450F.
“Yeah, we didn’t have too much time on the dirt bike, but we wanted to go race and see where we stood, and overall, it was up-and-down,” explained Webb, who wound up fourth in the final SMX point standings. “I think the last race at the Coliseum was definitely a much better performance from myself. I think the SMX races were definitely different. I think none of us, as far as riders or teams, really knew what to endure or what kind of track or situations we were going to be up against. On our end, we definitely did a lot more supercross testing, I should say, than maybe the hybrid and motocross-style tracks that we ended up racing on at the first two SMX races. It was a little bit of trial and error, but for me overall, it was good to get some gate drops and to see what we needed to work on with myself than maybe the motorcycle. We just really wanted to get some gate drops because the last race that I did was the High Point National this year. Up until SMX, it had been about four months of no gate drops. It was good to get those gate drops in SMX and to end the year with being on the podium, which I thought was really solid and will help us know what we need to build on for the upcoming year in supercross and motocross.”
While performing his in-race research and development on both himself and his YZ450F in the ultra-competitive SMX races, Webb was also able to take a good and long look at the competition he’ll face off against come the drop of the gate on the 2024 Monster Energy Supercross Championship come January.
“It gets tougher and tougher every year, right?” asked Webb. “I think this last year I put myself where I fought with Eli Tomac all the way to round sixteen and I and that crash. Chase Sexton was really good this year, but obviously he’s going to be having some big changes coming. Ken Roczen has seemed to have found his former self and he’s riding really well. Jett Lawrence sure seems like the up-and-coming guy. And then Eli Tomac is returning, too. I think this year is going to be a good opportunity for me. I think all of the guys that I just mentioned are going to have some challenges of their own, and I might, as well, but I think mentally and physically, and as the racer and champion I am, I feel like I really succeed over seventeen supercross rounds. I may not be the fastest guy every weekend or the flashiest guy out there, but I feel like when it comes to racing and my racecraft and my consistency, I’ve been able to be very successful over seventeen races. I think that will be my strong point. Jett Lawrence is a rookie, and that’s something in supercross that traditionally can be a challenge. Chase Sexton is on a new team, and Eli Tomac is coming back from a really big injury, and Ken is finding himself again, but with that definitely comes the pressure. I think we are in a good spot. Like I said, I’m going to bust my butt this off-season and get to be the fittest I’ve ever been and the strongest I’ve ever been and really put in the work, and I feel like I can have a lot of success in 2024.
The 2020 and 2022 Monster Energy Supercross champion in both 2020 and 2022, Star Racing Yamaha rider Eli Tomac had, for all intents and purposes, the 2023 title in his possession before a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered at the penultimate round at Salt Lake City gave the title to Chase Sexton. Sent reeling from the misfortune, Tomac will be back with a vengeance in 2024, and Webb will be forced to cross swords with his new teammate.
“El and I definitely haven’t had the best chance to talk, but at the L.A. SMX race we actually did talk. We were able to walk the track together and spend some time together as teammates, and that was actually really cool. We’ve always had a lot of respect for each other. That’s one thing that has never been a problem with us, it’s definitely a unique dynamic with Star Racing Yamaha having two championship-level guys, but I think that’s just going to elevate both of us. I think the biggest thing is now I have two supercross championships and Eli has two supercross championships, and we have a lot of experience. Now us being on the same equipment is something, at least for me, I know it’ll be, ‘Hey, if he beats me it’s because he’s the better rider that night.’ There are not as many variables now, that’s for sure.”
In his recent five-year run with the Austrian-based KTM brand, Cooper Webb was able to amass 52 podium finishes, 21 victories, and two supercross titles. World-renowned for his tenacity, drive, and will to win, Cooper Webb is every bit the prize fighter who goes to the starting gate at every race expecting to win. Now back with Yamaha and with a mindset of having something to prove, Webb is still every bit the killer in a supercross main event.
“Yeah, absolutely I’m ready to give it my all in 2024,” declared Webb in closing. “I think, like you said, everyone does put in the work, and the level of our sport is elevated to where we are such precise athletes and individuals, but like you said, I feel like I really do live it. When I say that I want to win and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen, I feel my strong point is on race day and when my back is against the wall. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to putting up a good fight in 2024 and see where that takes us, and yeah, I think the ultimate goal is that third championship, and I just don’t see any reason why we can’t achieve it.”