[Interviews]

Todd Waters: Honda’s Great Hope

10 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Andy Wigan, Honda Australia, Emma Carlon

Todd Waters is one of the most down-to-earth Pro riders you’ll ever find in the pit paddock, but he’s not shy of a grand entrance. In late 2015, he and his new Suzuki team used the Sydney Motorcycle Expo to announce their new partnership. And 12 months later at the Melbourne Moto Expo, Waters was at it again in a choreographed team ‘reveal’; riding Honda’s all-new CRF450R out from behind the Crankt Protein Honda Racing team’s semi-trailer to announce his arrival, and return, to Australia’s factory Honda team.
So, how does the 25-year-old Queenslander feel about his return to Australia, and Honda? Has he let go of his World Championship aspirations entirely? Does he like the idea of teaming up with 22-year-old Luke Clout for 2017? And can he finally claim the MX1 title that’s so narrow eluded him in Australia, and in doing so, hand Honda their first premier-class national MX title win since Craig Anderson’s way back in 2006?
We threw these questions and more at the likable Todd Waters shortly before Christmas…

TM: Congrats, Todd. Tell us about the Honda deal.
TW: Ta. Well, hopefully I’m with this team until I retire [laughs]. I’ve ridden for a few different brands now, in Australia and in Europe, but the Honda outfit in Australia really feels like it fits. The team has now got Jay Foreman on board as team manager, and that played a huge role in my decision to join them for 2017.

You’ve always said you enjoyed working with Jay.
I worked with Jay back at Suzuki in 2012, when we ran second a narrow second in the MX1 championship race to Josh Coppins. I love working with Jay. It’s a huge plus to have a guy in my corner with that much experience. He’s won so many championships. He’s worked with Chad Reed. He just knows what’s going on. For me, it’s always been about the team; about the right group of people around me. Aside from Jay coming on board as manager, we’ve also got Paul Free overseeing things. He runs a really professional and successful road race team for Honda. And even though Paul’s background is road racing, it’s great to have someone who’s new and fresh and hungry for success in the national motocross and supercross championships. It’s only the second year that Paul’s Crankt Protein Honda Racing team has been part of the Australian MX and SX scene, so he really wants to prove a point. The new 2017 CRF450R is great, the team structure is excellent, and the group of people behind me are really motivated. It’s a great package and we all have big plans.

And of course, you’ve already ridden for Honda in the premier class. For three seasons, right?
Yep, for Woodstock Honda in 2009, and then Cougar Honda in 2010 and 2011. I was young back then and, in hindsight, I probably should have stayed down in the 250 class to get some more experience under my belt. But I’d won the state title against Jay Marmont back then, and figured I could do the same at the nationals.

And you very nearly did!
Yep, in all three seasons I raced with Honda, I held the red plate in the MX1 class. But I was too young for the big bike and it took me to long to understand that you can’t ride the thing at 110 percent the entire time. Which meant I didn’t finish a lot of races.

That’s why we saw a more calculated approach from you in 2012, right?
Yeah, when Jay got me on board with Suzuki that year, I matured a lot as a racer. We finished nine of the 10 rounds on the podium, and a hard-fought second in the championship. That result, and the consistency I showed that year, was a real turning point for me.

Does your teammate affect your decision to join, or not join, a team?
It can do if the guy’s already signed and I think he’ll negatively affect the team dynamic – which is actually what happened last season with another manufacturer. But, generally speaking, no. When I was at Honda previously, I’ve been lucky enough to ride with experienced guys like Cheyne Boyd, and then Cody Cooper at Suzuki. Over in Europe, I was teammates with Tyla Rattray and Max Nagl, who are both older and more experienced riders. These days, I prefer to have young teammates. So I think it’ll work well this season with Luke Clout. It can be really good to have a younger, super-motivated guy pushing you; a guy who’s out there for hours at the test track burning fuel. In the past, I’d always been that guy; the young punk who the boys are always sitting in the hire car and waiting for. I think it’ll push us both along this season.

Last season was a frustrating year for you, with mechanicals or injuries always seeming to derail your tilt at the title.
That’s true. The Wilson Suzuki guys put in a huge effort last year, but they simply didn’t have the resources, connections or experience that the top factory teams have. Plus we started from scratch with bike set-up. And by connections, I mean the ability to share technical information with teams in Europe and the USA. That allows you to get that extra little bit out of the bike, which is essential at the top level of the sport in Australia these days.

All the same, you were in with a shot for the title for most of the 2016 season.
I was. Looking back on it now, I think I took a while to adapt to the team and to racing back in Oz. It was a bit of a shock to the system because I was on a three-year deal in Europe with the Husqvarna team. In the 10th ever GP I raced, I podiumed. I got a bunch of top-five finishes, and ninth in the MX World Championship in my first year. Then after a few injuries the next season, shortly after the 2015 MX of Nations, I’m suddenly told to pack my bags; abruptly told that I don’t have a ride. I had a campervan and was totally set up for another season over there. So in a way last year, I felt like I should still be in Europe. I found that pretty hard to swallow, and I suspect it affected my performance here.

Meaning you feel like there’s unfinished business for you in the World Championship?
In a way, yes. I was thrown in the deep end in 2014, and after four GPs, I was running sixth in the championship. After finishing ninth in the points in the premier class in my first season over there, I think I deserved more. So in the back of my head, I have kind of felt like I was not yet done with Europe. But this deal with Honda for 2017 has got be recalibrating my goals.

Which means what exactly?
After racing the MX of Nations late last year, I sensed that things were changing over in Europe. Especially as an Australian, the world championship is hard; a really tough gig. Here in Australia, I feel at home. I’m in a happy place in my life. And as I said earlier, I’m really excited about what the future can bring with the Honda team. That said, I’d still love to go and race the odd GP – kind of like what Ben Townley did at the end of 2015. I’d love to go over to the Thailand round, put it on the box, and prove a point to the Husqvarna team that I’ve still got it. Of course, that’s just my ego talking. With the people and resources I have here in Australia with the Honda team, I just want to get back to regularly winning races. And a championship!

You’ve finished runner-up in MX1 a couple of times now. About time you nabbed a title, mate. And with your old foe, Dean Ferris, tipped to be heading back to Europe in 2018, you might only have one season to beat the reining champ.
That’s it [laughs]. Seriously though, I really enjoyed racing in Australia in the 2016 season. Dean was on his A-game and we had some really good races. Same with Kirk Gibbs and Matt Moss. I just made too many mistakes. That’s my focus this year – I don’t need to get any faster, I just need to minimise mistakes.

TODD WATERS vs DEAN FERRIS…
Check out the landmark feature article we published on Todd Waters, and his career-long fierce rivalry with Dean Ferris, in Transmoto’s Mar-Apr (#55) issue

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