The Triumph MXGP announcement still leaves numerous questions unanswered

After the announcement of Triumph as a factory Motocross Grand Prix team from 2024, we wonder where this project might lead.

Triumph Racing - Motocross World Championship

Before racing commenced at the 75th FIM Motocross of Nations last weekend, Triumph announced the formation of their Motocross World Championship team that will enter MXGP from 2024. 

Two days after Triumph’s announcement, Team USA won their first Motocross of Nations since 2011. 11 years had been a long wait for USA, who have the most victorious record in the competition. 

At this point, it feels almost as long since we first heard that Triumph would be expanding their range into the competition off-road segment, both in motocross and enduro. Of course, it has not been nearly as long, but the anticipation has combined with a long period of little information on the project, while others have notably progressed, to create a feeling of endless waiting with little idea what result that waiting would lead to.

Part of that feeling was surely brought on Triumph by itself. Its choice to employ Ricky Carmichael - the greatest motocross racer of all-time (you could argue greatest motorcycle racer of all-time, or even greatest racer all-time) with 15 US national titles - as an ambassador for its off-road project only added to the expectation surrounding it. When you work with greatness, people expect greatness to be produced by that work.

Additionally, working with greatness which raced almost entirely in the US creates expectations regarding where the products of that work will be raced themselves. If you associate with Carmichael, you associate with US motocross racing, and therefore the anticipation is that the US will be the landing point for the product. 

Instead, though, the Motocross World Championship (MXGP) will welcome Triumph’s 250cc four-stroke motocross bikes to the MX2 class in 2024. From there, Triumph intends to expand its World Championship presence in 2025, as it enters the premier MXGP class with its 450cc four-stroke machines.

That means no AMA. No America. At least, not yet.

But, if you take Carmichael out of the situation, it becomes a less-surprising move. Triumph is of course a British manufacturer, albeit one that has manufacturing facilities in Thailand and Brazil. (Surely, it is also not simply coincidence that both Thailand and Brazil have come up as potential host nations for Motocross Grands Prix again in the future.) But, those facts only act as reinforcement to the idea that, for Triumph, there is more to racing motocross than America. 

In fact, there is more to racing motocross than motocross, or even powersports. Triumph doesn’t want to race motocross to just sell motocross bikes, it wants to race motocross to sell all of its bikes, such as the Tiger, Trident, and Rocket ranges. 

It already employs this strategy, to some extent, in the Moto2 World Championship and World Supersport Championship (which will both now be under the Triumph Racing umbrella along with the factory motocross effort).

Triumph does not really make a sports bike, but it races in the Grand Prix paddock, and it races in the Superbike paddock. Both of these series’ race sports bikes, or bikes that look like sports bikes. They don’t look like Tigers, Tridents, et cetera. But, Triumph understands that presence in these series is beneficial to its marketing. 

Additionally, KTM does not make a faired sports bike for the road other than its RC 390. But, still, it recognises that being in MotoGP has marketing benefits to its range of Dukes, Adventures, and others. 

MXGP has a similar marketing benefit, although on a smaller scale, because it does not have the same kind of TV audience as MotoGP. The AMA Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross series both have bigger audiences than MXGP, but at the same time they are restricted to a smaller area. 

MXGP visits Asia, Europe, and South America. The AMA championships visit only America, which is the biggest market for dirt bikes, but not the biggest market for street bikes, which is Asia. 

There is also a probable racing explanation for Triumph’s lack of AMA plans as yet. Its World Championship plans involve the team of Thierry Chizat-Suzzoni. 

The two ran the factory Kawasaki MXGP team for 13 years until the end of 2021, when Kawasaki switched to Kimi Raikkonen’s IceOne Racing squad. 

Clearly, Triumph does not want to run this team straight out of the factory, but outsource the race team so it can focus fully on the bikes. This has been the strategy of almost all the factories in MXGP.

It is an understandable choice - Chizat-Suzzoni has won over 80 Grands Prix as a team owner, and almost took Romain Febvre to the MXGP World Championship in 2021, only to be beaten by Jeffrey Herlings in the final moto of the season. 

(This also brings other questions regarding whether Febvre might consider Triumph an option for him in 2025, when it steps up to MXGP. It will be a new project, but by then Febvre will be well into the final part of his career, and if he does not want to stay with IceOne it might not be something to rule out entirely.)

The point about AMA is that Triumph needs time to establish relations with an existing setup in the US before it can commit. Since it will not be arriving in the US until 2024 or 2025 at the earliest, it does not make much sense for those US teams to risk breaking relations with their current, established, manufacturers in order to start building something in advance with Triumph. 

The HEP team that currently runs Suzuki seems like an obvious route for Triumph, considering Suzuki’s relative lack of commitment to racing at the moment. But, time, ultimately, will tell. 

In its release last Friday, Triumph did at least say it is looking “to build Triumph’s future strength in international motocross racing.” That it did not limit itself to “World Championship motocross racing” is at least a positive with a view to the US. 

And, in any case, they are testing in the US - as well as in the UK and mainland Europe - and to sell motocross bikes - which despite the apparent desire to sell road bikes via motocross - to be in the US is almost a necessity. 

Yet, there is scepticism. Partly, this is derived from the aforementioned involvement of Ricky Carmichael (which essentially guarantees everything associated with him to be a disappointment to some degree because of the unachievable anticipation his presence creates around any project), but it is also because we have no idea what these bikes will be. 

We have no details on engine configurations, partnerships with third–party brands for suspension, brakes, exhausts, et cetera. 

There were rumours a while ago that maybe the bikes would use KTM engines. We still don’t know if that is true or false, but that Triumph said it is “continuously enhancing chassis and engine performance through an intensive testing schedule underway in the USA, UK and mainland Europe,” suggests they are developing their own. But no certainty. 

We do not even know what it will look like. Sure, dirt bikes look very similar in 2022 (not helped by the fact that three brands use identical machinery, but still), so there is an idea, but if it is whatever they had under the covers in Redbud (see top of page) it seems as though they listened to the ‘wide bike’ analogies often used when talking about Jorge Prado and really took notice.

The problem with announcing something so far in advance of that thing actually happening is that when it eventually happens it cannot live up to the expectation. 

At this point it feels like if Triumph are not finishing in the top 10 in their first Grand Prix in 2024, the project will be off to a bad start. And that is unfair, because in MX2 you are racing against some of the best riders in the world (by then, Simon Laengenfelder, Kay de Wolf, Andrea Adamo, Liam Everts and Thibault Benistant should all be serious forces) who are aboard some of the most advanced factory equipment in existence. 

Yamaha get their engines from Star Racing in America, which is partly why they have been able to challenge KTM - who dominated MX2 in the 2010s - so strongly in recent years. KTM have not dropped off, either, of course, and there are also the factory Husqvarna and GasGas machines.

On the other hand, Triumph will arrive at the first GP of 2024 having had no World Championship racing experience, and possibly having raced the bike only in that year’s preseason internationals. Then there is the question of which riders they can attract. 

When Beta came in, this was more straightforward, because in the MXGP class it is easier to find riders who want to be part of a project that is building. They took one of the most experienced riders around in Jeremy van Horebeek in 2021, and for 2022 paired him with Alessandro Lupino, who won the 2021 Motocross of Nations with Team Italy.

Comparatively, in MX2, all the riders primarily want to build themselves, so they can get to MXGP on a top factory bike. Perhaps Triumph can convince some young talent that their 450 will be a top bike by the time it arrives in 2025, and therefore a year on their 250 as the team establishes itself in the World Championship could pay off long term.

There are so many questions around Triumph’s motocross project, primarily because they announced it all before they had anything concrete to tell us about the bike, about who would be riding it, or even what their plans are for national championship racing, and customer team support.

We do at least know where the team will be based - Eindhoven - and where the factory will be - Hinckley - but choosing to make the presentation of the team at a race in America - albeit one run by MXGP promoters Infront Moto Racing - was perhaps not ideal, either. You go to America, and essentially say “we’re going racing in 2024… in Europe.” 

And the Americans wonder why they are being told about a race team from a British manufacturer which does not have much motocross history in the last 40 years that will be competing in a series which they cannot watch on ordinary television. 

Assuming the 2024 MXGP season starts in early February of that year, we could still have another 17 months - possibly more - before we see a factory Triumph 250F in action in the World Championship. Presumably, at least 10 of those months will be spent with little new information coming out about the project, or the bike, or the riders. 

Ducati are rumoured to also be entering the Motocross World Championship in 2024, too, but in the MXGP class, with a 450. It might not happen, but if it does they will have done so with about half of the lead-in time as Triumph. Half the time for speculation, half the time for the asking of unanswerable questions.

The Best Motorcycles for Beginners | Best bikes for new riders from 300cc to 700cc

The Best Motorcycles for Beginners | Best bikes for new riders from 300cc to 700cc