Since the 2005 season, the partnership between Suzuki and Ricky Carmichael has been woven into the very fabric of motocross and supercross competition, with the #4 racking up #1 plates aboard a yellow machine for the following three years, etching yellow, RC, and winning into every moto fans consciousness for the rest of time.
The early phase of the 21st century wasn’t kind to Suzuki however, with All Star rider line-ups, including phenom Travis Pastrana and Kevin Windham, managed by ‘The Man’ Roger DeCoster, not yielding the results that were expected. In fact, to find the last time a Suzuki finished on the top step of the podium, one would have to go back to the 1998 supercross season, where Larry Ward claimed victory inside Tampa Stadium in Florida on February 28. That’s seven years in between visits to victory lane.
Caption: Ward in the 1998 season.
The truth was, in the 1990’s, the Suzuki bikes simply weren’t where the other manufactures were in terms of performance and rideability. Whether you point to McGrath’s 1997 season, where uncharacteristic inconsistency and lack of pace gave the title, in MC’s prime, to Jeff Emig, or the late two time East Coast Supercross Champion Brian Swink’s struggle on the RM machines, Suzuki were in a slump.
Outside Pastrana’s 00 outdoor title on the 125, Suzuki never really gained momentum to be title contenders, with Sean Hamblin being their star rider in 2004, netting just 8th overall in the 250cc Supercross title that year. With Reed on blue, RC on red and a young James Stewart emerging from the ranks on green, team yellow needed a contender, and fast.
Carmichael sat out the 2004 Supercross series to repair a torn ACL suffered in the previous summer. To put it into context, since his move from Kawasaki to Honda, RC had amassed four straight big bike titles, which is punctuated by going undefeated outdoors in 2002. Having this success with arguably the most decorated team in the paddock, along with a highly developed CRF450R waiting for him outdoors (on which he’d secure his second undefeated season), many were blown away by the announcement that came on April 2, 2004; Carmichael had signed with Suzuki.
“When I first heard of RC’s signing with Suzuki, I thought it was some kind of joke. I couldn’t believe it,” 1983 AMA Supercross Champ David Bailey said.
And why wouldn’t a move of this magnitude warrant such a reaction? Suzuki hadn’t won in years, Big Red was the powerhouse in the pits, and RC had a huge upcoming task the following year; defeating defending champ Reed while also sticking it to the newcomer Stewart. Wouldn’t he be more comfortable on his well-known, developed Red machinery?
“You can’t discount the bike because the rider didn’t get on the podium,” Carmichael said in December, two weeks before the ’05 season started. “You can’t draw conclusions. You put Bubba, myself or Reed on any bike, and we’re going to win races, especially today because the bikes are so similar.”
And from that moment on, Carmichael did just that, almost winning the mudfest season opener in 2005, to winning the very next round in Phoenix, Arizona – Suzuki’s first in seven years. For good measure, Broc Hepler put Suzuki’s RMZ250 on the top step that night, too, solidifying Suzuki as a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
Comparisons can be drawn nowadays, to Suzuki’s struggle in the motocross and supercross world. Small triumphs, such as Bogle’s streak of good form in the outdoors a few years back, Ken Roczen’s outdoor title in ‘16 or Davi Millsaps title run in 2013 (Suzuki didn’t support that team by the way, Davi rode a Rockstar Energy 450) are the main highlights the brand has since Carmichael’s retirement in 2007. Irrespective of the current situation, it can’t be understated how much of an impact RC had on the brands revival, and the unlikely success he achieved on an unproven brand way back in 2005.