Jeremy Albrecht (left) and James Stewart (right). Photography By: Kit Palmer
What started out as a marriage made in heaven has quickly turned into swirling rumors of divorce between James Stewart and the Toyota/Joe Gibbs Racing MX Yamaha Team. Crashes, poor results and getting run out of the championship early in the series will certain put a strain on any relationship when it comes to racing, and the strain between Stewart and the JGRMX team seems ready to snap. Rumors of Stewart not liking his race bike, of Stewart wanting out of his contract, of JGRMX wanting to (and already having) let him go, of Stewart already riding and testing another brand of motorcycle have been running rampant. JGRMX team manager Jeremy Albrecht has heard them all - or almost all of them - too. But, he admits, that he's also not sure as to what the truth really is.
We chatted a bit with Albrecht at the Seattle Supercross and pretty much asked him straight up: What in the heck is going on?
So, what can you tell us about what's going on between the JGRMX team and James Stewart?
Basically, we all came into [the 2012 season] thinking we were going to be in the chase for the [Supercross] championship, and James expected the same thing. We came into it really pumped - when it doesn't go the way you want it, it starts messing with confidence, and I feel that [Stewart's] confidence is low. I feel like we work on the bike a lot and try to get him comfortable, but in the end, he's just not feeling it. I don't really know what it is. He is hurt right now [and], you know, when you're sitting there hurt, a lot of things go through your mind - thinking - so we've been going back and forth the last couple of weeks, trying to figure out what it is we're going to do.
What about all the rumors out there right now? About James and JGRMX parting ways, James not liking his bike, etc?
There are more rumors out there that I don't even know - I feel like a lot of it is rumor, but I don't know. Then I come here and see that number-seven [YZ450F] at MotoConcepts, and I'm, 'Yeah, like he's going there.' But then again, I can't say he's not. Right now, we have a contract with him and we haven't done anything to let him out. A lot of it is rumor - I don't know if [Stewart] is talking or what.
Today, at the Seattle Supercross, there is no James Stewart number-seven race or replica bike on display, there is no James Stewart signing autographs, there is no sign of James Stewart. If I was a spectator here today, I might be thinking he isn't with the team anymore. Is that true or is it a possibility in the near future?
All I know is that he has a contract; he's hurt and that's why he's not here. Is there talks about him getting out [of his contract]? We've kicked it around. But we have to know what's good for us, what's good for him. We haven't ended anything yet.
He did pick up a bike last week, he rode it a little bit this week - I guess he had to do some commercial shoot or something - he said his hand still hurt, we're just kind of sitting here waiting. We don't know what's going on.
For us, in the end, we have to do what's best for us and what's best for him and that's what we're really talking through right now. He can't leave, our contract is solid. There have been talks that if he's not happy and we're not happy, then we can all sit and talk through it - we're in the talk-through-it stages [right now]. We haven't said yes we will or no we won't let him out [of his contract]. We haven't got to that step yet. He hasn't come up to our place; we've only talked on the phone.
Last week at New Orleans, his bike was there up in the truck. I did want him to come and sign autographs, but he didn't come to sign autographs. I know Yamaha dealers would like him to come out; we were trying to get a hold of him this week to see what our plans are to see if we can plan out the rest of the year. Yeah, we've had a tough time getting a hold of him and figuring out what's going on. When he's hurt, he doesn't want to go to the races. That's what it really comes down to. He only wants to be here if he can ride.
Will JGR ever consider letting him out of his contract?
He can't just leave, but we can let him go if we think it's in the best interest in all of us. That's the hardest part - we signed a long-term contract with him so we were planning it out long term. For us, we have a lot wrapped up into it, and if he's not happy, then why would you want someone just go through the motions. So we need to get to the root of the problem. Is it something that really is an issue or not? We don't know.
Why isn't James happy?
I don't know. I think it's confidence, he's thinking it's something with set-up or whatever. There's a lot of times he feels great, a lot of the races we've been good, but there have been a few that haven't been so good, but we go testing, and he picks the set ups that we race with, it's not like we build it and say ride it.
We're all working together, he's been great to work with, it's not - that's what's funny; when all these rumors started, nothing seemed that bad. I don't know if everything is snowballing because everyone is talking about it, maybe it gets him thinking.
What about the outdoor Nationals?
That's our biggest question right now - if we're doing the outdoors or not? That's what we really need to know. He has an out - he can not ride outdoors if he [tells] us by the first of May. We've been asking the question. [But] we're racing outdoors no matter what and we'll have two riders [but we won't know who the second rider is going to be] not until we know what [Stewart] is doing. We're just waiting.
(Since this interview took place, 2011 outdoor MX Champion Ryan Villopoto announced that he will not return to defend his title after having injured his knee in the Seattle Supercross. Albrecht says that James has still not yet contacted the team regarding his participation in the outdoors.)
Is fill-in rider Gavin Faith riding Stewart's actual bike?
Yes, it's James' bike. It's James' bike but we took all the stuff [Stewart's special parts] off of it. What we ended up doing - we don't have a Stewart Supercross bike at the shop, we only had an outdoor bike, so we actually let [Gavin] ride Davi's Supercross bike this week and he felt comfortable on it, so the easiest thing is to ride the same thing he rode during the week that he felt good on. I didn't want him to go back and have to get used to something else, so we put the exact same set up that he was riding during the week, so he has the exact same suspension as Davi's [Millsaps]. But, yes, it was Jame's bike, [but we] changed the tank and the shrouds, went back to [Davi's] suspension, different linkage, motor mounts - went back to everything that [Gavin] rode this week.
Daytona looked like it might be a turning point for Stewart. He looked good on the bike and took the win. Then he crashed at Indianapolis and broke his hand. How did things unfold after that?
At Indy, he hit his head and when he rode again the Friday before Toronto he found out that his head was fine but realized his hand was worse than he thought - and that's when we decided not to ride Toronto.
He wasn't going to race Houston [after Toronto], then I asked him to race Houston because we were still pretty good in the points, so I figured if we could finish second or third in the points with our team, that would be impressive and good for the team, so I just asked if he could do that and he said he would come and try. He rode practice; I think it hurt, but it wasn't terrible, so he was willing to race and when he wrecked in the main event, I think he was probably mad that... he says I made him ride or whatever - [actually] I don't know if he said that, but that's what I think by the way I saw his face, but he was cool after the race. I talked to him and he was sore, and I think he reinjured it and hurt some ribs. He was just banged up and needed some time. Last week, we were wondering if he was going to come [to New Orleans]. Then he said he tried to ride last Friday and he couldn't, not good enough to race, so he told us he wasn't racing there. We said at this point he's out of the points, so why rush back now? So that's why he's not here.
How do you think all this will pan out between Stewart and the team?
I don't know. We're all just trying to do the right thing and be cool to him. We don't all hate each other we just want to work through it.