Realities of taking on the MXGP World Championship.
With the growing popularity of the MXGP World Championship, a growing number of Australian racers are looking at the European scene as a real alternative to the well-trodden path to the US. We hit up a bunch of guys who have experienced – or are experiencing – the MXGP scene first-hand to get their take on what living overseas is really like, what riders struggle with and how to make it work.
Ryan Deckert (Husqvarna MXGP mechanic for Todd Waters):
I think the aspects that have surprised me the most are just how rough and technical the tracks are and the speed that the top 10-12 guys are running. I mean, Ryan Villopoto came here and was battling for top fives when he was so dominant in the States. While the travel part of it has been fun and I get to experience a lot of cultures in a short space of time, you do get a bit worn out with the hectic schedule. At the same time Todd has a training mechanic and I only focus on the race bike, which does take a bit of pressure off. Race weekends are quite stressful though, with a lot of bike washing and track time, while the miserable weather can make it tough to find a good day to train during the week. All in all though, it’s been unreal and we’re part of a great team, which I think plays a big factor in the whole experience.
Gary Benn (CDR Yamaha mainstay):
I left Europe at the end of 1995 when the team structures were changing and Giuseppe Luongo, FIM and Youthstream came on board, so the scene there now is vastly different to my time. What is heartening to see is the wages of the top five-to-10 guys in each class are starting to increase again. Everyone else outside of the top 10 makes hard work of it, but that’s no different to Australia and the US. Being in Europe, travel, culture and the general way of life is a challenge. The US is similar to Australia in that respect, but in Europe you’ll find signs, food labels and day-to-day goings on are written in the native language, which can be tough. On top of that the winters are strong and the summers aren’t flash compared to what we’re used to here. As for racing, there’s no amount of training and practice you can do that can prepare you for the intense speed and the rough tracks on the GP circuit – you just have to go there, experience it and expect to take at least a year or two to get used to it.
Luke Styke (KTM MX Nationals racer):
Last year I went to Europe and while it was good, I can’t stress enough that the biggest thing I learnt was how important it is to get on a good team with good bikes and surround yourself with good people, otherwise you won’t get the results. There are so many language barriers and things that can be miscommunicated and you need to have that trust with the team. I didn’t have that trust, which is why I came back here to ride for a great team that’s far more professional and to restart my career. Here I have that trust and can surround myself with my friends and family and the team puts in so much effort for you, whereas in Europe last year I felt like I was just a number. At the same time, I loved the travel side of it, seeing cool places and traveling the world doing what I loved. I’d love to go back there and redeem myself. I’m better than the results that I achieved there, but I’d go over with my eyes wide open, and get to know the team and ride the bike before I took the plunge again. However, if I was given an opportunity with a similar team that I had last year I wouldn’t take it; I’d stay here in Australia and actually enjoy my racing.
Josh Coppins (15-year veteran of MXGP):
Being in Europe is definitely a shock to the system at first. You really have to want to be there and have a huge desire to be there. After a while the novelty wears off and you have to fight through the bad days of racing, the language barriers, food and travel life. I was based in Belgium, which is the best place to be, but you definitely have to adapt and be open-minded about change. I think riders who are more outgoing and more travelled as youngsters tend to adapt a bit easier. People don’t realise that as well as 16 GPs there’re probably another eight domestic championship races and another six off-season races to line up for, so that’s about 30 events year that riders commit to. Over time that does wear you down and it’s hard to manage injuries, illness, fitness and testing schedules. At the same time, I went to Valkensward this year and was absolutely blown away by how much the scene has changed since I was last there in 2010. The factory bikes and team set-ups are amazing, and every team has full data logging and are much more advanced now. Hunter Lawrence, Jed Beaton, Jay Wilson and Caleb Ward have all talked to me about wanting to go the Europe to give it a shot, which is encouraging to see.
Rob Twyerould (KTM Motocross Racing Team manager):
I think because the MX Nationals is seen as the premier series in Australia, riders are now looking at Europe as a better international stepping stone, and with Dean Ferris and Todd Waters doing well over there, there’s certainly potential there. It’s fantastic to see them both building momentum and confidence as the season progresses and I think they’ll finish strongly and either improve or maintain their rides next year. For Aussie riders wanting to make that step, such as Caleb Ward, I think they really need to go early and get experience in the MX2 championship, which will set them up for a long career. For guys like Kirk Gibbs and Luke Styke it’s going to be a lot tougher as they’ve aged-out and will have to jump straight into the MX1 class. To be successful, they’ll have to dominate here in Australia, then go to Motocross of Nations and be incredibly competitive if they want to make the step over there. It’s a fine line for us, though; we don’t want to lose Kirk after developing him over three years but we wouldn’t begrudge losing him if something arose for him.