News 2 Feb 2022

This season critical for Evans MXGP future at HRC

Factory Honda rider remains calm heading into pivotal year.

Words: Adam Wheeler

Image: Supplied.

The progress and potential of Australian Mitch Evans with factory Team HRC machinery will come under the microscope in the first grands prix of 2022.

Evans missed the entire 2021 campaign due to a problematic left wrist fracture, the second time that the works Honda crew had to field championship contender Tim Gajser alone after former teammate Brian Bogers missed a similar amount of races in 2018.

Evans is still only 23 years old and his youth could play into his favour, but there is undoubtedly pressure to ensure that Honda have a full and replenished racing effort for the coming season, especially after young Spaniard Ruben Fernandez shone so brightly as a wildcard next to Gajser at the closing two rounds of 2021 at Mantova, where he was sixth and eighth overall.

Number 43 is refusing to get edgy about his predicament and the urgency to demonstrate his worth to one of the leading teams in the MXGP paddock. The complex issue with his wrist – that originated from a heavy landing while contesting the MXGP of Spain in 2020 – meant he not only had to re-evaluate his position with Honda, but the state of his career.

“I don’t have any expectations and I’ve got nothing to lose because my last race was so long ago,” Evans confessed. “I will go to the GPs happy to be back at the races, with the team and moving around Europe – I’m grateful to be back.

“Racing is a whole different thing compared to riding, but for me, it has to be about enjoyment and being happy. I am approaching this year as my rookie season again. It will be ‘all new’ and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Evans spent most of 2021 in his native homeland, where post-surgery absence from the bike forced a reorientation of his career.

“I had to get surgery no matter what,” he added. “I could not ride at the top level with how it was. A doctor threw it at me… he said when he saw my wrist he thought I would never ride a dirt bike again, so I needed to look at what else I enjoy in life and what I wanted to do. It was a scary time, but I started on a personal development journey and I found out how much the mind can help heal the body. I’m grateful for that journey, even if I did miss a full year of racing.”

Towards the latter part of the gripping 2021 season, where Gajser was firmly in the running for his third MXGP title in a row, there was speculation that Evans could be moved out of the HRC set-up despite having 2022 guaranteed by contract.

The speedy effort by Fernandez in Italy enforced what Honda had been missing as Gajser had very little in the way of support against the Red Bull KTMs of Jeffrey Herlings, Jorge Prado and Tony Cairoli in pursuit of the championship.

Despite his delicate status in GPs, Evans was gracious and courteous regarding the events going on around him, stating: “I’m friends with Ruben, so I was stoked for him. It was good to see the bike out there. HRC have been great in standing by me.”

As the pre-season period shortens to the first grand prix in the UK on 20 February, Evans admits that he still has some pain in his wrist, but his level of preparation is more advanced than he thought it would be. His presence will add more variety to the MXGP line-up and he could repay Honda’s faith faster than many might think.