The worst-kept secret in the Grand Prix paddock is finally out! Mitch Evans will sit alongside Tim Gajser beneath the Team HRC awning in 2020, in what will be his maiden term in the premier division. It is just quite the step up for Evans and one that he is extremely pleased about. That much is clear in this exclusive MX Vice interview. Either listen to our chat or read it below. The choice is yours! A wide range of topics are covered.
MX Vice: Your new deal has finally been announced but it has kind of been the worst-kept secret ever – you have already raced in the team's gear and everything. You are finally a full-factory rider in the 450 class. How did that all come together and how do you feel about it?
Mitch Evans: Like you said, I'm pretty stoked for the deal but it's not that big of a surprise to everyone. Everyone already knew. There was first talk of it right at the start of the year after Matterley Basin, actually. Just early talks and early ideas at that time, but then they kind of went away for a bit. There were then talks about being the 250 rider and then that went away for a bit. Finally, I sealed the deal towards the end of the season with a couple of rounds to go. Once I knew that I was going to the 450 class I was so much happier.
I knew that with those niggling injuries that I had, I had to take some time off and really regroup to get over the top of them. They just were not healing, because I just kept trying to train and train and train. They just were not getting any better. I knew to be on my game for next season I had to take some time off, so that's what I did. I went back to Australia and recharged a bit. I went to Sugo and had two days on the bike there. I wasn't that comfortable on it, but I went out and had a good time. I went 1-1. It was actually the first time I have won a race in about two years, so it felt good.
Before we go any further, can I have some credit for being the only person who actually kept this a secret? It hurt me a little bit, but I stayed true to my word and this is the first time I have spoken about it. Well done to me.
Yeah, exactly, mate. That's what I mean – I like you guys probably the most in the MXGP.
Are you allowed to say that?
Well, you guys were the first to know about it and the last to put it out!
There were rumours about this for a while before you signed it. First it was that you were doing MXGP, then it was MX2 and then finally it was MXGP again. I don't know how many times this changed. Was that stressful for you? It seemed like you were always going to be riding for HRC, so that was good.
Yeah. It was kind of always pushed to the side anyway. There were not that many talks about it, really. It was kind of just ideas, and more everyone else in the public talking about it more than we actually were. I was more just focused on racing and trying to get good results, because I needed to make money. I was struggling to get by week by week as I spent so much just getting myself over here. Like you said, I really wanted to go to the 450.
When they were talking about the 250, it was kind of like I was trying to find the positives to staying on a 250. In the back of my mind I was just thinking, "I just want a 450." A lot of people are like, "Every rider says they are better on a 450," but I think I have kind of already proved myself on the 450 a little bit. Everyone is not in my shoes. I know what it takes for me to ride a 250, and it's just not sustainable. I'm a lot happier when I'm riding a 450 and I can enjoy life a bit more. It's going to be a big challenge, but I'm looking forward to it
You did a lot of great things this year obviously but still, in my mind, I think the RedBud ‘Nations is kind of like your career highlight. You came out of nowhere and proved yourself on a 450. That kind of tells us that this is where you need to be.
Yeah, exactly. At that time, I was a lot happier with life. This year I really struggled, because I was trying to lose weight to ride the 250. I was kind of sacrificing a lot of things, like not going out to eat normal meals at restaurants. I just wanted to focus on, "Okay, I can only eat this much." In the end, you have got to enjoy life and you got to have a good balance. I just didn't have a balance at all this year, and that's I believe why some of my results sucked. I just pretty much got burnt out, really, but like you said I still think RedBud is probably the highlight of my career so far too.
I have got one worry about all of this. You have kind of proven yourself in MX2. You can do that. It's not like you suck on a 250. Going into next year, you would obviously be one of the favorites for a title. Did that play into the decision at all? Did anyone at Honda come up to you and go, "We know you want a 450 ride but, look, you are definitely going to win GPs next year. You could easily be a world champion."
To me, none of that matters. Like I said, I don't think people understand how much I don't enjoy life when I try and ride a 250. You laugh, but life sucks pretty much. The biggest downfall has been my starts on the 250. I always believed that I had the speed and I showed it once I got a good start, but I just struggled to get off the line on a 250.
There was no doubt in my mind. Every year I put myself in a position to try to better myself and better my riding. I think going to the 450 is going to do that for me again. It will be my fourth year in a row being a rookie in the class, but I don't care. This is where I've always wanted to be, racing the best in the world. If you are a world champion in MXGP then there is no one better than you. That's what I want.
We had that period this year where you were crashing a lot. That was a bit of a theme. Do you think that had something to do with what you were doing to keep yourself fit enough or lean enough to race the 250? You were pushing yourself to a point where your body was just collapsing, basically.
Yeah, exactly. I could not say it any better than you. It was to the point where I was just like, "I have got to push, push, push and push." Then my body was so fatigued that I was too tired. Not so much physically tired, more mentally tired. I just wasn't switched on enough. I was taking too many risks, and it bit me.
I'm pretty sure that if I go on Facebook right now, people are going to be commenting saying, "He crashed a lot on a 250, so what is he going to be like on a 450?" There is no worry of that though, right? You made it through Japan, so that was alright.
Yeah. Normally I'm the type of guy who likes to be really smooth and not get the bike stepped out sideways at all. This year I swear I came in from every qualifying timed practice and the team was saying to me, "You need to hang it out more. You need to do this. You need to do that." I said, "That's not my type of riding style." I'm still going to probably have some crashes on the 450, of course, but I hope they are not as big, because you get thrown down a bit harder on the 450.
I'm really happy with the decision. I don't really care what anyone thinks. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is what makes this sport go around, people commenting on social media and saying their opinions. They can go ahead and say what they want, but they are not in my circle and they don't know what's going on.
Towards the end of the year when you kind of dropped out of the series and the ‘Nations, I know Livia [Lancelot] said in a press release that maybe you didn't realise how tough it would be doing eighteen rounds on different continents and all of that. I kind of feel like it wasn't that and, like you said, it was this whole MX2 thing. Do you think that the whole MXGP experience of traveling and everything got on top of you?
Yeah. It did take me by surprise how much traveling we had to do, but I don't think that was a factor in the end. To be honest, my body was pretty much burnt out before round one. This year I'm going to approach it a bit differently. Last year I came over in December. I got the call and I was really excited. I started training really hard and by the time I got to round one, there was nothing left.
Now I have talked to more riders who have said, "December, we only do a little bit of riding. We take a bit of time off." Once I finish here doing a bit of testing and doing a bit of riding then I'll go home for I think almost seven weeks. I'll get a bike at home, do a bit of riding – just once or twice a week – and enjoy life. By the time I come over for January I'll be fresh, ready to go and not burnt out like I was this year.
This year was tough, like you said, but can we talk a bit more about the strain it took on you personally just to make this opportunity happen? Like you said, financially you put yourself through the ringer to get to this point. You have made it now though. You are on Team HRC, so it was worth it.
Yeah, exactly. In the back of my mind, that was always the plan. It was a foot in the door. If I could show some good results and then hopefully get a factory contract it would take a lot of pressure off. It was pretty tough this year. There were a lot of times where I didn't enjoy riding and I didn't enjoy doing much at all – that is what I have got to try and change up a bit. It's a really long season.
I used to think that you have got to train so much and do a lot of things, but then I'd see people go off to have a holiday for one or two days. I would think, "What are they doing? They should be training." I'm the type of person who does stuff at one hundred percent, once I have put my mind to it. I don't take any shortcuts. I think for the next season I've got to try to relax a bit more and enjoy it. I'm on the other side of the world. I might as well try and see some of it while I'm here and not just go to the track every day.
If we look at the year as a whole then, are you happy? I guess coming in, a podium would have been the goal. I guess as soon as you did that in Argentina the expectations maybe changed a little bit. Are you happy with what you did though?
Yeah. At the end of the day, I don't have any regrets. I learned a lot. It would have been nice to finish the year strong like we started, but it is what it is. It was my first year. I had a lot of learning to do. Like I said, I'm going to use that and apply that to next year to make next season better.
This is an interesting question, but it doesn't really mean anything. Had you had to do the HRC MX2 thing, you would have done it because it's HRC and a factory ride. Had this silly-season thing come about and you only had offers from private MX2 teams, and you kind of had to struggle again for a year, would you have considered packing it up and going home? Would you have stuck it out again?
It's tough to answer that question, because I did have a two-year contract. I understand what you are saying though. There were honestly times where I thought, "I want to go home, and I don't want to come back. I just want to live in Australia." I am really a homebody and I really like where I live in Australia. I can go jet skiing, go snorkeling at the reef, go fishing and hang out with my friends.
You are not doing any of that here [laughs].
Yeah, exactly. Even just little things like go running with my dog and whatnot at home. It's a lot more enjoyable than going running by yourself out in five degrees and the freezing cold. Whereas at home it's sunny all year round. I can keep a tan all year round. I don't have to be a ghost like I do here. It's a lot different. At the end of the day, I've worked my whole life to get over here. It would have been stupid to throw it all away. This is where I want to be, so I have got to make it happen.
Are things going to change for you now? You were living in France, right? What's the next step for you?
This year I'll be living in Italy close to the team, in the same sort of apartments as the mechanics. Just do a bit of training there. I think I might be able to go and stay with Tim [Gajser] a couple of times and do a bit of riding with him. More so this year I want to try and move around. Try to ride different tracks, ride with different riders and whatnot. My race craft isn't that good, because my whole life I've kind of always grown up riding by myself. I want to try to ride with other riders and get used to being with faster riders.
When you go to the track and you are riding around by yourself, you look at the stopwatch and you think, "I'm doing pretty good lap times." Then someone else goes out there and goes two seconds a lap faster than you. At the time you think, "My lap time is not bad," then they go faster than you and it's like, "Okay, you can go faster." You can watch where they are and whatnot. I really want to get to Belgium and do a bit of riding in the sand, especially get to Lommel before we race there. I actually haven't ridden there before.
I feel like that was a tactical move. You just missing Lommel randomly out of all of the races.
Yeah, no. I knew Lommel was going to be a hard round and I was really struggling at that time of the year with my injuries. I was in a lot of pain. I knew that I would be in a really bad state after it if I raced it. I'm thankful they let me miss that one and Loket.
How long is this HRC deal for? Is it one year or two?
Just a one-year deal.
Is that a worry for you? I guess you are confident enough that you can prove yourself?
Yeah, exactly. I'm confident in myself, how I can ride a 450 and with the team that I'm on. I have got great people around me. They won the world championship this year, so they know what they are doing. I'm really looking forward to it. I don't really have any doubts that I'll be going back to Australia soon. I'm planning on staying here for a long time.
Last thing. Japan. What was that experience like? That was the first time you had actually ridden the HRC bike, huh?
Yeah. I flew in Tuesday. Rode it Wednesday and Thursday, then raced Sunday. It was a big difference, because I hadn't really done much riding since China. Coming off the 250 and going to 450 I was like, "Man. Come on, guys. You need to turn the power down a bit." Thankfully they were able to take a bit of power out of it for me and we got an okay setting on the suspension.
I just went out there and had fun. The track was really cool. It was actually really rough and technical, because they had a lot of rain. I had a lot of fun there. I got to see some cool things at HRC in Motegi and got to meet a lot of cool people. The food and people there were awesome. Hopefully I can go back there one day again.
Expectations for next year? Got any kind of goals in mind? I feel like you could say podium, but then it is a tough class. Maybe you just set the bar at consistent top-ten finishes and then see what happens beyond that?
The thing that I tell everyone is – you'll probably laugh at me or think he is in over his head – that I didn't move to the other side of the world to get second.
Should Tim be worried?
You should ask him what happened at Go Karting the other night. That is what's going to happen.
Have you already laid the groundwork for him getting his ass kicked then?
No. Honestly, I'll be happy with top-five finishes and I would like to get a couple podiums for the year. I think that's realistic. Like I said, I don't move to the other side of the world to get second. My main goal is a world championship. It might not be this year and it might not be next year, but hopefully one year I can get it done.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer