The 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship was an obvious success aside from the overwhelming number of injuries. Does David Luongo agree with that assessment of the eighteen-round campaign? MX Vice editor Lewis Phillips caught up with the Youthstream CEO to discuss that along with some additional hot topics. For instance, how did Matterley Basin end up as the first round of the 2020 FIM Motocross World Championship and what the hell happened to Australia? All of that is below.
MX Vice: Was the 2019 FIM Motocross World Championship season a success for Youthstream? Did you experience growth in all of the areas that you wanted to see it?
David Luongo: The season was very positive. MXGP is continuing its development worldwide and we reached some milestones during the season. The television exposure is progressing compared to last year – and in new markets too – and the number of spectators during the events was once again very good. The overseas Grands Prix were great successes in Argentina, Indonesia and for the first time ever MXGP went to China and opened another new market in Asia. The number of participants in all of the different championships (European and World Championships) increased compared to a year ago, which also shows great potential for the future.
MXGP-TV is also developing a lot worldwide with more and more customers coming from outside of Europe. We have two fantastic world champions with Jorge Prado and Tim Gajser. Finally, The Netherlands were crowned in front of a huge Dutch crowd in Assen for the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations. We cannot wait to be in March for the opening of the new season.
One downside this year was the number of injuries, but do you agree that this was down to bad luck? Do you think there was actually something that led to there being so many of those?
Youthstream and the FIM are always working together with the manufacturers to do their best to reduce the number of injuries. Unfortunately, as you said, we faced a high number of them this year. There are many aspects that could bring injuries and we work on all of those. The speed that we are witnessing today with the level of the MXGP riders and the power and technology on the bikes is unbelievable. The speed on track is very high, and we are always trying to reduce it by adapting the track to the actual technology of the bike. Every year it gets faster though! We have a team of five people managing the track department, with the help and co-ordination of the local organiser and the FIM.
The modern tracks are easier to manage in a way, because we create them based on the actual speed and technology. Then as you said, depending on the year, we are facing some bad luck. I remember some years ago when three or four top riders were injured before the beginning of the season during the training. We had some injuries during the MXGP of Russia this year. It was in the MXGP class during the first race – there was nothing in the MX2 class, nothing in the European classes and nothing in MXGP race two. We agreed with the organiser to modify the track for next year. The security of the riders is logically our top priority.
A lot of people are now talking about the fact that the MXoN needs to be earlier to have better weather. This is just bad luck as well though, right? We got lucky with the weather for so many years. We were due some bad luck on that front.
The Monster Energy Motocross of Nations is historically at the end of the season and for many years it has taken place at the end of September. The last three years have been connected with bad weather, but before that the weather was fantastic for four years (Germany, Latvia, France and Italy). You cannot bet on the weather today – we saw that with the MXGP of Great Britain this year.
Our calendar is really optimised to allow us to develop MXGP worldwide and considering that we start the season at the end of February – then finish at the end of September with twenty-one races – it is very complicated to imagine the Motocross of Nations being run earlier. The other major motorsports are ending their season much later in the year – Formula One end their season at the beginning of December.
The 2020 season really looks like it will be incredible. It really does. Are you expecting to see a lot of growth across the board with this in mind? I imagine that this is being looked at as a great business opportunity.
The 2020 season may be the most exciting season ever when we look at the line-up in the MXGP class! There is Tim Gajser, Antonio Cairoli, Jeffrey Herlings, Jorge Prado and then Romain Febvre on a new bike – he has a very strong teammate in Clement Desalle. The Yamaha line-up is very, very strong with Jeremy Seewer, Gautier Paulin and Arnaud Tonus too. The announcement of GasGas running an official factory team with Glenn Coldenhoff as a leader is fantastic news to have.
We have a new manufacturer entering the world championship, which shows the success and appeal of our sport as a platform to promote and develop bikes. On the other hand the MX2 class will be more open than the last couple of years, because a new generation of riders with an appetite for a title is coming. We have already seen a very strong demand for the MXGP-TV season pass, which expresses the huge expectation of all MXGP fans to arrive in March and start the engines!
Speaking of 2020, the season will start in Europe for the first time since 2012. What led to this decision? There were rumours that Australia or the Middle East would host round one, so what happened to those events?
The discussions with those countries are still ongoing for the future, but we didn't reach an agreement for the 2020 season. Taking into consideration the demand of the Argentine organiser to be a bit later during the season, it was a great opportunity to start the season in Europe.
How about Matterley Basin disappearing from the schedule and then coming back? Everyone has run wild with that and come up with all kinds of different theories. What actually went on?
Matterley Basin was first brought to the calendar in 2006, thanks to the collaboration between Steve Dixon and Youthstream. This location is one of the most beautiful of the season, but the organisation of the race is very expensive. We are always in discussion with Steve to find solutions to make it happen, and we succeeded together in making it happen for 2020. That is fantastic news for the fans from the UK! We saw from the opening of the pre-sales a greater demand compared to this year, which is very promising for the event. It will be a perfect location for the opening round of the season.
The 2020 calendar certainly looks a lot kinder from a logistics perspective. It is obviously a crazy amount of hard work to piece the calendar together, but you must be quite happy with what you have come up with for the new season?
To put the calendar in place is always the most difficult task we have to do. We need to take into consideration the specific demands of the different organisers depending on the supports they receive from local authorities, the weather conditions, the tourism requests etc. Then we have to put all those considerations into a box and think about the best possible solution from a logistics point of view, so it is the most efficient in terms of budget and travel.
It is important to understand that when a racing team moves with its truck and its mechanics throughout Europe, Youthstream move with more than eighteen trucks and one hundred and forty people too. That means the racing team's problems are also Youthstream's problems. The 2020 calendar is very good and strong with twenty Grands Prix, and the Motocross of Nations in France at Ernee.
There are two TBA venues on the schedule, but from what I understand the event in Spain looks like it will indeed happen. What about China? Is it not guaranteed that we will go back to the same (successful) track?
Spain and China are on track. We are deciding with the organisers the best possible locations to host those Grands Prix. More news to come soon.
What about the new EMX Open class? Is this class designed for riders who are too old for EMX250 or MX2, but cannot find a seat in MXGP? Is it more for amateurs? What is purpose of it?
We strongly believe in this new Open class for the European Championship. The pyramid system that we put in place from the Juniors to EMX125, EMX250, MX2 and finally MXGP is bringing year-after-year the most talented motocross riders from all around the world into the MXGP class. This is the main reason why we will have such a great line-up into the MXGP class next year. The best motocross riders in the world are in the MXGP class and every year new riders are entering the class and lifting up the level of the championship.
Besides that, it might allow some riders who need more time after they reach the MX2 age limit to be competitive in accessing the MXGP class and also the riders who don't have the level to compete in the MXGP class – those riders who have no alternative. The EMX Open class will have this target, to give them a strong platform to perform in the sport. We are sure it will be a strong championship.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer